The Possibility of a 17" rMBP

The Macbook Pro used to come in 3 screen sizes: 13, 15, and 17 inches. Last June, however, Apple quietly discontinued the 17" model, instead opting to ship a 15" laptop packed with a Retina Display.

While the 17" never sold in staggering quantities like its smaller siblings, its death was still met with some disdain by those who prefer massive screens on their laptops. Today, Apple does not offer a 17" laptop of any sort, with the exception of some "leftover" refurbished models for sale on their online store. I assume that these are the last 17" notebooks that Apple will ever sell for the foreseeable future.

But, I was curious...

I began to wonder what a next generation 17" Macbook Pro would encompass. Of course, the first thing that anyone familiar with the subject would consider would be the screen resolution. There is no doubt that if Apple came out with a 17" laptop again, that it would need to have a Retina Display (or at the very least the option of one). With the 17" being the "ultimate" pro notebook, it must have the best specs that Apple offers, and being that Apple already offers Retina-equipped models for both their 13" and 15" laptops, they must put one in any future 17".

The problems and speculation comes in figuring out what resolution the screen would have. Apple would have many options in this scenario, and here are 3 of my best ideas:

Option 1: 2x original 17" display

3840 x 2400 @ 266 ppi

The original 17" Macbook Pro had a screen with a resolution of 1920 x 1200. The most obvious way in which Apple could turn this into a Retina Display would be to simply make each pixel into four - the same way in which they've made the iPhone, iPad and Macbook Pro (both 13" and 15") into Retina machines.

The result of this would be a display that packs and unprecedented 3840 x 2400 pixels at a ppi of 266.

That's more than 4K. That's, in fact, a display standard known as Wide Quad Ultra Extended Graphics Array (or WQUXGA for short, if you can call that "short").

Despite this being a seemingly obvious option to go with and a perfectly logical solution, there are two massive problems with this. First of all, no screen (that I've ever heard of, at least) of this size and resolution has ever existed, and therefore, it would be insanely expensive long into the foreseeable future. Secondly, if you do some quick math, you will find that there would be well over 9 million pixels in this screen (to be exact, that works out to 9,216,000 pixels). That's more than double the number in the 13" Retina Macbook Pro. This means that the battery and graphics chip required to power it in any sort of useable manner would have to be similarly large, powerful, and expensive.

To put it frankly, the technology is not here yet, and probably wont be for a sizable amount of time.

Option 2: Scale up the 15.4" Retina Display

2880 x 1800 @ 200 ppi

Another way in which Apple could create a 17" Retina Display screen would be to create a 17" screen with the same resolution as the 15.4" Macbook Pro with Retina Display. 2880 x 1880 is a screen standard that Apple is already shipping in the hundreds of thousands. The only real differences between this speculative screen and the existing screen would be a slightly worse ppi (220), and objects on the screen being displayed physically larger.

Unlike with option 1, the technology is here for this to occur (Apple is already producing screens with this exact resolution), and the ppi is probably a worthy sacrifice if you presumably sit a little further from the screen than you would with a 15.4".

Option 3: Use a preexisting ppi:

By using a pixels per inch (ppi) that is already being produced by Apple, they can presumably cut the screens into a 17" resolution without the effort required to begin producing another ppi. Admittedly, I don't know much about how the process of cutting screens out of a specific ppi works - I've just heard the concept thrown around a lot, particularly when referring to a 5" iPhone with the iPad's ppi.

Here is a smattering of some of Apple options down this road:

4686 x 2934 @ 326 ppi (iPhone)

This makes for a total of 13,748,724 pixels. Of course, this is completely insane. I mostly just did this to run the numbers and to "ooo and ahh" at the resulting figure. Don't expect this, ever.

3797 x 2378 @ 264 ppi (iPad)

While this is slightly less of a beast to handle (in terms of battery and performance) than Option 1, their are still two fundamental problems with this:

1) It's not really all that much better. With 9,029,266 pixels, it only has about 200,000 less pixels than Option 1 (which would be ideal). In that sense, it's essentially putting a band-aid on an amputee.

2) It's a really awkward, non-standard resolution.

3263 x 2043 @ 227 ppi (13" Macbook Pro with Retina Display)

Now we're getting into a range of pixels that modern graphics cards could reasonably push. With 6,666,309 pixels, today's higher end chipsets would be able to handle themselves.

Again, however, you're stuck with a non-standard resolution.

3162 x 1980 @ 220 ppi (15" Macbook Pro with Retina Display)

This resolution would result in 6,260,760 pixels. Like the 227 ppi, modern graphic cards would be able to handle this to some usable extent. This is about 300,000 less pixels than the 227 ppi screen, and about 900,000 more pixels than Option 2: the 2880 x 1800 screen.

Not to sound like a broken record, but this would similarly result in an awkward resolution.


So those are, as far as I can see, Apple's best options should they ever choose to ship a 17" notebook again. The real question at this point, is, of course, will there ever be a 17" Macbook? I frankly don't think so, considering their push for smaller and lighter machines and the fact that a 17" notebook is a relatively niche market. That's not the point of this article, however.

At this point, I think I've done enough talking. I'd like to hear what you guys think. Did I miss any possibilities? What do you think of some of these options? What do you think would be the best option?


User dissss pointed out the possibility of using a 2x of the older 17" screen resolution, 1650 x 1050, a screen resolution that was unaware of until it was pointed out to me. Doing this would create a screen at 3300 x 2100 at 230 ppi, and have 6,930,000 pixels.