The MacBook Pro is back, and it’s got a few new tricks--and considerably more power. Apple’s latest version of its professional notebook line features a faster new Intel Penryn processor, a Multi-Touch trackpad, and of course, the silky smooth Mac OS X Leopard operating system. The design is becoming a little long in the tooth, but the MacBook Pro remains one of the best performing 15.4-inch notebooks around.
MacBook Pro Design
Still just 1-inch thick, the 5.4-pound MacBook Pro keeps the same minimalist look as its predecessors and features the same sturdy aluminium casing. While it’s still pleasing, a visual refresh could breathe new life into the aesthetic. Popping the lid reveals a gorgeous glossy 15-inch (1,440 x 900-pixel resolution) LED backlit display that really brought out the colors in our Hard Candy DVD when we popped it into the 8X, slot-loading SuperDrive.
Above the screen is a 1.3-megapixel iSight camera, which can be used to take surprisingly decent pictures in Photo Booth under good lighting. A spacious and comfortable keyboard (with an ambient light sensor that causes it to illuminate in low lighting) is flanked by twin stereo speakers that produced decent, if unspectacular, audio.
We really liked the large trackpad, which uses the Multi-Touch interface that first appeared on the MacBook Air. You can use finger gestures to manipulate on-screen objects. For example, placing two fingers on the trackpad and spreading them apart will enlarge a photo or text on a Web page; bringing them together performs the opposite action. You can also rotate photos, or swipe with three fingers to navigate forward and backward through photos or menus in Finder. It all feels completely natural and is a technology we’d love to see implemented into other notebooks.
MacBook Pro Performance and Battery Life
In terms of performance, the MacBook Pro remains one of the smoothest rides around. Under the hood runs a speedy 2.5-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, which, partnered with the 250GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive and generous 4GB of RAM, produced a PCMark Vantage score of 3,120—right on target for notebooks in its class; the MacBook Pro even holds up well to 17-inch desktop replacements.
The 802.11a/b/g/n radio moved data at an excellent rate of 22.1 Mbps at 15 feet away from our access point. At 50 feet away, however, our benchmarks couldn’t register a score, but we had no problems surfing the Web or downloading large photos. On a DVD rundown test, the MacBook Pro held its charge for 3 hours and 5 minutes, which is a full 51 minutes longer than average (you can expect closer to 5 hours of battery life with typical use, according to Apple). This extra endurance can be attributed to the combination of Intel’s power-efficient 45-nanometer Penryn processor and the MacBook Pro’s LED display.
Graphic artists will appreciate the Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT processor (with 512MB of memory), which produced an excellent 12,869 3DMark03 score, about three times the average score for a mainstream system and 1,600 points higher than the last 15-inch MacBook we reviewed. The MacBook Pro’s 3DMark06 score was also strong, at 4,412.
These numbers translated into a very nice 81.6 frames per second when we ran F.E.A.R. in auto-detect mode at 1,024 x 768-pixel resolution. The frame rate dipped to a still very playable 44.6 fps with the settings maxed out (the same resolution, but with added effects). This trumps the previous version of the 15-inch MacBook Pro that we reviewed, which saw F.E.A.R. scores of 45 frames per second on auto-detect, and 32 fps with the settings bumped up. This gaming boost is a direct result of more graphics memory (512MB vs. 128MB) and a faster processor (2.5-GHz vs. 2.2-GHz). All but the most hardcore gamers should find this notebook a pleasure to use.
Software and Support
As with all Macs, the new MacBook Pro comes with one of the best software suites around, iLife ’08, which includes iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, iWeb, and GarageBand. The beautiful and feature-rich Mac OS X Leopard powers the machine, which offers the vital Time Machine backup and recovery program, iChat, and other useful programs. Apple covers the MacBook Pro with a one-year limited warranty and 90 days of tech support, and the AppleCare Protection Plan ($349), extends coverage to a three-year limited warranty with three years of phone tech support.
We wish Apple would have offered a solid-state drive option as it did with the MacBook Air, as well as a mobile broadband option for road warriors who don’t want to rely on external cards. Nonetheless, the MacBook Pro is still an all-around excellent notebook for power users. It offers an excellent display, impressive graphics and processing muscle, very good endurance, and lots of innovative touches. It’s the ultimate mobile Mac.