There's no denying that the aluminium unibody MacBook Pro line of laptops is incredibly good-looking. With luxurious curves, softly brushed metal surfaces and deep black keyboard, it's love at first sight for many.
And the design is backed up by the excellent build quality: the MacBook Pro is as robust as it is gorgeous. But there's a limit to how far good design will take you, as we discovered in Labs this month.
One of the things we've noted with Intel Core i7-based laptops thus far is that they're all a little on the chubby side. There's a reason thin and light is saved for the low-power CULV lines. The extra cooling required needs a little space to work its magic.
Here, sadly, the Macbook Pro's luscious design becomes a hindrance when it comes to heat dissipation. This is not a laptop you can use on your lap while it's running full bore. In fact, while running our performance benchmarks, the processor clocked down in speed in order to keep the temperature at a reasonable level, dropping our Photoshop benchmark scores to just half that if we ran them as a standalone test.
The Intel Core i7-M620 dual core processor provides a solid level of performance, and our benchmark came in at 1.45 overall. However, this was with the Photoshop issues noted above: if you factor in the performance of Photoshop on full CPU power (1.65 vs 0.77 when run as part of a benchmark suite), it suggests that the overall performance is closer to 1.6 - which you should expect for short bursts, at least.
If you touch the underside of the MacBook Pro while it's running flat out, the problem becomes clear - the laptop is not just warm, it's unbearably hot to touch. Whatever cooling methods are employed within the shell just aren't adequate. That could prove a hindrance for anyone looking to use it for Video rendering work or similar - performance may drop off precipitously after around 30 minutes of intensive use.
In most other respects, the MacBook Pro stands out, however. Its 17in, 1920 x 1200 screen is impressively bright. The viewing angles are excellent, too, and our model had the anti-glare widescreen display ($70 on top of the base price), rather than the glossy version, making it perfect for both home and office environments. Colours are rich and vivid, and the colour accuracy is also excellent.
For the components, there's a tasty 4GB of 1066MHz DDR3 RAM, and a 500GB Hitachi hard drive. You can opt for a total of 8GB RAM for an extra $560, or for a solid state drive, costing an additional $290 for a 128GB model.
It may be worth opting for the cheaper i5 version of the MacBook Pro, and using that $290 on the SSD, to avoid the heat.
The 17in MacBook Pro has speakers each side of its isolated keyboard. There's no change in that, or in the multi-touch trackpad, from the previous version. All are excellent, with no problems to speak of.
One thing that annoys, for such an otherwise excellent system, is the placement of ports. It's long been a bugbear of ours that the USB ports on MacBook models are so close together as to make it very hard to connect multiple gadgets except via extension cables.
Apart from the three USB ports, there's also Gigabit Ethernet, mini-firewire, mini-HDMI, and digital-out. Wireless, via the Airport, is 802.11n-capable.
Battery life isn't outstanding on the MacBook Pro 17, but it's not disappointing for a laptop in this class. It managed a reasonable 1hr 47mins on our intensive use battery life test, and 4hrs 39 on light use, which equals or beats most other i7 laptops we've seen so far, such as the Asus G75J (although admittedly, that has a more impressive graphics card than the MacBook Pro).
In our games benchmarks, the NVidia GeForce GT 330M helped the MacBook Pro to a creditable 84fps on low settings, but it struggled at higher detail levels, managing a barely playable 29fps on medium. It's a far cry from a mobile ATI Radeon HD 4870 in performance.
Overall, the MacBook Pro is desirable in a number of ways. It will turn heads, and impress people, and it does look fantastic running Windows through BootCamp. We do wonder, though, whether concessions could be made to the design for, dare we say it, practicality.