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Retina MBP for Programming and Design

I bought a fully loaded 15" rMBP the other week when they released the new ones. I was very hesitant to upgrade, because previously I had an extremely spacious 17" MBP.

That thing was beautiful, I could code with browser and code side by side the screen was so big. I ultimately decided to give that up though because my girlfriend's 2007 macbook finally started dying and I wanted to give her mine. I also figured it's time for an upgrade hardware wise.

My biggest concerns were the following.

  • Screen being too small to efficiently code
  • Images looking very distracting and absolutely terrible on websites that aren't retina-ready

These concerns were mostly due to the fact that any time I used the rMBP in the Apple Store I would just cringe a bit... just because it felt uncomfortably small.

Knowing that this is the future though, and that 17" will never be re-introduced, I figured it's now or never and bought one anyway.

Let me say, that using this thing in your own living room under real-world conditions is 100%, completely and utterly opposite of using it in the apple store.

This thing is fucking amazing. I much prefer it over the 17", and here are the reasons why:

  • I don't fry my nutsack anymore from the heat. At full load it gets mildly warm, and that's it. My old computer used to scold my skin, and actually made working on my couch very uncomfortable. Even with a heating pad it would heat the thing up to like 500 degrees, making it useless
  • Battery... you don't appreciate a near 6 hour battery life after coming from 2-2.5 until after you use it.
  • Retina... it's just so insanely godlike to read code and text. I can't emphasize this enough. Reading webpages, code, blogs, twitter... all of it is very similar to the feeling in upgrading from a non-retina iphone to the retina version. In the store, I way underestimated the beauty of it, just looking at their fake Mail.app in a brightly lit store. At home, under real conditions, its so noticeable that it makes using the computer absolute bliss.
  • A power button that is a key on the keyboard. This I didn't even notice until I went to turn it on the first time, but it's great.
  • Screen size is NOT a big deal... at all. More on this below though.

When I first got the computer in the mail, I fired it up and started getting used to it. One of the immediate things I noticed was that the screen was smaller (obviously), but the other subtle thing i noticed that bothered me was everything else got BIGGER. When I compared the old mac screen with the mac retina, all my apps were 'zoomed in' by about 15-20%.

So not only did the screen size decrease.. ALL my apps increased in zoom. This made it so when I viewed facebook in chrome that takes up half the window, I couldn't see more than 1 status.

I tried to mitigate this by choosing a 90% default for websites in chrome. I also set all my font sizes very small, but it still didn't look quite 'right'. It was bareable though, and something that I thought I was just going to have to get used to.

Furthermore, when using photoshop, everything was half the size now. Like to design in 1000px wide canvas? Well now it's going to look ~500px on your screen...

All of this was stuff I thought I would just have to get used to, much to my chagrin -- but for the most part I was ok with change, it's gotta be done if I plan to use any other mac besides my 17" for the rest of my life.

That is when...

I stumbled upon the magical setting. I remember when I was setting up, I looked through the system preferences many times trying to find some kind of 'zoom' feature, but never did. Eventually I came across a blog of someone mentioning the 'scaled' setting. I did a double take and checked my settings again, and low and behold I missed this setting the first 5 times I looked at this config pane.

retina scaling

This might seem obvious to people who already figured that out, but I almost missed it, and it was the difference between a 6/10 experience and a 11/10 experience. Also if you haven't ordered yet, or only used it for 5 minutes in the store it's easy to miss.

This fixed everything more than my wildest dreams. My mac instantly went from being beautiful but distressing to work with, to far exceeding my old computer for usability and working. It fixed 100% of the zoom issues, while still giving rMBP quality. The best part is because everything is scaled down, you don't notice the retina-less website images anymore, and all around it's just so much better. Using Vim and iTerm2 on this is like nothing else. The code just feels so insanely sharp and crisp, and my oh-my-zsh theme really shines.

I'd recommend it 100%. Hopefully this helps to dispel some concerns if anyone was in my same shoes wanting to buy.

over 4 years ago, by pineapple

4 Replies


Awesome! I also had very close to the same experience when ditching my 17" for a 15" rMBP.

1 year in here are my thoughts...

  • In normal mode, it actually has the same pixels per inch/2 as a Cinema Display. Technically the 17" is zoomed out.
  • I ended up switching the scaling back to 'normal' after a few months. I had to adjust all of my font sizes in Vim, iTerm, etc., as my old settings were just too large.
  • When scaled down, I still can't get 3 80char cols comfortably in iTerm or Vim.
  • Most web pages don't take advantage of over 1100 pixels wide.
  • Fullscreen mode + TotalSpaces makes app switching instant (full screen but no slow sliding effect).

How is Mavericks with all of the dev tools, any issues?

SkinnyGeek1010, over 4 years ago


Mavericks works great for me so far, zero issues. I love that system ruby is 2.0 as well. Even though I use RVM, that's just great anyway.

pineapple, over 4 years ago


How is Mavericks with all of the dev tools, any issues?

I only had one issue so far. If you need to install postgresql with homebrew, take a look at this homebrew issue.
Other than that, everything works as expected for me either.

Walkman, over 4 years ago


I would like to say that this blog really convinced me to do it! Thanks, very good post. http://wordcookiesgame.com/

Ronn, 12 months ago

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