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Mac Book Pro; Mini Review

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MacBook Pro. I hate the name. I mean, I really hate the name. Say it out loud and you’re almost guaranteed to mess it up. Despite its horrendous name, the MBP (as I will call it for the duration of this article), certainly has a lot going for it. Apple likes to awe the press with its internal tests that show that the MBP is 4x-5x faster than the current top end PowerBooks, but in reality, how many people can actually make an association between a benchmark score and how a machine handles in every day use. Yesterday afternoon, I set out to test just that.

Even 3 hours after its announcement, the MBP was still surrounded by a layer of press 4-5 people thick (its down to about 3 today). I patiently took my place in line, and began waiting. Now, no matter how patient you are, when the guy in front of you keeps playing around with the toy you want so desperately to fondle, all those laws against maiming and rioting start to seem a bit silly.

After about 20 minutes of standing around, it was my turn. Naturally, the first thing I did was shut the machine down. The first and best indication of how fast a computer starts up. We are all used to pressing the power-button on our respective Macs, seeing black, then grey, then blue, then the login screen/desktop. I think David Pouge of the New York Times described the boot process of the MBP best.

You know normally you see the Apple logo and the spinning circle on startup. On these things it’s more like; press the power-button, BLIP, and you’re up and running”

So the MBP passed the boot test, but I wasn’t done putting it through its paces. Jobs had noted the speed of Safari on the new machines, and he wasn’t kidding. I can say with 100% certainty that the Intel build of Safari is the fastest web browser that I have ever used, on any platform. Instead of bouncing in the dock and forcing you to wait, Safari opens a new window and loads a page almost instantly when you open it.

One program at a time is nice, but Macs are about multitasking. I went to the Applications folders, selected all, and double clicked. Now, I know this is far beyond anything that would show up in normal use, but just wait until you hear the results. After slowing down significantly for around 30 seconds, the MBP started working smoothly again. And I mean smoothly. If you have ever had 3 or 4 resource hungry applications running simultaneously, you will be all too familiar with OS X taking a few seconds to switch between applications. Not so with the MBP. Clicking around between applications produced instant results, new documents opened quickly, and pages “Scrolled like butta,” as Reverend Jobs would say.

I didn’t have a chance to play with the remote or iSight, but I think its safe to assume that they work, and not much beyond that. Gimmicky is certainly the word that best describes those two features.

I hasten to say that the MBP is the fastest Mac I have ever used, keeping in mind I have not yet had a chance to play with the Intel iMac.

However, the MBP doesn’t lack its down-points. The MBP looses two things near-and-dear to my heart, a PCMCIA slot, and FireWire 800.

First, lets chat about FireWire. Apple was the first major manufacturer to include Firewire standard on their machines. This was a good thing. Firewire is a terrific interface with advanced features and blazing speeds. However, not many people actually need 800 megabit/s speeds, especially at the premium they were running. Apple started killing Firewire with the nano, and soon it was gone from the iPod. However, I don’t see Firewire going away for good any time soon. FW400 will certainly be with us on consumer level machines for a good time to come, and 800 should reappear soon. My hypothesis is such: At this point, the Pro Applications are not able to run natively on the MacBooks. No Final Cut, no need for fast ports. I see Apple announcing 12 and 17 inch MBP’s along side native Pro Applications some time in March.

As for PCMCIA, Apple obviously knows something we don’t about the new ExpressCard. PCMCIA is obviously still the de-facto standard, and this says to me that there is a big influx of ExpressCards coming to the market.

A nifty new feature on the new machines is a re-designed power plug. Apple designers have finally conquered the ages-old problem of cord trippage. Everyone has a story about tripping over a power cord plugged in to their machine, with the result of the machine flying across the room. The new plug attempts to solve this problem by introducing a mechanism that you don’t plug in, per se, but clip on. The plug is magnetic, and when you get the adapter close to the machine, it clicks snugly into a small depression.

A few little notes about the new machine before I sign off:
– The MBP uses a battery with a similar form factor to the 17 inch PowerBook
– The Airport antennae have been moved from the sides of the display to the hinge below the display.
– The track-pad is now the same size as those found on the 17 inch PowerBook

Update: No, the Pro Applications (Final Cut, Soundtrack, Motion, etc) do NOT work on the MBP, and will not until Apple releases native versions of the applications sometime in March.

228 Responses to “Mac Book Pro; Mini Review”

  1. “the loss of open firmware (and all the startup keys) would be the biggest tragedy of the intel switch”

    Ehrr. Why?

    If you have ever had to deploy or troubleshoot a mac you’d know. I don’t see why apple can’t reproduce that functionality though in the new efi bios. I really get the feeling that this is a rushed product that will be updated as soon as they figure out that in reality it’s not a pro machine. Also they should have put in the larger expresscard. The smaller one can’t adapt for cf cards (total machine killer for photographers). Guess i’m waiting for revision 2

  2. Good stuff, but I think it’s short-sighted to describe the iSight and IR remote as ‘gimmicky’. I can’t wait for developers to begin taking advantage of these. Have you tried Delicious Library? Just holding your books and cds up to the camera and having it use the barcode to categorise them and pull up their covers is /wonderful/. I futz with my phone as a bluetooth remote all the time, and would switch to a line-of-sight remote that just worked for 90% of the presentations I do (where I can see my PowerBook). The idea of a computer that can’t see you will seem crazy in 3-years time (sooner to us Mac users).

  3. Other things to add based on my talks with the Apple guys. They said that the MacBook Pro will ship with a DVI-to-VGA/S-Video adapter, so you’ll still be able to do S-Video out. Also, the reason for missing the DVD-R DL support, drive size. The DL drive is thicker and would not fit is the skinner case they were shooting towards. They are hoping for skinner DL drives. In regards to battery life, all the MacBook Pro on displayed at Macworld are prototypes, not the final ones. They still have further tests, especially battery optimization and such, hence no announcement on battery specs, but they should be reasonable.

  4. Ryan Green – I think you mean millimetres where you write inches. ExpressCard comes in two flavours – 54 mm across or 34 mm across (both are 75 mm deep and 5 mm think if memory serves) See Given that very large LCDs are only just now coming in 50″ diagonal sizes, I’d be happy that express cards are not 54 inches across.

    Also – TUAW has it wrong. ExpressCards are not PCMCIA although the PCMCIA organisation stands behind both standards (PC Card and ExpressCard). The ExpressCard slot is simply a way of making a machine’s internal PCI-Express and USB 2.0 busses available via a small high-density connector. Not sure what interface PC Cards provide.

    Also – all 12″ Powerbooks required an adapter to output composite or S-video – about 20 bucks from an Apple Store. There’s no reason why one wont work/be released for the MacBook Pro.

    Finally – has anyone actually checked (via System Profiler) that the optical drive used by the MacBook does not support DVD-DL burning? At the moment all we’re going on is a spec sheet which doesn’t promote the feature.

    Lack of FW800 is stupid on a Pro level machine and I fully expect it will be returned in some way to cater money-ed up pro mobile video editors.

    Lack of modem on a portable is stupid – especially if you ever consider taking your machine outside the US or South Korea.

    My take on this is that these machines have been rushed out ASAP to try to capitalise on hype, ability to deliver, etc. They are not the polished products that Apple is renown for. The MacBook and the iMac Core Duo are stop-gap measures until the really fresh machines are ready to be released. I am confident that they will usher in styling changes to all machines. FWIW I think that new designs will trend toward smaller and sleeker machines.


  5. mr kitty

    what about the boot mechanism? the dev boxes shipped with a bios, not open firmware…. the loss of open firmware (and all the startup keys) would be the biggest tragedy of the intel switch

  6. To answer the DVD question about dual-layers, I saw at Macbidouille’s website that the MacBook is thinner than the PB, just thin enough that there are no DL DVD burners to fit. Presumably, there are no 8x burners that fit yet, either.

  7. About battery life, I figured that Steve said, 4x more power per watt, and 4x to 5x more powerful; so a rough estimate would say, the MacBook uses the same, or slightly more power than the old PB. Factoring in the 20% larger battery, and I’m thinking the MB is going to be about the same or slightly longer in life.

    Now, look at Acer’s website, and they peg their 8200 Core Duo at 2hrs with a 6-cell battery and 3.5hrs with a 9cell. Go to PC Mag’s website and they give the same Acer a 3:47 on their battery benchmark. A HP dv1000 with a CoreDuo got a 3:37 on the same test. For comparison, an HP dv4000 and a Dell XPS170 with the fastest Centrinos, got 2:28 and 2:34, respectively.

    I don’t know how big the batteries were in the Centrino laptops, but since they were sporting the fastest Centrinos, one presumes these weren’t ultraportables, but professional laptops with large batteries. Even so, the Yonahs were significantly long-lifed, compared to them.

  8. chris long

    I can vouch for photoshop cs and dreamweaver 8 use. Performance is very acceptable, especially for us web guys, who may not necessarily be pushing PS to its performance edge. I use a dual 867Mhz MDD mac at work, and the rosetta performance of both apps on the Intelimac is highly comparable. Not bad for an emulator.
    HEY STEVE — why don’t you just call the new line Intelimac’s…..Ya know, Intel+imac??!
    Thats all you did with the PowerPC chips, PowerMac, PowerBook, etc. Processor + Brand Name is a good formula, methinks. BTW, No charge for that one. ;)

  9. Paul Greatbatch

    Yeah, I noticed the 4X burning and lack of dual layer as well. The battery life is probably a wash, but I’m used to keeping an adapter on hand for my 17″ Powerbook anyway. The Pro applications won’t be Universal until March. (Should we see some MacPowerTower Pros around then?) So we traded massive speed increase for 8X DVD burning, a modem, S-video, Firewire 800, and a modem. Just depends on your needs, I guess.

  10. simon gardener

    And its only 4 speed burning

    what gives with this – i work in the dive industry on a safari boat and produce dvd of the trip on the last morning i have to burn up tp 15 4.4 gig dvds.

    windows machines regularly pack 8 speed burners – what are apple thinking here ?

    Mce do a 8 speed burner upgrade – im condidering getting one for my powerbook – so it got to be possible

  11. I’m just missing one major flaw of this MacBook Pro in jour review: comparing to the latest PowerBook we have gone BACK form Dual Layer DVD-burners to (again) Single Layer DVD burning.

    I really can’t understand which idiot has decided (sorry if that’s you, Steve) to skip that feature from a machine that’s labeled als ‘Pro’.

  12. Ryan Green

    For those lamenting the loss of FW800:

    #1 ExpressCard FW800 ports already exist for 54 inch, and are in development for 34 inch.
    #2 for the vast majority of users, this is not an issue, since the bottleneck is not in the protocol but in the IDE protocol itself. FW800 is mostly going to be saturated only by RAID arrays.

  13. Thanks for the preview! I was curious though, was it running hot, or was it cool to the touch? The current powerbooks can get quite hot under average use…I’m hoping these will be better.

  14. Hey Dan, thanks for your first impression. I’m wondering the exact same thing Jason is thinking on emulated software running Rosetta. Specifically Photoshop and Dreamweaver (Jobs’ Photoshop part scared me a bit). Thx in advance.

  15. The question I have that no one seems to be able to (or in Apple’s case, want to) answer is “what kind of battery life can we expect out of the MacBook Pro?

    I know there’s a lot of speculation about the battery life and how Apple isn’t telling us because it’s not as good as the latest update of the Powerbook, but I’m not one to put much faith in speculation. I’d like hard facts.

    Are we going to get 5+ hours out of our Intel-based laptops, or do we file battery life of the MacBook Pro under the same list as “Missing Firewire 800” and “Lack of a PCMCIA slot?”

  16. Enrique A Gomez

    You forgot to mention something I read elsewhere today but had not noticed myself is the lack of S-Video out, and therefore composite. I’ll most certainly miss it, countless times I’ve hooked up my TiPowerBook to the TV to watch photos or movies, maybe Apple will come up with an alternative.

    Nice review by the way.

  17. IF you read one of rht erports (I can’t remember which) the reason that FW800 has been dropped in this recision is that they are currently using an all-Intel chipset (for speed of developerment, I expect).

    Intel FireWire does not support FW800 (Intel pushed USB for a long time), so only FW400 is available.

    I suspect on Apple’s Pro machines, where they will have more space and more time to develop a suitable mobo FW800 will make a return.

  18. Good stuff Dan – interesting to hear the good news that, despite the name – Argh, the name! – the machine is a nice piece of work. I shall be most pleased to see a 12″ model – with a name along the lines of, say, PowerBook Core – emerge in due course.

    On another (pedantic) note:

    The MBP looses two things near-and-dear to my heart, a PCMCIA slot, and FireWire 800.

    It’s “loses“, not “looses“, unless the MBP set free the PCMCIA slot and FireWire 800 port. :P