Comparing New to Old, Apple 17″ MacBook Pro is Sweet

Today the 17 inch MacBook Pro joined its younger siblings with a unibody construction. While many of the improvements were expected — based on the existing unibody models — and there are some worthwhile performance enhancements, Apple also had a couple of nice surprises in store. Let’s take a look…

Expected Unibody Improvements

First and foremost, for the same base price of $2,799 as yesterday, the new 17 inch model provides the following:

  • Solid unibody construction. We’ve learned the unibodies are indeed very solid and seem like tanks. The 17 inch takes that even a step further, as we’ll see below.
  • Dual core processor at 2.66GHz (up from 2.5) on a 1066 MHz bus (up from 800MHz)
  • Utilizes fast DDR3 memory at 1066MHz.
  • It is actually about a tenth of an inch smaller in width and depth, and also two-tenth of an inch thinner. Yes, these are pretty small improvements, but for a device so big any relief is better than none. (Recall that the 15 inch model actually got slightly bigger in unibody trim.)
  • The wonderful glass track pad with gesture support.
  • The improved 9600M mobile graphics with 512 MB video memory (same as the high-end 15 inch model).
  • 9400M mobile chipset and graphics for very good performance while saving an hour of battery life.

On the down side, the new model loses the separate FireWire 400 port, getting by with just the one 800 port (which supports 400).

Further, the new model uses the mini Display Port, which means to use it with your existing screen you’ll need to by a new adaptor.

Newer Improvements

Where Apple deviated from the other unibody models is in two important areas. How well these are received remain to be seen (I can already hear the complaints), but I ultimately think these are good:

  • There is a matte screen option. You read that right. While the same glossy screen as the rest of the MacBook line is the default, a matte BTO option is available. That’s the good news, the bad news is it’s $50.
  • New battery technology. This new technology increases battery size by 40 percent, and battery life by a whopping 60 percent! You get eight hours of life with the integrated graphics, and even seven hours with the discrete graphics. That’s the good news, the bad news is the battery is non-replaceable.

I’m sure the matte option will be greatly appreciated by those who need it, but since the option was free on the previous model there may some complaints about it costing extra. It seems in order to do it the most professional way, however, Apple isn’t just placing a matte cover on the glass screen, but rather removing the screen and applying the matte to the LCD. This does make the most sense, and it seems to me that for their flagship model Apple wanted to do it right. Besides, for all the howling over the glossy screens, matte screen aficionados shouldn’t complain about the price, right?

As for the new battery, it makes sense when you think about it. By using new technology and a battery essentially custom-made for this model to cram into all available space, they got much more battery in the slightly smaller case and increased battery life accordingly. And they did this without increasing weight! That amazes me the most. All this extra battery and the model weighs the same as before? Batteries are heavy. Clearly, the new model shed weight which they countered by adding more battery. Yet it’s still the lightest 17 inch laptop on the market.

I foresee Apple bashers having a field day with the non-replaceable battery. Heck, most of them still want a replaceable battery in the iPod! I do not have an extra battery, and prefer to avoid the expense and extra weight and clumsiness in carrying one around anyway.

I wonder if the reason the MacBook and 15 inch MacBook Pro models do not use this same battery approach is that, with their smaller case sizes, it may not have made enough improvement. In other words, there was less space to put the battery in anyway, so the improvement would not have been enough to make a big deal out of. With the 17 inch model, a 60 percent increase with no weight or size gain is a very big deal. I might also add that I like the fact that Apple is innovating with batteries, because I assume this technology can trickle down to their other mobile devices in the future.

Other Items

In terms of build quality, the unibodies are like tanks, yet the door on the bottom seemed to be almost flimsy by comparison. Without that weak spot I imagine the new 17 inch model to be even more rugged and sturdy. One issue, however, is that I’m not clear on how memory or the hard drive is upgraded.

Other available items are a maximum RAM of 8GB (nice), a 2.93 GB processor, and an option for a 256GB SSD. I’m surprised, however, that the max HDD is 320GB, when 400GB models are readily available elsewhere.


In short, for the same price as before you get a smaller, thinner, faster, more durable, and more expandable machine. On top of that it weights the same and yet has a battery life of up to eight hours!

To me, the best way to judge the worth of new features is if I wish I had them. Frankly, if they could have crammed more battery in my unibody MacBook for significantly more battery life, without gaining weight, even while removing the ability to swap it, I’d be thrilled. I’d also appreciate that it was even more solid. And, while I love the glossy and would not change it, the matte option is a nice touch for those who feel they need it.

I wrote about the unibody upgrades for the other MacBook here. Personally, I’d rate the unibody 17 inch model upgrade as right between the MacBook upgrade (which got the most improvement) and the 15 inch model (which got the least).


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