The new 17-in. MacBook Pro wins over a skeptic

The new 17-in. MacBook Pro wins over a skeptic

It's a desktop replacement 'in virtually every sense of the word'

At resolutions high enough to view 1080p digital video content without scaling, it's no surprise that Apple had digital video in mind when it designed this laptop. Loaded with Final Cut Pro (or Final Cut Express if you're more hobbyist than professional videographer) and coupled with an HD video camera, this machine is a dream for portable video production, be it for a school project or the nightly news. The stock Nvidia G3Force 8600M GT video card with 512MB of GDDR3 SDRAM video RAM will be welcome in this niche as well.

Of course, the advantages of this display and the video hardware paired with it aren't just for people who spend hours a day working with media applications such as Apple's Pro apps or the Adobe CS3 suite -- all users will appreciate the screen real estate and the video quality. When watching movies, the high resolution, bright screen and impossibly rich colors can't help but conjure up thoughts of a portable, high-end LCD television. Having this machine on hand to watch movies might even make flight delays enjoyable -- or at least a lot more tolerable. One disappointment, given that the display can display HD content natively, is that HD movies from the iTunes Store are still only available via the Apple TV.

The screen and, perhaps more importantly, the Nvidia G3Force 8600M GT card also make this a great gaming machine. Yes, I know that hard-core gamers will call gaming on a Mac an oxymoron, but this machine delivers a great experience: 3-D rendering is better than on most recent Macs -- except, obviously, for the Mac Pro models -- and the result is on par with what you'd expect from this level of hardware.

A huge improvement in processing power

Apple describes the current MacBook Pro as being anywhere from 50 per cent to 74 per cent faster than the original MacBook Pros released two years ago, depending on the tasks being measured. Since I have one of those original MacBook Pro models, I decided to see just how accurate those results are. My experience, both in terms of specific performance testing and the overall feel of the two laptops, more or less confirms Apple's claims. Although I don't have access to the exact suite of applications that Apple used in its test results, my evaluation indicates serious performance improvements, even though the clock speed of the processors has not changed dramatically.

Much of this performance boost is the result of the differences in architecture between the original Core Duo processor and the current Core 2 Duo chip. The changes that result in such dramatic performance boosts include an expanded Level 2 cache and a much faster 800-HMz bus design. Some performance improvements can also be attributed to the expanded video memory and updated graphics card.

Exactly how well does the latest MacBook Pro compare to its predecessor in real-world conditions? For starters, the boot time from pressing the power button to a fully loaded Finder and Desktop is noticeably, if not dramatically, faster. The 2008 model started up in 39 seconds, 15.8 seconds faster than the 2006 model. In day-to-day use, the changes are less obvious when launching applications and working with files and folders, with the new model being about one or two seconds faster for most operations.

One dramatic difference is the performance of PowerPC-based applications that run using Rosetta emulation. Although most Intel-based Mac users are now working with Intel-native or Universal Binary applications that can run on either processor, I decided to try out Office 2004 on both machines to get an idea of the difference when using Rosetta. Office 2004 is the last Power PC-only version of the popular Microsoft suite of apps.

Launching and opening a 2.1MB document took 22 seconds on the older MacBook Pro and just 12.5 seconds on the new one. The performance of older Office applications was also noticeably faster on the new machine. Not surprisingly, the performance and launch times of Universal and Intel-native applications, including Apple's own iWork suite, was about the same when working predominantly with text and limited graphics. When dealing with graphics or multimedia in iWork and iLife, there were more noticeable improvements; the newer MacBook Pro seemed much snappier.

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