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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. ]

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I don't think many people already have the new MacBook Pro and these applications installed :-) You'll have to wait a couple more days I'm afraid! –  Michiel Jun 12 '12 at 11:37
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@Michiel, Agreed. Best to get the question in early, though! –  Roddy Jun 12 '12 at 11:42
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It's perfectly ok to ask new questions knowing it might be weeks before someone with actual experience can field it. You run the risk that lots of people show up and speculate but votes and editing can help to refine both Q&A as needed. –  bmike Jun 12 '12 at 13:14
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+1 for a great comment @bmike, but my comment wasn't intended to be destructive or something alike. Just so we're clear :) –  Michiel Jun 12 '12 at 13:34
    
That screenshot of Portal was after bumping up the resolution in-game to 2880x1800, something you can't even do in the rest of the OS. –  mckeed Jun 13 '12 at 16:52
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11 Answers

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 recently wrote a review about windows programming on the MacBook retina, focusing on the windows specific problems of the laptop which are rarely talked about but should not be underestimated.

Short version:

  • Widespread lack of support for high DPI settings is by far the biggest problem. It often requires you to spend a large amount of time setting up new apps and searching on google how to fix the issues, and sadly some issues (such as the one shown in the screenshot below) cannot be fixed.

    enter image description here

    Overall, it just feels very hacky. We can hope, now that very high resolution monitors are becoming more common, those issues will gradually disappear but this hasn't happened yet.

  • The battery lasts half the time on Windows than what it does on Mac OS. The reason is that Windows is only able to use the nvidia card, while on Mac OS the nvidia card is used only when running graphics intensive operations and the integrated card (which uses considerably less power) is used for day to day operations, such as browsing the internet.

  • The keyboard is optimized for Mac OS. An example is the swapped position of the windows and alt keys. This is the most minor problem.

Besides those 3 issues, everything else works. The performance is great, bootcamp is easy to use and I never had a problem with it, the display is crisp, the laptop is beautiful.

I just wish I didn't have to deal with the DPI issues.

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Here's a video of someone running Visual Studio 2012 on Windows 8 via Parallels on the Retina MacBook Pro:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRwpCn2ennE

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If you're a coder and using a fixed width font, such as the original IBM VGA font and derivatives (Default linux font, "one of the X11 VGA fonts with UTF support", Fixedsys, Fixedsys Excelsior, etc), then your options must be limited to 2 x scaling?

Surely the Fixedsys font must look less sharp at 1920x1200 resolution, on the macbook pro retina compared to a laptop with a native 1920x1200 display.

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Fixed Width does not imply bitmap. Microsoft Consolas is an excellent Truetype font for software development. –  Roddy Aug 20 '12 at 19:39
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I use the MacBook at native 2880x1800 no problem but that is me. I got Windows running at default 96 DPI settings no problem. The 150% that the Mac driver automatically upped it to is huge IMHO.

Anyway I use a T221 on Linux and have X set at 75 DPI and I have never had problems reading stuff so it really just depends on the person.

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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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Ah, that makes sense. How does the VMWare 1920x1200 feel in comparison with using Windows on a 'native'1920x1200 display? Is the text as clean? (Bearing in mind that I assume Cleartype doesn't work...). Out of interest, if you taker a 'mac' screenshot of the VMWare screen, does it come out as a 2880x1800 image or 1920x1200? –  Roddy Jun 17 '12 at 21:05
    
Screen shots come out as full retina resolution. In other words, if I take a screen shot and then paste it into an email, it's twice as big by default. Regarding native 1920x1200, the closest I've got is 1920x1080, at home. I'll try to remember to check when I get home Tuesday. It looks a little bit fuzzy, but not bad. It is small. I think the physical size is the bigger issue. The 17" MBP was 1920x1200, and that was considered the higher res version. My 1920x1080 LCD is ~22". You may need reading glasses. If you only want the max resolution sometimes, I think you'll be satisfied. –  Gopi Flaherty Jun 17 '12 at 22:21
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I was looking at an SQL table that was spilling over onto multiple lines. I shrunk the Terminal font down to make it fit on one line. 714 columns wide. I have to get about 8" away from the screen to read it. Not going to pretend it's pleasant to use at that size, but it can be done. –  Gopi Flaherty Jun 17 '12 at 22:25
    
If I boot into Windows 7 via Boot Camp, what effective resolution can I expect to run in? Is it possible to run in the native retina resolution (understanding that the text would be extremely small)? I'm looking for a solution that provides lots of screen real estate on a small screen and I'm not too concerned about squinting at this point. –  vargonian Mar 18 at 16:55
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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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Downvote for recommending running Retina on Windows. It might be that you love it. But in general running retina under windows is just not any good when running in 150% (or anything else but 100%). Partly will many programs start to misbehave, and cut of texts etc. Partly because if you attach an external screen, they will be forced to run with large fonts as well. Also programs like remote desktop does not support DPI scaling, so everything is very small. I've been running with the retina for weeks, and I just put it on sale, and bought a new computer. I absolutely hate retina under Windows. –  Thomas Jespersen Aug 4 '12 at 9:21
    
@ThomasJespersen If you run Windows at 100%, will everything work fine (albeit making the text tiny, which I may be able to live with) ? I really want to develop in Visual Studio with a Retina MBP 13", and I don't mind squinting a bit. –  vargonian Mar 18 at 20:16
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I can offer you some experience coding in a 200PPI environment (using Linux): I have an IBM T221 (22" monitor and 3840x2400 resolution). There's a Chromium bug that the URL bar, the bookmarks bar and such does not obey DPI settings so that's almost unreadably small. I need to lean extremely close to read that. Usually, I zoom a lot while browsing because the default for websites is also unreadable and in Chrome some sites (Macrumors) ignore zooming (argh). Switch to Firefox, it zooms. Some Java applets (notably the BrettspielWelt boardgaming app) ignores the DPI setting too. This is simply ungood. You will use http://osxdaily.com/2012/01/02/enable-screen-zoom-in-mac-os-x-lion/ sometimes. Othewise programs which obey zooming are so so very beautiful :)

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IBM T221 - I had to look that up - wow! –  Roddy Jun 13 '12 at 16:03
    
The Mac won't have most of these problems, because it presents a lower logical resolution to apps than the actual screen. –  mckeed Jun 13 '12 at 16:50
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Based on this AnandTech article, it appears that there are five easily-accessible resolution settings. Each one is rendered at 2x the nominal resolution, then that image is put on the screen. Normal pixel-for-pixel mode uses 1440x900 as the nominal resolution, which is rendered at 2x (2880x1800), which fits the screen perfectly. There are two higher resolutions, the highest of which is nominally 1920x1200, which is rendered at double res and that is displayed. (The point of rendering higher resolution than the screen is so the image is downsampled instead of upsampled, which looks better.

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An app is just an app is just an app, whether it's a virtual machine in parallels or a game, and the Keynote specifically mentioned pixel doubling for non-retina apps (which makes sense, they have to co-exist), so unless you boot direct in Bootcamp, I don't foresee an issue

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Ah. So a Macbook Retina with a non-retina-enabled vmWare would actually give me only 1440x900? That's probably not good in the long term... –  Roddy Jun 12 '12 at 14:10
    
Unless parallels gets a Retina update with the option to provide the VMs in native or pixel doubled... –  stuffe Jun 12 '12 at 14:17
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This question about the font-size on a Retina MacBook Pro comes close to yours.

In short, it's the same amount of text on your screen, it has only much more detail. I'm guessing it's the same with Windows. (Here's hoping the Windows drivers will support the Retina graphics.)

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But presumably you can reduce the font size use by your tools without losing quality? So you do get more text, but it remains legible. –  Roddy Jun 12 '12 at 11:56
    
On the same zoom-level, the amount of text stays the same. If you zoom in, you'll see the quality on a Retina display stays much higher. –  Michiel Jun 12 '12 at 11:58
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Windows will treat this as a screen resolution and text will be smaller but much more will fit on the screen. Windows will not in the OS automatically double line widths and such like iOS/MacOS will. You can adjust the DPi setting for windows which defaults to 96. –  jtreser Jun 12 '12 at 12:23
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