Apple MacBook Pro – Full Review

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Going Bananas over Apple…
 


As one of the many exciting innovations from Apple in the past few years, the new MacBook Pro can be considered by some to be a very exiting and welcomed addition to the mobile computing market. From the dual-core CPU to the ability to run both Mac OS X and Windows XP, many users who had foregone a Mac in the past now have a choice. I have personally been using and supporting Macs since 1992. To find out how the MacBook Pro stacks up in my mind, please read on…


As you can see, we spent countless hours working hard with the MBP…
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view large image)



No need to keep the lights on! (view large image)



MacBook Pro Specs as Reviewed:


  • CPU: 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo Processor
  • OS: Apple OS X 10.4 Tiger
  • RAM: 1GB
  • Hard Drive: 5400-rpm 80GB
  • Optical Drive Options:
    • 4X DVD+R
    • 4X DVD-R
    • 4X DVD+RW
    • 4X DVD-RW 8X DVD-ROM
    • 24X CD-R
    • 10X CD-RW
    • 24X CD-ROM
  • Display/Resolution: 15.4-inch/1440 x 900 pixels
  • Graphics: ATI Mobility Radeon x1600/128MB GDDR3 Video Memory
  • Wireless Networking: 54-Mbps AirPort Extreme, 3-Mbps Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, 10/100/1000BASE-T
  • Ports: Two USB 2.0, FireWire 400 port, audio in/out
  • Memory Card Slots: ExpressCard/34 slot
  • Weight: 5.6 pounds
  • Size: 14.1 x 9.6 x 1 inches (width x depth x thickness)
  • Service and Support: 90 days toll-free telephone support and one-year limited warranty

Build Quality & Design

The MacBook Pro is only 1″ thick and encased in a gorgeous aluminum housing. The ports and fine edges are all accented by thin gray plastic framing. The overall build is very solid. The aluminum is resistant to scratches and wear, however somewhat vulnerable to dents if the MBP is dropped onto a hard surface (ouch). The internal components have all been miniaturized by Apple engineers to keep heat to a minimum and keep the ultra-sleek design. In dark settings, the backlit keyboard keys are silver and compliment the casing like rows of gemstones on a tennis bracelet.


The keyboard backlight is cool and functional.

Besides the fancy design, Apple has added other small but notable features that improve the user experience. Ever tripped over a power cord? Imagine the devastation should your $2,000+ Macbook Pro get snagged and forced towards a hardwood floor! You’d surely be looking at an ugly dent in the case. Luckily the “sudden motion sensor” feature in your MBP would immediately act and lock your hard drive to protect your data. However an ounce of prevention… (you know how it goes).

Apple engineers created the new “MagSafe Connector” that promises to release your AC cable from you MBP in the case that it is snagged or caught. This is a simple, but effective measure to help users keep their machines out of harm’s way.


The new “MagSafe Connector” helps to protect your Mac from accidental falls. (view large image)

Although it has been done before, we do feel compelled to mention that the MacBook Pro comes with a built in cam (iSight) and a remote control. Using Apple’s Front Row and iChat AV software, the combination of these features offers endless possibilities.

Finally, the slot loading optical “SuperDrive” is an ultra-modern and fun device. It is amazing how lazy you will get when you are forced to load a disk in the old-fashioned drives found on 95% of today’s notebooks. One issue to note; Apple had to use a thinner and slower drive to accomodate the available space in the 15″ MacBook Pro model. Additionally this drive does not offer dual layer burning capabilities.


A look around the MBP…


Front View: IR (for remote), display latch w/ sleep light, slot-loading SuperDrive
(note: the built-in iSight cam on the top of the lid) (
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Left View: Kensington lock, USB, Firewire, LAN, dual link DVI out (view large image)

 


MagSafe AC in, USB, mic/headphone jacks, ExpressCard/34 slot (view large image)



Rear: In keeping with the smooth and user friendly design, Apple engineers
avoided forcing users to reach to the back for ports. (
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NOTE: There is no VGA port on Apple notebooks, rather a dual-link DVI output. A small VGA adapter is inluded in the box. Apple also includes only two USB ports, so if you need more, then plan to pick up a portable USB hub.


Screen


Our MBP display is “pixel perfect” – no pixel anomolies. (view large image)

The 15.4″ display is 67% brighter than the past PowerBook models and offers fantastic color accuracy and saturation. The blacks truly are “black” and whites are truly “white” – they do not exhibit any yellow or blue overtones whatsoever. With a 1440 x 900 pixel resolution and bright even backlight, the MBP display is truly a pleasure to view.


Speakers/Audio


Apple did a great job in packing an extremely thin notebook with speakers that actually offer colorful audio in contrast to the tinny sound of many other notebooks models. With a nice well-rounded tone, decent bass and relatively good volume, you can actually listen to music and videos without being forced to plug in headphones or an external set of speakers.

Apple has stayed right on top of the technological curve in the MBP by including optical digital audio input and output. When powered “on” a bright red light radiates from the optical audio port. Besides providing the very best audio expansion of most any laptop computer, uber-techies are sure to be delighted with this Star Trek light effect.


Processor and Performance


Aspyr Media’s OS X port of Doom 3? Quake 4 under BootCamp with Windows? Have at it! We found that the MacBook Pro delivers on these games. Although it is a known fact that Apple has underclocked the core and memory of the ATI Radeon X1600 GPU by a whopping 170MHz, these games still shine. Under Windows you may in fact use a utility such as ATI Tool to boost the core and memory of the GPU to the standard 470Mhz. We do however wish to caution you that Apple underclocked the GPU for a reason. You may or may not shorten the life of your MBP by tinkering with this. Our recommendation is to be sure you have a minimum of 1GB of system RAM or more to help improve your gaming experience.

We did conduct informal tests using the “FEAR” gaming engine set at medium hardware and graphics. In testing the MBP with 512MB of system RAM, we had 26% of frames drop below 20FPS. After simply adding another 512MB of system RAM (total 1GB). The same test actually yielded a result of only 3% of frames dropping below 20FPS. The performance boost was amazing. We also noticed significantly smoother performance in Doom 3 under OS X, all without any risk to the GPU by use of risky tweaking utilities.




Overall System Benchmarks

We worked with the Xbench ver. 1.2 benchmarking utility for Mac and pitted our 1.83GHz Core Duo MacBook Pro against a 1.67GHz G4 PowerBook. Both machines have been configured with 5400RPM stock hard drives and 1GB of RAM. As expected, the MacBook Pro surpassed the PowerBook in the majority of CPU functions. The newer PCI Express video card on the MacBook Pro flew past the older AGP technology on the PowerBook as well. We were surprised however to see that certain CPU functions of the G4 beat out the Intel Core Duo. We were disappointed that the older Seagate 5400RPM hard drive on the PowerBook tested to be superior to the Toshiba 5400RPM hard drive on our MacBook Pro. It is apparent that either the new Intel platform does not allow for the faster performance of the hard drive OR our Toshiba drive just doesn’t stack up to the Seagate Momentum model on the PowerBook G4.










Heat and Noise – the Facts 


A lot of talk has “heated up” on the web with concerns over the MacBook Pro getting too hot and/or producing a “whining” sound from inside the case. While this issue did occur in the some of the first MBP’s off the assembly line, Apple has addressed this. The current MacBook Pro models have a “revision D” or higher logic board which has apparently fixed these issues. Users who have a “revision C” or earlier and are experiencing any of these issues can simply contact Apple for a replacement. Our review unit is a Rev. C model, but we have not experienced any of the issues reported. If you need to check your MBP version, just follow these instructions:

You can get the serial number from inside the battery bay or by clicking on “About This Mac” in the finder and clicking twice on the software version number.

– Serial numbers starting with W8611 are Revision D
– Serial numbers starting with W8610 are Revision C


Keyboard and Touchpad

As was the case with the former PowerBook models, the MacBook Pro has an outstanding keyboard. Besides the unique auto backlighting feature, the actual shape and response of the keys is a total pleasure to type with. Each key is actually concave in the center and has a textured surface that will not wear like the plastic keys found on many PC laptops. Apple uses some type of textured enamel on the silver surface to prevent the keys from becoming smooth and worn.

The touchpad has a “double finger” scroll feature. The pad also allows for horizontal and verticle scrolling along the surface edges. Yes, there is still ONE mouse button, so be prepared to use the Ctrl key to “right click” in OS X.


Apple compensates for the lack of the extra mouse button with the enhanced touchpad.

Wireless Features

Apple includes an Airport Extreme (802.11G) integrated card and Bluetooth 2.0 in every current notebook product. The Wi-Fi reception in our MacBook Pro is excellent. We have not encountered any issues in connecting to both Apple “Airport” base stations or non-Apple branded routers in any settings at this point. Connecting to a hotspot is essentially a “one-click” operation in OS X – so easy your great grandma could do it. lol

The integrated Bluetooth radio is the latest 2.0 and although the process of connecting to Bluetooth devices is a bit more involved than with hotspots with Wi-Fi, it is fairly easy. Apple rarely if ever asks for any “drivers” to make things work.

Battery Life

Under OS X, we found that using Wi-Fi and keeping the display reasonably bright we averaged about 3 hours per charge (with 512MB RAM). After adding the additional RAM this seemed to squeeze out another ten minutes or so (real world use). To get the most out of your MBP battery, we suggest you follow these steps to calibrate your battery as recommended by Apple:

  1. Fully charge the battery until the power plug turns green
  2. Let it “rest” for two hours (keeping it plugged into AC power)
  3. Disconnect the adapter and run the battery down (until it goes to sleep)
  4. Let it sleep for at least 5 hours (or longer)
  5. Connect it to power and charge it all the way up

Installing RAM

If you would like to get the most out of your MBP, we recommend that you have 1GB of RAM. This will be the sweet spot for running XP under Boot Camp, getting the best battery life and improving your multimedia/gaming experience.

We added this little bit to the review as installing RAM in a iBook, PowerBook or MacBook Pro can be a bit tricky. However if you opt to order extra RAM preinstalled, you’ll pay through the nose. Here are a few tips to make the process a breeze.

  1. Use a Phillips #00 screwdriver. It can be found at Radio Shack, Fry’s electronics or any store that sells precision tools. DO NOT TRY ANY OTHER SIZE! The screws are very small and will become stripped if you use the wrong tool.


    Phillips #00 ONLY (view large image)



    Teenie tiny screws – put them aside where you can see them. (view large image)
  2. Keep some Scotch tape on hand to pick up a screw that falls into any hard to reach place. If you try to grab a runaway screw with your fingers, it just might “jump” further from reach!


    The RAM compartment is righ under the battery. (view large image)

  3. Follow the instructions from Apple to the letter. You don’t want to blow it with a $2,000+ piece of equipment. Read the official document from Apple support here.

Conclusion

I personally love the Apple MacBook Pro. Running Windows under BootCamp is a breeze. The machine has many surprisingly helpful features that help improve the end user experience. This is the first time a computer that offers the best of  both worlds (Mac/PC) is available – and it handles tasks from either platform extremely well. If you have been torn between the Mac vs. PC debate and have the financial means, a MacBook Pro may be the perfect portable for you!

Pros:

  • Outstanding build and features 
  • Fast performance
  • Runs Windows too 
  • Great audio and multimedia
  • A looker

Cons:

  • Somewhat pricey (at $2000) 
  • Heat/noise problems reported by some users (no issues on our unit) 
  • No 12″ version as of now

Barry J. Doyle
Editor in Chief
TabletPCReviewSpot.com

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