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MacBook Pro with Retina display can drive four screens simultaneously

MacBook Pro with Retina display can drive four screens simultaneously


We test the MacBook Pro with Retina display to see if it can run three external monitors at once.

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MacBook Pro Retina 4 displays
MacBook Pro Retina 4 displays

The more demanding users among us could only think of one thing when Apple announced that the MacBook Pro with Retina display had two Thunderbolt ports in addition to its HDMI out: could it possibly run four displays at once? We didn't get to test it out for our review of the laptop, but now we have and we can say that it's able to push all of those pixels without much of a problem so long as you keep your imagination in check.

We plugged in two 1080p monitors using DVI to Mini DisplayPort adapters and connected another 1600 x 900 monitor over HDMI, and all of the displays lit up with Lion's well-known Andromeda Galaxy wallpaper. The 15.4-inch Retina display itself clocks in at a whopping 2880 x 1800, which means that the computer was pushing out a total of 10.7 million pixels when hooked up to the three external monitors. That doesn't appear to be the limit, however: OWC Blog ran the same test but with two 2560 x 1440 displays and a 1920 x 1200 monitor.

Of course, simply displaying a static image on all four monitors at once is one thing — being able to run programs and play videos across all four is another matter altogether. We started off by swapping between spaces with a handful of programs like Safari, IRC, Twitter, Lightroom, and Photoshop running at once, and it was all surprisingly smooth. We then loaded up a 4K video and moved the window around the screens while the video was playing. Again, the MacBook Pro handled the test with aplomb.

An impressive tech demo

That doesn't mean that there isn't a limit to what the Nvidia GT 650M can handle: there's certainly a performance hit overall, and when trying to play four separate videos at once on all four displays (one of which was the 4K footage), we did notice the frame rates begin to drop. We wouldn't say that driving three monitors off of a single laptop is the most convenient solution — you'll have a mess of cables and performance is nowhere near what you'll get with a true workstation — but if you're one of the very few who must have a portable machine that can push this many pixels when the occasion arises, the new MacBook Pro is certainly an option. Just don't expect anything like AMD Eyefinity.

Note: Apple officially states that the MacBook Pro "simultaneously supports full native resolution on the built-in display and up to 2560 by 1600 pixels on up to two external displays."