The allure of the MacBook Pro is simple. With power enough to please performance die-hards, and the poise to please fashionistas, Apple's flagship laptop was always destined to impress. But, with previous models still chugging along on Core 2 processors, many will have been holding off for this inevitable Core i7 upgrade.
The price is still enough to put a lump in anyone's throat, but the outlay rewards with the usual Apple delights. The major news is that the slick aluminium chassis is now joined by some up-to-date internals - but, although it's definitely fast, it isn't quite as fast as you might expect. Intel's Core i7-620M is teamed with 4GB of DDR3 memory, propelling it to a fine 1.75 in our benchmarks, but it's still a whisker behind two other recent i7 converts - Sony's VAIO Z11 on 1.80 and Lenovo's ThinkPad T510 (PC Authority, July 2010) on 1.91. The 5400rpm hard disk shares some of the blame; at this price, a 7200rpm disk would seem more appropriate.
More interestingly, in a first for Apple, graphical duties are handled by dual GPUs comprising the on-CPU Intel HD graphics and Nvidia's discrete GeForce GT 330M chipset. The burlier chipset of the pair, the GeForce GT 330M, fired through Crysis at 1280 x 1024 and Medium detail with a borderline-playable average of 26fps. Intel's HD graphics, meanwhile, proved man enough for HD video playback.
The duo works wonders in Apple's OS X Snow Leopard, with Intel's HD graphics taking the reins most of the time and the Nvidia chipset automatically stepping in when more graphical muscle is required. Unfortunately, it's a great trick that you'll only appreciate in OS X. It's painfully absent when running Windows.
Boot Camp works as simply as ever for Windows installation, but the Nvidia chipset takes a serious toll on battery life. The Intel HD chip is efficient, and allowed the MacBook Pro 15 to idle for 8hrs 15mins in OS X; by contrast, with the hungrier Nvidia chip permanently engaged, it managed only 3hrs 35mins in Windows. Push the MacBook Pro 15 hard and you'll be dashing to the mains after just 1hr 25mins.
The frugal sprinkling of two USB ports, one FireWire 800 connector, Gigabit Ethernet and an SD card reader proves as limiting as ever, and although the miniature DisplayPort socket accepts a flexible array of adapters - including DisplayPort, HDMI, DVI and D-SUB - the need to shell out for each one is galling.
Our hope that this, the most expensive MacBook Pro 15, might stretch to a high-definition display was dashed, too. Image quality is superb, with vibrant colours, good contrast and impressive brightness, but the native 1440 x 900 resolution is disappointing. We wouldn't hesitate in upgrading to the HD-capable 1680 x 1050-pixel display for AU$140.
Spending this much, we'd expect unparalleled levels of comfort, but we were a little disappointed. Admittedly, the glass multitouch trackpad is responsive, but the backlit keyboard isn't on the same level. The crisp action makes the short-travel keys palatable, but the chiselled front edge of the laptop dug into our wrists.
If that wasn't enough, the combination of Intel's Core i7 and the MacBook Pro's aluminium construction causes the chassis to reach worrying temperatures. Light usage heated the wristrest enough to leave our palms sweaty, and heavy multitasking had the underside at scorching temperatures.
Familiarity breeds contempt, as the saying goes, and Apple's latest proves a perfect illustration. From afar it's the usual lovely thing, with power and aluminium-framed panache in equal measures. But the specification is stingy, the keyboard mediocre, the lack of graphics switching in Windows is a killer blow, and the cooling system borders on the unworkable. We're long past the days when Apple did style like no other, and have seen too many far better laptops in recent months - such as the VAIO Z11 - to recommend this one.