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Apple MacBook Pro 2012 with Retina display review

With 5.1 million pixels on the 15.4in display, the latest Intel Ivy Bridge processors and up to 768GB of SSD storage, Apple has raised the bar for laptops.

PerformanceWith all the fuss over the screen, it's easy to forget the new MacBook's other standout new feature: Intel's Ivy Bridge CPUs. The top-of-the-range model has a 2.6GHz quad-core Core i7 CPU and couples it with a 512GB SSD for 2,299, while our review model, the cheaper of the two, makes do with a 2.3GHz Core i7-3615QM and a 256GB SSD. In either case, the processor's HD Graphics 4000 chipset is joined for more strenuous tasks by one of Nvidia's Kepler-based GeForce GT 650M GPUs.

Key Specifications

OS: Mac OS X LionProcessor: 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-3615QMScreen: 15.4in Retina display (2880 x 1800)Storage: 256GB SSDConnectivity: 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0

See full specifications

By any subjective standards, the MacBook Pro feels fast. Booting into OS X takes 17 seconds on average, and applications snap in and out of view instantly, due in no small part to the speed of the SSD. With sequential reads peaking at 477MB/sec and writes at 419MB/sec, it's as quick as solid-state storage gets.

This combination of scorching SSD and quad-core CPU makes for a high level of performance. Our suite of Real World Benchmarks (running on a Boot Camp Windows 7 partition) showed just how fast the new MacBook Pro is, with an overall score of 0.92 up there with the fastest laptops we've tested. It sailed through our easier Crysis benchmarks, and even at Full HD resolution and High quality settings it managed a playable 32fps

As you might expect, cramming these high-power components into a slender chassis has some downsides. Under normal use the vents along the hinge and the edges of the base are enough to keep things cool. Run something intensive, such as Crysis, for an hour or so, and the case becomes hot to touch in some areas. The wristrest hovered around 37C, but the upper portion of the keyboard and the metallic strip along its top edge rose to an uncomfortable 54C, and the base approached 50C around the hinge area. Power users will want to stick to the safety of a desk.

Boot Camp

As with previous models, the Boot Camp drivers aren't perfect. For one thing, Windows 7 gets no automatic graphics switching: the Nvidia GPU runs constantly, which leaves the upper area of the keyboard noticeably warmer than under OS X, even when idle.

The other side effect is significantly worse battery life under Windows 7. We emulated our usual battery test as well as we could in OS X, with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth disabled and screen brightness calibrated to as near to 75cd/m2 as possible, and the MacBook Pro lasted 10hrs 34mins. Under Windows 7, that figure dwindled to a just 4hrs 32mins.

Finally, there's the question of the Retina display. Running Windows 7 at 2,880 x 1,800 is initially impressive for the sheer clarity on offer, but upping the DPI settings does nothing to enlarge the painfully tiny icons in applications. Open up Adobe Photoshop or Sony's Vegas Pro, for example, and the icons are almost entirely unusable. Lowering the resolution to 1,920 x 1,200 is an option, but the loss of clarity as the GPU scales the image to fit the display is plain to see.

The gesture controls are much improved, and there's no doubt Windows works fine for the most part, but you only really get the most from the screen in OS X. For those desperate to use Windows on the MacBook Pro, we'd opt for virtualisation instead with the massive pixel density, you could run Windows comfortably in a window.

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