Apple’s latest and greatest MacBook Pro is in my hot little hands. This revision is all about being evolutionary, not revolutionary… with significant yet subtle improvements.
Images will follow shortly, where noted. The review has been sitting for a couple of days, and I wanted to get it out the door quickly…
Wait, keyboard? Yes, the review is starting at the keyboard. After four revisions, Apple has made improvements to the MacBook Pro keyboard (which was identical to the PowerBook G4 keyboard that came before it).
Thankfully, Apple didn’t ruin a good thing. I had feared when I was told that it would have a new keyboard, that it would have those horrible spaced-out keys that have been spread across the rest of Apple’s product line. The keys are the same, and that’s A Good Thing™.
So, what changed? First, the Apple-key is no more. It’s now solely the Command key like the rest of the Apple keyboards. I’ll leave you to churn new rumors about what that means for Apple… moving on. The arrow keys no longer have the page key labeling (page up, page down, home, and end). This leaves the arrow keys looking much more clean. And, of course, when you hold down function… they still do the same thing.
But, the largest change is in the function keys. They’ve been completely re-arranged. From left to right (F1 to F12): Brightness low & high, Expose, Dashboard, Keyboard Brightness low & high, Rewind, Play/pause, Fast Forward, Mute, Speaker low & high.
The big addition, of course, being Expose and iTunes/Music controls. Dashboard was usable just by hitting F8 on the old layout, so its movement isn’t as significant. Under the old layout, to access these functions, you had to at least hold two keys (Function and another key), or change settings from their defaults (and lose easy access to other functions). Each key has a nice labeling that lets you know what they do.
My only complaint is that you don’t have control over what the Expose key does. It only displays all windows. I find the use of Reveal Desktop to be my most common expose use (though I do also use Show All Windows).
It’s amazing how habit-based we are. I’ve already accidentally hit F12 at least twenty times, thinking it will load up Dashboard… only to get a very loud system beep letting me know that the arrangement has changed. It will take some getting used to, but I can already see how much faster it is to have all of the Mac OS X controls at my disposal with a press of a single button.
In terms of added productivity, the keyboard is one of the best additions to the new MacBook Pro. Now if only they would make a Bluetooth version of the MacBook Pro’s keyboard. I’d buy at least two immediately… and there’s probably room in the lineup for a Pro Wireless Keyboard.
The internals of the MacBook Pro have changed little. And, there isn’t a huge reason for them to have changed. The logic board is identical in terms of chipset and graphics card layout… all that has changed is the CPU and Graphics Memory.
In fact, the only somewhat-significant change I could find was on the AirPort Extreme card. You can tell that they have changed based on the new heatsink design. This does give me some pause… if Apple re-designed the heatsink (which has a second area of coverage on the new models), that may not bode will for the existing AirPort Extreme cards, in terms of overheating. However, I haven’t heard of any systemic failures of 802.11n AirPort cards, so it likely is just to reduce heat.
Speaking of which, did I mention that the new MacBook Pro runs cooler? The 45nm Intel Core 2 Duo “Penryn” processor is smaller than the 65nm Merom processor, which means less heat. Now, when everything is running at full blast, the system does still get hot, too hot to be comfortable in the lap. The good news is that these changes prolong the amount of time it takes for that to develop, so you don’t have to twitch and squirm from the overheating as much.
Apple is apparently using stronger speakers in the new MacBook Pro. At maximum volume, the new system is much louder than any MacBook Pro (or PowerBook G4) that I’ve used before. It has the loudest volume of any Apple portable I have ever used.
If you have a 2.4 GHz MacBook Pro from the last generation, you’re not going to see marked performance improvements anywhere. The increased Level 2 cache (1 MB more per core) in the Penryn generation of Core 2 Duo will help, but is only going to yield single-digit gains. A 2.2 GHz MacBook Pro owner will see modest gains from the 400 MHz increase (200 MHz across two cores).
Graphics on the low end has doubled to, finally, an acceptable 256 MB. 512 MB is still over-kill for the entry model, but Apple has added that as standard to the top-tier 15-inch and 17-inch units. It’s nice to not have to pay for upgrades you shouldn’t have to pay for. However, the 8600 GT is no longer the best-in-class that the last generation touted… an 8800 would have been the logical upgrade for the unit.
The following two paragraphs above only apply to the top 1% of the Pro community… the rest of you can ignore it.
One hiccup I did have was with upgrading my OS install. I brought over my 320 GB hard drive from my old MacBook Pro. Now, as is typical with new Mac units, they have a custom version of Mac OS X, recompiled to run properly with the existing version. Essentially, Apple just added the new drivers to run the new hardware, and recompiled the operating system. This is called in the Mac community a “Borg OS” version, because it assimilated the new hardware into the existing version. Once a new Mac OS X update comes out, the system can run the stock version of Mac OS X.
Now, here’s the rub… typically, when you run the Mac OS X installer on a new system, and you brought along an old hard drive… you can run the Installer to apply the Borg OS as a system software update. I described this process back in 2005 over here on PowerPage.org. Not so on the new MacBooks. Apparently, Apple removed the ability to do a Borg OS update… I’m not sure why. I’ll put in a bug report when time permits. As nice as the Migration Assistant is, I prefer not to use it… applying the OS install as an update is much faster if you’re upgrading hard drives anyways.
The MacBook Pro update is only hampered by the lack of one key addition, Blu-Ray. With the high definition format wars over, having Blu-Ray, at least as an option, would have been nice to see. Apparently, Apple was aiming to time the upgrade to add this, but the low-profile BD-R drives Apple was aiming for didn’t make the cut. Having BD-R is nice, but keep in mind, the add-on will probably run at least $499, probably more like $599. So, while I would love to have Blu in my Aqua-colored interface, I probably wouldn’t have paid for it anyways.
Is the upgrade right for you? I probably wouldn’t have paid for it except for my developer discount… the advantages are not worth taking a $500 to $600 hit if you have a 2.2/2.4 GHz MacBook Pro already. But if you’re in the market for a new system, or upgrading from the MacBook… the MacBook Pro continues to dominate the PC portable world. When you’re already number one, minor, progressive improvements are all that is needed.