How to get the most from your MacBook Pro Retina Display

How to get the most from your MacBook Pro Retina Display

Summary: Apple is shipping uber high resolution panels in its new Retina MacBook Pros but it limits your resolution choices out of the box. Here's how to get all the resolution you paid for.

TOPICS: Apple, Hardware

Apple's new Retina MacBook Pro 13 is the new Mac Daddy of Apple notebooks. The original 13-inch MacBook Pro is the company's best-selling notebook and when it added a Retina Display it created the best notebook on planet. It has a lot of ports (including two Thunderbolt and one HDMI) and it's only a half of a pound heavier than the 13-inch MacBook Air, but it also comes with a limitation that I find annoying. 

Apple dumbed down the Displays System Preference to this: 

Get the most from your MacBook's Retina Display - Jason O'Grady

I didn't switch from the MBA13 to the rMBP13 for its ports, I switched for the Retina Display. The rMBP13 (Late 2012) packs 2560 x 1600 resolution at 227 PPI but in its infinite wisdom Apple took away the option to actually run it at 2560 x 1600.

Apple used to allow users to choose actual (numerical) resolution settings, but it dropped them for the silly "Best for Retina display" scale in the new high-resolution MacBook Pros. According to its Retina MacBook Pro FAQ "native Retina mode" is the recommended resolution for the new machines. Apple even issues this warning:


Scaled resolutions do not offer the same visual quality as the Retina setting. Scaled resolutions may also impact graphics performance depending on which applications you are using.

The four default resolution options on the rMBP13 are:

  • Larger Text - Looks like 1024 x 640
  • Best (Retina) 
  • The third one - Looks like 1440 x 900
  • More Space - Looks like 1680 x 1050

While something that "looks like 1680 x 1050" is probably enough for most people, others might want the full 2560 x 1600 that's promised on Apple's specs page.

There are some third-party software options to get more resolution options out of your new Retina MacBook Pro.

  • Retina DisplayMenu (RDM) (free, right) from Reddit user "phoenixdev" is a menu bar item that allows you to choose from a list of Apple's supported resolutions (HiDPI) as well as several additional unsupported resolutions, including a microscopic 3360 x 2100. 
  • SwitchResX (shareware) offers extensive control over "Monitor Resolution, Color Depth, Video Mirroring, Display Rotation, Display Overscan" and more. It even allows one to create and enable new resolutions.

Keep in mind that both application are unsupported by Apple and you should back up your machine before installing them. I tested RDM on my rMBP and found that it runs flawlessly and stays out of your way until you need it. If you need more resolution that Apple provides out of the box, both utilities are worth a look. 

Topics: Apple, Hardware

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  • This is all very confusing

    I'm so confused by all these settings and numbers that you are throwing around. Why does Apple have to confuse everything?

    Screw it, that's too complicated for me. I'm just going to stick with Windows 8. That is so much easier to understand.
    • Still showing your reading comprehension challenge?

      Those "numbers" you find so hard to understand ate from 3rd party hacks.

      By why tell the truth when you can obfuscate?
      • So confusing

        I don't understand what terms like "scaled" and "more space" mean. How can Apple add more space to my screen? If I buy a 13" laptop, Apple can't come into my house and change it to a 15" screen just because I click on "more space".

        No, this is far too confusing for me. It is very schizophrenic with its "larger text" and "more space" labels. I'm getting a headache just thinking about it.

        The other problem I've heard about the rMBP is that they "feel" heavy. I know they are only half a pound heavier than the MBA but they "feel" like they are about 10 pounds. If you choose "larger text", it gets even worse and the rMBP "feels" like it is 20 pounds.

        Windows 8 is much lighter and is far less confusing. It is also less schizophrenic. It also crashed once on someone's computer. Also, Apple lies about how much hard drive space you get. If you buy the 128GB version, they don't tell you up front that some of that space is taken up by the OS and default applications. That is false advertising.

        MacBook is too confusing to me, too schizophrenic. I won't buy it. I won't I tell you. No.
        • You never would buy it - so why you bother

          This option is simplifying the switch in DPI rather than pixels.

          Most applications would be too small at the old expected DPI and full screen resolution.

          The Retina display is expected to give more pixels for the same content.

          Therefore Apple has provided a menu to give the options appropriate for either maintaing the DPI relative to the app or for raising the DPI in the same physical scale for the app.

          I'd suggest trying the options and seeing what works.

          Or you can continue to astro-turf for windows if that is all you are capable of.
          • Or you can accidentally flag your own post

            I just hit flag on my post instead of the spam above lol
        • "I won't buy it"

          We know you won't, you'll just later claim you did, to trick people into thinking you know what you are talking about.
    • My friend, Bruizer does have you on this one. Grin.

      BTW, did you post this comment from your new Surface RT? Congrats. From your other posts, I understand your extreme satisfaction with your new tablet.

      Oh, while you were so confused over those third party display resolution settings, I was finishing up on my upgrade to my 2009 MacBook. I installed the OWC Mercury EXTREME Pro 6G 480 GB SSD and it is blazing fast. It now boots my MB in under 25 seconds. Also, installing a clean ML installation from a flash drive was my first time installing an OS using this technique. Wow. What a nice experience.

      It used to be that adding RAM was the primary hardware method used to increase system performance. Or changing Video Cards. (From my PC days. Grin)

      Now, IMO, the primary method to significantly improve system performance is by installing a fast SSD boot drive. (Oh-the hardware swap on my MB took all of five minutes.)

      All the software has been added. (Even installed a Windows VM) And the little gal is dancing for joy!

      I posted this success story because it effects my future purchase plans. As you know, I had a choice between that upgrade process or purchasing a MBP retina class laptop (as Jason did).

      I chose the upgrade path so that I could free up funds for my Surface Pro purchase when those units become available. (The Surface Pro is the better choice for me, Todd. It's display is better and the performance will be more than acceptable in a 2 pound mobile computer.

      BTW, I envision using my Surface Pro in conjunction with my iPad 3 in the following manner. I'm sure AirDisplay drivers will be available for Win 8 by the time the Pro tablet is available. If I will do content creation on a tablet, I will wish to have more than a ten inch display in doing that. With AirDisplay, I will be able to utilize my iPad as a secondary display monitor to the Surface Pro.

      Think about it. Taking both tablets along with a combined weight of around 3.5 pounds will provide me with mobile access to both ecosystem apps and still weigh less than my 5 pound MacBook alone, not to mention a combined weight of a MBP (Retina) and an iPad package.

      I looked at the financial numbers and the cost of the OWC SSD plus the projected cost of an upscale Surface Pro will have an overall cost in the same ball park (or less) as a MBP (retina) computer alone - especially if the MBA is maxed out.

      I'm not sure if drivers exist for the Surface RT OS that would give you the same dual monitor functionality that I have outlined above. If it did, it would give you an option to use your iPad 2 in a similar manner.

      Best of luck with your "Early Christmas Present".
      • Congrats on the upgrade

        Glad you are enjoying it. I too installed an SSD drive in my (at the time) Windows 7 laptop. It booted in about 30-40 seconds. Now that I've upgraded to Windows 8, it boots in about 15 seconds, not that I've had to boot it often. If you did that install in 5 minutes though, I'm extremely impressed. I've heard horror stories of HDD swaps in MacBooks taking over an hour. Ugh.

        I have to admit, the thought of carrying around a Surface Pro AND an iPad 3 seems odd but if you can make it work for you, all the more power to you. The Surface Pro is going to be around a $1,000 (my estimate) at which point wouldn't you just be better off buying an MBA? After all, probably better for you if you stay loyal to the Apple ecosystem. Quite frankly, the only major advantage the Surface Pro has over the MBA is that it can be used in tablet mode but if you are already bringing a tablet with you (iPad 3) then that advantage is gone. While the Surface keyboard is better than anything you will ever find on any iPad anywhere, it isn't better than a laptop keyboard.

        And no, this particular post was not written on my Surface RT, this one was all Windows 8. I am extremely happy with both Windows 8 and Surface RT though. Apple has a great marketing term in the word "Retina" but I prefer results over marketing terms. I guess I'm funny that way.

        Again, congrats on the upgrade and good luck with your future Surface Pro purchase. I would suggest you take another look at the MBA though, I honestly believe you'll be happier with it if you are resigned to lugging around 2 devices. May I also suggest you look at an iPad Mini? That way you would have something light and small to read your magazines on. And of course your iPhone 5 so that you can make phone calls.
        • I have had hands on with the iPad Mini

          The form factor, IMO, is perfect for a content consumption tablet. I will pass on that first gen effort and wait until it has a HiDPI display and a better SOC. See, I didn't use the R word :)

          I do like Win 8 but my experience with a Win8 VM on my upgraded MacBook has convinced me that this is not a viable option. In my opinion, Win 8 needs dedicated hardware to run well in a mobile environment based upon my experiance using a VM on a laptop with only 4 GB total system ram and only about 1.5 GB of that ram dedicated to a VM.
        • PS. About that MBA option

          I considered it. Their are pros and cons. The big MBA pro is not even hardware related but rather related to the software ecosystem. Because of Apple's App Store policy of allowing App Store bought software to be installed on more than one personal Apple owned computer, I could leverage my software investment. And, iCloud integration among certain OS X and iOS apps has progressed to a point that becomes personally beneficial for me.

          But an MBA is not an MBP (retina) and I have been spoiled by a HiDPI display. IMO, the Surface Pro has a more durable hardware construction design than a MBA and that means a lot to me when it comes to mobile hardware. And, (on paper, the Surface Pro's display tech is better than the current MBA design. But that will have to be decided for myself with a hands on experience.
      • You Americans are so lucky to have

        OWC--good products at good prices. Not cheap (which almost invariably means nasty) but still reasonably priced. I bought a G4 processor from them for my B&W G3. Great purchase (until I was unlucky enough to get my parcel chosen by Customs to have duty and Grab Snatch Take slammed on it). The G3 still works; a friend is using it.
        Laraine Anne Barker
  • boycott Apple

    boycott Apple, why? you will not believe! Throw away all your Apple products, please, to save a choice!
    • More power to them

      When Samsung can bother to do their own design, and Eric Schmidt can do his own R&D instead of using his privileged position on Apple's board to steal from them, then they are free to lobby for protection from Apple. Until then, screw 'em.