We’re always a little taken aback when we see Apple’s MacBook Pro in the hands of PC power users. For example, we’ve seen PC game developers typing on MBPs at industry events. And at trade shows, it isn’t uncommon to see Windows app developers sporting Apple’s pro-class portable. Are we far from the day when Bill Gates is a proud MacBook Pro convert?
Ever since Apple swallowed its pride and embraced the x86 instruction set used by every other PC, its computers have been far more compelling given their ability to run a Windows OS directly on the metal without emulation. Of course, most MBP users will probably go OS X, but having the Windows fallback for gaming and application fidelity is a comfort—no other PC vendor can currently offer that OS combo.
Wrapped in an aluminum shell, the MacBook Pro’s thinness is impressive next to other notebooks in its class. Dell’s XPS M1530 (reviewed on the next page), for example, feels downright chubby in our hands. We’ve seen other notebooks that come close to the MBP in thinness, but graphics are usually compromised to get there. For example, we had a hard time finding another notebook in the MBP’s class that sports a GeForce 8600M GT with a 512MB frame buffer. Most other superslim notebooks resort to integrated graphics—and even Dell’s loaded-for-bear XPS has just half the frame buffer.
The MBP’s CPU is also top-notch: Intel’s 2.5GHz Core 2 Duo T9300 chip. This 45nm-based Penryn CPU is just a step away from Intel’s fastest mobile CPU, the 2.6GHz C2D. A 250GB SATA drive, slot-fed DVD burner, and 2GB of DDR2/667 make up the rest of the notebook’s specs.
But specs aren’t the full story. The MBP includes some really nice extra touches, such as a backlit keyboard that’s connected to a light sensor. Apple sells the unit with either a glossy or anti-glare finish to the LCD screen. Ours came with an anti-glare 1440x900 TFT screen with LED backlighting. From what we’re told, LED backlights aren’t used in notebooks so much for power savings (most OEMs say the reduction is minimal), but rather ecological reasons. Doing away with the fluorescent tubes in the screen eliminates the last bit of mercury in a notebook PC. Our screen was quite good in high-glare environments, such as our office and outdoors, but for watching movies or playing games, the glossy screen would be preferable.
As slim, fast, and fashionable as the MBP is, we do have issues with it. First, the screen doesn’t tilt back far enough. It’s fine if you’re sitting in front of it at a desk, but working from, say, the hood of a car or a lab bench, the off-axis angle is a minor annoyance.
Second, accessing the hard drive or optical drive is not fun, unless you’re the kind of person who enjoys disassembling a notebook to do something that’s quite easy with other notebook designs. There’s also no way to add a cellular modem to the notebook and no factory option for it either.
Apple also decided to use an ExpressCard/34 slot instead of the standard ExpressCard/54, to save space. Hey, Apple, there’s a reason there’s a standard, and plenty of ExpressCard/54 parts are available, so why not just support both? We’d recommend chucking the FireWire 400 port to make room since there’s no reason for both a FireWire 400 and FireWire 800 port.
In the grand scheme of things, these are fairly minor kvetches and the MacBook Pro is a surprisingly satisfying machine.