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12/18/2006
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Review: MacBook Pro Is A Solid Win For Apple

When testing the new 15-inch MacBook Pro, the most frequent question was "What's not to like?" The answer: Not much.

Like the Mac Pro desktop, Apple's MacBook Pro is just about as good as it gets in its class. From start to finish, this is a class act, offering admirable performance married to a clean, elegant industrial design.



Apple MacBook Pro
In addition, the MacBook Pro is full of thoughtful features that improve the computing experience in both small and large ways without getting in the way of usability or practicality. The ability to run Windows as well as Mac OS X, either natively via Apple's Boot Camp dual-boot enabler or Parallel's virtualizer makes the whole package significantly more attractive for enterprise IT shops. In short, chalk up another solid win for Apple -- one which will likely be appearing in a growing number of organizations which had previously not considered Macs.

The first iteration of Apple's high-end MacBook Pro laptop in early 2006 (replacing the previous PowerPC-based Powerbook line) was a solid, impressive performer, especially considering that it was also the first of Apple's laptop models to make the jump to Intel chips. This new model takes that success and smoothes out the few remaining rough edges, while bringing the CPU up to Intel's 64-bit Core 2 Duo chip.

Revving Up The Speed
The Intel CPU bit in the review unit was speed-bumped up to the maximum 2.33 GHz (2.16 Ghz also is available), and has a significantly larger (4-Mbyte) L2 cache shared among the two processor cores. Yes, there is a performance boost compared with the prior MacBook Pro model, though perhaps not significant enough to make an upgrade worthwhile in itself. However, the move to a 64-bit processing core helps future-proof this laptop, looking ahead to when most operating systems and applications are 64-bit versions.

Like other laptops currently using Intel's Core 2 Duo CPU, while there is physical ability to accommodate 4 Gbytes of RAM, the chipset can actually address only approximately 3 Gbytes of that memory. Some manufacturers have disingenuously listed 4-Gbyte capacity for their Core 2 Duo laptops, but Apple, to its credit, lists only the usable 3 Gbytes as the maximum available. The next iteration of Intel's chipset for Core 2 Duo CPUs, Santa Rosa, should remove this barrier, along with boosting front-side bus speed (and thus overall system performance), but Santa Rosa-based systems probably won't be available for at least six months, since the chipset itself won't be available from Intel until the second quarter of 2007.

Valuable Video
For graphics, Apple kept the same ATI Mobility Radeon X1600, with the higher-end MacBook Pro configurations sporting an unchanged 256-Mbytes of SDRAM. The X1600 is still a solid performer with a good balance of performance, power consumption and cost, but is starting to show its age. Supporting dual-link DVI, the X1600 can drive Apple's largest 30-inch external display, as well as any smaller monitor. (Look to see updated graphics capability in the next generation of MacBook Pro -- ATI has released three new iterations of its Mobility line since the X1600, most recently the as-yet unannounced -- but reportedly shipping -- Mobility X1900, which promises to be a true screamer of a mobile graphics solution.)

The 15.4-inch screen, available in both matte and glossy versions, has the same native 1,440-by-900 resolution as the previous model, and the screen is everything you would expect from a high-end laptop -- crisp, bright, and with excellent contrast.

Storage Options
The review unit came with a 160-Gbyte 5400 RPM Hitachi Serial ATA drive, which did well in performance testing. A 120-Gbyte 5400 RPM drive is standard in the lower-end model, but those needing the maximum possible internal storage can opt for a 200-Gbyte drive, which will, however, drop you down to a slower 4200 RPM.

A slightly off-note was the choice of a slot-loading DVD drive. The dual-layer Matsushita UJ-857D CD/DVD drive experienced some occasional glitches, and in at least one case simply would not read a Windows CD that other drives could read perfectly. In addition, the performance of the drive in tests showed it to be adequate but not stellar. Some users on a number of Mac forums have reported read or write problems with this model of drive, and apparently some newer MacBook Pros are now shipping with a different Hitachi drive which doesn't appear to experience the same issues.

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