Editor's Note: This review primarily covers the recent updates to the Apple MacBook Pro line. For a detailed look at the design and features, read our earlier review of the Apple MacBook Pro (15.4-inch 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo).
Apple's recent update of its 13-inch MacBook line was a modest one, with an incremental processor upgrade and updated default components, but the 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pro laptops have gotten a much more radical overhauling, even if they, like the MacBooks, look the same on the outside as previous-generation models. Moving to Intel's latest 2.4GHz mobile Core 2 Duo CPU (part of the new Centrino Duo platform) means the MacBook Pro's performance can stand up to that of the latest Windows Vista laptops, and the new LED-backlit display on the 15-inch model is more power-efficient than traditional LCD displays, resulting in better battery life. While $2,499 is still a lot to spend on a laptop (the entry-level model starts at $1,999; we reviewed the middle child in the MacBook Pro family), the MacBook Pro makes a strong case by keeping its components on the cutting edge, especially because Apple has bumped up the specs without raising the price.
By upgrading to the latest Intel platform and Nvidia graphics for better performance, adding a new screen tech for better battery life, and keeping the same great design and same starting prices, the MacBook Pro puts enough distance between itself and the lower-end, Editor's Choice-winning MacBook.
|Price as reviewed/Starting price||$2,499 / $1,999|
|Processor||2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo|
|Memory||2GB, 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||160GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT|
|Operating system||Apple Mac OS X 10.4|
|Dimensions (WDH)||14.1 x 9.6 x 1.0 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.4 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter [pounds]||5.3/6.0 pounds|
Physically, the refreshed MacBook Pro is essentially identical to the version we looked at late last year. We refer you to our review of the Apple MacBook Pro (15.4-inch 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo) for a detailed take on Apple's excellent industrial design and attention to detail. The minimalist layout--you'll find only a power button, a full-size keyboard, stereo speakers, a sizable touch pad with a single mouse button, and a built-in iSight camera--remains a standard other laptop designers should emulate, and the thin chassis makes it easy to stow the system in even smaller laptop bags. On the other hand, despite our love for a clean look, we've become used to having at least a few media control shortcut keys -- and adding a media card reader wouldn't deface the otherwise clean look.
Aside from faster processors and new chipset, more memory and larger hard drives, the big change to the 15-inch MacBook Pro is its LED-backlit display, similar to those making their way into new Sony and Toshiba laptops. Apple doesn't claim any difference in image quality or screen brightness (the new screens feature the same 1,440x900 native resolution as that of the previous 15-inch models), and based on anecdotal observation, we'd agree. Instead, Apple touts the new display's energy efficiency (and being mercury-free), and our battery drain tests show a marked improvement to battery life.
|Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch 2.4GHz)||Average for mainstream category|
|Video||DVI video out||VGA-out, S-Video|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, line-in/line-out jacks, built-in mic||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 2.0, FireWire 400, FireWire 800||4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, multiformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||ExpressCard/34 slot||PC Card slot|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
Apple hasn't added any ports or connections with this new model, but the laptop's 802.11n Wi-Fi capabilities are now turned on by default, rather than requiring a downloaded patch to unlock. It's also the only laptop we can think of with a FireWire 800 jack (along with the more common FireWire 400), useful for digital video fans.
Compared to other recent 15-inch media-friendly laptops, the MacBook Pro performs well, beating the HP Pavilion dv6500t and the Sony VAIO FZ180 in CNET Labs' Multitasking and iTunes encoding tests. It was also faster than last year's MacBook Pro, although the margins were not very significant, reinforcing our view that Intel's revamped Centrino Duo platform, while valuable, hasn't translated into significantly better performance. Compared with the recently updated non-Pro MacBook, the Pro gives us a decent boost in performance, but unless you need the Pro's vastly superior video abilities, you might be able to save a few bucks and go with the 13-inch model.
The new Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT graphics card, however, was a vast improvement over the ATI Mobility Radeon x1600 featured on last year's models. Running Quake 4 at 1,024x768, with antialiasing turned on, we got 65 frames per second from the updated Pro, while only 42.1 frames per second from the 2006 MacBook Pro.
Perhaps the biggest improvement in the revamped MacBook Pro is in battery life. Thanks to the LED-backlit display (and partially to Intel's energy-efficient Centrino Pro platform), we got an impressive 3 hours and 35 minutes with our DVD battery drain test--that's 36 minutes more than the non-LED version of the MacBook Pro. Bear in mind the DVD battery drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and typical office use.
We're still not fans of Apple's nearly obligatory extended warranty upsell. The default warranty for the MacBook is one year of coverage for parts and labor, but toll-free telephone support is limited to a mere 90 days--well short of what you'd typically find on the PC side--unless you purchase the $349 AppleCare Protection Plan, which extends phone support and repair coverage to three years.