Apple’s recent launch of its new range of MacBooks wrongfooted fans and journalists alike. We wondered what the Apple ‘Brick’ could be but, instead of a ground-breaking product, it turned out to be simply a new manufacturing process. Just like the iconic, if flawed, MacBook Air, the new range of MacBooks has received one of the most stunning design overhauls ever seen.
Gone are the softly contoured plastic chassis of yore, and in their place stands a range of machines with bases hewn from a single slab of aluminium. Compare the MacBook Pro to the best Windows-based laptops and most come up woefully short – but, just as with the plain MacBook ,some people simply view the MacBook Pro as a slab of metal.
It isn’t just an aesthetic leap, though. Grab the MacBook Pro with both hands and it exudes a sturdiness that eludes other laptops; the lid, held shut by a hefty magnet, is supremely strong. It’s slim, too, rising a mere 24mm above the desk.
And, once you’re over the initial flush of love at first sight, the MacBook Pro still has plenty up its sleeve. The 15.4in display, for example, is perfect. The light sensor next to the webcam saves you constantly fiddling with brightness settings. The 1440 x 900 resolution strikes a perfect balance between a roomy desktop and legibility, and image quality is fantastic.
Just like Sony’s superb Z-Series ultraportables, Apple has equipped the MacBook Pro with twin graphics chipsets. Rather than opt for Intel’s integrated GMA X4500 graphics, though, Apple has chosen Nvidia’s latest double act.
The GeForce 9400M is Nvidia’s first ever integrated chipset, and it goes hand in hand with the powerful GeForce 9600M GT. Crysis is a heavy demand to make of any laptop, but the MacBook Pro coped ably, even with our challenging Medium detail test, scoring an impressive 22fps. And, despite the conspicuous absence of Intel’s latest Centrino 2 chipset, 2D performance is strong, too. The Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 processor is accompanied by 2GB of DDR3 memory, earning 1.17 in our benchmarks.
It’s unfortunate that our battery benchmarks only work under Windows Vista, though, as Boot Camp doesn’t yet allow for swapping between the two graphics chipsets. Therefore, we can only attribute the resulting light-use 2hrs 20mins battery life to Nvidia’s new chipset and immature Vista drivers, as we simulated that test in OS X and found that battery life exceeded six hours.
Another major addition is a new trackpad.
Here, Apple has done away with the accompanying button and, instead, the whole trackpad now clicks down. At first, it’s disconcerting to find the trackpad sinking beneath each finger press, but we soon acclimatised. New multitouch gestures have been added: sweeping four fingers up triggers Exposé – a feature that makes it easy to clear the desktop of windows.
Sweep four fingers horizontally and up pops the OS X app switcher. It’s a shame the trackpad doesn’t work so well under Vista. With one finger left-clicking and three fingers pressed together for a right-click, we were soon desperate for a standard pad.
The keyboard benefits from backlighting to make keys easy to hit in low light but it, too, isn’t perfect. The Scrabble-tile layout is a common sight these days, but we’re not sure Apple has got it right here. The keys don’t have much travel and they don’t feel nice under the fingers, either. The final moan concerns connectivity, specifically the mini-DisplayPort, which is the only video output option. If you want to connect an external display, you’re forced to spend extra on one of Apple’s adapters.
Stylistically, Apple’s new MacBook Pro is a success, and the design is matched by fine performance elsewhere, but you’re paying a premium for that Apple logo and the slick finish. Mac users will already have put their old MacBook up on eBay – and rightly so – but given the problems we encountered with Windows Vista, we’d recommend PC users hold off before they consider taking the plunge.
|Benchmarks (click on image for full size)|