Windows investigate

Combining Windows 8 and a Retina MacBook

A new Microsoft operating system meets new Apple hardware; what's the worst that could happen?

CNET Australia's chief MacGyver has been lurking around the office this past week with a Retina MacBook Pro. Which is all fine and dandy, but it was too standard. It needed to be different; the device was asking to be made unique.

In the spirit of discovery and sadism, it was decided that a new cocktail had to be created: one part Windows 8, matched with one part Retina MacBook Pro.

And so it was made.

This particular MacBook Pro had already had a Boot Camp partition and Windows 7 installation created previously, so the need to jump through these hoops was abated.The Windows 8 set-up program was executed from within Windows 7, and by all reports went without a hitch. So much so that MacGyver missed the swiping tutorial that occurs at the end of Windows 8's installation.

"Who looks at the screen when installing nowadays?" MacGyver was heard to mutter when informed of the tutorial's existence.

Windows 8 on a Retina MacBook Pro. High DPI paradise or failure?
(Credit: CBSi)

When the concocting and the shaming was over, what remained was a MacBook with a large resolution running an operating system that it was not designed for. The Windows 7 Boot Camp drivers were installed and worked, but the control panel for the drivers crashed whenever it was opened. This meant that the first accessory needed was an external mouse, for without it, right-clicking is but a delusional dream.


Click to view at Retina resolution.
(Credit: CBSi)

On the first visit to the Desktop in Windows 8, the immediate effect is to notice the sheer amount of pixels available to the desktop: 2880x1800 pixels, to be precise. Whereas OS X will use the pixels to its advantage and render the display with maximum crispness and readability, Windows takes what it is given and by default will assume that 1 pixel means 1 pixel.


Click to view at Retina resolution.
(Credit: CBSi)

This results in the largest Windows desktop that you have likely ever been able to hold in your hand. It's a large desktop that arrives bearing text that is disgustingly tiny — squinting and moving towards the screen becomes a mandatory activity to interact with the device.


Click to view at Retina resolution.
(Credit: CBSi)

In order to salvage the situation and make the desktop text acceptable to MacGyver's eyes, it was necessary to adjust the Display preferences to scale the screen to 200 per cent of its original size. But to be able set the value to 200 per cent, the user needs to type it into the combo box found in the "Custom sizing options" dialog — a dialog where the maximum suggested scaling available is 150 per cent. Do not be restricted by the options available in the combo box; it is possible to type any number into it, and a user may find that 175 per cent will be the best number for their eyes.


Click to view at Retina resolution.
(Credit: CBSi)

At this juncture we now have a desktop that is much more readable, but that does not impact the text size of the Windows 8 Start screen. That is because the Desktop is now merely a program within Windows 8, and we thus need to locate the setting for adjusting the scaling of applications built in the framework formerly known as Metro.


Click to view at Retina resolution.
(Credit: CBSi)

In a piece of great planning, or maybe just blind luck, the boffins at Redmond added a toggle to increase the scaling in WinRT (read: Metro) applications. But whereas on the desktop experience we could enter a custom scaling factor, with WinRT there is simply a single option: "make everything on your screen bigger".


Click to view at Retina resolution.
(Credit: CBSi)

Turning that toggle on will automagically set the WinRT font size to an acceptable level — the new DPI value is left in the hands of Windows, for users are not to be trusted with such a thing in the WinRT world.


Click to view at Retina resolution.
(Credit: CBSi)

With the display customisation and some unremarkable usage completed, can we make a judgment on whether the Retina MacBook Pro the best hardware to use Windows 8 with?

MacGyver's succinct opinion on this is "no".

MacGyver has a point here. For all the wrangling and wrestling that has occurred, all that has happened is that a laptop has been configured to display in a faux 1440x900 resolution from a native 2880x1800 one. None of the scaling tricks that OS X uses for content editing, such as showing images and video on a 1:1 scale while keeping the at interface a 4:1 scale, will be found in Windows 8. The only choice is to select which ratio of pixels works best for you — and taking full advantage of the pixels on offer is going to involve liberal doses of the Magnifier application.


Click to view at Retina resolution.
(Credit: CBSi)

The Windows high-DPI experience is also far from complete. Cursors appear pixellated at high scaling factors, and Metro's "make everything on your screen bigger" option only brings the WinRT text up to a readable level — if a user needed text in WinRT to be made even larger to be readable, then they are stuck.

Until Apple releases Boot Camp drivers for Windows 8, you'll need an external mouse for right-clicking. When the touch aspects of Windows 8 are taken into account, what is needed to make good use of Microsoft's operating system is a track pad that recognises multi-fingered swipes and gestures. You're not going to find that at this moment with Apple hardware. Another issue is that Windows can only engage the MacBook's Nvidia graphics card, not the on-board Intel chipset that OS X will use to extend battery life.

Combining Windows 8 and a Retina MacBook Pro was an exercise in frustration — due in equal parts to the hardware chosen and the duplicity of Windows 8, an operating system where there are now two places for everything.

In mid-2012, high-DPI MacBooks are meant for Apple-endorsed operating systems, and Windows 8 is meant for hardware that we are yet to see.

About

Some would say that it is a long way from software engineering to journalism, others would correctly argue that it is a mere 10 metres according to the floor plan.During his first five years with CBS Interactive, Chris started his journalistic advent...

21 comments
trevor12
trevor12

Good morning I have only request if as you write "..Whereas OS X will use the pixels to its advantage and render the display with maximum crispness and readability, Windows takes what it is given and by default will assume that 1 pixel means 1 pixel.." -- the letters of texts (for examp?e on the websites) in windows 8 are completely non-readable or only difficult readable due to small size ?

arch_aya
arch_aya

I installed win8 enterprise on my MBP Retina 15", it was a "big disspointing"all the application like : google chrome , AutoCAD , 3Ds Max are funky !! the resolution is missed up whether is so blurry or so tiny.. im thinking of downgrade to win7 until more updates coming up from apple or autodek or google ? what do you think ??

kirchik
kirchik

One more question.. Did you install it from flash drive?

kirchik
kirchik

Thanks for excellent article. I am waiting delivery of my 512GB retina today and am searching for info to how to make it dual boot. I am .NET developer learning iOS. so Macbook is very important to have to develop for iOS but when on the go - I cannot take two laptops with me. So I have no other options but I have to install win 8 on another logical drive. I want to say - it is not "sadism" - it is pragmatical and normal thing and I have to do it. You did not say in the article whether you were able to: 1) install drivers for touchpad 2) use thunderbolt outputs from win 8 for use with external monitors. Is the above possible? Also as keyboard does not have "windows" button. how you access start screen in Win 8? Thanks

itechtipster
itechtipster

Come on Apple, update bootcamp for windows 8 :(

enderby!
enderby!

I have always embraced all new versions of Windows - 3.1, NT, 98, ME, 2000, XP(32&64), Vista, 2003server, 2008R2, and Win 7. I always found positives until now. I have never tried Apple before this week, but this month my daughter needed it for college, so I had an interesting experience. While at stumbled at first, I was able to do most functions and even a few minor techy ones on Mountain Lion within an hour. Win8 brought mostly frustration after three hours. It runs poorly (granted it is beta) on my i7 with SSD, the design is a mess, and it is anything but fun. The tiled screen appears to be a laughable copy of my Ipod complete with the Windows button as menu button. Just for comparison I tried a new linux distro. Within an hour I could do everything I wanted, again even some minor techy things such as create a bootable USB. I have many home PCs, but after trying Win 8 I really will consider moving them to linux when Win 7 is closer to retirement. Any new devices (no more new desktops) will probably be that other company. I have always ranted against Apple and their Madison avenue created cool, the smugness of their fanbase, and my own measure of their relative cost/value ratio. I really do not want to start a WIN/Apple thread, that whole argument is stupid. Both are capable tools. But from my little comparison of the major options for OSs, I think MS may be in trouble if they do not redesign this garbage. I work in tech, but certainly do not claim to be a guru on the desktop. This is just my impression as an ex MS fanboy who may be joining the darkside.

Bishop234
Bishop234

Well...I am not really all that enthused about Win8 anyway...though it would be nice to see it work fully with the gestures that the macbook trackpad thingy has to offer. I only use a mouse when I am playing Diablo 3 on my mac. I have paralells, but i rarely use my windows 7 because I can iTap to my work unit and I only use my XP partition when I need to make a card for my wife(there has yet to be a better program for that than "Microsoft Publisher Platinum 2002", which doesn't run on Vista or Windows 7...).

Ron_007
Ron_007

since no one has said it yet. Thank you for simplifying my life. I HATE those "slide shows". The represent a waste of time loading each image, especially on some of the "shows" that have no descriptive text.

FTAdmin
FTAdmin

I was wondering, the other day, if it would work to put Mac OS X onto a Surface Pro. Both require Intel chips. Both handle multi-touch pads. Maybe OS X can handle the touch screen, if the screen input is similar to the track pad. I'm guessing that at least drivers may need to be hashed out (or maybe things are similar enough to magically work.) Just a thought.

boucaria
boucaria

Macs generally take any Windows OS if you use, for example, Something like VM-Ware Desktop ( although i have not checked recently), but I have trialed VmWare Desktop on PC Desktops. And from a Service Perspective, if I had the memory capacity, I would load 4-5 clients to use in either accessing servers, or diagnosing system issues, but if I go from Windows on to Mac, its easy. However, MAC on to Windows is a different story. I saw one 13 inch Laptop used in a Webinar demo that I did not know it was a Mac 13 inch until I was told, and then when I was told it had 16 Gig of Ram, it brings a new perspective. I have to deal with whatever comes my way, and its only going to work on a PC laptop if I have 16 Gig of Ram or More. This of course presumes, so far as I have investigated, a Linux base. If it works with a Mac Base, then I am sold. But I do need to be able to run 4-5 clients ( with probably one server on the VMWare ). I am still trying to sort the configuration. But I am some time yet, since I have other tasks ahead of the Laptop and/or Desktop Service Option.

Gwyneth Llewelyn
Gwyneth Llewelyn

But nevertheless a cool hack. At least it's good to know that Windows 8 will, indeed, run under Boot Camp. The rest are details that shall be solved over the years, as both Microsoft and Apple release new drivers and updates...

nim81
nim81

Why would you want to put that ugly operating system on a beautiful retina display??

danbi
danbi

This has to get the headlines! The MacBooks have one great feature, not found on any other generic laptops: the touchpad. It is perfectly capable of a lot more gestures than anything on the market yet and OS X certainly makes good use of these. Let's hope, Windows 8 could, too. Because, if Windows 8 will require some magical new touch pads that do more than what is in the Macbook, apparently we will have to wait for this type of hardware to come around.. years --- many have tried and didn't succeed to at least clone the Apple's trackpad (probably, because of costs).

dogknees
dogknees

If Windows 8 can't deal with this resolution, it's certainly not ready for the next big jump to 4K line displays.

Slayer_
Slayer_

I realize that defeats the purpose of the retina display, but if your screen is unreadable, than your computer is useless anyways. I still use 1024 x 768, any higher and I have to struggle to read the text, making my eyes get tired quickly. I do yearn for the day that Windows properly scales up with resolution.

eatredmeatfeelgood
eatredmeatfeelgood

1) Windows 7 bootcamp drivers work in Windows 8 (i'm using it...) no issue with right clicking / scrolling on trackpad. however at the moment the config utility only works as non-admin user. In either case settings for right click can be configured via reg key (not user friendly but it's all possible..) 2) while in-built windows 8 apps don't work well with retina, with windows APIs you certainly can create apps that will work fine (i.e. image editing software), as long as you make your app DPI aware so you aren't subject to the auto-scaling

FTAdmin
FTAdmin

"When the touch aspects of Windows 8 are taken into account, what is needed to make good use of MicrosoftÂ’s operating system is a track pad that recognises multi-fingered swipes and gestures. YouÂ’re not going to find that at this moment with Apple hardware." What? How about Apple's Magic Trackpad? It's been out for quite a while. Available as built into some MacBooks or as a separate piece of hardware. Maybe the problem you are experiencing is that the Win8 system needs drivers to take advantage of how the Magic Trackpad operates. http://www.apple.com/magictrackpad

Gisabun
Gisabun

You can't blame Microsoft on this. Microsoft does not make the drivers for video cards [except maybe the generic resolutions]. Blame whoever made the video card. But since you are installing a [probably] unsupported OS on a Mac, they wouldn't bother with drivers anyways. Anyone other than a novice would know this.

dogknees
dogknees

It's about Windows being smart enough to work well on any resolution. The driver doesn't control how big icons and other objects are drawn, that's all Windows. As I said, 4K is coming, and I'd expect MS to be clever enough to make sure Win8 will work on it when it arrives.

FTAdmin
FTAdmin

The video driver does not control the ability to specify the dot pitch or scale of rendered text and icons, in relation to the rest of the desktop. This is an OS issue. The video card does little more than render what the OS tells it to render. The OS even tells the card how many dots to shove into your monitor, within given limitations. Scaling has been an issue with Windows. Even when you specify a higher screen resolution (i.e.: from 72dpi up to 200dpi) there are plenty of times when I find that Windows will not scale text under certain circumstances. Sometimes it's messages from the OS and sometimes is something from an application. Either way, scaling has not been so great in my experiences.