Apple's latest 15in MacBook Pro notebook doesn’t offer anything radically new, but minor internal component upgrades, an SD card slot and the unibody aluminium enclosure introduced in late 2008 ensure it remains an excellent notebook.
The latest MacBook Pro looks almost identical to its predecessor. It uses a "precision aluminium unibody enclosure" crafted from a single block of aluminium. The result is a notebook that feels superbly built, and one that certainly seems capable of taking its fair share of knocks and bumps.
The MacBook Pro has an identical aluminium and glossy black colour scheme to Apple's iMac range. The 15.4in display is surrounded by a glossy black bezel; despite being thin it’s one of the sturdiest notebook displays we’ve seen, exhibiting minimal flex when twisted. The MacBook Pro screen is LED-backlit, which makes it more power efficient than a standard notebook display (LED technology uses up to 30 per cent less power than conventional LCD screens). Under florescent office lighting the glossy screen can be distracting, and viewing it from even a slight angle results in a harsh yellow colour shift. We would prefer a non-glossy display, especially for use in an office environment.
The MacBook Pro's keyboard is excellent. The well-spaced keys provide excellent tactility and make typing a comfortable experience. For night use, the keyboard is illuminated and works in conjunction with the auto-brightness feature of the display. The notebook's function keys provide access to features such as display brightness, Expose, Dashboard and media playback controls.
The MacBook Pro's track pad is one of the largest we've seen on a laptop and it uses the multi-touch system first introduced on the MacBook Air. Its size makes it easy to use, but there are a couple of spots that sometimes seem difficult to press.
Our review unit was the top-of-the-range 15in notebook. (The MacBook Pro is also available in 13in and 17in models.) It was powered by a 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU with a 6MB L2 cache, 4GB of DDR2 RAM (with an option for 8GB), a 500GB hard drive and a double-layer, slot-loading super drive. The laptop offers 802.11n/b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. A complaint we had with last year's model remains: the 5400RPM hard drive is slow when compared to many new notebooks.
Under the hood, the MacBook Pro once again comes with two graphics chips — a 512MB NVIDIA GeForce 9600M and a 256MB NVIDIA GeForce 9400M. The first is an integrated chip while the latter has its own memory. Unfortunately, to switch graphics cards you have to delve into the system preferences menu and select either better battery life or higher performance. This also requires you to log out, so it’s not as simple as just flicking a switch.
The latest MacBook Pro is the first Apple notebook to include an SD card slot, which will be a boon for photographers. Unfortunately, Apple has removed the ExpressCard slot; it's now only available on the more expensive 17in model. There are still only two USB ports, and they are too close together. We couldn't plug in a Bluetooth dongle for our portable mouse and a USB key at the same time. Rounding out the ports are FireWire 800, headphone and line-out jacks, Gigabit Ethernet and a mini-DisplayPort connection (which requires an extra dongle to connect most monitors).
The MacBook Pro delivered noteworthy performance in our tests. It took just 53sec to encode 53min worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3s. We also benchmarked the MacBook Pro using Geekbench and it scored 3644, which is slightly better than the 13in model's score of 3463.
Battery life is rated at up to seven hours. Apple has used a non-removable lithium-polymer battery in this range of MacBooks, and claims it has a lifespan of up to five years. As expected, we didn't achieved the advertised seven hours during our DVD rundown test, but we still managed to run the machine for a little over four hours before it powered off. This is over an hour longer than the previous 15in MacBook Pro.
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