The 13.3-inch Apple MacBook and 15.4-inch MacBook Pro, both featuring Intel Core 2 Duo processors, impressed us by mixing Apple's lauded industrial design and user-friendly operating system with the kind of high-end hardware usually seen only on the PC side--not to mention the ability to run Windows XP through Boot Camp. The high-end 17-inch MacBook Pro adds some hard drive space and screen real estate over the 15-inch MacBook Pro, boosting the base price by $300. The $2,799 system (our $3,374 review unit was tricked out with extra RAM) is very light for a 17-inch laptop, and it's a good choice for anyone needing an easily transportable big-screen laptop, although most users will be just as happy with the excellent 15-inch version.
The aluminum MacBook Pro is a clear departure from the black or white plastic look of the iPod, the iMac, or the (non-Pro) MacBook. Weighing just 6.8 pounds (7.5 with the AC adapter), it's easily the lightest desktop replacement laptop we've seen. Other 17-inch systems, such as the Dell XPS M1710 and the Fujitsu LifeBook N6420 weigh between 3 and 4 pounds more. The MacBook Pro is also very thin, measuring 15.4 inches wide by 10.4 inches deep by only 1 inch thick. While it's still too bulky to commute with every day, it can certainly make for high-impact presentations and can act as a decent portable home theater.
Opening the lid, you'll find the typical minimalist Apple design, including only a keyboard, a power button, stereo speakers, and a sizable touch pad with a single mouse button. The built-in iSight camera sits above the display. The keyboard is the same size as the one on the 15-inch MacBook Pro, and it's somewhat jarring to see it floating in the middle of this giant keyboard tray. Other desktop replacement systems make up for this by using larger keyboards and adding separate number pads. We continue to be big fans of the two-finger touch pad scroll (run two fingers down the touch pad and it scrolls like a mouse wheel).
The 17-inch MacBook Pro includes three USB 2.0 ports, both FireWire 400 and FireWire 800 ports (previous models had only FireWire 400), and a slot-loading SuperDrive DVD burner running at 8x, compared to the 6x drive in the 15-inch MacBook Pro. You still won't find a media card reader, however, which has become an almost ubiquitous feature on Windows laptops, but you will find an ExpressCard slot, handy for adding mobile broadband capabilities later on. Built-in networking hardware includes an AirPort Extreme 802.11a/b/g wireless card and Bluetooth.
The 17-inch display looks positively massive against the thin, silver screen bezel. The native resolution is 1,680x1,050, standard for a screen this size. We've seen only a handful of laptops with higher resolutions, such as the 1,920x1,200 Dell XPS M1710. Those involved with very high-resolution photo editing might like a higher resolution, but the default is perfect for common tasks such as Web surfing and displaying media. Output to an external monitor is available via a DVI port on the side, and a DVI-to-VGA cable is included.
For Apple devotees, it's the little things that make the difference, and the MacBook Pro has a handful of extras that help it stand out amid a fairly generic field of competitors. The MacBook's AC adapter connects magnetically to the laptop, so if you accidentally trip over the cord, it will simply detach instead of sending the entire system crashing to the floor. And additionally, you get Apple's Front Row remote. This tiny remote is the same as the one that comes with the iMac, and it controls Apple's Front Row software for playing back movies, music, and photos from a 10-foot interface.
Also included is Apple's excellent suite of proprietary software, iLife '06, which includes intuitive tools for building Web sites, creating DVDs, composing music, and working with photos.
There are only a few configurable options on the MacBook Pro. The 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU is set in stone, but the RAM and the hard drive are both upgradable. Going from 2GB of RAM to 3GB (which our review unit had) adds $575 to the cost, because it requires one expensive 2GB RAM module plus a regular 1GB module. The standard 2GB configuration uses two 1GB modules.
While the Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro significantly outperforms the older Core Duo version, the performance of the 15- and 17-inch Core 2 Duo models was essentially identical--which is to be expected, as they share identical processors, RAM, and hard drives (although the default configurations call for a smaller hard drive in the 15-inch model). We did see a significant boost over the non-Pro version of the MacBook, which includes a slower 2.0GHz Core 2 Duo CPU, in both the Photoshop CS2 and the iTunes encoding tests. As with any current Core 2 Duo laptop, the MacBook Pro is more than powerful enough for running productivity and multimedia applications and tackling basic photo and video editing, as well.
The ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 GPU, the same one found in the previous generation of Core Duo MacBook Pros, isn't going to make this a blazingly fast gaming laptop, but in Quake 4 running at a resolution of 1,280x1,024, we got a very playable frame rate of 32.8fps. Gaming is not the first thing that springs to mind when one thinks of Macs, but thanks to Boot Camp, the utility that allows users to run a partitioned installation of Windows XP on their Intel Macs, you'll be able to play many popular PC games on this hardware.
In our DVD battery-drain test, we got 3 hours, 2 minutes of battery life from the MacBook Pro. Three hours for a laptop with a 17-inch screen is excellent, especially since the battery is not an extended model that sticks out from the back of the system. The battery is larger, however, than the 15-inch MacBook Pro's, which explains why both systems had nearly identical battery life even though the 17-inch model has a larger display to power.
The default warranty for the MacBook Pro 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. You can purchase the $349 AppleCare Protection Plan to extend phone support and repair coverage to three years.