The simple brushed-aluminum shell of the MacBook Pro (compare prices) is as pleasing to the touch as it is to the eyes, and the clean look continues inside, with a monochromatic brushed-silver keyboard and deck. The keyboard is exceedingly comfortable and quiet, and we appreciate the oversized touchpad and single mouse button. One casualty of the minimalist aesthetic: The system lacks multimedia control keys, although you can use keyboard shortcuts to control these functions.
The 17-inch, 1680 x 1050-pixel widescreen (your choice of antiglare or glossy) is sharp and bright, with excellent color reproduction for image and video editors. It also has the best viewing-angle performance we've seen, which makes the MacBook Pro an ideal presentation tool. If you need a larger screen, the ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 graphics engine can drive an external display up to 2560 x 1600 pixels.
Hardware and software features abound. We love the backlit keyboard that illuminates automatically, thanks to the machine's light sensor. The built-in iSight camera and software enable four-way videoconferencing, and the included remote launches and controls Apple's Front Row interface for playing movies, music, and photos from across the room. You'll find FireWire 400 and 800 ports, and the ExpressCard slot accepts a Verizon Wireless EV-DO wireless broadband card. The newest MacBooks are equipped with the latest 802.11n technology.
Then there are the extras of the Mac OS X 10.4 itself, such as the handy Finder search utility and the Dashboard with dockable Widget applets. The included iLife suite makes it easy to manage and edit photos with iPhoto, manage and expand your music library with iTunes, make your own music with GarageBand, create movies and DVDs with iMovie and iDVD, create a Web site with iWeb, and more. Not enough? Load Apple's Boot Camp utility and set up the MacBook Pro as a dual-boot machine running either Mac OS X or Windows XP. In fact, the only software you're likely to need to add is an office suite.
Performance from the 2.33-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU (married to 3GB of RAM in our test configuration) and ATI graphics was good but not class-leading. The machine scored 4,871 on PCMark05, and 4,996 on 3DMark03 while running Boot Camp (both acceptable, but on the lower end of the range here). Our F.E.A.R. test got a playable frame rate (39 fps) on its autodetect settings with a resolution of 1024 x 768. On the plus side, wireless throughput was excellent at 19.3 Mbps at 15 feet, and 14.6 Mbps at 50 feet. Battery life of 2 hours and 44 minutes was good for a 17-inch model and the best in the roundup.
For the price, you could certainly get a faster 17-inch Windows notebook, even one with a high-def DVD drive (which Apple doesn't yet offer). But it won't have all the Apple software and hardware extras, it'll weigh at least two pounds more, and it won't look nearly as good. We recommend opting for the standard 2GB of RAM instead of 3GB, which will bring the price down to $2,799.
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