Apple MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo Review

by cashmonee Reads (126,125)
  • Pros

    • Added larger hard drive, FireWire 800, and dual-layer DVD burner
    • 1" thick
    • Very portable for a 15"
    • Improved battery life
    • Great screen

  • Cons

    • Needs more USB ports
    • Speakers are weak
    • No higher resolution screen available


by Gerald Edgecomb

When Apple announced its transition to Intel, there was the expectation that hardware updates would become more frequent. So it came as a surprise when Apple was slow to move to the newer, more efficient Core 2 Duo processor. Eventually, not only did Apple switch to the 64-bit processor, they also added many features that were left out of the original MacBook Pro, namely a dual-layer DVD burner and FireWire 800. They also added a larger 120 GB hard drive, 1 GB of RAM, and a now unlocked 802.11n AirPort Extreme. Apple was also able to improve the cooling, which allowed them to speed up a grossly underclocked ATI Mobility X1600 and be more competitive with the competition. On paper, the Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro looks more like what the Core Duo version should have been, but does that prove to be true in real world use? Let’s find out!


Apple MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo (view large image)

Reasons for Buying

I did not buy this MacBook Pro. It was another replacement in a long line of replacements dating back to June 2006. My last unit was a Core Duo that I had for about 4 months. Unfortunately, the seal on the LCD was not airtight and dirt was able to accumulate. Having had so many problems, I called Customer Relations, who were willing to replace my Core Duo machine with the new Core 2 Duo version. While I question Apple’s quality control, their customer service has been second to none. It has taken very little effort on my part to get issues corrected. In the month I have had my Core 2 Duo machine, I have thankfully not noticed any build quality issues.


Apple MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo (view large image)

Build and Design


MacBook Pro box (view large image)

Not much has changed visually from the Core Duo MacBook Pro. What has changed is not initially visible. Apple abandoned the vertical vents in favor of horizontal vents, allowing more air to move freely from the case. This single change has helped to solve the heat issues that plagued many older MacBook Pros. The only other change cosmetically is the new FireWire 800 port on the right side. Other than that, Apple carries over the same aluminum case with a slot-loading DVD burner on the front, ports on the sides, and a large trackpad with a single mouse button. Apple has used this design for several iterations of the Powerbook/MacBook Pro, and while the design is beginning to age, it is still pleasing to the eye. Apple also includes a backlit keyboard and auto-dimming LCD backlight, making it easier to use in low light.


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The build feels solid; however, the aluminum case will dent and scratch eventually, keeping it from being one of the more durable notebooks. The way the notebook feels is good, making it seem worth the money spent on it. Just hope you do not get a lemon.


Thinner than three CDs stacked (view large image)

Screen

The 15.4″ screen of the MacBook Pro screen is beautiful. I have the matte version, and the colors do not seem washed out or over exaggerated. The caveat is the lack of a higher resolution. While 1440×900 is acceptable, 1680×1050 would be desirable, especially on a model that is aimed at professionals. Working with large photos can be a bit of pain, and extra resolution would definitely remedy that. Apple has continued to utilize their auto-dimming backlight, which I find works well. The backlight will automatically brighten or dim based on the ambient light. The backlight is fairly even, and there is no light leakage that I can notice. My unit shipped with zero dead pixels.

Speakers

I was initially pleased with the speakers of my Core Duo MacBook Pro, but over time came to realize how bad they are. Not to say they were terrible, but they do not get loud enough and can even have some distortion at max volume. Unfortunately, I have found the same weak performance on the Core 2 Duo machine. The volume is almost always at the maximum or close to it. If you really want good audio performance I would recommend using external speakers or a pair of nice headphones. Apple does include an optical mini-jack giving you the ability to extract the audio digitally.

Processor and Performance

My MacBook Pro is the base model, which comes equipped with a 2.16 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo and 1 GB of 667MHz RAM, which I immediately upgraded to 2 GB. In day-to-day use I have not noticed a big jump in performance from my 2.0 GHz Core Duo machine. However, performance increases are present in processor intensive tasks. For instance, the Core 2 Duo showed a large performance jump in the SuperPi benchmark, coming in at 58 seconds, a 20% increase over the Core Duo. The other area that the Core 2 Duo version shines in over the Core Duo is gaming. Due to cooling problems, the ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 was severely underclocked in the Core Duo MacBook. Thanks to improved cooling, Apple was able to run the X1600 at a higher clock speed. The increase in clock speed manifested itself in the 3DMark05 score, helping the Core 2 Duo post a whopping 50% increase.

In general day-to-day use, I do not think you will see much of an increase in performance, but if you game or use processor intensive applications then the Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro is a significant upgrade over the Core Duo version.

Benchmarks

Super Pi Comparison Results

Super Pi forces the processor to calculate Pi to 2 million digits of accuracy and gives an idea of the processor speed and performance:

Notebook Time
Apple MacBook Pro (2.16GHz Core 2 Duo) 0m 58s
PowerPro 8:14 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo) 1m 04s
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T2400) 59s
Asus W3H760DD (2.0 GHz Pentium M) 1m 33s
Dell Inspiron e1505 (2.0GHz Core Duo) 1m 16s
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo) 1m 18s
Toshiba Satellite M100 (2.00GHz Core Duo) 1m 18s
Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo) 1m 29s
Dell XPS M140 (1.86 GHz Pentium M) 1m 41s
Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M) 1m 53s
IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M) 1m 45s

 

Cinebench:

Cinebench is a rendering benchmark tool based on the powerful 3D software, CINEMA 4D. Its rendering tasks can stress up to sixteen multiprocessors on the same computer. It is a free benchmarking tool, and can be found here: http://www.cinebench.com/

Cinebench CPU Benchmark:

Test Apple MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo 2.16GHz Apple MacBook Pro Core Duo 2.0GHz Dell e1505 Core 2 Duo 2.0GHz
Single Core rendering mode 358 CB-CPU  306 CB-CPU points  325 CB-CPU points
Dual Core rendering mode 675 CB-CPU  577 CB-CPU points  592 CB-CPU points

 

CineBench 9.5 Detailed Results for Apple MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo:

  • Processor Benchmark
    • Rendering (1 CPU): 358 CB-CPU
    • Rendering (x-CPU): 675 CB-CPU
    • Multiprocessor Speedup: 1.88x
  • Graphics Benchmark
    • C4D Shading: 434 CB-GFX
    • OpenGL SW-L: 1656 SW-L
    • OpenGL HW-L: 3412 HW-L
    • OpenGL Speedup: 7.85x

3DMark05

3DMark05 is a benchmark used to test graphics performance of a notebook, below is how the MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo performed — a significant improvement can be seen over the Core Duo version.

Notebook 3DMark 05 Results
Apple MacBook Pro (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo, ATI X1600) 3,870 3DMarks
Apple MacBook Pro (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600) 2,586 3D Marks
Lenovo ThinkPad Z61t (2.0GHz Core Duo, Geforce Nvidia 6600 256 MB PCI Express Card) 1,332 3D Marks
Lenovo ThinkPad Z60m (2.0GHz Pentium M, ATI X600 128MB) 1,659 3DMarks
ThinkPad T43 (1.86GHz, ATI X300 64MB graphics) 727 3DMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB) 2,092 3D Marks
HP dv4000 (1.86GHz Pentium M, ATI X700 128MB) 2,536 3D Marks
Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB) 4,157 3DMarks

 

Heat and Noise

As I mentioned, some of the early MacBook Pros had serious heat issues, but as the line matured, the issues seemed to be less extreme. My last Core Duo MacBook Pro would run hot at times, especially while plugged in or doing any type of video. Once again, Apple has found a solution. The cooling is much better in the Core 2 Duo version. This is evidenced by the fact that while the video card has higher clocks, there is still less heat than before. Average temperatures for the processor are around 50C and close to 45C for the GPU.

As for noise, the original Core Duo MacBook Pros were silent, and while not as quiet, the same mostly holds true for the Core 2 Duo iteration. There is more fan noise than before, but it is still much quieter than an average notebook. If a little fan noise keeps these things cool and allows them to perform better, I am all for it.

Keyboard and Touchpad


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The keyboard and touchpad are unchanged. The backlit keyboard still uses ambient light to brighten and dim in the same fashion as the LCD screen, and the touchpad still has a generous amount of real estate and a single button. The backlight is a nice feature and can get very bright. As for typing, the keyboard is good, but not great. There is a little flex on the left side when I start typing hard. The overall feel of the keyboard is good and I do enjoy typing on it, but I whenever possible I use my external keyboard.
The touchpad is huge, and sometimes this is a bad thing. While typing, there are times when the palm of my hand will hit the touchpad and click something. Apple has an option to ignore accidental inputs and it takes care of the problem for the most part. Other than that, this is by far the best touchpad I have used, and it is all thanks to two-finger scrolling. Instead of using designated areas for something like vertical scrolling, all you need to do is place a second finger on the touchpad and scroll whichever way you like. For those that dislike having a single mouse button, tap with two fingers instead of one and you have a “right” click. I find that the touchpad on the MacBook Pro is much easier to use because of the fluid movements made possible by being able to use one or two fingers to perform different actions.


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Input and Output Ports

Despite all of the other improvements, Apple must have forgotten about the lack of ports on the Core Duo MacBook Pro, because there is still a lack of ports on the Core 2 Duo version. Yes, they added a FireWire 800 port, but how many FireWire 800 devices do you have lying around? I have none. I do, however, have a plethora of USB devices, yet there are still only two USB 2.0 ports. There is plenty of room left over for at least one more USB connection and if there weren’t I would gladly trade the FireWire 800 for a third USB 2.0.


Left side ports (view large image)


Right side ports (view large image)

Aside from the 2 USB 2.0 ports and single FireWire 800, the MacBook Pro includes a FireWire 400, gigabit Ethernet, mini optical audio out, microphone in, and a ExpressCard/34 slot. With the Core Duo iteration, the ExpressCard was slightly ahead of its time, but now a full year later, there are many compatible cards available and the list will continue to grow as ExpressCard pushes the PC Card out.

Wireless

The MacBook Pro has two wireless features, the AirPort Extreme WiFi card and Bluetooth 2.0. There was a little secret, however. The AirPort Extreme that ships with the Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro is not just 802.11a/b/g compliant; it also can do 802.11n. There is a caveat: you have to pay Apple $1.99 to unlock it or buy their AirPort Extreme Base Station. This set off a firestorm when Apple announced that they would charge for something that was already in the system. Apple claimed that due to accounting rules, they had to charge, but that has been proven a stretch at best. Whatever their reasoning, $1.99 is not much to pay for an internal 802.11n card that most people believed was a 802.11g card when they bought it. I have not tested the 802.11n capabilities, but the 802.11g works well. On my Core Duo MacBook Pro, I noticed that my wife’s Intel card was able to pull in a stronger signal and more networks. The new card seems to bring it even with the older Intel 3945.

The Bluetooth also works well. On occasion I use a Logitech Bluetooth mouse and it has no problems connecting and staying connected.

Battery

Apple claims up to five hours of battery life, which I find optimistic. Battery life is improved from the Core Duo model, however. With my Core Duo I would consistently get around three to three and a half hours of use with Wi-Fi, the auto-bright screen, and keyboard on. With the Core 2 Duo I have seen battery life closer to four hours. I suppose if I turned off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and dimmed the screen to the lowest setting I could squeeze close to the stated five hours, but then I would not be able to use my laptop as productively.

Software

OS X is amazing. I was hesitant when I first made the switch over 9 months ago, but since then I have never looked back. I use OS X exclusively for my day-to-day work. My old Windows desktop has become, in essence, a glorified server. That is not to say OS X is better than Windows; I simply find OS X to be more comfortable. I spend less time tinkering and more time actually doing stuff.
Apple includes little bloatware with their machines. The only trials included are iWork 06 and Office for Mac 2004. Everything else is a full working version. That includes the popular iLife 06, which bundles iWeb, iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, and GarageBand. With the exception of iWeb, all of these are solid programs for hobbyists. If you are a professional or serious enthusiast you may find them a bit lacking. However, if you enjoy making home movies or do some relatively light editing, all of them will fit the bill. I would not recommend iWeb to anyone however. It is not a particularly good web development tool and it does not stick to standards making it difficult to grow into a more complex tool later.

Customer Support

When you have five or six replacements over a six month period, you get a good sense of the quality of customer service. Overall I am satisfied with the support I have received, but there is definitely room for improvement. My worst experience occurred when I sent the same notebook in twice for repairs, and each time it came back with a new issue. AppleCare wanted me to send it in a third time, which of course I was reluctant to. The problem was quickly resolved by calling Customer Relations, who sent me a new unit. With my last unit, there was dirt in the screen. AppleCare wanted me to send it in again, which I understand, but did not want to do. Another call to Customer Relations not only netted me another replacement unit, but they upgraded me to the newest Core 2 Duo model free of charge. So, while it may take a little more work than should be necessary, Apple does seem willing to make things right. On a side note, all of Apple’s support centers are located in Canada and the US, so all of the agents are easy to understand. Hold times were always reasonable compared to other support lines I have called in the past as well.

Conclusion

This is Apple’s second try with an Intel processor in their flagship notebook and the results are much better. I am not sure what exactly went wrong with the Core Duo MacBook Pro’s quality control, but there were widespread reports of issues, not to mention my own trials and tribulations with four different units. So far in the few months that the Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro has been available, there have been no widespread reports of serious issues. I think Apple seriously upped the ante with this revision. Not only did they solve their quality control issues, but they also addressed several of the other gripes I had with the previous version by adding more RAM, dual-layer burner, and larger hard drive as standard equipment. Now if they would only add a couple more USB ports the machine would be near perfect.

Pros

  • Added larger hard drive, FireWire 800, and dual-layer DVD burner
  • 1″ thick
  • Very portable for a 15″
  • Improved battery life
  • Great screen

Cons

  • Needs more USB ports
  • Speakers are weak
  • No higher resolution screen available




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