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

Bottom Line

The new 15-inch MacBook Pro is faster, runs longer on a charge, doubles the memory capacity, and adds an SD card slot. It also has a gorgeous wide-gamut display and a lower price. In short, the quintessential commercial notebook is now even better.

When I reviewed Apple's prior, "unibody" 15-inch MacBook Pro, I gave it high marks. For the money, there is no better-built notebook. With its rigid one-piece machined aluminum frame, glossy LED-backlit display, flat backlit keyboard, huge multitouch trackpad, 802.11n Wi-Fi, and 8X slot-loading, dual-layer DVD burner, the unibody MacBook Pro defined the state of the art in design, construction, and manufacturing. Now Apple is building on that peerless platform with higher performance, an upgraded display, longer battery life, and a lower price.

The latest 15-inch MacBook Pro, introduced in June 2009, costs less than the model that preceded it, and yet it puts competing commercial high-end notebooks back at the starting line. The new machine's specifications are more 64-bit-friendly in anticipation of the Snow Leopard OS, due in September, and they reflect updated offerings from Apple's component suppliers. Core 2 Duo CPU speed now tops out at 3.06GHz. Using 4GB DIMMs, the new MacBook accommodates 8GB of RAM. Recent introductions of larger and faster notebook hard drives are reflected in 15-inch MacBook Pro's configure-to-order options, which include 7,200-rpm drives that close the notebook/desktop performance gap.

[ Mac OS X Snow Leopard is due in September. Find out what businesses can expect from Apple's new OS. ]

As you read, keep in mind that the machine I'm describing doesn't fit in the mainstream 15-inch PC notebook class, a strictly two-year service group typified by painted-on key legends, breakable tray-loading DVD drives, and slow integrated graphics. The MacBook Pro is a five-year machine, by design and by track record. If you choose to replace a 15-inch MacBook Pro in two years, you'll be able to sell it for most of what you paid for it.

A true hybrid
Much of what's new about the 15-inch MacBook Pro is inherited from Apple's supply chain, but Apple also made a few carefully targeted changes to MacBook Pro's core design. The nonremovable rechargeable battery, an idea hatched with iPod, has found its way to Apple's commercial mainstay. Apple claims that by making the battery a non-user-serviceable component, it was able to use battery technology that lasts for up to five years, a thousand charge cycles, before losing significant capacity. This claim will take five years to prove, but it is conceivable, with deep knowledge of battery characteristics burned into the notebook's intelligent charge management circuitry.

Apple claims extended battery running time, too, of up to seven hours per charge with Wi-Fi operational. As a frequent flier and worker away from my desk, this was music to my ears -- but could seven hours truly be possible on an Intel desktop replacement-grade notebook? After the MacBook Pro's first full charge, the battery gauge estimated more than ten hours of runtime. You can't blame an untrained gauge for showing some gung-ho optimism. A few weeks and several charge cycles later, the gauge has leveled out to a little more than seven hours per charge running a mixed productivity/Web workload, with Wi-Fi enabled. I've been able to extend that by nearly an hour with a combination of settings and habits that include a shorter disk spin-down delay and moving documents I'm currently editing to SD Card flash memory.

The move to a sealed battery -- the replacement of which requires a visit to the Apple Store -- is bound to make some unhappy, but it lowers manufacturing costs, and no competitor has been able to make hay against iPhone on the battery issue alone. The pop-open battery door was a liability on the unibody 15-inch MacBook Pro. With long running time and the (optional) ability to plug in to a cigarette lighter or plane seat power outlet, there's no reason to argue for carrying a spare battery. Besides, Apple didn't glue the MacBook Pro's case shut. If you have any business inside it, then you already have the tools.

Test Center Scorecard
Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch)99101089



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