Test Center review: MacBook Pro is built to last
If the unibody MacBook Pro were a car, it would be an eight-cylinder, hybrid, luxury SUV with full body armor
Ins and outs
I've already alluded to the near-aerodynamic clamshell profile: It doesn't taper down to a slender nose as the MacBook Air does, but the MacBook Pro is much easier to carry without a case than its squarish predecessors, and it wedges between books and papers when hurriedly stuffed into an overstuffed backpack or bag. I recognize the hidden benefit of the clamshell: When closed, it's practically crushproof. It's not scratchproof, so don't put it in close quarters with anything metal, an iPhone included.
You need to watch out for one significant flaw in the chassis design: The battery/disk compartment cover has an easily pushed-in latch that's right where you pick the machine up when moving it with the lid open. For me, it has popped open accidentally twice. Apple points out that a Kensington lock prevents the battery door from opening. But it also blocks the DVD drive, so it isn't really a solution.
All the external I/O ports have been moved to one row along the left side: Ethernet, 800MHz FireWire, two USB 2.0, DisplayPort, audio-in/out (analog and optical), and ExpressCard. Apple has moved the battery charge gauge from the bottom to the left side as well. Current Mac users will need to buy adapter cables to connect to FireWire 400 peripherals and DVI (Digital Visual Interface) or HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) displays.
The USB 2.0 ports are side by side and too close together to be used at the same time unless you intentionally shop for cables with skinny boots. It worked better to have the USB ports on either side of the chassis.
Power efficiency is, and should be, an overriding concern in electronic equipment. Apple had already taken the key step of replacing fluorescent-display backlights with LEDs, eliminating mercury and lowering power consumption while creating two things that fluorescent-lit notebooks lack: the colors black and white. The black frame around the MacBook Pro's display really shows this off.
Power to the pixels
Apple reached deep inside the MacBook Pro for its next power chop, this time focusing on chip count and the GPU (graphics processing unit). Intel's chip set relies on separate north and south bridge chips for interfacing with memory and peripherals. Apple tapped Nvidia for a desktop-derived, single-chip solution that carries with it the benefit of a low-power integrated graphics processor that's twice as fast as Intel's own.
Integrated graphics is all that MacBook and MacBook Air users get, but as has always been the case, a gamer-class 3D GPU is core to the MacBook Pro's logic. Apple has reached out to Nvidia for this as well, and it leverages this single-source componentry to do a marvelous thing: When you need killer 3D, you flip on the 32-way discrete GPU. When you're working in productivity software or even playing HD movies, you can shut off the big, hot, power-hungry GPU and switch to the integrated graphics processor. Switching does not require a reboot, but it is necessary to log out so that all programs using the GPU are closed.
Apple claims that with the integrated graphics processor running, the unibody MacBook Pro can achieve five hours of battery life with the screen at 50 percent brightness, productivity apps in constant use, and Wi-Fi operating. This is supported by my field tests. The machine also runs much cooler with the discrete GPU disabled. One battery issue I have identified is a noticeably longer charging time. Apple may have done this to address complaints about heat during charging. While the new charger is a bit smaller, it has the same output.
I have many more findings to pass along, but I've relegated these to detailed pros and cons that I'll share on my Enterprise Mac blog. Each day with the unibody MacBook Pro adds to the list, but that's a testament to the breadth of Apple's changes. There are a few steps backward from last year's model, but these are generally minor. On the criteria that matter most to me -- durability, longevity, flexibility, power efficiency, and ecological impact -- I've yet to come across a mainstream notebook that measures up to the unibody MacBook Pro. Apple's MacBook Pro is still the best notebook you can buy.