Apple MacBook Pro Review (pics, specs)

by cashmonee Reads (230,948)
  • Pros

    • Very portable for a 15.4"
    • Good screen
    • Trackpad: Big, scrolling, right-clickable
    • OS X and iLife 06
    • Support
    • Security

  • Cons

    • Cooling system
    • USB ports
    • Quality control


Overview and Introduction

I recently purchased a 2.0 Ghz Apple MacBook Pro. I stuck with the stock configuration of 512 MB RAM, 80 GB hard drive, 128 MB ATI Radeon X1600. Immediately after buying, I went to Fry’s and picked up a 1 GB stick of 667 Mhz RAM to bring the total to 1.5 GB. I have returned three and am on my fourth. This review encompasses experiences from all of the notebooks. The pros and cons are true of all four I have had.


Apple MacBook Pro (view large image)

  
Specifications of the MacBook Pro reviewed

  • 2.0 GHz Intel Core Duo
  • 667MHz frontside bus and main memory
  • PCI Express architecture
  • 100GB 5400 Serial ATA hard drive
  • ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 with 256MB memory on 16-lane PCI Express
  • ExpressCard/34 slot
  • Dual-link DVI, VGA adapter included
  • One FireWire 400 port, two USB 2.0 ports
  • Optical digital and analogue audio I/O, built-in microphone and stereo speakers
  • Slot-loading SuperDrive
  • Illuminated keyboard, scrolling TrackPad
  • Built-in AirPort Extreme (802.11g), Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, and Gigabit Ethernet
  • Mac OS X Tiger with iLife ’06, featuring iWeb

Reasons for Buying

I bought this mainly as a replacement for my 3 year old desktop. It is still going strong, so I figured I would go laptop this time to give me portability for school and traveling.

Where and How Purchased

This is where the ordeal begins. I purchased my first MacBook Pro at the Apple Store in Las Vegas while on vacation (we have no Apple Store here in Fresno California). I wanted to purchase in store to make it easy to return. Good thing I did!

The first night while checking to make sure everything ran ok, a line of pixels all the way across the middle of the screen turned gray, and would not switch back. That MacBook Pro was promptly returned the next day. I did not really have time to test the new one before I left Las Vegas got home. After playing with this next MacBook Pro for a weekend at home I discovered that it randomly shutdown for no real reason. Hot, cold, on battery, plugged-in — did not matter. I took that machine back the next weekend to an Apple store in Sacramento, CA. When we arrived I realized my wife had not brought the receipt! It made no difference. Apple willingly switched it out even though it did not exhibit the problem while I was there. I had the third one for nearly 2 weeks before returning it to the San Jose store (we were in the area). There was no specific problem with this one it just seemed to act up a lot. This time we could not find the first 2 receipts, but did have the third. Again, with no fuss they exchanged the notebooks. So, I’m on my fourth MacBook Pro, and have had this one for nearly two weeks problem free! For those that are interested the first three were all week 17 and this one is week 21.


MacBook Pro box (view large image)


In the MacBook Pro box (view large image)


MacBook Pro box contents (view large image)

Build & Design

I would venture to say few would call the MacBook Pro anything but beautiful. With an all aluminum case it certainly has the looks. As for build, it seems solid. I have heard long time PowerBook owners, which have the same case, say that the case will scratch and dent. There is no flex if you try to twist the case and the screen stays solid in place, even when I bang on the keyboard (I type hard). The fit and finish is good, except all four have had the lid that curves slightly upward at the edges. You don’t really notice unless you look for it, but it is something that may bother some. In the end, the lid does not detract from the laptop working.


Apple MacBook Pro lid (view large image)


Apple MacBook Pro lid illuminated (view large image)


Thickness comparison to mobile phone (view large image)

Screen

The screen is wonderful. The resolution is a little less than I was initially looking for. It comes in at 1440×900, and I was hoping for 1680×1050, but it still looks great. On a black screen the bottom is a little lighter than the top, but when you are working normally, you would never be able to tell. One great feature is the light sensor. If you are in a dark room, the screen will dim so you don’t strain your eyes. If the room is bright the screen brightens so it remains vibrant. I find the levels the sensor chooses to be good, but if you don’t, the feature can be turned off with the press of a button.

Speakers

It is a notebook. You cannot expect much from notebook speakers. These perform fairly well. They do not get loud enough in my opinion, and at the highest setting you can hear some distortion. Not too bad, but it is still there. For notebook speakers, they are decent, slightly better than my wife’s Dell Inspiron 6000D.

Processor and Performance

This laptop is fast. It easily keeps up with, and, in many cases, outpaces my older desktop that still runs pretty well. The Core Duo really makes a big leap from my wife’s Inspiron that has a Pentium M Dothan. Booting into OS X is very quick, especially coming from Windows. From a dead shutdown to able to use takes 32 seconds. Unlike Windows, once the desktop appears you are ready to go. Booting to Windows is significantly longer. I would attribute that to the absence of an actual BIOS. Performance in Windows is also quite good. Especially games. World of Warcraft, on medium to high settings, gets about 30 fps in OS X. In Windows, with identical settings, I can get 40-45 fps. I attribute this to DirectX 9. Running apps in Rosetta is surprisingly usable. It takes a long time to load a Rosetta application, but once loaded runs fairly well. I am typing this review in Word, and I can “out type” the computer a little bit, which can be annoying. I have also run Dreamweaver and Fireworks and get similar performance. The key to Rosetta is RAM. The more RAM the better it will run.

Benchmarks:

I could not find a whole lot of benchmarks that are cross-platform. I was able to find Cinebench and Geekbench.

Cinebench:

Cinebench CPU Benchmark:

 

Test Apple MacBook Pro Core Duo 2.0GHz Dell e1505 Core 2 Duo 2.0GHz
Single Core rendering mode  306 CB-CPU points  325 CB-CPU points
Dual Core rendering mode  577 CB-CPU points  592 CB-CPU points
  • Multiprocessor Speedup: 1.89x

Cinebench Graphics Benchmark

  • C4D Shading — 351
  • OpenGL SW-L — 1,373
  • OpenGL HW-L — 2,667
  • OpenGL Speedup: 7.60x

Geekbench:

  • 166.1

3DMark05

 

 

Notebook 3DMark 05 Results
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
Quanta KN1 (1.86 GHz Pentium M, NVIDIA GeForce Go 6600 128mb) 2,486 3DMarks
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:

Ok, here is what everyone has been waiting for. Is it hot? Yes, the case does get warm, and even hot when under a load. Basically, Apple uses more of a passive cooling system that works best on a desk or table. They do this to keep the notebook from getting loud. Because the case is part of the cooling system it will get hot in order to keep the heat away from the components. If this bothers you, then I would not recommend any Mac portable to you. Keep in mind these do not overheat. There is no performance decrease due to heat. Although, to keep heat production down the video card on the 15″ is underclocked. Again, you have to take these things into account, and if they bother you then a Mac is not for you. I am okay with the way they are cooled, and am confident they are not overheating. For noise, there has been a slight noise in a dead quiet room when on the power brick. On battery it is pretty much dead silent.

Keyboard and Touchpad:


MacBook Pro keyboard (view large image)

Hey, have you heard the news? The entire Mac portable line now has a right click! As of 10.4.7, released June 27, the 15″ models are included in this. All you have to do is tap with two fingers on the touchpad to produce a right click. If you prefer to use the button, place two fingers on the pad and click the button. It is as easy as having a dedicated button. What is really easy is the two finger scrolling. Place two fingers anywhere on the pad and move them the direction you want to scroll and it scrolls that way. This is why the MacBook Pros have gigantic touchpads. I do have one complaint about the touchpad. It is a little too sensitive, I find myself accidentally clicking. I am adjusting to this, but still find it annoying. As for the keyboard, I really enjoy typing on it. For me, the keys have a good amount of travel and there is no flex at all in the keyboard. It also has a backlight that is tied to the same exact light sensor for the screen. It is definitely a bit of a gimmick, and can be turned off with the press of a button. The screen and keyboard auto-brightness are operated independently, so turning one off does not turn off the other.


MacBook Pro keyboard in the dark (view large image)

Input and Output Ports:


Right side ports on MacBook Pro (view large image)


Left side ports on MacBook Pro (view large image)

This is where the MacBook Pro lags a little in my opinion. First the good, it has Dual-Link DVI out, an Express Card slot, Bluetooth, digital audio and a 6-pin FireWire port. Now the bad, it has no PC Card slot and only 2 USB 2.0 ports. The PC Card does not affect me as I have none, and is becoming a very common trend on notebooks these days anyway. Having just two USB ports is really annoying. If you have a Bluetooth mouse then you will be ok, but if you don’t and want to use an external keyboard and mouse, you have no place for a thumb drive or printer. I do not really experience these issues because my printer is networked, I have a Bluetooth mouse, and the only time I use an external keyboard is at home where I run Synergy, so the keyboard is not connected to the Mac. However, most people don’t have that situation and the addition of even one more port would have made a big difference. The only other connection is the MagSafe power connector. I have come to find this is more of a novelty than anything. I do not believe it adds a whole lot to the notebook.

Wireless:

The MacBook Pro comes with Bluetooth 2.0 and an Airport Extreme wireless card. The Bluetooth has been great so far. It pairs with my Logitech mouse with no problems. The Wi-Fi is good, but not great. The connection is rock solid, but it does not seem to have the range my wife’s Intel 2915 has. Since I live in an apartment this is not a big deal, but I am sure for some range is important.

Battery:

I am getting around 3 hours on a charge with the light sensors, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi all turned on. If I really tried to squeeze more out of it I probably could stretch it to 3:30.

Operating System and Software:

This is where the Mac truly excels. OS X is a dream to work in. For me, a lifelong Windows user, I found this very surprising. I love OS X, and have a really hard time going back to Windows. Just as an example, when you plug the MacBook Pro into an external monitor it automatically adjusts the resolution to fit the screen and immediately works out of the box. No fiddling around with settings, trying to make profiles, etc. The included software centers around the iLife 06 suite. It is excellent for creativity. I am able to import pictures from my Canon to iPhoto and have a DVD slideshow that looks professional in under an hour. One other program included that does not get a lot of press is Automator. With Automator, you can make a quick little application that will take something that would normally take several steps, and do it all for you. For example, you can make an application for when you import pictures. You can make it prompt you for a name on the first one and then number them sequentially based on that name, i.e. Yosemite_001, Yosemite_002. This way you don’t have 5 IMG_001′s in your photos and have to figure out where they came from. That is just a very simple example, the sky is really the limit, and to make the applications all you do is drag and drop actions. It is very easy to do. Apple also includes a trial of Office for Mac 2004 and iWork. Other than that there is no bloatware to be found here, It comes clean from the factory. Very refreshing.

Customer Support:

As you might imagine, I have had a lot of experience with Apple’s support. All but one has been in the Apple Store. The one phone call I made was answered quickly and the support guy was very informative. He advised me that since I was within 2 weeks and the problem was hard to reproduce, I should try to get it to an Apple Store. All my trips to the store were easy and quick. All the geniuses were very understanding and helpful. It took a while, but I was able to get the notebook that worked for me. I really believe having a store that you can take your computer such as the Apple Store is a valuable addition. Another thing to keep in mind — all your support is in one place. All Apple software and hardware is warrantied in the same spot, which is nice.

Conclusion:

I am very pleased with this notebook overall. I do believe there is room for improvement for things like a higher resolution screen, a little less sensitivity on the trackpad, and a better approach to cooling. With Apple luring more switchers than ever I think they may be forced to change things like their cooling, which I would welcome. You can already see this with the inclusion of right clicks on all their portables. In the end I would have to give this an 8/10.

Pros:

  • Very portable for a 15.4″
  • Good screen
  • Trackpad: Big, scrolling, right-clickable
  • OS X and iLife 06
  • Support
  • Security

Cons:

  • Cooling system
  • USB ports
  • Quality control

Other MacBook Pro Reviews on this site:

Update and Post review commentary

After 2 months of use my fourth MacBook Pro was sent in for the whine issue under the keyboard and came back with a video card issue. I sent it back and returned with a new video card issue. After contacting Customer Relations, they replaced my fourth unit with a brand new MacBook Pro. So, I am now on my fifth. The good news is that Apple has been very willing to make the situation right. At least I know if I have any issues they will take care of them.


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