138 Comments

Summary:

This week Apple introduced a new line-up of MacBook Pros. While they look no different from the previous generation, it’s what’s under the hood — the stuff you can’t see — that makes all the difference.

Between packing up to move apartments and keeping an eye on Twitter’s Chirp conference, I’ve been playing around with a new 15-inch Macbook Pro, one of the many new laptops introduced by Apple earlier this week. The 15-inch devices, which use Intel’s i5 and i7 processors while the 13-inch Macbook Pro uses the Intel Core 2 Duo chip, look virtually no different than they did before, with unibody styling and the same screen size, weight and number of ports. The only visible change is in the design of the mag-safe power connector, which is now clearly inspired by the MacBook Air charger.

The real change in these new laptops is under the hood — in the stuff you can’t see. It all starts with the integrated (Nvidia’s 320M) and discrete (Nvidia’s GeForce 330M GT) graphics chips, which can be found in both the 15- and 17-inch machines. What Apple has done in this most recent update to its line-up is make switching between two graphics modes automatic, depending on the task at hand. For instance, a simple application such as Mail or Safari by default uses the embedded/integrated graphics engine, while more graphics-intensive apps such as Premiere or Aperture automatically switch to the more muscular graphics chips.

So what’s the big deal about this? First, you get a smoother performance. But the big impact is on the battery life of these laptops. While the previous generation of MacBook Pros used Nvidia’s 9400M integrated graphics engine, the new line-up uses the new Nvidia 320M. The old chip had 16 cores while the new 320M has 48. And yet the 320M, despite being more muscular (it provides an 80 percent performance gain over the 9400M) is 40 percent more energy efficient. That boosts the battery life of the laptops by as much as three hours, which means Apple is offering total battery life of between 8 and 10 hours on the new MacBook Pros.

I’m pretty sure Apple made more tweaks than just that in order to get those 8-10 hours, but graphic chip optimization has to be right up there when it comes to squeezing more out of the battery. Maybe because it makes both the hardware and the operating system it’s able to get more from the batteries on its machines.

These tweaks reminded me of something uber-investor and Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla, who will be speaking at our Green:Net conference on April 29, said recently — that by innovating around the internal combustion engine, we can substantially improve car mileage. Others believe that by writing more efficient, smarter software, more life can be squeezed from the current generation of battery technology. Apple is certainly proving that.

Oh and in case you were wondering about the machine itself, it is really really really fast. Much faster than my old MacBook Pro, which has an SSD drive and 8 GB of memory. Apps start in a blink of an eye and even iTunes works as if it was suddenly Barry Bonds. If you want to know anything specific, go ahead and ask me, and I will do my best to answer your questions.

  1. How do I get more of my life back? :-). Making the machines faster doesn’t seem to translate into making them smarter. Why doesn’t Vinod invest into that? Ask him when you see him. I’m looking forward for the rest of the week to be without one of those click happy systems.

    Share
  2. “Oh and in case you were wondering about the machine itself, it is really really really fast” compared to Macs updated a year ago, but still 100% slower than any PC

    Share
    1. That is not true — this is as fast as any PC out there.

      Share
      1. I have always had this, just never got the right person, glad-fully I found you. I am pretty sure Even a PC will run great under the configuration of MAC book pro. Can A Mac run smoothly under a Pc’s configuration, I i guess no, so PC’s are better than Mac rite?

        Share
      2. How much is OSX worth to you? You can get a better specced win7 laptop this second for $1000 (as in, there’s one on slickdeals right now for $800, and $200 (being pessimistic) for a RAM upgrade)

        Share
      3. faster than those from Dell’s Alien lineup? sure?

        Share
      4. @N.F. Wait, you say Macs can run OS X and Windows and PCs can (with a few exceptions ) only run Windows and so PCs are better? I don’t get the logic.

        Share
      5. captainwisdom Thursday, April 15, 2010

        I can’t take it anymore. Think about what you just read in the article. Speed is about much more than hardware a specs. How well is the hardware used by the firmware and OS? How well are the components matched? Where are the bottle necks? Memory? Memory bus? Context switching? Instruction pipelines? Graphics I/O? How good is the library code? Math functions? I can write efficient code that makes a 10 year old PC look much faster than the one you bought this year. You experience this every time you compare Flash on a Mac (lousy code) to Flash on a PC. Thankfully, Flash is one of the exceptions. Much of the OSX code base is much cleaner than that for PC’s. The result is that the overall experience on a Mac is very snappy. Not so for the PC’s I have to use now and then. I’m typing this on an iPad – a real slug of a CPU based on GHz by today’s standard. But it does amazingly beautiful things on the screen – while the PC is crawling because Kaspersky and 2 dozen other pieces of useless ( from the user’s perspective) code suck all the cycles out of the CPU and keep the disk rattling while I wait for IE to render it’s first page. Oh, and the PC software probably doesn’t know how to make my particular graphics chip sing, because it’s been programmed to handle just about every off-key voice in the entire PC universe. Closed ecosystems do have their benefits — they can be extremely efficient and resource conservative. I’ll go with Apple tlll another brilliant team comes along and does it even better. you can stick with your commodity PC from Best Try or Hell Computers Corp, Leanover, or whatever.

        Share
    2. Nut-case spotter Wednesday, April 14, 2010

      Oms Ucks? Really, ’cause he uses a mac??

      Share
      1. Yes :)

        Share
    3. 100% slower only if you don’t turn the machine on!

      Share
  3. @Om,

    Why hasn’t Apple embedded mobile broadband capabilities into the new MacBooks? Seems like a no brainer, particularly in light of their pending iPad 3G launch. Add in entire embedded laptop lines from HP, Dell, and Lenovo, Apple’s omission becomes simply baffling.

    Best.

    Share
    1. Good point, though it seems they think people want to use MiFi and USB modems. But I am with you — definitely feel that embedded 3G is the way to go.

      Share
    2. what would be really really really great is the iPad prepaid $30/month unlimited data plan offered on macbooks and macbook pros.

      but also great(perhaps even greater) would be a way tether to an ipad via WiFi. if the coming 3G iPad were to include a tethering mode to share the 3G i would go out and buy one extremely fast since it would be a great deral even if never used as more than a glorified MiFi.

      Share
      1. Tether: I use my Sierra HSPA/ATT 3G with MacBook, set to Internet share & fly with my iPad since day ONE. Does that tether-up? Don’t tell!

        Share
      2. i was talking about tethering in the other direction.i want the iPad with built in 3G to be the tethering host that lets my laptop go online.

        this is all about the money aspect. i want to use a $30/month no commitment prepaid plan for all my mobile data needs not a $60/month plus taxes and fees with a two year contract.

        in the end i do not really care what machine is the 3G to WiFi host; but i want it to be the one with the most attractive plan and also one that makes sense to be switch on all the time. i see myself carry around an iPad switched on all the time. but my laptop is on and off as needed.

        as far as a phone. if i get an iPad I will most likely switch to a very small and simple phone for text and voice only and use the iPad for everything else i use a smartphone for.

        Share
      3. Tom I thought about going the same route as you with getting a dumb phone and a 3g iPad. I think the better option though is to get a smartphone such as Verizons Pre Plus that provides a wifi tether spot FREE, or use a jailbroken iPhone, or wait for one of the other companies(probably Sprint) to match Verizons deal. That way you never lose your ability to remain connected if the iPad is too large to carry at any given circumstance.

        Share
    3. AT&T can hardly handle the iPhone, can you imagine the strain on the network if they allowed Macbook and MBP on the network? As an AT&T customer, I hope they DON’T do that.

      Share
    4. Embedded 3g? For what? Just use iPhone. :-p

      Share
      1. iPhone even though 3G runs like 1.5G in San Francisco ;-)

        Share
  4. If I just want to use a laptop for e-mail and Internet usage, do I really need to pay another $600 for the 15″ over the 13″? I was all set to get the 13″ hoping it would have the i5. However, i’m not sure its worth the extra money in my case.

    Share
    1. PRobably not. Actually you might go ahead and buy an iPad or a net book for just those two functions. These laptops are clearly for people with higher end demands from their machines.

      Share
      1. Can you use an iPad without a laptop or desktop? When you first turn it on, don’t you need to connect to iTunes?

        Share
    2. @thenikjones

      They can do the initial connect to itunes for you at any Apple store.

      Share
      1. That’s interesting, I didn’t know that. You’ll still need iTunes at home to put your music on it, though, won’t you?

        Share
  5. Hi
    I was waiting for the new update!! is the new 13 in MBP better than the previous one?? is it fast, and I use microsoft excel and word a lot is it different and harder than the PC.

    At the moment a PC owner but planning to switch to Mac (13 in)

    Share
    1. Yes it is a massive improvement. I think it is pretty impressive — 10 hour battery life. I am sure you will get used to the Ms WORD in a day or so but Excel is a big learning curve.

      Our CEO had to do it and he complained for a week or so but then got used to it and is now a total mac convert.

      Share
      1. Worth pointing out that the new version of Office for Mac will be more like its Windows counterpart and will use the ribbon interface. Oh, and it will have Outlook too.

        Share
  6. My son: “Apple makes computers?”

    Share
    1. Oh Snap!!!

      Share
    2. Wow that is profound. Kind of makes you wonder where all the money is going into. I mean is Apple still a Computer company. Reminds me of another company that got sidetracked and their OS went to crap, starts with an M.

      Share
  7. I’m curious about the actual battery life on the 13 inch.

    Share
    1. Asa it is said to be about 10 hours. Not sure how long it really is. I have a 15 inch review unit.

      Share
  8. I’m curious about the actual battery life on the 13 inch. They added a nicer video card that is custom made kinda like the iPad’s A4 chip. So my question how long does the battery really last on this thing?

    Share
    1. the Macbook Pro 15 inch is still going strong and it is close to 7 hours now. So can’t see I am disappointed in this one’s battery life.

      Share
  9. Om,

    Thanks for the update. Any news on the macbook air? I had seen rumor sites suggesting that the air might be up for a refresh as well.

    regards,
    _primate

    Share
    1. Hey no idea on that — i totally want that updated Macbook Air as well.

      Share
  10. I really want the new i5 and the nVidia 330M (15″), but do you think I could get away with the Core2 Duo and the 320M (13″ screen) with heavy internet, video editing, light photo editing, and some light gaming?

    I want to save money and not pay for something I don’t need, but I don’t want to get marginal performance increases from my current laptop (a black macbook 2.4gHz Core2 Duo, 4GB RAM, intel integrated graphics)

    Share
    1. I think so — I think the $1199 is a pretty solid machine and I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Unless you are a professional video editor, it should be okay. I am not so sure what do you mean by gaming. I am not much of a gamer so can’t speak intelligently about it.

      Share

Comments have been disabled for this post