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MacBook Pro Review

MacBook Pro

For the first time in Apple’s history, the recent incarnation of consumer and professional laptops are starting to show signs of being part of the same family. While the MacBook has seen arguably the most impressive bump in terms of comparison to its original feature set, MacBook Pros have also received great treatment.

This brief review will give an overview of the new features and our experience. Future posts will delve into certain changes in more depth. We have previously posted unboxing photos of the new laptop for your enjoyment.

Exterior & Build

The first MacBook Pro I purchased started to vibrate suspiciously when turned on — to the point where it was audibly annoying. I returned it to the Apple store and was given an immediate replacement. That said, I’m certain that Apple’s claim of a revolutionary manufacturing process is not just hype. To quote Harry McCracken:

I hate car metaphors in computer reviews, but I can’t help myself: The old MacBook Pro was a solidly-built Toyota, and the new one is a Lexus.

While the MacBook Air clearly benefitted from the new process, it still feels slightly ‘delicate’ due to it’s very nature of being so thin. Imagine the robustness and curves of the Air built around the already sturdy MacBook Pro, and you’ll be somewhere close to the mark.

MacBook Pro Build

The keyboard takes very similar cues from the keyboard featured on the previous generation of MacBooks. It is a significant step forward from the previous generation of MacBook Pro, and a step that was undoubtedly needed. It’s also great to see that, despite the generously increased trackpad size, the keyboard hasn’t suffered in terms of space.

The final points to make are that the sleep/standby light is far more subtle than on previous versions (no longer lighting up a darkened room), and the positioning of the battery indicator on the side re-enforces the fact that it should have been placed there all along. It is now usable, rather than being a feature many people probably never even notice.

LED Screen

MacBook Pro LED DisplayOne of the major talking points surrounding the new screen is that the matte option is no longer available — you can choose gloss or nothing! Personally, I haven’t found this to be a problem due to the sheer brightness of the new LED display. It even leaves my Cinema Display feeling decidedly lackluster. The only noticeable sources of reflection are lights, windows (in a dark room) and the sun.

It’s very easy for critics to complain about the gloss screen when they haven’t tried it on a day to day basis — spend some time using it and you do realize that it poses very little inconvenience.

My personal preference goes against the black screen surround — I love the simplicity of aluminum on the Cinema Display for instance — but it seems to be the design direction Apple is taking and it’s difficult to argue with Jonathan Ive’s thinking based on past successes. I’m confident that I’ll grow to like it more with time, as it does certainly helps to remove distractions from your peripheral vision.


Ports and ConnectionsThere are two notable changes in the available ports on the new notebook. Firstly is the switch from a DVI display connection to Display Port. This is a far smaller connector, now standard across Apple’s notebook line. It is capable of powering anything from a small VGA display to a 30″ LCD using any of the various adaptors available. It’s a shame that Apple didn’t bundle a DVI adaptor by default, but understandable. I was concerned that the size of the Display Port adaptor would lead to it feeling flimsy, but the fit is very snug and the connector isn’t easily pulled out.

The second change to note is that of removing Firewire 400, leaving only a Firewire 800 port. Personally, I don’t find this to be too much of a problem due to converters being readily available. The problem is greater for users who use both a FW800 and FW400 device, as they are now required to buy a considerably more expensive hub.


MacBook Pro Nvidia GraphicsWith the new notebooks, Apple have pulled out all the stops in terms of graphical performance. They include both an integrated NVIDIA GeForce 9400M along with a discrete NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT. Swapping between the two involves altering a preference in the ‘Energy Saver’ panel and logging out/in. It would have been ideal if this switch-over could be done on-the-fly (when moving between battery and main power for instance), though it is a small price to pay for the huge benefit of two graphics chips.

Game performance is as you would expect — nothing short of exceptional. The popular games I tested were able to run with settings at their most detailed, at full resolution, with no noticeable problems. I expect that it will make a solid hardware platform for several generations of games to come.

Battery & Performance

Apple quotes the battery life for non-intensive tasks as 5 hours. From limited testing, this appears to be a fairly accurate figure — with brightness turned down and wireless on I was able to coax just over 4 1/2 hours. This could easily increase after a few charge cycles as is often the case.


With the latest MacBook Pro, Apple has created something which looks and feels ‘right’. All the new additions come together to create a system which is sturdy, powerful and innovative. That said, in blurring the lines between consumer and professional notebooks lines to such a degree, they have made choosing a MacBook Pro a more difficult choice.


  • Stunning and robust build quality
  • Gorgeous LED Display
  • Very simple to swap the battery, hard drive and RAM
  • Two ‘cutting edge’ graphics chips
  • Trackpad allows for some very useful new gestures


  • Initial unit was faulty (likely an exception to the norm)
  • Lack of a Firewire 400 port
  • Display available in gloss only
  • Large price margin between MacBook and MacBook Pro for few additional features

Any Questions?

If you have any burning questions about the new MacBook Pro, please let me know in the comments — I’ll be happy to do my best to answer! I’ll be following up with a few more in-depth posts surrounding the trackpad and hardware modifications in the near future.

45 Responses to “MacBook Pro Review”

  1. The one thing I need to know is about the internet. As a student I’ll be online a lot. Now I know the entire thing about Safari and what not, I’m sure it also connects fine by telephone wires, but what about wireless internet?
    Anybody have any ideas on this? It’d be greatly appreciated because this laptop sounds an amazing buy.

  2. I was planning to buy a previous version Mac Book Pro & a Cinema Display before the launch of the new MBP & MB. Now since the Mac Book has been upgraded in terms of specs. I am wondering if its more cost effective as well as logical to buy a Mac Book & the 24 inch Cinema Display. I am a designer and although I will use the notebook without the Cinema Display at times.. I think ill mostly use it with it. Therefore this in my opinion solves my problem of the small screen on the Mac Book.

    Any thoughts or suggestions with regard to this?

  3. Panny & Steve: The angle at which you must view the displays in an apple store (a lot more than 90 degrees, because of the table height) Combined with the abundance of flourescent lights in the ceiling cause weird reflections. If you look at the display closer to square, the reflections are easily burned through by the LEDs.

  4. Emilio Figueroa

    Ok so im thinking about upgrading from a gateway to a macbook pro but there is one question that no website has answered WHY IS A MACBOOK BETTER THAN WINDOWS BASED LAPTOPS

  5. That’s odd… you must have had it with very dark images/desktop. I find the new LED so bright that when the screen has a predominantly light background, its not very reflective.

    So using pages, word and most internet browsing its fine. Its only while working with dark images should you find any problem.

    Its the best display I’ve ever used on a laptop – LED instant on, so bright with great clarity, contrast and vibrant colors, also great for movies. A huge, huge success!

  6. I was in the Apple store the other day and could barely see the screen on the MBP they had. I wouldn’t buy the MBP for $1000, it is atrociously bad. The reflection from the light through the windows in the store ruined the image. Even the Apple Store worker was ranting about how stupid it was for Apple to go glossy, he was literally on a tear. Honestly, I’m going to keep my MBP that I have until it dies and, if all I can get is glossy, go back to a PC. What a huge, huge disappointment.

  7. Quagmire: I’ve done some music editing in Garageband and Logic, and the MacBook Pro does have an advantage because even if the processor is the same speed, the discrete graphics give it a speed boost. Also, in Snow Leopard, the music processing will be shuttled off to the graphics processor, rather than being processed on the main chip, producing much faster results due to the graphics card having a huge speed boost compared to the integrated graphics.

    The Logout and Login isn’t that much of a pain, the pain is that you have to save/close all windows, but even in the Windows PCs that have this tech, you have to close all windows anyways for the new setting to take effect. I would have preferred a “Switch graphics card” option in the displays menubar.

    David: Have you noticed that iPhone headphones work in the new MacBook Pros? The Single (Play/Pause), Double (Next), and Triple (Previous) clicks work, as does the microphone. I’m wondering if anyone knows whether the new headphones with volume adjustments will work on the Pros.

  8. Quagmire

    Nice that the Macbook got a boost. I was ready to buy a Macbook Pro two weeks ago and then these ones came out. Now I’m not sure what to do. The price difference was always making me wobble between MB & MBP. I want to use the laptop for mainly music applications (Logic et al). I like the bigger screen on the MBP but wonder if its really necessary to spend the extra dough on two inches of screen. I can understand if someone was doing video editing to gofor the MBP. Any advice or thoughts from folks using Macs for music out there?

  9. Gio: The keyboard is the same plastic as that of previous generation MacBooks

    SuperMatt: I had a play with xPlane, a few new racing games and Call of Duty 4

    PT: I’m not sure about multiple monitors. The only two options I could foresee are through Display Link technology, or the dual DVI adaptor. Is that what you’re getting at?

  10. I would like Apple to stop distinguishing between Pro and non-Pro as well. I have always considered 13.3″ to be the best compromise between size/weight/portability and screen size/usability, but the fact that the Macbook doesn’t have a firewire port and the expresscard slot really disappoints me… Another thing: is the keyboard of the new macbooks made of plastic? I assume so, although it might be anodised black aluminum…

  11. @Jess glossy screens give more ‘vibrant’ colors which a photographer wouldn’t want as he or she needs to judge whether the colors are correct and adjust when necessary. Perhaps they figured photographers would use external calibrated screens anyway. Could be that the new screen tech alleviates this problem somehow…

  12. Thomas: So far, it seems to stay cool very well when performing straight forward tasks. Gaming or video intensive operations lead to it warming up, but not to the same degree as the original MacBook.

    Jess: I’m not really the best person to ask regarding color as I don’t have a great deal of experience with it. If you know of any test I could do, I’d be happy to oblige and let you know what I find?

  13. My question is, can you really get true colors on this screen? As an art student, I hear all the time that matte is the way to go if you want true colors in your work. I was a bit flabbergasted during the unveiling of the machines simply because, as a company that so many photographers, artist, designers and such rely on, why would they choose gloss only?

  14. I really wish there was a 1680×1050 option on the new 15″ Pros. I really hope Snow Leopard lets you use the second GPU for something (PhysX? [email protected]?), and lets you switch on the fly.

    I’m not sure what to do… the MacBook doesn’t quite fit my needs (screen isn’t big enough, GPU isn’t fast enough to completely replace my XP gaming machine), but I’m not blown away by the new Pros.

  15. My main concern: how hot does it run?
    I am using a first generation Macbook Pro (1.83 GHz, Core Duo) and that machine gets really hot, even on not-so-demanding applications. I always put something between it and my lap to protect me.
    Thinking about upgrading to the new MBP, but would of course like to know its temperature :)

  16. @David:

    That’s the one I’m (pretty sure) are going to buy. :)
    This would be my very first Mac. :D

    And after a ½ year, I’m upgrading it to 4GB RAM. :)

    – Johan

  17. shaktimage

    I do event photography, 500 raw files per day, sick of window, going to mac,i was waiting for the new MBP to see if it is any faster for photo processing (no 3d gaming) than the “old” MBP that is now cheaper? And what about the USB ports? can we now plug 2 demanding devices in high speed usb2? thanks

  18. The two graphics chips hardly seem like a feature to me. You may switch between the two in the first few weeks but after a while you’ll just stick with the one setting. I love the fact that i don’t have to reboot my mac for months on end and this would sort of ruin it.

    Hopefully a 2nd revision Macbook Pro will lose one of the chips (why not just cycle down in power save mode) or make the switch between the two happen behind the scenes when you pull the plug like the article suggests.

  19. Hobbes Doo

    Excellent review. Looking forward to the next ones.

    Panny is bang on. The differences between Pro and non-Pro are getting smaller with these new revisions.

    The MacBook Pro has features that the MacBook does not: Express Card, FireWire, 2 graphic chips, larger LED display. These alone would justify the difference in price, so I don’t think Apple is too far off.

    I’m anxiously waiting to receive my MacBook Pro and hopeful that I don’t find the glossy display a problem. According to many reviews I read (including this one) I believe it will be okay. Not that I have any other choice since I want an Apple laptop with the graphics power the Pro offers.

  20. Its funny how people are disappointed that they made the MacBook so good – if its so good, just choose it and save yourself money!

    I believe in real life the performance will be much better when they include the graphics difference. The ‘complete package’ I’m sure will perform much better. Its hard to continue to make huge performance leaps unless intel are releasing chips that are much faster.

  21. I am kind of bummed about the new Macbook Pro update. Yes it has a more powerfull graphic card, and a bigger screen, and a firewire plug….but this is where it stops. Recent benchmarks between the Macbook and Macbook Pro shows a minimal performance gap of the Pro. Can Apple really justify the Macbook Pro pricetag vs. the Macbook?. It is great that the Macbook got such a huge upgrade, but the Pro is a letdown for me.

  22. I often wondered if this time around they’d stop distinguishing between the non Pro and the Pro version. I’m sure some pro’s would like a smaller 13″ and some ‘non pro’s’ would like larger screens! I’m guessing its only a matter of time that they drop the distinction which is a good thing, making the product line more stream line.

    They can always include ‘pro’ options when configuring the computers.