Editors' note: As of June 2009, the product reviewed here has been replaced by these updated models.
Apple has made its first update to the venerable MacBook line since the introduction of the MacBook Air. Regular 13-inch MacBooks get the usual CPU upgrade, but the MacBook Pro line gets a notable internal overhaul--including new Penryn-class Intel CPUs, new touch pad gestures (lifted from the MacBook Air), and finally a backlit LED option for the 17-inch models, something already standard for 15-inchers.
As we've come to expect, the new configurations hit the same price as the now-discontinued ones. More power for the same money is always welcome, but at $2,499 (we looked at the higher-end of two 15-inch configurations), we still think the cheaper 13-inch MacBook is a better overall value, outweighed only if you need either the larger screen or Express card slot, or you can't live without the touch pad gestures.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$2,499 / $1,999|
|Processor||2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300|
|Memory||2GB, 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||250GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT|
|Operating System||Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard|
|Dimensions (WDH)||14.1 x 9.6 x 1.0 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.4 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.4/6.0 pounds|
Physically, the refreshed 15-inch MacBook Pro is identical to its predecessors, still only 1 inch thick, but now that we've had time to get used to the thinner, lighter MacBook Air, it feels positively huge in comparison.
By now we're very familiar with the minimalist layout--open the lid and inside you'll find only a power button, a full-size keyboard, stereo speakers, a sizable touch pad with a single mouse button, and a built-in iSight camera. Despite our love for a clean look, we've also become used to having at least a few media control keys--attractive touch-sensitive media controls now regularly pop up on even the cheapest laptops.
Possibly the biggest change is how the revamped trackpad is now works with multitouch gestures, much like the MacBook Air. Originally, you could do things like use two fingers to scroll through documents--now Pro users can use three fingers to go forward and back in Safari's browser history, and use a thumb and forefinger to zoom in and out of documents and photos--much like on the iPhone. We hope Apple will roll this out for the 13-inch MacBooks sooner rather than later.
The move to backlit LED displays happened in the last MacBook Pro revision, at least for the 15-inch models. This time around, the 17-inch models have it, too--but only as a $100 add-on. The 15-inch display is 1,440x900, while the 17-inch is either 1,680 x 1,050 (standard) or 1,920x1,200 (LED). Apple touts the backlit LED displays as being both energy efficiency and mercury-free.
|MacBook Pro||Average for mainstream category|
|Video||DVI video out||VGA-out, S-Video|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, line-in/line-out jacks, built-in mic||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||Two USB 2.0, FireWire 400, FireWire 800||Four USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, multiformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||ExpressCard/34 slot||PC Card slot|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
The MacBook Pro remains the only laptop we can think of with a FireWire 800 jack (along with the more common FireWire 400), useful for digital video fans, but we still think adding a simple SD card slot would be a huge plus for the Pro (and let's get that on the regular 13-inch MacBook, too, while we're at it).
With the newest Penryn CPUs, the MacBook Po offers an excellent boost in performance over the previous mid-2007 Pro revision in our benchmark tests, although a pre-Penryn 13-inch MacBook from late 2007 was nearly as fast, reinforcing our opinion that Intel's Penryn CPUs, while more energy efficient, don't offer much of a performance boost. The MacBook Air was well behind--its custom Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, designed to fit into the Air's extra-thin chassis, is slower than the typical Core 2 Duos found in most laptops.
The Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT graphics card allows for some basic gaming--although if you plan on playing games on the MacBook Pro, you'll probably want to install Windows on a separate partition through Boot Camp. Running Quake 4 at 1,024x768, we got 88 frames per second, compared to only 65 frames per second from the 2007 version of the MacBook Pro. Both systems had identical graphics cards, so we credit the CPU.
Despite some initial concerns that the revamped MacBook Pro offered less battery life, we got an impressive 4 hours and 23 minutes with our battery drain test--that's 47 minutes more than the older version of the MacBook Pro, and 20 minutes more than the MacBook Air.