Sunday, 31 March 2013

Why I didn't buy a Retina Macbook Pro....

With the prolonged spinning beach ball of death on one too many shoots, accompanied by a sound not too dissimilar to a Lear jet at take off when processing images, the writing was on the wall for my 2007 vintage 15 inch MacBook Pro.

I had put off replacing my MacBook Pro for as long as possible, but the time had finally come for a replacement.

But which one to go for?

 I defy any geek not to fall in love with the super slim edged Macbook Pro which has more pixels than you can shake a stick at.

The impressive spec, allied with a useful weight saving (2.2kg v 2.56kg) over the rumoured to soon-be-discontinued unibody Macbook Pro, would make it seem to be a no brainer.

So why on earth didn't I buy one? 

I instead opted for the, probably soon to be discontinued, MacBook Pro unibody.

Heavier, thicker and not as cool as the retina model.

My choice would at first glance seem to be somewhat left field.

I will try to explain.

The retina screen for all of its technicolored glory, does have one glaring drawback, if you excuse the pun.

When I replaced my MacBook Pro 15 inch model 1.1 with my 2007 model I did not specify the matt screen option.

Something I lived to regret for the whole life of the computer because when I was shooting tethered or using it in sometimes challenging circumstances, such as bright sunny conditions or even near a window, sometimes making it very difficult to see what was on the screen.

I selected the £80 option for a high resolution matt screen and the high gloss reflections are all but banished.

The retina Macbook pro has many connectivity options including USB3 and the super fast Thunderbolt ports too.

The unibody has these too and it also has firewire.

Let's face it, with the advent of thunderbolt, firewire has a limited long term future, and who needs firewire when you can get a firewire adaptor?

The adaptor does after all work quite well, even if you do on occasion, have to moderate your shooting speed when shooting tethered on fast moving shoot.

But let me refer you to Apple's own sales pitch for the thunderbolt-firewire adaptor which they say

'gives you a FireWire 800 port that supplies up to 7W for bus-powered peripherals like hard drives'

But what if your device, like some external hard drives, or even your medium format camera back has firewire connectivity which draws more than 7W's?

Better start looking for the power adaptor or the batteries, as you will not be able to power them from the computer, denying you the flexibility of powering from the laptop.

Perhaps more even importantly, pray to the gods that you do not lose or forget your adaptor when you are on the road on that all important job.

If you are a Hasselblad owner this news maybe of particular interest to you as your camera, even the very latest models, rely solely on firewire, with seemingly no alternative on the near or distant horizon, not a happy situation to be in, better stock up on the adaptors, remember not to shoot too fast or perhaps buy the latest unibody Macbook Pro before they are discontinued.

The retina Macbook Pro has no DVD drive, the unibody Macbook Pro has one.

The DVD superdrive is something I cannot recall using in the past couple of years at least, but it maybe could just be useful, for that software install DVD (you would be surprised how many software manufacturers use these) or for the more unlikely moment of burning a DVD.

But I have something else in mind, SSDs are becoming more affordable all the time, and by the time my warranty has expired drives like the Crucial M500 1TB SSD will be readily available and affordable, fitting snugly in the super drive bay, giving me double the options for storage. 

The SSD is the biggest leap in computing performance we have seen for sometime, so needless to say I specified my unibody Macbook Pro with the 256 at extra cost, even though it meant the whole package cost a bit more than the retina model. I did this instead of fitting my own, which would have saved a bit of cash as I did not want to void the warranty.

Buy either Macbook and you will be happy, in my view though the unibody is more suited to the working photographer, the retina with its svelte up to the minute design perhaps more suited for general use, I imagine gaming would be a vivid experience.


cuisinedejere said...

Totally reasonable logic. And you probably know that the unibody version is easier to upgrade in the future inside than the retina ones that have pretty much everything soldered on the motherboard. :( no more adding memory easily etc.

I am planning to add a SSD to my MBP but I am still waiting for the prices to drop. Now its better to use usb 2 although I know the speed of the machine would be much much better after the switch to booting from an ssd. I've been eyeing the samsung SSDs but am not sure about their compatibility with the mac vs for example OWC ones. Any thoughts?

Drew Gardner said...

Hi Cuisinedejere,

Unibody definitely more upgradeable as you rightly say.

The SSD issue is an interesting one.

I put a couple of Vertex 2 SSD drives in my Mac Pro a couple of years ago.

I had a strange problem in that I enabled trim support but somehow, and I do not know enough about computers, it disabled itself.

All is well now, after a raft of updates, but I seem to recall a post about some SSD drives not working with trim support on a Mac.

This was part of my decision to play it safe by opting to go for an Apple 'Factory' SSD.

This may well now be old info but I would do a good bit of focused research before you make the jump.

I would also say that SSD drives do seem to get slower with age....I have no specific data on this but they just seem to.

Regular formatting could fix this perhaps?

Despite this, SSD's are pretty damn fantastic, and I would heartily recommend them.


cuisinedejere said...

Thanks Drew,

I definitely have to research the topic more before dropping 300euros on it. I have heard about the slowing down after a period of use, so maybe reformatting might help, as well as maybe not filling them up to close to 100% of the capacity.

Prices being what they are I am looking at the 240-500GB range now and will keep the good old hd for backup and ditch the superdrive.

ohnostudio said...

Thanks for the info. I am laptop shopping as we speak. No decisions yet. I've never met a Mac screen I didn't like ;-) but you are right about the matte being the best for outdoors.

Drew Gardner said...

There is no doubt I have given my Vertex SSD drives a very hard life and not played always by the book with them.

Libby, I cannot recommend the matt screen highly enough, but as you say Mac screens these days are very good indeed.


mike austen said...

Hi Drew, well thought out post,I'm in the same boat - which processor did you end up going for?

Darren said...

I up cycled my 2007 MBP with a 128 GB SSD and put a normal HDD where the SuperDrive was. Like having a new machine. Loads up in seconds. Plenty of info and tutorials online, took about 45 mins tops to do. Saved me a fortune!

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