It's a monster of a laptop, with Sandy Bridge power and long battery life. But the price is pretty monstrous too.
We’ve already reviewed the new Apple MacBook Pro 15in, and the 17in model shares much of the same DNA. There’s just one pre-configured specification available, with the same Sandy Bridge processor and AMD graphics as its smaller sibling, and it also gets the new Intel Thunderbolt port ready for ultra-fast peripherals to arrive.
The biggest difference is the screen, and what a screen it is. It’s one of the few laptops we’ve seen recently with a traditional 1,920 x 1,200 resolution, and it positively beams with quality. Measuring our sample with a colorimeter, we found a huge maximum luminance of 342cd/m2 and a contrast ratio of 760:1. As for colour accuracy, a Delta E score of 5.6 is good for a laptop, although slightly less accurate than the screen on the 15in model.
That display is powered by both an Intel HD Graphics 3000 integrated chip and AMD’s Radeon HD 6750M graphics, and it’s suitably fast for such a big machine. It handled Crysis with ease, managing 52fps in our 1,600 x 900 test at Medium settings; upping that to native resolution saw the frame rate stay playable at 35fps, so you should be able to play the latest games in most of their glory. The GPU helps hugely with photo and video editing, too.
That’s shown by the MacBook Pro 17in’s performance in our all-new Real World Benchmarks. A 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-2720QM and 4GB of DDR3 RAM combined for an overall score of 0.84, with a higher 0.88 in the Media segment, which uses Photoshop CS5, Sony Vegas and iTunes. It’s no faster than the 15in version, unsurprising given the identical core components, but the extra screen size makes it a very enticing prospect.
The rest will be familiar to Apple followers, with the slot-loading DVD writer on the right side and an array of ports on the left. You get three USB 2 and one FireWire port, that DisplayPort-compatible Thunderbolt connector, along with Gigabit Ethernet, two 3.5mm jacks and, disappointingly, an ExpressCard/34 slot. Photographers may feel they’d get more use out of the SDXC slot present on the smaller models.
The keyboard looks a bit lost in the middle of all that aluminium, coming, as it does, with no number pad, but it’s every bit as comfortable as the rest of the range. The huge touchpad beneath it supports all the usual gestures, even if you choose to dual-boot into Windows 7.
Doing that won’t get you great battery life, as the Boot Camp drivers don’t do switchable graphics, but we got impressive results in Mac OS X. Even with all that grunt and a 17in screen to power, the MacBook Pro lasted one minute shy of eight hours in our light-use browsing test. At 3kg, it’s not exactly light, but it certainly won’t let you down if you do choose to lug it away from the mains.
As usual, however, we have to question the price of an Apple product. There’s no doubt that there’s a lot of power here, and that battery life will wipe the floor with most laptops of this size, but can it really justify the $2,899 price tag? For comparison, we looked at Dell’s new XPS 17 with the same CPU and RAM, a slightly smaller 640GB hard disk, Nvidia GeForce GT 555M graphics and a Full HD, 3D-capable screen. We can’t vouch for the screen quality and the graphics chip isn't quite as fast, but that would set you back just $1599.
Don’t get us wrong – if you’re an imaging professional, it’s hard to argue that there are many more suitable choices out there than the new Apple MacBook Pro 17in. It’s a truly brilliant laptop in most key areas, but don’t let that fool you into thinking you’re getting great value for your money. As with previous top-end MacBook Pros, this 17in model comes at quite a premium.