Apple MacBook Pro Review (Late 2008 Model)

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  • Pros

    • Elegant, sturdy, environmentally sound design
    • Compact size and weight
    • More user accessible components
    • Very capable gaming performance

  • Cons

    • Expensive
    • Lower specced than cheaper models from Dell, Sager, Lenovo 
    • Skimpy on accessories
    • Few ports
    • No matte screen option


by Mike Spitalieri

Apple’s metallic professional-grade notebooks, beginning with the PowerBook G4 and later the MacBook Pro, have become somewhat iconic over the years given their fairly consistent design aesthetic.  On October 14, however, Apple unveiled an entirely redesigned lineup of aluminum notebooks with a brand new MacBook Pro at the top.  In addition to the new unibody chassis, the late 2008 MacBook Pro sports an Nvidia chipset with upgraded discrete GPU, a glass buttonless trackpad and a greener manufacturing process.

Our notebook includes the following specs:

  • Mac OS X v10.5.5 Leopard and Windows XP SP3 (Boot Camp)
  • Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 2.4GHz (3MB L2 cache, 1066MHz frontside bus)
  • 2GB 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM
  • 250GB 5400rpm Serial ATA hard disk drive
  • 15.4″ glossy widescreen LED backlit display (1440 x 900)
  • Integrated Nvidia 9400 graphics (256MB of shared memory) and Discrete Nvidia 9600M GT (256MB of shared memory)
  • iSight webcam
  • AirPort Extreme WiFi (IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n)
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR (Enhanced Data Rate)
  • Mini Display port, 2 x USB 2.0 port (480Mbps), Audio out, mic, ExpressCard, FireWire 800
  • Dimensions : 0.95 x 14.35 x 9.82 inches (H x W x D)
  • Weight: 5.5 lbs
  • Integrated 50-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
  • 85W MagSafe power adapter with cable management system (6.5oz)
  • Price: $1,999 ($1,899 with education discount)

Build and Design

Out of the MacBook Pro’s myriad new features, the most radical change is the build and manufacturing process.  Apple now machines every aluminim notebook casing out of a solid “brick” of aluminum, thereby reducing weight and size of components, but increasing structural strength.  While the new MacBook Pro weighs just hair more than the previous MacBook Pros, 5.5 pounds compared to 5.4, they offer a much sturdier build quality and a thinner profile, at 0.95 inches compared to 1 inch thick, but also slightly wider and deeper.  The new MacBook Pro’s solid exoskeleton allows virtually no give: We tried to bend and warp the case, but short of a world champion Phonebook ripper, our efforts were for naught.  Similarly, the screen panel cannot be twisted or shifted without considerable effort, and now locks into place with a magnetic clamp instead of a mechanical latch.

Another ancillary benefit to the unibody design is that Apple has rearranged the notebook’s innards for easier access and user upgradability. Removing the battery cover underneath the notebook will grant you access to both the battery itself and a 250GB 5400 RPM Hitachi hard drive, which is held in place by four screws and connected via standard Serial ATA.  Removing the entire under panel offers even more opportunity for the intrepid DIYer, granting access to an Optical SuperDrive, and 2GB of RAM.

Screen

The new MacBook Pro’s 15.4 inch LED screen is the same 1440 x 900 resolution as its predecessor, and still displays pristine color fidelity, although, as you can see in the photos below, viewing angles leave a bit to be desired. In a dark or moderately light indoor setting, we found that only 30-40% brightness was necessary. The main complaint that most users will have is that Apple has discontinued the matte screen option. While the glossy glass screen is great while viewing in the dark, it can be quite reflective under broad daylight, even at 100% brightness.

Keyboard and Touchpad

Below the screen you’ll find a new black, backlit chicklet keyboard, derivative of the Macbook Air. We preferred the older keyboard on previous Macbook Pros and PowerBooks, as the new keyboard is slightly more audible (sometimes even squeeky) and ‘clackier’ than the older keyboard, but sufficiently tactile. After a few minutes we adjusted to the new keyboard just fine, so we’re confident most other users will too.

Another significant change is the new MacBook Pro’s larger glass trackpad, which does away with buttons altogether (sort of).  The trackpad itself now functions both as a single tactile button as well as a multi-touch surface supporting various gestures: two figured rotation, zoom, and left-clicking and four fingered swipes to activate Expose.  In OS X, these gestures are both incredibly responsive and useful, but running Windows under Boot Camp, decidedly less so.  Boot Camp drivers currently offer little more than tap to click, which is disappointing, but we’re hopeful that Apple remedies this with a future update.

Input and Output Ports

Around the left edge of the notebook you’ll find the MacBook Pro’s assortment of inputs and outputs, now all conveniently arranged on one side.  Of course, one of the trade-offs of such a thin casing is that older ports must make way for the new.  Case in point, the new MBP tosses FireWire 400 into the recycling bin and provides only a single FireWire 800 port.   DVI-out has also given up the ghost for a new mini-DisplayPort jack, capable (in theory) of carrying both audio and video signals. 

Unfortunately, mini-DisplayPort is a nascent standard so mini-DisplayPort to DVI/VGA ($29) and mini-DisplayPort to dual-link DVI  ($99) adapters will only be available from Apple for a time.  We would have preferred the addition of the more prevalent HDMI standard, but Apple was unwilling to license the technology.  Other than those two exceptions the MacBook Pro offers a standard if rather spartan offering with two audio jacks, two USB 2.0 slots, Gigabit Ethernet, and ExpressCard slot.

Performance and Benchmarks

Under the hood, the new MacBook Pro received some significant upgrades while leaving some components intact.  The most note-worthy is Apple’s spurning of Intel chipsets in favor of a more graphically adept Nvidia 9400 chipset.  The MacBook Pro’s discrete graphics also got a small but significant upgrade in the Nvidia 9600M GT.  We put the MacBook Pro through a battery of graphics tests, where it scored an impressive 5,850 points in 3DMark06 under Windows XP SP3.  In real world tests, we were able to play Crysis comfortably at 1280 x 800 resolution averaging 27-29 fps with mostly medium and a few high settings (texture, particle and water effects).  The game Devil May Cry 4 averaged 39 fps at 1440 x 900 resolution with all effects on high.

The MacBook Pro retains a Penryn Core 2 Duo processor and 2GB of DDR3 (up from DDR2) RAM, the results of which include booting into OS X within 41 seconds and booting into Windows XP SP3 in 1 minute 17 seconds.

wPrime is a program that forces the processor to do recursive mathematical calculations, the advantage of this program is that it is multi-threaded and can use both processor cores at once, thereby giving more accurate benchmarking measurements than Super Pi. (Lower scores indicate better performance.)

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
Apple MacBook Pro (Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 @ 2.4GHz) 36.266s
Apple MacBook (Intel Core 2 Duo P7350 @ 2.0GHz) 38.421s
Apple MacBook Air (Intel Core 2 Duo P7500 @ 1.6GHz) 68.173s
Dell Inspiron 13 (Pentium Dual Core T2390 @ 1.86GHz) 44.664s
Toshiba Satellite U405 (Core 2 Duo T8100 @ 2.1GHz)
37.500s
Sony VAIO NR (Core 2 Duo T5250 @ 1.5GHz) 58.233s
Toshiba Tecra A9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 38.343s
Toshiba Tecra M9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 37.299s
HP Compaq 6910p (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz) 40.965s
Sony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.20GHz) 76.240s
Zepto 6024W (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz) 42.385s
Lenovo T61 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 37.705s
Alienware M5750 (Core 2 Duo T7600 @ 2.33GHz) 38.327s
Hewlett Packard DV6000z (Turion X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz) 38.720s

 

PCMark05 comparison results (Higher scores indicate better performance):

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Apple MacBook Pro (2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600, Nvidia GeForce 9400M and 9600M GT) 5,643 PCMarks
Apple MacBook (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7350, Nvidia GeForce 9400M) 3,961 PCMarks
Apple MacBook Air (1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7500, Intel X3100) 2,478 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron 13 (1.86GHz Intel T2390, Intel X3100) 
3,727 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X301 (1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400, Intel 4500MHD) 4,457 PCMarks
Sony VAIO NR (1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250, Intel X3100) 3,283 PCMarks
Sony VAIO CR (1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7100, Intel X3100) 3,612 PCMarks
Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Core 2 Duo U7600, Intel GMA 950) 2,446 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 4,153 PCMarks
Lenovo 3000 V200 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 3,987 PCMarks
Lenovo T60 Widescreen (2.0GHz Intel T7200, ATI X1400 128MB) 4,189 PCMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 4,234 PCMarks
Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400) 3,487 PCMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX) 5,597 PCMarks
Sony VAIO SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400) 3,637 PCMarks
Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400, Nvidia Go 7400) 3,646 PCMarks



3DMark06 comparison results
(Higher scores indicate better performance):

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
Apple MacBook Pro (2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600, Nvidia GeForce 9400M and 9600M GT) 5,850 3DMarks
Apple MacBook (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7350, Nvidia GeForce 9400M)
2,116 3DMarks
Apple MacBook Air (1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7500, Intel X3100) 502 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 13 (1.86GHz Intel T2390, Intel X3100) 
470 3DMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X301 (1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400, Intel 4500MHD) 712 3DMarks
Sony VAIO NR (1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250, Intel X3100) 504 3DMarks
Toshiba Tecra A9 (2.20GHz Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA Quadro NVS 130M 256MB) 932 3DMarks
Toshiba Tecra M9 (2.20GHz Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA Quadro NVS 130M 128MB) 1,115 3DMarks
Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Core 2 Duo U7600, Intel GMA 950) 122 3DMarks
LG R500 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GS 256MB) 2,776 3DMarks
HP dv2500t (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,055 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1420 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,329 3DMarks
Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 532 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,408 3DMarks
Samsung Q70 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 and nVidia 8400M G GPU) 1,069 3DMarks
Asus F3sv-A1 (Core 2 Duo T7300 2.0GHz, Nvidia 8600M GS 256MB) 2,344 3DMarks
Alienware Area 51 m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7600 256MB 2,183 3DMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 827 3DMarks

HDTune results:

 

XBench is a comprehensive benchmarking solution for Mac OS X commonly used to compare the relative speeds of two different Macintoshes.

XBench 1.3 summary results:

Model Overall Score
MacBook Pro 2008 (2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo) 121.07
MacBook 2008 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo) 126.23
MacBook Air (1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo) 50.76
Mac Mini (1.83GHz Intel Core 2 Duo) 94.58
MacBook (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo) 95.89
MacBook Pro (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo) 106.05
PowerBook G3 Pismo (500MHz G3) 18.47

 


XBench (version 1.3) Detailed Results (using 9400M graphics)

  • Results: 121.07
  • System Version 10.5.5 (9F2088)
  • Physical RAM 2048 MB
  • Model MacBookPro5,1
  • Drive Type Hitachi HTS543225L9SA02
  • CPU Test 141.14
  • GCD Loop 246.83 13.01 Mops/sec
  • Floating Point Basic 123.44 2.93 Gflop/sec
  • vecLib FFT 95.86 3.16 Gflop/sec
  • Floating Point Library 173.70 30.25 Mops/sec
  • Thread Test 253.00
  • Computation 382.23 7.74 Mops/sec, 4 threads
  • Lock Contention 189.07 8.13 Mlocks/sec, 4 threads
  • Memory Test 180.71
  • System 204.13
  • Allocate 263.25 966.75 Kalloc/sec
  • Fill 170.16 8273.33 MB/sec
  • Copy 199.17 4113.74 MB/sec
  • Stream 162.11
  • Copy 154.67 3194.60 MB/sec
  • Scale 153.51 3171.50 MB/sec
  • Add 172.40 3672.50 MB/sec
  • Triad 169.65 3629.21 MB/sec
  • Quartz Graphics Test 169.53
  • Line 156.78 10.44 Klines/sec [50% alpha]
  • Rectangle 202.78 60.54 Krects/sec [50% alpha]
  • Circle 166.23 13.55 Kcircles/sec [50% alpha]
  • Bezier 162.58 4.10 Kbeziers/sec [50% alpha]
  • Text 166.18 10.40 Kchars/sec
  • OpenGL Graphics Test 144.97
  • Spinning Squares 144.97 183.90 frames/sec
  • User Interface Test 273.05
  • Elements 273.05 1.25 Krefresh/sec
  • Disk Test 40.35
  • Sequential 70.61
  • Uncached Write 106.73 65.53 MB/sec [4K blocks]
  • Uncached Write 80.13 45.34 MB/sec [256K blocks]
  • Uncached Read 37.33 10.93 MB/sec [4K blocks]
  • Uncached Read 124.77 62.71 MB/sec [256K blocks]
  • Random 28.24
  • Uncached Write 9.61 1.02 MB/sec [4K blocks]
  • Uncached Write 74.13 23.73 MB/sec [256K blocks]
  • Uncached Read 66.72 0.47 MB/sec [4K blocks]
  • Uncached Read 110.52 20.51 MB/sec [256K blocks]

Heat and Noise

One of the biggest and most welcome changes we noticed is how the new MacBook Pro handles heat dispersion.  From our time testing older MacBook Pros, MacBooks and PowerBooks, they all become uncomfortably hot even during simple productivity use.  After two plus hours writing this review with the late ’08 MacBook Pro on our lap we’re not even singed. iStat reports a comfortable 32 degrees Celsius within the enclosure, 38 degrees in the GPU, 32 degrees in the hard drive and 44 degrees within the CPU in Better Battery Life Mode. Even while gaming the MacBook Pro disperses heat well. The discrete GPU is now located in the upper left corner of the chassis, which can get hot to the touch after a while, but the palm rests are barely luke-warm.  Under load during multiple hours of gaming the GPU hit a ceiling of 78 degrees Celsius.  At this point the fans spin up audibly, but well within an acceptable noise level.

Battery and Power

The new MacBook Pro includes a slightly less capacious battery at 50-watt-hours, down from 60 in the previous version, although this should be somewhat mitigated by switching to Better Battery Life Mode which utilizes the 9400 Chipset’s integrated graphics for less strenuous tasks like HD video. It should be noted that in order to switch between these modes you’ll need to log out of OS X.  While it can be annoying to have all your windows closed the actual process only takes about four to five seconds.  Unfortunately, Windows disables GPU switching entirely, though. 

Running in Better Battery Life Mode with 40% brightness, Wi-Fi turned on, Bluetooth off, a couple of restarts and some intermittent audio and video streaming we were up and running for three hours and thirty-eight minutes, so under the right conditions it’s certainly within reason to expect between four to five hours of battery life that Apple advertises.  The battery charged up to full again in under two hours.  


Conclusion 

The new MacBook Pro is unquestionably Apple’s most revolutionary notebook to date, the build quality is simply unmatched, while its size and weight to performance ratio is excellent; allowing you to multi-task and game comfortably (just don’t expect desktop level performance.)  As with all Apple products, price is the most significant barrier to entry and while the MacBook Pro did get some significant spec bumps it still loses out to other PC models on specs alone. That being said, you are mostly paying for compact size, elegant design and, of course, OS X, and with that in mind the new MacBook Pro is easily worth the price.

Pros:

  • Elegant, sturdy, environmentally sound design
  • Compact size and weight
  • More user accessible components
  • Very capable gaming performance

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Lower specced than cheaper models from Dell, Sager, Lenovo 
  • Skimpy on accessories
  • Few ports
  • No matte screen option


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