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First Take: Apple MacBook Pro spring 2010 (17-inch)

New Intel Core i5 and i7 processors and improved Nvidia graphics with automatic graphics switching round out the internal improvements to the latest 17-inch MacBook Pro.


The 17-inch MacBook Pro has always been the domain for a special subset of people: desktop-replacement connoisseurs, fans of higher-res screens, and graphic designers in particular. The spring 2010 17-inch MacBook Pro retains nearly all of the design features from the 2009 version, but the internal components have at last received a significant boost.

As we had expected and hoped, Apple's new 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pros have made the shift to Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, matching a move that the rest of the industry has rapidly made. The 17-inch Pro comes in a single 2.53GHz Core i5 configuration, but can be upgraded to a dual-core 2.66GHz Core i7 for an extra $200.

For $2,299, the 17-inch is now $200 cheaper than last year's 17-inch config, despite adding an improved processor and newer discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 330M graphics with 512MB of memory.

The news gets better: Apple has added "automatic graphics switching" technology, enabling logout-free swapping between integrated Intel graphics and the high-powered Nvidia GPU that happens seamlessly, ratcheting up depending on the graphics-intensive program or game you're running. This is similar to but, according to Apple, differently engineered than the Nvidia Optimus automatically-switching graphics we tried and liked in a few recent laptops.

Apple claims 8 to 9 hours of battery life when running automatic graphics switching, an improvement on the claims from 2009. We'll see how the performance works when we benchmark it in a full review, but we're fans of the idea of automatic graphics switching, and hope it catches on in all portables.

The 4GB of included RAM can be upgraded to a maximum of 8GB for an extra $400. The 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive can be boosted to 7,200rpm for an extra $50, or a variety of SSDs can be installed instead, ranging from $200 extra for 128GB to $1,300 for 512GB.

A 1,920x1,200-pixel LED-backlit glossy display is optionally available with an antiglare screen for an extra $50. And, yes, ExpressCard/34 remains included, though an SD card slot remains excluded from the 17-inch Pro. If you want an SD card slot, look to the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pros instead.