Retina MacBook Pro review (15in, 2015) full review

Two models of 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display have been in production since the Apple’s best notebook launched in late 2012. And both these models were again refreshed in June 2015, with important updates made to the trackpad and the flash-storage specification.

We covered the top MacBook Pro model with its additional discrete graphics processor recently — now we focus on its twin (product code: MJLQ2B/A) that shares almost the same specification, but is priced £400 cheaper. You can view the MacBook Pro 15in 2.2 GHz (Retina, Mid 2015) on the Apple Store here.

We've teamed up with KRCS to offer 7% off any MacBook Pro or MacBook Pro Touch Bar until 16 April using the code MACWORLDMARCH7. That means you could save as much as £189 off a fully kitted out 2015 MacBook Pro, or £132 off the base model - but you can check out the full range of 2015 MacBook Pro models over at KRCS, making this the cheapest way to buy any new MacBook Pro right now.

What’s new in the 2015 MacBook Pro?

With Intel’s Haswell series of processors now almost two years old, there was great expectation that the mid-2015 updates to the 15-inch MacBook Pro would introduce the quad-core mobile version of the next CPU generation - codename: Broadwell.

But that was not to be, and so both of the new 15-inch models carry the selfsame Intel Core i7 Haswell processors as the Retina MacBook Pro series that was launched in July of last year. In the case of the entry-level version at £1,599 we review here, that means an Intel Core i7-4770HQ with baseline clock frequency of 2.2 GHz.

This processor has four real processor cores, each able to juggle two processing threads, thus replicating the effect of an eight-core chip. In addition its Intel Turbo Boost 2.0 technology allows at least one core to temporarily and dynamically overclock to 3.4 GHz providing temperature and current conditions allow.

Packed inside the Intel processor is this MacBook Pro’s one and only graphics processor, designated by Intel as Iris Pro Graphics 5200. When we first met this integrated graphics processing unit (IGPU) in the late-2013 model MacBook Pro series, we were surprised to find how close in performance it could come to the dedicated Nvidia graphics.

As we saw with last summer’s refresh, the memory configuration is now ‘maxed out’ at 16 GB of low-power DDR3 RAM, running at the Haswell chip’s memory clock speed of 1600 MHz. In reality the Intel chip can field up to 32 GB of memory but Apple has set the ceiling at 16 GB, and since it’s soldered to the logic board there’s no scope for memory upgrades now or later.

The new 2.2 GHz MacBook Pro also benefits from the latest Force Touch trackpad, with customisation options that allow you to set the primary click pressure as Light, Medium or Firm (Medium by default), and the secondary Force Click with haptic feedback that can be used in the OS X Finder for Quick Look of files and folders as well as provide variable speed media controls with QuickTime Player. This variable-speed function hasn’t been ported to iTunes yet but we anticipate seeing it available for more apps in the future.

(Apple has since launched the Magic Trackpad 2, incidentally, which allows owners of older Macs to get the benefit of Force Touch features.)

2015 MacBook Pro 15in 2.2 GHz: Performance

With the same 2.2 GHz processor as the MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Mid 2014), we would expect the core processor and graphics speed to be the same as that model.

In our tests this was confirmed, with benchmark results effectively the same. To recap, that means a Geekbench 3 result here of 3428 points, and 13,315 points in multi-core model.

Cinebench 15 scored this MacBook with 121 points single-core and 592 points multi-core, and the OpenGL graphics rendering test returned a framerate of 31 fps. This does mean the gap between integrated and discrete graphics models of the 2015 MacBook Pro has now widened a little – the previous Nvidia version recorded 53 fps while the AMD-powered model averaged 63 fps.

We saw the same story across our gaming graphics test – Batman: Arkham City averaged a decent 69 fps at 1280 x 800 pixels and High detail, or 61 fps when set at the most appropriate resolution of 1440 x 900.

Turning to Tomb Raider (2013) we found again that the MacBook Pro with integrated graphics was more than up for the job – providing you adjust the game’s settings to use Legacy OpenGL.

At the starting point of 1280 x 800 and Normal detail, this meant an average framerate 46 fps. Without the latter tweak though, expect to see less than half that frame rate (we recorded just 21 fps).

Set to 1440 x 900 and High detail with Legacy OpenGL, this MacBook Pro was happy to return an average of 39 fps, with a minimum dip to 29 fps, making this our preferred optimum for this game/notebook combination.

2015 MacBook Pro 15in 2.2 GHz: Storage

There may no change in application or graphics performance with this new 2015 model, but real-world use should show it to be a much faster computer, thanks to the major uplift in storage performance.

We have been astonished by the speed increases available since Apple started rolling out PCIe-attached flash drives in 2013. Now even this entry-level 15-inch laptop sees the benefit of an upgrade from two lanes of PCIe 2.0, to four lanes of PCIe 3.0.

Best sequential speeds of the former drive were around 785 MB/s for sequential reads and 730 MB/s for sequential writes. This mid-2015 MacBook Pro can now comfortably reach 2000 MB/s in reads at least; although the smaller 256 GB capacity drive takes a small toll on peak write speeds.

We measured an average of 1221 MB/s for sequential writes, just a small way behind the 1542 MB/s we saw with the 512 GB flash drive in the top 2.5 GHz model. The delta increase in storage speed is also highly evident at the all-important small-file level: in our tests, random 4 kB writes moved from 58 MB/s to 111 MB/s. And random 4 kB reads from 22 to 37 MB/s.

These latter results suggest that operations that demand fast IO for small data files – such as application launches, and file opening and saving – will feel even faster; even if any Retina MacBook Pro user is unlikely to complain about any current lag in such operations! But these are all creditable steps to making your computer respond instantaneously to your touch and control.

2015 MacBook Pro 15in 2.2 GHz: Display

We gave the ultra-high resolution IPS display a test of its key parameters, and found it to be of the same specification as that in the AMD MacBook Pro model we tested last month. This one showed a colour gamut of 97 percent of sRGB, and 72 percent Adobe RGB.

Contrast ratio exceeded 700:1, up to 750:1 at peak brightness (277 cd/m^2), while colour accuracy was superb, with an average Delta E well below 1, at 0.69.

2015 MacBook Pro 15in 2.2 GHz: Battery

Apple is suggesting an extra hour of battery life in this update, which is broadly what we found in the AMD version of the 2015 MacBook Pro, which lasted two minutes shy of 9 hours. In our standard video rundown test for this Intel-graphics version, we recorded 8 hr 32 min, which we found a little surprising since its CPU is clocked 300 MHz lower.

So we ran the test overnight again, and this time saw 8 hr 31 min. Which speaks well for consistency of the test procedure, but not so well for longevity that we expected to exceed its more powerful counterpart.

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