MacBook Pro soars to new heights

The best laptop money can buy is primped and primed for Mac OS X Snow Leopard, Windows 7, and professionals of all stripes

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Quick, cool, and roomy
The MacBook Pro is a machine with desktop specs. The 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, 1,066MHz DDR3 memory, and dual Nvidia GPUs inevitably contribute heat to the design. A plastic PC notebook with similar power would need a noisy fan just to survive. I don't have a PC notebook in this class that I can bear to share a room with, much less have in my lap. The MacBook Pro runs cool and silent the majority of the time by using its aluminum frame as a heat sink and by carefully managing power. If you push the machine with a desktop workload by running the likes of a 3-D game, an HD video transcode, or a multithreaded compile or benchmark, it will get too hot for your unprotected lap. The problem is compounded if you're charging the battery while making high demands on the hardware. However, in everyday interactive work, the newest, fastest 15-inch MacBook Pro is also the coolest (in temperature) and quietest notebook I've used.

Bigger notebook hard drives make room for more creative configurations. In my case, I decided to divide up the new machine's 500GB disk before migrating so that I can multiboot into Leopard, Snow Leopard, or Windows 7. Disk Utility in the latest release of Leopard is able to alter the internal drive's partition table nondestructively, while the boot volume is mounted. For the most part, there is no need to boot from the install DVD or use special tools to divide up your drive.

[ Are sealed-in laptop batteries a good idea? See InfoWorld's report. ]

For add-on storage and peripherals, the 15-inch MacBook Pro has two USB 2.0 ports and one 800Mbps FireWire port. Mac OS X automatically mounts any Mac HFS+, FAT, and NTFS file systems that it finds on newly attached storage devices.

New to this model is a slot for one full-sized SD or SDHC flash memory card, replacing the ExpressCard slot in preceding MacBook Pros. Those who still need ExpressCard will find it in the 17-inch MacBook Pro. SD Card for ExpressCard is a worthwhile trade, although I'd have gone for a bit more spacing between ports as well. You still can't plug two average USB devices in side by side.

Content from many digital cameras and camcorders can be accessed directly as local files without USB cables, adapters, or the need to put the device in a special PC connection mode. The cost of SD is falling as speed (expressed as "Class;" higher is better) rises. Even if you don't use the slot for multimedia, you'll find that SD is the perfect removable medium -- faster, more portable, and more reliable than optical. The point I made earlier about using SD to extend battery life bears emphasizing. In two scenarios, Office document manipulation and digital media viewing, moving files to SD let the 15-inch MacBook Pro's hard drive motor, a prime consumer of power, remain in a spun-down state much longer.

The trouble with Apple's SD slot is that some of the flash card sticks out of the notebook. You will forget the card is there, and it will catch on the lip of your bag. Even cheap cameras have sunken, spring-loaded (push to insert, push to pop out) SD card slots. Still, it is much more convenient than USB flash adapters, and Snow Leopard has a little secret that makes the SD slot even more useful.

High-fidelity everything
The MacBook Pro is a machine designed for the office and the seat-back tray, but this one model is also built for the laboratory, the recording studio, the movie set, the TV satellite truck, the helm, the OR, the theater, and other uncommon venues. Basing a volume system design on specialty requirements means that you'll see features in the MacBook Pro, like the optical digital audio I/O and 800Mbps FireWire, that are rare in other commercial notebooks and that may initially come across as overkill. However, you'll find that what seems not to matter at first becomes useful later on. A simple conversion cable plugs the MacBook Pro's audio output directly to the Toslink input on a sound system for noise-free, multichannel digital audio playback. Unlike with other notebooks, the FireWire port drives such bus-powered peripherals as external storage devices, and the FireWire port allows the MacBook Pro itself to uniquely operate as an external hard drive. No platform is easier to deploy in large numbers than Mac clients.

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