Windows 8 on MacBook Pro with Retina display


One of the great things about Windows is how it works on a wide variety of hardware. After reading a few articles and blog postings from people who have installed Windows 8 on the MacBook Pro with Retina display I’m unable to find an accurate recap, so this is my quick take. This is not a review.

As a long-time fan of high DPI displays the main reason I bought this laptop is the 220 DPI 2880×1800 15” IPS display. If Dell or Samsung or anyone else had either a laptop or external monitor with a similar display it would also have been in my must-buy list.

This machine rocks and Apple deserves a lot of credit for the engineering and design trade-offs that almost perfectly suit my preferences. I use alternative operating systems on occasion to gain perspective, but for daily use wanted to use Windows 8. Currently I’m using the laptop as a desktop replacement, relegating my big and heavy dual hex-core hyper-threaded Xeon tower with a Dell 3007WFP-HC monitor to a spare room, where I can TS in or use locally when I want to use software such as Lightwave, which can use that parallelization for rendering. When at home the laptop drives a secondary 2560×1440 27” display with no problem.

That said, this is not yet a configuration ready for unsuspecting users. You don’t need a technical background but you have to be willing to accept application-specific quirks, and squint when an application or plugin shows UI that is hard-coded to 96 DPI. 

Installation

Several of the issues people are having with Windows 8 under Boot Camp appear to be related to upgrading a previous Windows 7 Boot Camp install. I strongly recommend removing the previous Boot Camp partition in OS X and doing a clean install of Windows 8. Early on some drivers, including the video driver, didn’t work under Windows 8, but now they do.

The procedure is the same as with Windows 7: point Boot Camp at the Windows 8 ISO and let it create a USB stick to boot from. Boot with that USB drive and, after Windows is installed, launch the secondary driver installers from WindowsSupport folder on the USB drive.

Configuration

By default Boot Camp will configure Windows to use 144 DPI. This is a good default because it strikes a balance between making UI elements large enough to be usable, while still staying within the “supported” realm of mainstream Windows software. By this, what I mean is that up until recently (at least at Microsoft) it was a given to make sure applications worked well at 125% and 150% DPI scaling, but 200% scaling has been less tested and is also less likely to have icons and other art that natively scales to that setting.

For reasonably advanced users I recommend enabling “Use Windows XP style scaling” under the “Custom sizing options”. This prevents the OS from using the DWM to use bitmap stretching on the application to make everything bigger at the expense of quality.

If you choose XP style scaling applications such as Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom will no longer be scaled and blurry, but the controls will be small since they were designed for 96 DPI. For me this is a worthy trade-off because I want to work with the content at native resolution, where it’s as sharp as possible, and I also enjoy the enhanced screen real-estate. Still, be prepared to lean in and/or squint sometimes until these applications are updated to be more DPI-aware. I’m not holding my breath.

For Internet Explorer 10 I bump the zoom factor to 200% (192 DPI) for most casual web surfing. This gives a very comfortable text size while eliminating wasted space. Text is incredibly sharp, well-defined, and readable. There is no longer any concern over respecting the font vs. respecting the pixel grid. Images look blurry in comparison, but unlike at ~120 DPI it’s an acceptable trade-off, and they don’t look worse than they would if I were running at a lower resolution. Notable exceptions are mapping sites such as http://maps.bing.com, where it would be really nice if they used the requisite tricks to serve up the tiles in a high-DPI friendly way.

What Works

Almost everything works, unlike what I see stated in other blog postings and articles about Windows 8 on this machine. With a normal clean install using Boot Camp the following works as expected:

  • NVIDIA Video driver, including DirectX games and OpenGL applications
  • Touchpad, including two-finger right-click and two-finger scrolling, both vertically and horizontally. The latter is nice for Windows 8 applications.
  • Brightness, volume control, keyboard backlight, and other function keys.
  • Displayport, USB3, Bluetooth (tested with Microsoft Bluetooth mouse only)
  • Sleep, hibernate

Unknown

  • Built-in webcam. A driver was installed but I haven’t had an opportunity to try this.

Known Issues

  • On battery IE10 scrolling is sluggish. The workaround is to either use the “High Performance” power option or temporarily turn off hardware acceleration through the Advanced tab in Internet Options. This appears to be a video driver issue.
  • As with previous versions of Boot Camp switchable graphics are not supported, so the NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M will always be used. This reduces battery life compared to OS X.
  • Accessing features such as “Restart in OS X” through the Boot Camp taskbar icon gives an error message such as “An error occurred while trying to access the startup disk settings”, even after the UAC prompt. To restart in OS X just reboot and hold down the Option key while on the initial white screen.
  • Thunderbolt Gigabit Ethernet adapter sometimes not recognized until after a reboot. However, I’ve also encountered this OS X. Not a big deal for me since I use wireless 99% of the time.

Tips

  • fn+up: page-up; fn+down = page-down; fn+left = home; fn+right = end
  • fn+delete: “delete my file please”, etc.; this key has a weird overload with backspace
  • fn+F1-12: invoke the actual function key

Cinebench

  • Open GL: 40.71 FPS
  • CPU: 5.93

Comments (8)

  1. SD-F1 says:

    To Fix the Bootcamp control Panel type Issues:

    blogs.microsoft.co.il/…/running-the-boot-camp-control-panel-applet-from-windows-8-on-macbook-pro.aspx

    The Beta Nvidia Drivers tend to improve some of your Known issues.

    Web Cam works, tested and confirmed.

  2. Eljay says:

    Thank you for the MBP w/Retina + Boot Camp + Window 8 assessment.

    Any experience with MBP w/Retina + Fusion 5 + Windows 8?

    Or experience with MBP w/Retina + Parallels 8 + Windows 8?

  3. tonyschr says:

    SD-F1, thanks for the additional info! I can confirm that the beta NVidia drivers fix the IE10 scrolling issue and after using them for about a week I haven't had any other issues.

    I haven't yet tried the Boot Camp Control Panel fix to avoid UAC elevation, but it sounds like it works. Readers should know that they'll either have to acquire sed from somewhere or simply manually tweak the manifest file. Hopefully Apple fixes this in a future update before Oct. 26.

    Ejay, since 95% of my time is spent in Windows 8 I have not yet tried Fusion or Parallels.

  4. AK says:

    Tony,

    Thanks for write up.  When you say clean install, did you completely removed OSX and installed Windows 8 or  you created seperate partition and installed on it.

    Is it possible to remove macosx and install Windows 8 as the only OS?

  5. tonyschr says:

    AK, no I did a normal a Boot Camp install, partitioning the majority for Windows 8.

  6. BK says:

    How well does the remote desktop works on MBP w/Retina with Windows 8? Let's say I want to to RDP into Windows 7 and XP machine.

  7. tonyschr says:

    BK, good question. At least with the settings I use this is a snag, even when you RDP to a Windows 8 machine.

    The target machine doesn't adjust its DPI by default, of course, so you're left in "tiny land". If I hadn't turned on XP-style scaling this might not be the case (e.g. you may get a blurry DWM upscaled experience), but since this isn't the configuration I advocate I'm not going to switch to it and say "yeah, all is good".

    In other words, it's doable, but small. In certain server environments this may be a benefit. Here's a representative screenshot that shows IE chrome at 144 DPI, IE content at 196 DPI (200% zoom), and a remote desktop session at 96 DPI. And by DPI I mean what the application thinks.

    tonyschr.net/…/RemoteDesktop.png

  8. BK says:

    Looking at the screenshot I think doable is the right word. Thanks for the screenshot.