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Apple MacBook Pro 2009 (2.66GHz review: Apple MacBook Pro 2009 (2.66GHz

Apple MacBook Pro 2009 (2.66GHz

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
7 min read

Editors' note: As of June 2009, the product reviewed here has been replaced by an updated model.


Apple MacBook Pro 2009 (2.66GHz

The Good

New aluminum unibody construction comes to the 17-inch model; useful multitouch trackpad gestures; attractive edge-to-edge glass on display; dual graphics provide more power or more battery life.

The Bad

All-clicking trackpad is a bit awkward; matte screen option costs extra; switching GPUs is not as seamless as it should be.

The Bottom Line

A little late to the party, Apple's redesigned 17-inch MacBook Pro joins the 15-inch model with a redesigned aluminum body, new trackpad with expanded functionality, and a dual-graphics setup for either longer battery life or better performance.

When the latest 13- and 15-inch MacBooks were announced in October 2008, a similar revamp of the larger 17-inch version of the MacBook Pro was conspicuously missing from the lineup. In January of 2009, Apple announced the 17-inch model would be getting the same "unibody" aluminum chassis, buttonless (or more accurately, all-button) trackpad, and edge-to-edge glass on the LED backlit display. It's actually taken until late February for the systems to start shipping, but finally big-screen fans can get all the latest and greatest Apple improvements in a desktop replacement design, starting at $2,799.

Internally, Apple has moved to a Nvidia chipset with improved integrated graphics, which is then paired with a dedicated Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT graphics card that can be turned off and on as needed to improve battery life or boost performance.

The MacBook Pro, while expensive, remains a go-to for media professionals, and the new 17-inch version will be an especially welcome addition for photo and video types who have wanted the latest graphics, chassis, and trackpad upgrades in an HD-friendly 1,920x1,200 package.

Price as reviewed $2,799
Processor 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
Memory 4GB, 1066MHz DDR3
Hard drive 320GB 5,400rpm
Chipset Nvidia MCP79
Graphics Nvidia GeForce 9400M (integrated) and 512MB Nvidia 9600M GT (dedicated)
Operating System Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard
Dimensions (width x depth) 15.5 inches wide by 10.5 inches deep
Thickness 0.98 inch
Screen size (diagonal) 17 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 6.5/7.2 pounds
Category Desktop Replacement

At a little bit less than 1-inch thick, this 17-inch desktop replacement is actually thinner than some of the chunkier 10-inch Netbooks, such as the Asus Eee PC 1000HE. Like the current 13- and 15-inch MacBooks, the 17-inch Pro is constructed starting with a solid block of aluminum, which is carved down, rather than a thin outer shell that has had support struts added to it. The result is a lighter and thinner, yet stronger, chassis that feels very solid and substantial.

The glass trackpad is the same as found on the smaller MacBooks, and offers a much larger surface area than before, thanks to the elimination of a separate mouse button. In fact, the entire trackpad depresses like a button, although simple tapping, as on a PC laptop, will also work once you turn that option on in the settings menu. While it seemed massive on the 13-inch MacBook, we could actually stand to have an even bigger version on this model.

With its multitouch gestures, you can hide all your apps by sweeping four fingers up on the pad, and you can also designate one corner of the trackpad as a "right-click" zone. Very useful, as well, is sweeping four fingers left or right, which brings up the application switcher. Once you get used to that, going back to a regular trackpad would be difficult.

The wide-spaced, flat-key keyboard is an Apple standard, and we're always a fan of backlit keys, which are standard on the Pro and also available on the higher-end 13-inch MacBook.

The 17-inch wide-screen LED display offers a 1,920x1,200 native resolution, which is particularly useful for working on 1080p HD video content or editing large photos--two tasks MacBooks are associated with.

The colors are rich and deep, but the glass also grabs stray light rays with ease, making the glossy screen seem that much glossier. Adding a matte-screen coating is now an option, but one that costs an extra $50. On a system costing almost $3,000, Apple should really not pass that particular expense on to consumers.

  Apple MacBook Pro 2009 (2.66GHz, 17-inch) Average for category [desktop replacement]
Video Mini DisplayPort VGA-out, HDMI
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks Stereo speakers with subwoofer, headphone/microphone jacks.
Data 3 USB 2.0, FireWire 4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, SD card reader
Expansion ExpressCard/34 ExpressCard/54
Networking Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive DVD burner DVD burner or Blu-ray

While the MacBook Pro line offers one of the last vestiges of the once-great FireWire port, we still think many users would love to have an SD or CF card slot and the option of a high-end Blu-ray drive, especially with such an eye-catching big-screen display.

Apple is making a firm move to the DisplayPort camp by including a mini DisplayPort connection instead of mini-DVI or VGA, but a variety of external dongles (sold separately) will give you any video output you need. The company also offers up to a 256GB solid-state hard-drive option, although that will set you back $750. Bumping the standard 320GB drive from 5,400rpm to 7,200rpm is much more reasonable, only costing an extra $50.

With a 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, the MacBook Pro performed excellently on our standard benchmark tests, but only marginally faster than the 2.6GHz 15-inch version (a 2.93GHz chip is available for an additional $300). While Windows-based laptops with similar CPUs are also fast, efficient machines, Apple has an advantage in our benchmark tests because many of the apps we test with, such as QuickTme, iTunes, and Photoshop, run more quickly on Mac OS X.

Besides the dedicated GeForce 9600M, the Pro also includes the same integrated GeForce 9400 GPU found in the smaller MacBooks. The settings menu has two power options: high performance or longer battery life. Choosing high performance turns the 9600 chip on, while choosing longer battery life turns it off, leaving you with just the integrated 9400 chip. Apple still isn't making gaming machines, but with the integrated graphics we got 56.4 frames per second in Quake IV at a resolution of 1,024x768, and 86.2 frames per second with the dedicated graphics.

Note that switching between GPUs doesn't require a reboot, but you do have to log out and log back into your user account, closing apps in the process.

With the GeForce 9600M GPU turned on, we got 4 hours and 14 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, which is very impressive for a desktop replacement. Switching the 9600M off added about 30 minutes.

One concern we've heard voiced is about the sealed battery compartment, which means you can neither replace a worn-out battery nor bring a backup extra battery on long trip. A 4-hour-plus performance from a 17-inch laptop should help assuage the extra battery concerns, since that's more than double what most desktop replacements get. The lack of a user-replaceable battery is a more serious issue. Apple claims the battery in the 17-inch MacBook Pro is good for 1,000 recharge cycles, which, if true, means the battery should outlive the useful life of the laptop. Apple's retail stores will also open the chassis and replace the battery for a fee.

Not to sound like a broken record, but Apple continues to both frustrate and impress with its service and support. MacBooks include a one-year, parts-and-labor warranty, but only 90 days of toll-free telephone support. This, along with the proprietary nature of Apple's products, makes purchasing an extended Apple Care warranty almost a necessity, but a necessity that will cost $349 for three total years of coverage.

Multimedia Multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo 17 inch - 2.66GHz (Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT)

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo 17 inch - 2.66GHz (Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo 17 inch - 2.66GHz (Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Apple MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo 17 inch - 2.66GHz (Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT)

Find out more about how we test laptops.

Apple MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo - 2.66GHz / 17-inch
OS X 10.5.6 Leopard; Intel Core 2 Duo 2.66GHz; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 9400M / 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT; 320GB Fujitsu 5,400rpm

Apple MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo - 2.53GHz / 15.4
OS X 10.5.5 Leopard; Intel Core 2 Duo 2.53GHz; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 9400M / 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT; 320GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Dell Studio XPS 16
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 512MB ATI Radeon HD3670; 320GB Seagate 7,200rpm

Gateway P-7801u
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 667MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce 9800M GTS; 320GB Hitachi 7,200rpm

Sony Vaio AW170Y/Q
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9400; 4,096MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz;


Apple MacBook Pro 2009 (2.66GHz

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Performance 8Battery 8Support 5