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MacBook Retina Display For Coding

This is a question that could be better on Stack Overflow or Programmers, but I thought I'd try it here first.

As a programmer, I need lots of screen real-estate for the IDE and files that I'm editing. If I need to work from a laptop, I currently use an Acer with 18.5" screen and 1920x1200 resolution. It's old, heavy (almost 4 kg) and in need of replacement.

Most of my work is on Windows, but the ability to do Mac and iOS development would be great, so I'm considering a MacBook Pro with VMware or Parallels instead.

The new MacBook Retina sounds great, but I'm worried that the ultra-high DPI won't work well when used with Windows on Parallels, and text will be so small it's unreadable (many Windows apps tend not to scale fonts well, and my eyesight isn't 100% any more).

Has anybody got experience of running an IDE (Delphi, Visual Studio, whatever) on a Retina MacBook Pro under Parallels? Was there a significant increase in the amount of usefully legible information compared to a non-Retina MacBook?

[Edit: I've just been reading some more detailed stuff about how the display can be scaled from AnandTech. The screenshot showing Portal with an illegible console is the thing that concerns me. ]

I'm a Windows developer using Parallels 8 to run a Windows 8 VM on a 2013 Macbook Pro Retina 15".

I was able to solve the issues I was having with the Visual Studio applications and other apps (I describe some of the issues I was seeing below) by going to Parallels configuration through 'Configure... -> Hardware -> Video' and setting the resolution to 'Scaled'. And then in the Windows 8 VM set the 'Size of all items' to '100%' by right-clicking on the Desktop, selecting 'screen resolution', selecting the 'Make text and other items larger or smaller' link and then selecting '100%'. I have my Windows 8 resolution set to 1440x900 (I haven't tried a higher resolution since this is comfortable for me.) This seems to have fixed all of the issues I was having.

I was initially very disappointed with the resolution of the Visual Studio 2010/2012 and SQL Server Management applications when I was using the Parallels recommended 'Video' setting 'Best for Retina'. This essentially sets the DPI in Windows to be very high (199%). The text wasn't horribly blurry, but it wasn't clear either. The way it affected the layout of the some of the Visual Studio windows was horrible. For example, when using SQL Server Management Console when trying to attach a new .mdf, the file explorer window to browse to the mdf would be completely blank and I'd have to maximize the window just to see a sliver of the folder hierarchy so I could browse the file I wanted. Sometimes text was cut off and, although text was an expected size for the resolution, mouse pointers and indicators were very small and splash pages were extremely small and disproportionate.

Since switching over to 'Scaled' (and 100% DPI in Windows 8) I haven't seen any of these issues and I'm enjoying using the 15" Retina for Windows development.

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I have "bad news" for you. You want the new Retina MBP.

I'm running VMware 3 on mine right now, at the highest resolution of the 5 choices. Non-retina apps like VMware see it as 1920x1200. In Windows text is a bit small, but it works. The default, 1440x900, is the sharpest. Retina apps will use every pixel, non-retina apps will use four pixels.

An app that supports the retina display has access to the full resolution. If the app is written correctly, then all the controls and widgets and things say precisely the same apparent size, they just get way sharper. The Portal example is why they don't expose the full resolution.

What this means is that I can run my machine at 1440x900 normally, getting insanely sharp text. When I want to load up Xcode and edit an iPad UI, I can then shrink my display to 1920x1200, for some (surprisingly minor) loss in sharpness, and fit way more on screen.

As I understand it, for sharpness reasons, when I ramp the resolution up to max it appears to be a 1920x1200 retina display - so retina apps render at 3840x2400 and that gets scaled down to the real native display of 2880x1800. That produces better results than scaling 1920x1200 up to 2880x1800.

VMware doesn't include any retina APIs, so it does pixel doubling. Of course, even if it did support the retina APIs, I don't know if Windows apps have anything close. So: Windows apps look like 1440x900 or 1920x1200, or one of the other 3 choices (The Displays control panel doesn't tell you the actual resolutions, in typical Apple style.)

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I am an active software developer and DBA, who looks at the code all day long, and I absolutely LOVE my new retina MacBook Pro with Windows 7 installed under Boot Camp!

A quick sidebar is that I am still confused when I read articles about the lack of NVIDIA driver availability and other issues posted in reviews even on prominent sites like Anandtech. I think they may have created their reviews before Apple started to officially ship these laptops... - i.e. I got my laptop on June 18th, used Boot Camp wizard to create USB with Win 7 Ultimate x64 with SP1 and installed it outright (after resolving a quick NTFS support issue using NTFS-3g under Lion) and have been happy ever since. There is a support folder created by Boot Camp that contains Boot Camp installer, which installs all of the drivers (including the supposedly missing NVIDIA driver) and everything is tip-top.

Now, back to the resolution, and the use of this laptop for development…

Out of the box you will get the maximum resolution (2880x1800) and Windows will apply 150% DPI scaling (actually it is 144 DPI as opposed to 92 DPI by default). And although you will marvel at the display, you will quickly realize that the text is still too small. I got a near perfect 20x20 and I still had to go up to 168% before I felt more or less comfortable. (Note that I tried 200%, 175% and some other values in-between, and although text gets bigger, many UI elements (even Windows / Office 2010) start mis-behaving, look pixelated, etc.) So, again, after some experimenting, I settled at 168%.

Once you settle in at whatever DPI you are most comfortable with, you will start setting up all of your apps – Office, Other browsers, RDP, Management Studio, Visual Studio, etc., and that is where it starts being a little challenging. Not all apps support high DPI (or non-"standard" DPI setting). While IE8 and MS Office 2010 handles everything reasonably well, other apps may require you to adjust compatibility setting and disable the effect of DPI, which makes them work right, but text is super tiny unless you go in and adjust default text size (which is what you will end up doing just about everywhere). So, get ready to Zoom like crazy, although many apps will remember and respect the zoom setting once you dial it in.

Quick note regarding other browsers - as of this commentary, I somewhat refrain from using Opera and Chrome, because I could not find a right Zoom combination that worked well for web page UI elements. Sure – the text is bigger – but layout breaks and things look weird enough for me to go to another browser. So far, I am happy with IE8, Firefox 14, even Safari, but not with Chrome or Opera.

Another side note is that unless you have other super hi-rez monitors, moving the application form MBP screen to a monitor with less than 25XX resolution will present a challenge (unless aforementioned compatibility setting is set, and even then you will need to reduce text / zoom out.) This is because even a "typical" hi-rez 1080p monitor (i.e. 1920 x 1080) will display your app like 680 x 480 when you move it from MBP display - not physically, but perceptually - blame your new retina display if you like...

But back to the retina display - the display itself is amazingly sharp and clear, and with a little effort you will get tremendous benefit (especially if you are a coder) as you get smaller, but much, much... much clearer text (so smaller text is no longer a problem), which means you can display a lot more code on the screen and your efficiency will improve significantly!

In closing, once you go retina, you cannot go back - a few hours working with it and you will not be able to use a typical laptop (or low-rez display), because everything will look pixelated and fuzzy.

That's all I have to say - thanks for reading.

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