Apple's workhorselaptop has been given a major overhaul for 2012 and now includes a stonkingly high resolution display, a thinner design and new, improved processors. But what benefits do these upgrades really mean for the professional media user?
To find out, I handed my review unit over to GameSpot's most excellent video producer, Seb Ford, who set about editing a whole episode of Start/Select (embedded below) to see what the Pro can handle and, crucially, if it's worth stumping up the extra cash for that retina display.
How much difference did the retina display make to your editing?
"Video editing requires as much display real estate as you can find," says Seb. "In the GameSpot office, my dual 24-inch monitors allow me to see all my footage bins, effects panels and multiple video displays all at the same time. It can look intimidating, but it's by far the most efficient way of producing video.
"One of the limitations of working on a laptop at trade shows is the severely reduced display area. With the retina display, while the video playback window appears to be the same size, it's vastly more detailed. It becomes much easier to make subtle adjustments and spot graphical errors in your footage."
So the increased resolution made it better for editing on than the older model?
"Certainly. On the older model, the raw footage can appear lo-res in the small display window, but it's crystal clear on the retina display."
Would you still need to use an external monitor?
"No, you wouldn't need an external monitor. I was able to edit an entire episode of Start/Select without having to connect any external devices," says Seb.
While doing testing for my review, I fired up Adobe Lightroom 4 and imported some photos taken with the astounding. The high resolution of the screen meant the images were incredibly sharp, which made subtle changes in the edit much more accurate.
It's also superbly bold and vivid, making both images and video shine beautifully. I put the same photo side-by-side against my normal computer monitor and the difference was obvious.
Did you notice a significant upgrade in its processing power from the older model?
"Working at trade shows will often require you to be downloading footage, while browsing for product information, as well as having at least one video editing platform open. Again, this can slow down both the edit, and the render, once you are finished.
"For the majority of the edit I did on the new Pro, I found its processing speed to be totally comparable to my desktop Mac Pro [a 3.2GHz quad-core Intel Xeon Mac Pro, with 12GB of RAM]. Only after adding some processor-heavy effects (like vignettes and gaussian blurs) did I notice any lag, though it was extremely minor."
Did that make it easier to edit on?
"Vastly. There is nothing more infuriating than waiting for your machine to catch up with you during an edit."
Were you ever worried about it freezing up?
"No, at no point in the edit did it show any signs of stalling or freezing up. The spinning rainbow wheel is a dreadful sight during an edit, and I didn't see it once from start to finish."
Would you stump up the extra cash and go for the 16GB of RAM?
"If I were to buy this machine for myself, I would definitely go for the full 16GB. The video I produced totalled 5 minutes, so for a longer edit I would expect to see the system slow down more. I would need a machine built specifically to make video, so increasing the RAM would be a must for me," says Seb.
I had a similarly positive experience with my photo editing. I was working with high-resolution raw images that each had a file size of around 60MB, so they would have stretched the limits of even the more competent laptops and would certainly be out of the question for low-spec machines.
I found that that it was able to import photos into Lightroom 4 very quickly and switching into editing mode was immediate -- less capable machines often suffer from lag here. There was no visible delay when I altered sliders that affected the whole image, which made applying small tweaks particularly easy. Crucially, at no point did I feel that the machine was struggling or was on the brink of freezing up.
What isn't so great about it?
"The video I capture is stored onto a FireWire 800 device, and without the native support [there's no FireWire 800 port on the new Pro] I was forced to find a workaround, without the Thunderbolt adaptor.
"I have also done several trade show edits that require editing on a network SAN server, which would require a high-speed wired connection over Ethernet [another port missing on the new model]. Again, I did not have the Ethernet adaptor," says Seb.
In general, the improvements to the screen appear to be particularly good for professional users who require a high level of detail, but don't have the luxury of using multiple displays when they're on the move. The beefed-up Intel Ivy Bridge processors make editing high-definition video a breeze.
The removal of the FireWire port proved problematic, as did the frankly bizarre exclusion of the Ethernet port -- an issue I had to battle with during my own review time. An Ethernet adaptor is available for £25, which isn't a huge amount, but it's more than a little galling to have to shell out for crucial extras after paying thousands already.
To read more about the new Pro, check out my full review now and be sure to let me know exactly what you make of it in the comments below and over on our Facebook page. And without further ado, here's Seb's latest MacBook-produced masterpiece...