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Apple 15-Inch MacBook Pro

2.16 GHz laptop delivers blazing performance By Dave Nagel

Summary: Sporting the most powerful Intel chip currently available in Apple's lineup, the 15-inch, 2.16 GHz dual-core MacBook Pro is, simply, a speed demon. There has never been a Mac laptop this fast. It's so fast, it even outpaces professional workstations in several key benchmarks. What's more, with its ability to run both Mac OS X and Windows operating systems, it's two computers in one. There has simply never been a better time to buy an Apple notebook computer. The only question is whether you want it in a 17-inch or 15-inch configuration. With the 2.16 GHz configuration, the prices of the two models are identical.
Manufacturer: Apple (
Platform: Mac OS X and WIndows
Price: $2,799 2.16 GHz unit as a BTO option
Users: Professionals involved in video, motion graphics, audio and 2D/3D graphics
Recommendation: See below

When I first started the review process on Apple's 2.16 GHz 15-inch MacBook Pro, I had in my possession the most impressive laptop Apple has ever produced. Its combination of hardware and software features, coupled with almost unbelievable performance, made it a no-brainer for anyone looking for a notebook system capable of handling serious professional creative applications. But just last week, Apple introduced a 17-inch model for exactly the same price. So now it's not a no-brainer about buying the 15-inch model; now you have a choice between two models offering the most incredible performance of any Mac laptop system ever. Today we'll take a look at the 15-inch model.

Before we get started on this review, I should explain that I have not yet had a chance to test the 17-inch MacBook Pro introduced at last week's NAB convention in Las Vegas. Nevertheless, it's important to point out a few things about these models. First of all, as of this writing, the 2.16 GHz version of the 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pro systems cost exactly the same amount of money in their base configurations: $2,799. So, in other words, you can get a laptop that's equally as powerful as the 15-inch model, but with a larger, higher-resolution screen. But the differences don't end there. In its base configuration, the 17-inch model also offers a larger (120 GB) hard drive, a FireWire 800 port, an extra USB 2.0 port, an 8x double-layer DVD burner (compared with the 4x single-layer burner on the 15-inch model), a longer-lasting battery and even double the number of speakers built in.

Again, all for the same price as of this writing. Something, no doubt, will have to give because obviously at this moment the only real choice is to go for the 17-inch model unless you absolutely need the more compact form factor of the 15-inch model, which is entirely understandable. But for all we know, Apple could upgrade the top-end 15-inch model without warning to bring it feature parity with the high-end 17-inch unit or, less likely (based on Apple's history), lower the price. I'm not saying that will happen; but, as I say, something is going to have to give in this laptop lineup.

All that said, I think it's still worthwhile to give formal review to the current top-end 15-inch MacBook Pro. I've been impressed (to put it mildly) with the performance of this unit, and, if you prefer the smaller size, it's not a bad way to go. You should just keep in mind when making your purchase decision that things could change and that there's something available with more features for the same amount of money. There are also lower-end 15-ich models available for less money.

So let's get to it.


Features: Intel Core Duo processor
Now, obviously, the most critical feature of the MacBook Pro is its dual-core 2.16 GHz processors, making the MacBook Pro the first of Apple's laptops to use Intel processors. And this particular processor--the 2.16 GHz Core Duo--happens to be a screamer. Over the last couple of weeks, I've been putting this machine through its paces, and it's shown itself to be incredibly powerful. In virtually all tests running native software, the MacBook Pro came out on top of a (mostly) comparably equipped dual 2.0 GHz G5 desktop system. In some cases, it showed itself to be the equal (or even superior) of higher-end workstations, including the G5 Quad and various Intel and AMD systems, including some quad-core systems.

Rather than recapping all of these tests, I'll simply point you to my previous benchmark articles so that you can see all the details. Follow the links below to read the articles.

? Benchmarks 1: Apple Final Cut Studio
? Benchmarks 2: Adobe applications in Mac OS X
? Benchmarks 3: 3D performance in Mac OS X
? Benchmarks 4: Adobe applications in Windows
? Benchmarks 5: 3D performance in Windows

Now, the introduction of the Core Duo processor brings up two interesting considerations. The first is compatibility with existing software that was written for Mac OS X on PowerPC chips. This issue, of course, has been addressed with Apple's Rosetta technology, which enables software like Photoshop, After Effects and many others that are not yet Intel-native to run on Intel-based Macs. And in terms of compatibility, it's pretty flawless. Sure, there are some little issues (like the inability to use Version Cue with the Adobe Creative Suite), but, for the most part, this technology is amazing, providing the ability to run software as complex as Maya, LightWave, After Effects and others.

The tradeoff, though, is in performance. With applications like Photoshop and Illustrator, there's really no issue, unless you happen to do a lot of transformations on very large images. But with non-native 3D and motion graphics software, the performance hit can be unbearable--maybe half the performance you get with a dual 2.0 GHz G5 desktop. (See the above benchmark articles for more detailed information on Rosetta's performance issues.) But, of course, this won't be a problem once the applications are ported to run on Intel hardware natively.

The other important consideration about the Intel chips is the potential for running both Mac OS X and Windows on a single computer--and natively at that. No other Mac has been able to do this at any point in history, except some of those funky old models that came with a secondary processor card for running Windows. But those were severely limited. The MacBook is the real deal. All you need to be able to do is create a Windows partition, install Windows and install the appropriate drivers, and you're good to go. Of course, you have to supply your own copy of Windows XP, but Apple makes the rest simple with Boot Camp, which automates the process of creating the partition and burning a disc with the appropriate drivers, which you then install once you've installed Windows. All the parts that don't involve Microsoft are simple, painless and quick. Windows XP itself, of course, is what it is, and Apple can't improve that, even if it is running on Apple hardware.

Once you have Windows installed, you can choose which OS to boot into by default using the supplied Startup Disk Control Panel in Windows or the Startup Disk System Preference in Mac OS X. And you can easily choose between the two on the fly whenever you start up your computer simply by holding down the Option/Alt key on your keyboard.

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Related Keywords:macbook pro, review, 15 inch, 17 inch


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