BitDepth 661 - January 06

Apple's new MacBook Pro has some great features and some real issues...
Messing with the Macbook

Apple calls the new Macbook and Macbook Pro computers "Unibody" models because the main shell is carved from a solid block of aluminium. These screen captures from an Apple promotional video show the process.

For the last two years, I've been really happy working with Apple's Macbook, a consumer grade notebook and the best selling product the company has ever put on the market.
A budget portable computer always entails some compromises, and the Macbook's weak point was always the lame Intel GMA video chip it used.

The new Macbook has gone a long way toward correcting that shortcoming but the popular computer ended up crippled on another front with the removal of its lone Firewire port.
Tempted into considering the freshly upgraded Unibody Macbooks and terminally turned off by the absence of the port I use most heavily on a computer, I turned my wandering eye to the Macbook Pro.

It's one of the cruel realities of Apple's Macbook line that there's actually very little difference for the average computer user between the consumer focused Macbook and the pro pitched Macbook Pro. If you don't need the larger screen (15.4 inches vs 13), faster video (useless if you aren't a hardcore gamer or graphics professional) and higher price (US$700-$1,200), the pro model will offer you the same computing experience and a lighter pocket.
For my needs, putting some real distance between the great performance I've enjoyed with past Macbook models meant looking where I've never peeked before, at the built to order (BTO) section of the Apple Store.

Build it for me baby
Apple's idea of BTO is leagues removed from the kind of options you'll find on the Dell website. 'Options' on the top of the line Macbook Pro basically boil down to some pre-installed software, faster hard drives or an astonishingly expensive solid state drive and oh yes, a faster processor. For a tool that I plan to amortize over the next two years, the additional investment in the fastest chip available seemed like a good hedge against inevitable obsolescence.

Having invested in this imposing slab of aluminium, I can now report the following positives...
Great screen. The gloss isn't anywhere as irritating as most Internet reports suggest. The view is absurdly bright, the reflections are easily managed and it calibrates like a dream. Easily the most colour accurate laptop monitor I've every used.
Fast processor. Yes, dualcore 2.8Ghz doesn't seem that much faster than 2.5, but it is. Parallels snaps Vista open with startling speed, Photoshop opens large files effortlessly and downloaded 1080p HD trailers play back like butter.

Fire in your tender wire
Then there are the problems. Some are niggling, like an annoying implementation of the backlit keyboard that leaks light distractingly out the edges of each key. But some are more dramatic.
Battery life. After getting used to four hours of battery life on the Macbook, it's surprising to have to settle for just over two hours, even with aggressive power saving measures. It's possible to squeeze a few extra minutes out of the battery by switching from the dedicated NVidia graphics processor to the more power miserly GeForce 9400M, but who buys a top of the line computer to use a sucky integrated graphics subsystem? Points to Apple for including both though.

The Macbook Pro has a Firewire 800 port, and an Express34 card slot, but for no reason that's readily apparent, all the ports are smooshed together on the left side. They are so close that you'll need to pay special attention to how thick the boots on your cables are if you want to plug in more than two devices next to each other. I had to shave down my Firewire 800 cable with a scalpel to get it to fit between the cables for ethernet and USB and none of these cables are unusually large.

Heat. This sucker is hot in all the ways your legs won't appreciate. Start churning through some processor intensive activity, like say importing and generating previews for a few hundred RAW files and hear the fans roar up to speed and feel the heat billowing out from under the metal base into your most tender parts.
Are these deal breakers? Not really. I'll miss the extra battery life, particularly on airline flights, but I'll trade that for moving images out to clients faster.

BitDepth 566
Buying the Macbook
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