First Look: MacBook Pro

When I went to Macworld Expo, I had the chance to get a look at (and get a feel of) the new MacBook Pro. I'm an Apple fan and I wish this was a 'perfect product' like the iMac but unfortunately it's not and there are some things that are still on my wishlist for the perfect Apple Pro notebook. The most unsatisfying thing about the MacBook Pro, though, is that it looks the same! I mean, seriously, although the PowerBook G4 had an award-winning and highly appealing design and all that, I seriously expected that after 3 years, they might change something!

Although I started off on a negative note, I really didn't need to, because the MacBook Pro is a pretty exciting piece of machinery. First of all, lest I forget to mention, it has a dual-core Intel Core processor, which, as the people who've used Pentium M notebooks know, is very powerful. A lot of Apple enthusiasts have been living in their own little cave for the past year, sitting near a fire and chanting to themselves "The G4 is faster than the Pentium M", when it was actually time to get real and admit that it sure as hell wasn't anywhere near. I used a 1.73GHz Pentium M notebook from Sony a while ago and it was blazing fast. Photoshop used to open in about 7 seconds! Add to that the fact that this is not only a 1.83GHz processor but that there are two of them. The result was that when I launched applications like System Preferences, Safari, Mail, iChat, etc. they all launched in one bounce (or less!). (I'll leave the humourous discussion of how "number of bounces" is a legitimate benchmark on Mac systems for later). Mac OS X also generally feels turbo-charged while running on Intel so much so that I can finally declare that The Snappy™ might well be back.

I haven't had a chance to play games on the MacBook Pro yet but given that Apple is using the top-of-the-line graphics card for this notebook - the ATI Radeon X1600 - with 256MB GDDR3 graphics memory on the 1.83GHz and with 128MB on the 1.67GHz models respectively, I expect these notebooks to be "friggin' awesome" when it comes to gaming. And although I would have preferred a denser screen than a 1440x900 in a 15.4" display, this resolution is nonetheless large enough for two pages on Microsoft Word to stand side-by-side and still maintain enough zoom such that they're editable.

One of the best things that Apple has done with this notebook though is to acknowledge the fact that people buying the top-of-the-line model also need more RAM. It's not something groundbreaking but it's like somebody slapped them across the face three times and told them to stop being obnoxious and start shipping more than 512MB of RAM on their most expensive models. Say, if you go to Apple's PowerBook G4 spec sheet, you'll find that they still annoyingly ship their 1.67GHz 17" model with a mere 0.5GB of RAM. I do hope you're getting my point here. It's not that you can't upgrade to 1GB or more, it's just the fact that with such a high-end computer, they ought to give you a high-end amount of RAM. The only thing I didn't check at the Expo (and that I should've checked) was whether they had one 1GB chip or two 512MB chips. Thankfully, the Apple Store has this information and again, thankfully, it's a single 1GB chip (they give you a $100 off if you opt for two 512MB chips). This means that upgrading to 2GB (which I might see myself doing in another year or two) won't be a big hassle.

Although a lot of people are looking awkwardly at Apple for including an infrared sensor and Remote (yeah, it's an Apple Remote®, so it's gotta have a capital 'R'), personally, I think it's a good thing. The screen, for example, is big enough for playing a DVD movie inside your dorm room (heck, if you can play one on your 'iPod with video'...) and controlling it with a remote is simply awesome (not to mention that companies like HP have been bundling remotes with their laptops for quite some time now). It's also cool to be able to give your computer a "Change the effing track" command without needing to go and attend to it personally. And if you're in a place with really high-speed Internet, you'll realize how amazingly cool that Movie Trailers thing in Front Row"®" is.

Adding on to the "cool" features in the MacBook Pro is the in-built iSight camera which, I must say, is a real convenience especially now that my parents have a 512K connection at home and I can actually do some video conferencing. iSight, Apple's FireWire webcam, has always had awesome specs (for a webcam that is) offering VGA resolution at 30 frames per second. Although it can't rotate around, like in the Sony Vaios, so that you can observe something on the other side of the screen, it is nonetheless a welcome addition (not to mention that the rotating feature might have made it look less elegant). A third cool feature, lest we forget, is the backlit keyboard. I know it's not new and it's been out there for quite a while, but regardless, it's a brilliant feature. The trackpad on this laptop is also one that allows you to scroll by using two fingers.

802.11b/g or WiFi comes built-in just like it should on any decent notebook. I absolutely hated those days when they used to "build in the antennas" and leave the "adding of the actual WiFi card" to you, the kind buyer, at an extra cost. I remember reading somewhere that Apple had opted for a lower quality version of Bluetooth for this laptop, but I don't understand that because when I checked Apple's website, it says that they're using Bluetooth 2.0+ (with EDR or Extended Data Rate) and that, as far as I know, is the best version of Bluetooth that's available. As for Ethernet, this laptop will have Gigabit Ethernet, and that is generally a good thing to see on a laptop.

One of my major gripes with most of the new laptops these days is that, to cut costs, they don't come with Restore/Install DVDs. Instead, they create a 5GB partition on your disk and keep all the restore data on that. This is the most obnoxious thing to do... ever! You can't ever fully format your drive for paritioning, etc. because you will lose your Recovery partition in the process. And considering that most laptops ship with 37GB drives these days, you only get 32GB out of that thanks to the "Recovery partition". Thankfully, Apple gives you DVDs.

And regarding the MagSafe feature, I'm glad that it exists, although I was perfectly satisfied with the older connector and wouldn't have actually requested this as a feature. MagSafe's a new design for the part power adapter that connects to the computer. Basically, it's magnetically attached and if it gets tugged, instead of dragging the computer down with it, it simply disconnects and saves you from having a fit. Honestly, though, I've never had a fallen laptop due to someone tripping on my laptop's power cord, perhaps because I don't have four- or five-year-olds running around the place.

Let's see, what else is left... ah, yes - Expansion. Apple includes one FireWire 400 port and two USB 2.0 ports. I was surprised to see the departure of the FireWire 800 port but I'm not sad at all. You really have to hunt to find FW800 hardware and it suffices to say that IEEE1394b has not really taken off. In my humble opinion, that's actually quite sad and it would have been nice to see the 800Mbps standard take off. However, I guess USB2 does do the job admirably. In recent iPod transfer tests, I believe USB2 finally beat FireWire 400 (like it should have ab initio). Apple also does away with the PCMCIA slot, and replaces it with an ExpressCard/34 slot (34 stands for the height - 34mm, compared to PCMCIA's 54mm). Apple's users unfortunately become Apple's guinea pigs for new technologies. We'll just have to wait and watch what comes out of ExpressCard. Oh, and Apple says it will make FW800 through an ExpressCard (ExpressCard card?).

The big elephant in the room was, I think, the battery life on the MacBook Pros. There is simply no official report on how long it's supposed to last, except for two little snippets: one is an Apple employee telling "someone" (sketchy) that it's going to be the same as the old PowerBooks, and another is the fact that this new processor is supposed to give more "Performance per Watt" and the battery is 85W (up from the PowerBook G4's 65W), so we should have more performance. OK, here's a funny thing. Steve Jobs claimed that the Intel Core Duo has 1.0something "Performance per Watt" (1.07 I think, not sure though). So, theoretically, if you multiply it by 85W, what do get? 90.95 Performance? Seriously, I mean is this some "Performance" unit that Apple has started defining now? Weird. (SI Unit definition: 1 Performance is the amount of computing power defined as 1/90.95 of the computing power of an Intel Duo Core processor at 1.83GHz).

Now, let's go over some errata before I get to the bitching. First, the 1.83GHz has a 100GB hard drive at 5400rpm (7200rpm is a custom option, and so is a 120GB disk). This is actually a lot of hard disk space and I think it's generally a good thing. The laptop has DVI output and comes with a DVI to VGA adapter. A DVI to S-Video adapter can also be purchased from Apple (as they have excluded the S-Video port from the machine). The notebook is also very sleek and good looking (duh?) and is only 1" thick (with the lid closed). It also has optical as well as analog audio out and a built-in microphone.

Now, let's begin the bitching. Seriously, where is the modem? I'm looking for one and it just isn't there! If you're in the US with all the fancy-schmancy Wireless connections and all, it's OK, but what happens when you're in India and your Broadband connection is down and you really need a modem? Do you pay Apple $49 for a USB Modem for such emergencies? Not fair at all. Again, we're Apple's guinea pigs. Also, WTF with the screen resolution? How does Apple have the guts to actually reduce the resolution from 1440x960 to 1440x900? I know you'll think I'm nuts to crib about 60 pixels, but seriously, it's a move down. The same with the optical drive. I know ye had to fit it in a 1" thin case and all that but seriously, a 4x drive that can't do dual-layer burning?! What is this? 1875? And let me know when the second button is coming please! The desktops have a two-button mouse, why don't the MacBook Pros? I can understand not having a two-button mouse in the iBook but this is a Pro notebook. We need two-button mice! And Apple really ought to give a DVI to S-Video cable free if it's going to eliminate the S-Video port in their Pro notebook. I just wish I didn't have to say all this. It's time they made a perfect notebook.

PS: On the Installation of Windows - the people at the Expo were obnoxious about this. However, the best I know is that the MacBook Pros use Intel's latest technology EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface) instead of BIOS and because of this Windows XP will not install on these machines although Windows Vista supposedly will. Time will tell. iMacs ship on 18th of this month. We'll find out. 

Comments (8) Posted on at  

  • » I wish they'd have chosen a better name. MacBook Pro sounds so 'uncool'.

    Your 'First look' leaves nothing to say, only quote. :)

    A wonderful 'upgrade' otherwise, especially the performance, the RAM, the iSight and the ability to "Change the effing track" from across the room. I've experienced enough cabel trouble to welcome MagSafe connectors, and I'm not a regular laptop user. But the most dissapointing part was that they've downgraded not just the resolution, but the optical drive too!
  • » Great 'First Look'! Karan, you might want to contact cnet. They may even offer you a job before you get out of stanford.
  • » Thanks Abhishek.

    As for the name, yeah, I can honestly say that I'm not a big fan. Add to that the fact that the Power in PowerBook had nothing to do with the PowerPC processor anyway, there was no "need" to drop the name. And, again, honestly, when you introduce a new name, your customers expect a radically different look to a product (and I just mean 'case design' here), which the MacBook Pro doesn't offer. However, we all know that we're going to get used to it soon enough.

  • » OK, so the Ars Technica has posted a review of the iMac Core Duo and Vista 5270 will not boot on it.
  • » Exactly, when you change the processor architecture itself, introduce a new name, then why not a new design. Afterall, it has been, as you said 3 years. Its high time they got in something new.
  • » I'm sure apple is a company that does not forget such things. They may have a really snazzy design for the low-end pc they might be releasing in mid-06, as suggested when Apple tied up with Intel.
  • » Umm it is actually a loss of 60*1440 pixels and not 60 pixels.

    The Bear who takes pleasure in correcting things
  • » You know what I meant to say, Panda...