Apple's products are some of the most divisive and compelling in the industry, so it's no surprise that the recent 15.4in MacBook Pro and its button-free trackpad prompted plenty of debate. The most striking feature of this 17in MacBook Pro, however, is more traditional: the screen. Although only a traditional white LED panel, it boasts fantastic colour range, accuracy and clarity.
You can do plenty with it, thanks to the 1900 x 1200 native resolution - the highest currently available on a portable. If multitasking and colour reproduction are vital to you, then this screen is unbeatable.
Apple's focus on good design and sturdy build quality is evident throughout. The famed "unibody" construction, whereby the laptop is crafted from a single block of aluminium, has resulted in superb build quality: there's no squashy wristrest or unnervingly flexible lid here.
The trackpad remains both the main innovation and bone of contention in terms of usability. As with the 15.4in model, our first few minutes saw us constantly attempting to click the bottom of the pad, where the mouse buttons would ordinarily be. Instead, the mouse pad itself functions as one large button, with several "multitouch" functions: swiping four fingers horizontally, for instance, is the OS X equivalent of <Alt-Tab>. Swipe four fingers up and your open applications glide to the edges of the screen to reveal the desktop.
|The 1900 x 1200 native resolution is the highest currently available on a laptop. Graphics performance is also superb.
The keyboard uses the same Scrabble-tile layout as Sony's VAIO laptops, but the keys are flimsy and lack travel. However, the under-key LED is a useful addition for typing in the dark.
The ports are grouped on the left- hand edge, and it has three for USB. You also get Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire 800, audio in and out, an ExpressCard/34 slot and a Mini DisplayPort output. When compared to any rival, however, the MacBook Pro's offerings seem stingy. There's no eSATA and the lack of a standard display output is annoying: a converter from Mini DisplayPort to DVI costs $45, and a converter to Dual-Link DVI costs $149.
|The lid is classic Apple: a simple, illuminated logo and nothing else to spoil the view.|
Specs and performance
The Intel Core 2 Duo Mobile T9550 processor runs at 2.66GHz and delivered an excellent benchmark result of 1.34 - more than enough to motor through OS X and demanding applications. Gaming performance is just as assured, at least at lower detail settings. Like the 15.4in MacBook Pro, the 17in version has two GPUs: an Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT and a lower-power Nvidia 9400M chip for prolonged battery life.
In our medium-quality Crysis benchmark the 9600M GT scored 22fps, and an eminently playable 76fps with the settings on low.
The rest of its specification is rather meagre. Both the Apple and Dell Studio XPS 16 have 4GB of RAM, but the latter has a 500GB hard disk versus the MacBook Pro's 320GB. The A-Listed Sony VAIO VGN-AW11Z/B has 640GB of hard disk space, and the Dell and Sony systems offer Blu-ray drives and memory card readers. The lack of a TPM chip and ISV certification may prove crucial for professionals intending to use the system as a dual-OS workstation laptop.
This is a mixed bag. Apple's Boot Camp application offers no support for the MacBook Pro's twin GPUs, and consequently uses only the higher-power GeForce 9600M GT. The MacBook lasted a reasonable 4hrs 22mins, but this dropped to an hour under heavy use.
The results were more encouraging when we simulated a light-use test in Mac OS X, in which the MacBook Pro lasted just shy of seven hours. The final caveat is that the battery isn't removable, so the entire system has to be sent back to Apple should any problems arise. What's more, the warranty is a lacklustre 1yr RTB.
If you're happy spending the best part of $5000 on a laptop that places style ahead of more practical considerations, or you need a near-perfect screen with plenty of desktop space, the 17in MacBook Pro is a great choice. Be warned, though: your money could go further elsewhere.