Review: Apple's 15-in. MacBook Pro now faster -- and cheaper
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Videographers and photographers who use their Macs will no doubt appreciate the new screens, as will movie buffs who watch DVDs on their laptops. It's too bad a Blu-ray optical drive isn't part of the package (Apple doesn't offer one even as an option). The result would be stunning -- especially on the 1920-by-1200-pixel 17-in. model.
That brings me to a quibble: I do wish Apple would offer a higher native resolution in the 15-in. line, at least as an option. At 1440 by 900 pixels, the standard resolution is the same as it has been for years. For me, the perfect resolution for this machine would be 1680 by 1050 pixels. The jump in resolution from the 15-in. to the 17-in. models is too large.
That said, the 15-in. screen is razor sharp and bright enough to perform surgery by -- an excellent trait when working outdoors in direct sunlight.
Apple continues to use two graphics cards in its higher-end Pro models. This one has the Nvidia 9600M GT and the Nvidia 9400M. The 9400 is an integrated GPU that helps extend the battery life; it uses 256MB of shared video RAM. The 9600M GT is the workhorse, offering either 256MB or 512MB of discrete video RAM that gamers and videographers will want to use.
You toggle between the two using the Energy Saver system preference pane. If you're using the battery and don't need the extra video RAM, choose the 9400M. If you're plugged in and want to dive into Doom 3 or immerse yourself in Unreal Tournament, go for the 9600M GT. If you decide to switch between the two, you have to log out for the change to take effect.
Note that the entry-level 15-in. model, the one that sells for $1,699, has only the integrated Nvidia card. If you're planning to use your laptop for serious gaming or for apps that need the most out of the graphics chip, you should opt for the $1,999 model, which has the 9400M and the 9600M GT with 256MB of discrete video RAM.
It's important to note that the GPU is expected to play a larger role in overall system performance once Apple releases its next operating system, Mac OS X 10.6 'Snow Leopard,' in September. For users of the current Leopard OS, the upgrade price will be a recession-friendly $29. Snow Leopard will allow developers to tap into the GPU's horsepower, offloading some of the functions now performed by the CPU. That should offer a boost in system response and application performance, meaning Apple's laptops are primed to take advantage of the OS when it comes out.
Maybe it's because I've been staring at 13-in. screens for the better part of a year now -- starting with a MacBook Air and moving on to a late-model MacBook. For whatever reason, the 15-in. MacBook Pro seems larger than it is. This is a good thing. (More than one person asked me whether this was the new 17-in. model when first seeing it.)
Given that the overall design of the MacBook Pro is unchanged, the updates to the model line are evolutionary. It's the price cuts that, for Apple, border on the revolutionary. Ask Apple officials about that and they talk about wanting to "bring more value" to the laptop equation. That, Apple has done.
At a time when the economy is soft, companies are squirreling away every IT dollar they can, and consumers are leery of big, new purchases, they need every justification possible before plunking money down for a new computer. Hundreds of dollars in price cuts, solid construction and innovative features, combined with a new OS that'll be just $29 in three months, might just do the trick.