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What Do You Want In Your MacBook Pro?

Here at OWC, we’ve been talking a lot lately about the MacBook Pro with Retina display (which will hereafter be referred to as the rMBP). We’ve investigated the quality of the Retina display and how non-optimized graphics look. We’ve even attached multiple monitors to it, just to see what happened. Our research supports that this laptop was designed for professionals and does give us a truly remarkable, super-high-resolution screen. Yet with all Apple gives us in this machine, they leave one area to be desired—upgrade opportunities.

With the creation of the rMBP, Apple also focused on making the whole unit thinner. The result? Less expandability, which could affect the needs of many professionals.

On modern OS versions, and for modern apps, the base 8GB can be a little less than optimal for a “pro” machine. This leads many people to upgrade to the 16GB at an extra $200. Whether 8GB or 16GB is the chosen factory option, if that soldered-in  RAM is outgrown, the user has to buy a new MacBook, rather than upgrade the one they have.

As Mac users, we have a few options—accept the options that Apple offers, or buy the minimum configuration and upgrade it with third-party offerings later. Unfortunately, it seems as though the latter option is slowly being taken away from us. What began with the MacBook Air is now present in the rMBP; our options for expansion after purchase have been largely removed.

The optional 512GB and 768GB SSD’s do offer a decent bump up from the base model rMBP’s 256GB SSD – and at a very significant cost too. However, when Tim Cook proclaimed in his All Things Digital Interview, “we have some incredible things coming out,” this is not what we expected. We would have thought “incredible” would be an all new SSD design that offered 1TB or more of storage. Or even dual internal drives.

As a result, we’re hard at work to bring users the storage solutions we believe they want for a machine of this caliber. The possibilities can be as broad as solutions we created for other Mac models like Data DoublerAura Pro/Envoy BundleElectra MAX 960GB 3G SSD, and Accelsior, but they present a new set of challenges as well. For example, Apple switched the internal SSD drive connector on this machine. The new connector isn’t an insurmountable issue, but it does require a longer (and sometimes frustrating) development curve for the user.

Overall, we feel Apple could have benefited from listening to users a little more and asked what they wanted in the MacBook line evolution. Take for example the current battery life of nine hours. As we’ve read on numerous independent sites, many users would have gladly given up some battery runtime to have extra storage instead. The battery is comprised of 3 large cells and 3 smaller cells. Eliminating one of these smaller cells would have provided room for a 7mm drive bay while still providing a 7-8 hour runtime. And one has to wonder—what’s the point of extended runtime if you run out of space to save what you’re working on?

The display on the new machines is indisputably incredible. And in situations where 16GB of memory is all that is required, it outperforms a 12-core Mac Pro in many operations. While few applications today fully utilize 12-cores, it is still remarkable that a notebook machine with 4 cores can perform equal to and in some cases better than the leading desktop model of Macintosh computers. All that said, we’re still left with the feeling that if Apple really wanted to put out an “incredible” MacBook, they should have made the optional high-capacity SSDs the stock capacity drives from the get go. There’s no question that the rMBP leaves us with a lot of possibilities, but it leaves us with a lot more challenge as well.

OWC Larry
the authorOWC Larry
OWC Founder & CEO
Larry O'Connor is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Illinois-based Other World Computing (OWC®). Starting as a one-man business in 1988, O'Connor has provided the leadership and vision to establish OWC as the leading provider of technology products and services today.
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  • Hi OWC

    Any updates or trickles of information on replacement SSDs for the Retina MBP? Since the performance of the 2.3 and 2.6gh machines does not differ by all that much, fundamentally, it would be great to have a replacement SSD available. Apple’s cost difference between the base and “souped up” rMBP is too high!

      • Ooooo…that’s great news! Especially since you can now upgrade the 2.3ghz base version to 2.6 ghz without changing the SSD…

        A 960GB SSD would be quite lovely ;)

  • I have a nicely equipped early-2011 MBP. I just can’t justify the upgrade…

    – I already have 16GB RAM. My next laptop really needs to go to 32GB. It’s all about the VMWare.
    – I already have ~384GB SSD (1 Apple, 1 OWC in a Data Doubler). The 512GB option is too small for “next time” The 768GB option is too expensive. There is now OWC SSD yet (hoping that will change).

    Beyond that, it’s a VERY nice machine… I can even live with the low-reflective sort-of-glossy display.

    But the RAM is a deal killer. The next machine has to take 32GB. By the time there’s a rev1.1/2.0 that can take 32GB of RAM in one way or the other, I am confident that OWC will have sorted out the SSD compatibility!

  • I would like to upgrade the ram.

    I have only 8 gigs.

    I heard that it was physically possible but I haven’t looked into it.

  • For me the biggest issue is additional storage.
    Why not add an additional slot for an extra SSD, so you can have two of the type that’s in there now… That would have been awesome! Even more awesome would have been to actually have space for a normal internal drive though.

    Also, I don’t really care about the retina screen. I just got my rMBP and while the retina screen is nice, I found it just to be eye candy, like the one on the iPad 3.
    The ability to run up to 3 external monitors however was the main reason to get the rMBP. Whatever apple says, I love my tripple-head setup. Might even add an additional screen!

    I’d rather they release non-retina MBP with the same form factor as the rMBP, and just give me more storage for the same price!
    I hate carrying external drives with me, I really enjoyed having 1TB of mixed SSD + HDD storage in my 2011 MBP, and had it not died on me, I’d have kept it for many years.

    In summary…
    Multiple external displays!
    More battery time! (but not at the expense of storage!)

  • I ordered mine with 16GB of RAM where I may not need it today, but long term it is a good investment as it cannot be upgraded after the purchase. I know sooner or later OWC will have a replacement SSD for the unit so saw no reason to drop extra cash on getting the upgraded SSD since it is removable.

    Overall I have used a rMBP for a week now at work and it is a great machine and feels much heaver then it looks. The only thing I could hope for is an updated OWC On-The-Go Thunderbolt 0TB enclosure so I can drop a 240GB Mercury 6G drive to have a portable drive to go with my laptop.

    Biggest Con to the rMBP is you have to buy the 16GB upgrade out of the gate (Extra $200) up front but if you plan ahead there isn’t any issues as long as you buy AppleCare on the laptop.


    STEP 1: Buy the rMBP with 16 GB RAM and 768 GB SSD.
    1. This maxes out the RAM so no further upgrade is necessary.
    2. This maxes out the internal storage until OWC comes out with larger capacity SSDs.

    STEP 2. UPGRADE EXTERNALLY. The rMBP is designed to be expanded externally. The PCI bus is externalized twice through the dual Thunderbolt ports.

    Adding the Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock gives numerous additional ports and expansion options.

    1. Additional Thunderbolt port for daisy chaining other devices
    2. Ethernet port
    3. eSATA port
    4. Firewire 800 port
    5. THREE USB 3.0 ports
    6. Headphone jack
    7. Microphone jack

    To this, add the Sonnet Echo Pro ExpressCard/34 Thunderbolt Adapter giving you
    1. ExpressCard/34 port for additional expansion options.

    Then add the Sonnet Echo Express Pro Thunderbolt Expansion Chassis giving you
    1. TWO full-length PCIe Slots for PCIe Expansion cards of all sorts.

    I would like to see OWC come up with a slim case that can be placed underneath the rMBP.
    1. This case would have all of the ports the Belkin and Sonnet ExpressCard have
    2. This case would be able to contain up to 4 SSD hard drives or more which can be configured in various RAID combinations including RAID-0.
    3. This case would be like the OWC Mercury Elite Pro Dual Mini except it has additional ports.

    • 16GB of RAM is the amount Adobe technicians recommended to me with my quad-core MBP. Not the max, but the recommended amount. I’m not sure how you can justify that amount as the end-all. So glad have the potential for future choices by going non-Retina.

      And again, I don’t see how a breakout box and a bunch of adapters to use industry-standard connections is “pro”.

  • While I agree with many of the points of this commentary by OWC, my need for a MBP doesn’t involve needing a gigantic internal drive. I don’t want a huge system drive, since tiny bus-powered drives can go right in the bag and add whatever speed and storage you need. This way I can store several copies of my system for easy restoration with SD or CCC. (I have also noticed that SSDs reliability and speed seem to be helped by frequent recloning) If you need to make your MBR into a Pro workstation, Thunderbolt allows external upgrades of SATA and PCIe devices like you would fill your Mac Pro with.

  • @Mike – If that’s Apple’s reason for not doing focus groups, I wish they’d broaden their understanding to “faster and bigger”. I am a huge music fiend and they keep screwing up in the storage arena. My laptop is my main computer and I want it to be able to hold my media library. Dropping the optical and not offering 2 drives in the rMBP means it’s uninteresting to me because I can’t convert to a disk doubler. I also want an iPod that can hold all my music, and it’s been forever since they’ve updated their iPod classic line beyond 160 GB. I suspect they place less priority on storage because they are trying to push everything to streaming from iCloud, but I travel frequently and am without a net often enough that it’s just not a good option for me.

  • I just want my old 17″ screen with USB 3.0, firewire 800, ethernet, Thunderbolt (kind of) and a BluRay burner. User upgradable ram.

    • Once you buy 16 GB of RAM up front, there is no point to RAM upgrades since the rMBP cannot expand past 16 GB.

  • Couldn’t be happier with my new non-Retina MBP. Was originally looking at a MBP-r but while it may be considered “pro” in the future, it doesn’t interface with the current motion graphics industry without a bag full of adapters.

    As someone said, the more Thunderbolt/USB 3.0 dual interface equipment the better. The lack of TB enclosures is appalling.

  • I’m hoping the reference to Electra Max 960GB 6G SSD is a wink at what’s coming up next from OWC and not a typo ;)

    As for SSD expansion in rMBP; how about adding a very thin, additional bottom plate with additional SSD silicon and an ultra short and slim TB connector? Preferably using a controller that can tap directly into the PCI Express commands, omitting the SATA bottle neck. If it is designed slanted so that it elevates the back of the rMBP and doesn’t build more than say 7 mm it could be permanently attached while maintaining the slim look of the machine and also add some ergonomic value. Maybe even throw in some additional i/o ports while at it…?

    Two things I haven’t been able to figure about the rMBP if anybody happens to know:
    1. do the dual Thunderbolt ports on the rMBP provide higher bandwidth compared to the single port on the MBP, or simply a second chain of 6 devices for a total of 12?
    2. Is the SDXC card reader USB 3 speed? Thinking of getting a 256GB SDXC card (when they come out) to squeeze storage up to 1TB on a maxed out rMBP… I know it’s a bit of a desperate move…

    Thanks / Henrik

    • The SDXC reader in the newer models is not connected via USB internally. They can theoretically achieve 2 Gbit/s. Depends on the card you get. UHS version coming out have great read times. Write times are lower, though.

  • Something like the Envoy won’t make any sense for me. That’s where the SpaceNavigator goes!

  • so is OWC already working on the main flash drive options? can we get a general sense of when it will probably be available? – i got my rMBP SPECIFICALLY with 16gb ram and 256 GB drive to upgrade later to the OWC offerings as i have for several of my mac computers and literally hundreds of computers for my clients. – i am a very loyal customer and without reserve recommend your products over all others based on personal experience with the hardware but more importantly customer service. – (forgive me for sounding like i work for you :) – anyway, the 256 is not taking care of my needs and i need a 960GB flash for this immediately :) – please ……..please.

  • I think you’re right… but… I need the 17″ back… the 15″ for me it’s too small to work well…

    just my two cents

  • I can’t bring myself to buy a machine that is not upgradeable in some fashion. Memory and drives at a minimum.

    I am willing to dive into non-standard drive sizes, but only if there are options to upgrade. What would be grand is if the next revision of the full-sized MBP had two slots for blade drives. Two drives is a requirement for some professional applications (audio and video production) and one less thing to carry and plug-in would be a huge feature for me.

    • If you use +1.25 to +1.50 reading glasses, the 15-inch screen on the rMBP is as large or larger than the 17-inch screen without reading glasses.

  • This is a good point. I have a Rentia Display Macbook. I only want one thing.

    I wish OWC made a RAID 5 enclosure that has USB3.0 and Thunderbolt . Or that the Mercury elite pro at least had USB 3.0. This would solve all my storage problems :)

    Best thing would be a external thunderbolt sas adapter. Insisted of being forced to using something like the sonnet echo express.

  • I still think Apple should have launched this product not as one in the MBP family, but as the new “MacBook Retina Air” — the Air is the consumer-oriented MacBook, and consumers don’t really self-upgrade their equipment other than by purchasing a new system. Professional computer users are the ones who will upgrade their existing systems, adding more RAM as needed, or upgrading the storage as costs come down and capacities increase, etc.

    I do hope that Apple keeps the current MBP form factor (and design) available, and makes it available with the Ivy Bridge internals from the new Retina version, and a matte Retina display. This is what I’m hoping for in the next hardware refresh, whenever that happens.

  • Ten things I need in a rMBP

    1-7. A antiglare display
    8. maximum amount of RAM (third party is preferred)
    9. freedom to choose which ever hard/solid state disc drive I want
    10. user interchangeable batteries

    Until Apple gets their thumbs out of wherever they are I’ve got all of the above in my MBP…

  • Sorry, but when was the last time that Apple listened to its users? They famously do not focus group any of their products; the idea being that if given the choice, most consumers would simply want a faster version of what they already have, rather than anything truly revolutionary.

    The user couldn’t upgrade the iPod’s battery or drive; Apple sold a bazillion units. Same thing with the iPhone, iPad, and MBA (at least re: the battery). They took away the ExpressCard port on the 15″ MBP, and I lived with it.

    I’ll grant you that having a laptop be non-upgradable is a bigger pain than having a non-upgradable iPod or iPhone. But it’s just not in Apple’s DNA to ask users what they want.