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

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Apple has stepped up audio and video. Just as the whole chassis is part of the 15-inch MacBook Pro's heat sink, I think that this new model makes use of the sealed chassis as a resonating chamber. The 15-inch MacBook Pro's sound is richer and truer to life than other notebooks. Better midrange response raises the clarity of spoken material like TV news and podcasts. Try playing some music in iTunes with the equalizer set to Bass Booster; you'll feel the beat under your palms. A plastic notebook couldn't go there with its many screws and loose seams, but the 15-inch MacBook Pro is tight as a drum.

Apple chose a new display for the 15-inch MacBook Pro. It's difficult to characterize display quality in other than subjective terms, but this time there is a genuine difference: The new display is "wide gamut," which refers to an ability to reproduce colors that don't fit in the industry-standard sRGB digitized color space. There are so many reasons to be grateful for Apple's choice. I'm able to read text clearly at minimum brightness, something the past few MacBook Pro models didn't permit, and lowering the backlight substantially lengthens battery runtime.

[ See how long your battery lasts with InfoWorld's battery life calculator. ]

Wide gamut raises the fidelity of the MacBook Pro's display. You'll see no difference when viewing content encoded for the Internet because colors outside the sRGB space (the standard default color space for the Internet) have already been stripped away to shrink files down to size, but RAW-format digital photographs, professionally scanned film and artwork, print proofs and high-quality (that is, HD) video retain more color information than the majority of computer displays can reproduce. With color-rich content and a wide-gamut display profile selected, the 15-inch MacBook Pro can show you details you've been missing. For creative professionals, this might mean freedom, at long last, from the meticulously tuned wide-gamut desktop monitor. Color can have meaning as well, as in medical imagery, energy exploration, chemistry, and instrument panels. Expanding the range of reproducible colors means that 15-inch MacBook Pro can convey color-coded information with greater range and precision.

Built for what's next
The wide-gamut display is a fitting accessory for a machine that is due for a $30 turbocharge in September with the release of Snow Leopard. The 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9600M GPU in the 15-inch MacBook Pro would be a gamer gimmick on a PC notebook, but in a Mac, it's a compute coprocessor. Snow Leopard will also herald the standardization of a full 64-bit client Unix platform, which speeds up everything. If you have legacy system-level code to run, you'll be able to select the 32-bit kernel at boot time without having to install a second copy of Mac OS X. Apple doesn't officially support Windows 7 on MacBook Pro, but it works for me, both in virtualization (Parallels Desktop, VMware Fusion, or Sun VirtualBox) and running natively in Boot Camp.

The 15-inch MacBook Pro is the best of the tier-one commercial notebooks, full stop. My two complaints -- that the SD card sticks out of its slot and the USB ports remain too close together -- are overshadowed by the new display, seven-hour battery, faster CPU, and the fact that there is an SD card slot. There are cheaper notebooks, but I'd challenge you to find one that's faster, quieter, and better built than MacBook Pro.

15-inch MacBook Pro

ProsFast and 64-bit ready: Core 2 Duo CPU up to 2.8GHz, up to 8GB of 1,066MHz DDR3 RAM. Wide-gamut, LED-backlit display expands color range for improved photo, video fidelity, and readability. Nonremovable battery rated for seven hours of running time (wireless browsing) and five years of useful life. Gaming-grade 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT discrete GPU switches with low-power chip set graphics without rebooting. Improved frequency response of on-board speakers. All advantages of prior unibody MacBook Pro carried forward.
ConsSD card slot is friction fit and protrudes from chassis (not spring-loaded and sunken). USB sockets are too close together.
CostStarts at $1,699 with 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, 4GB of RAM, 250GB 5,400rpm hard drive, and Nvidia GeForce 9400M GPU with 256MB of graphics memory.
PlatformsMac OS X 10.5.6 Leopard (included); dual-boot Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows7 with Boot Camp; other EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface)-compliant x86 operating systems depending on drivers.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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