Testing Apple’s Intel transition: iMac and MacBook Pro
New iMac proves stellar, whereas MacBook Pro has room for improvement
The display, although sharper and brighter as advertised, is much, much fussier about its viewing angle. If it’s tilted vertically even a few degrees from parallel with your retinas, the top or bottom of the display fades markedly in brightness. On the other hand, MacBook Pro’s display glass is stronger and more resistant to pressure, adding to durability that brings the notebook close to industrial standards in its capacity for abuse.
MacBook Pro’s wireless networking, with a new chip and an aftermarket-grade antenna, is radically improved over PowerBook. It withstands the challenge of walls, floors, distance, and interference, pulling in clean signals and 54Mbps connections in places where I could previously only get 2Mbps to 5Mbps, or nothing at all. Wireless was initially an unacceptable drain on the battery, but the new software ameliorated that.
On the other hand, USB devices remain a constant frustration. Data transfers to and from external USB disks would routinely hang in mid-transfer, freezing the machine until the cable was unplugged. USB audio devices were nightmares to use, requiring plugging and unplugging and jockeying around in System Preferences to make them work. When they do work, they continue working until the device is unplugged. Thankfully, storage devices attached to the FireWire port are hot-pluggable and completely reliable.
MacBook Pro runs hot, even by PC notebook standards. I sternly warn against resting it directly on your lap, especially while it’s charging. I took unusual care to keep MacBook Pro cool, but I’m sure that some of the early stability problems I encountered were related to the extreme heat.
Lastly, MacBook Pro produces a high-pitched squeal during operation, an annoyance I was able to quiet by using developer utilities to disable the second CPU core. That’s only diagnostically significant; there’s no making a solution from that.
Even with all I’ve said, the MacBook Pro is the only notebook I use. It tries my patience at times, but the software updates solved a lot of the issues I encountered and made it a more pleasant machine to use.
Buy now, later, or never?
A wait-and-see approach to MacBook Pro may be warranted, but no such caution is necessary with iMac. The next generation of Intel’s CPUs will make both systems faster and even more energy efficient, but this will only raise iMac higher above the PC pack than it already is.
Despite their rush to market, these two systems show that Apple knows how to do Intel systems right, and as the catalog of Intel-native OS X applications fills out and users get used to the idea of running Windows on Apple hardware, iMac and MacBook Pro have a solid shot at mainstream leadership.