Review: Apple's 15-in. MacBook Pro now faster -- and cheaper
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Other than the RAM, about the only thing that can be replaced now is the hard drive. It's user accessible only after removing 10 very tiny screws on the underside of the chassis and lifting off the bottom. That's a little more work than on previous models, where the battery and hard drive could be reached by unlatching part of the bottom case. The screws aren't tightened so much that removing them is as difficult as it has been on some earlier models. (I removed the bottom to photograph what's inside.)
As noted earlier, Apple offers a variety of hard drives across the MacBook Pro line, including my favorite option: an SSD. I've talked up SSDs ever since I got one in a second-generation MacBook Air last year, and I continue to be bullish on them. I even stuck a third-party OCZ 128GB SSD in my MacBook -- two, if you count the first one that failed. You're definitely paying more per gigabyte than with a traditional drive, but if you can afford it, the tradeoff in overall ruggedness, system response and power use -- SSDs have no moving parts and generally need less power -- is worth it.
A 256GB SSD, for instance, adds either $650 or $800 to the bottom line, depending on which specific model you're buying. The 128GB SSD is a more reasonable $200 if you're buying one of the pricier MacBook Pros, $350 if you want it in one of the less expensive ones. In return for spending more on the latest in storage technology, you get less room for data. For that reason alone, most buyers will opt for the tried-and-true hard drives with spinning platters.
The 500GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive that came in this particular model surprised me. It's quiet, obviously roomy -- half a terabyte on the go gives you plenty of room to grow -- and was fast enough that I was convinced it was a 7,200-rpm model. I had to check the System Profiler to make sure. The same drive costs $50 more if you want the extra zip of 7,200-rpm -- or $50 less if you're willing to settle for that same speed in a smaller 320GB hard drive. Hint: Pay the $50 and get the faster 500GB drive if you want to squeeze out the most speed at the least cost.
As usual when I'm working with a new laptop, I ran the Xbench benchmarking test on this one. For comparison's sake, I ran Xbench on the last-generation MacBook -- now MacBook Pro -- with a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo chip and the OCZ Apex, a 128GB SSD drive. That machine posted an Xbench score of 141; this one, with a notably faster 2.8GHz processor and traditional hard drive, turned in a score of 155. Someday I'm hoping to snag a MacBook Pro with the optional 3.06GHz processor and an SSD and see how that combo performs.
For most people, the 260MHz difference between the stock 2.8GHz chip and the optional 3.06GHz processor isn't worth much more than bragging rights -- not that I'm against bragging rights. Both processors are Intel Core 2 Duos with 6MB of shared Level 2 cache memory, and both are up to any data crunching, video manipulation or digital photo work you have in mind. If you're eyeing the faster processor, I'd -- no surprise -- get the optional 128GB SSD. You'll discern the speed boost more. If you want more detail on how the six MacBook Pros stack up, Macworld has done a good job of putting them through their paces.
Updated LED screens
The new MacBook Pros all have updated LED screens, offering a 60% wider color gamut. That means they're more vivid, according to Apple. Usually, claims of brighter, more richer-looking screens depend on the eye of the beholder, but in this case, I saw a discernible difference between this generation and the last. You need to put the two side by side to really appreciate the change.