With school demanding more from 3D graphics and design, and the lack of power in the GMA950 for Keynote work, it was time for a computer upgrade. Couple that with Applecare that ran out earlier this week, and you get a nice new 13″ Unibody MacBook Pro.
Since it’s been 2 months now since I’ve been using it, I thought it was time for some opinions. I’ve already installed Windows 7, run Keynote presentations, taken it on a road trip, and done nearly all of my daily computer activities. In every way, this machine is superior to my previous MacBook.
The solid aluminum exterior of this MacBook Pro is a massive improvement over the polycarbonate shell of the MacBook–and previously, the iBook–as it has very little flex and will be the end of the dreaded palm rest cracking that affected nearly every previous generation of MacBook. That aluminum shell means this computer is lighter and thinner as well. While likely not a very big difference (I’ve yet to break out the tape measure), you can feel it when it is in a case or backpack.
The assortment of ports on the left side has changed somewhat as well. Gone is the dedicated audio-in jack and FireWire 400 and in its place is a backwards-compatible FireWire 800 port. The single audio jack now deals with digital and analog input and output on its own. In addition to the standard Gigabit ethernet and 2 USB 2.0 ports is the new Mini DisplayPort and SD card slot. The DisplayPort requires another new dongle from the Apple Store. The SD card slot has already proven itself worthy, by copying camera photos during a brief road trip. It is an item I think probably won’t be useful all the time, but those occasional times it is required, it will be great to have. The Kensington lock slot has also been moved to the right side. This is a good thing for me, as I always put my computer ports down in my bag, and now the lock is readily accessible. Using the lock for the first time, it was very tight, but after applying some pressure, it now slips in and out fairly easily. The aluminum is slightly bent inside, but nothing major. As usual, your mileage may vary.
The backlit keyboard is definitely my favourite upgrade. I had no idea that seeing what I was typing in the dark would be so handy. A side benefit of this technology is that the ambient light sensor also subtly adjusts the screen brightness to an optimum level.
Other changes from the Core 2 Duo MacBook are the built-in battery and “buttonless” touchpad. Technically the touchpad is a button, but just looking at it shows nothing. So far I’ve found it to be slightly more sensitive when using a thumb to activate. Battery life is also an improvement, though I may not get a chance to test it fully until I return to school in a few days.
The display on this machine is also noticeably brighter, with more vivid colours. After putting the two machines side by side, there is a definite difference, as shown above. I had heard all the horror stories about the screens being a black mirror, but so far that has not been an issue for me. Sure, there is some reflection, but the beauty of a laptop is that it can easily be adjusted to mitigate the glare.
Apple has been touting their non-user-replaceable batteries in their more recent notebooks, and this MacBook Pro delivers.
The inside components of a computer are certainly more important than the outside, and the upgrades to this generation of MacBook Pro make it a screamer. Even though the clock speed is only increased from 2.0 GHz to 2.26, the newer processor is far more efficient, and the faster RAM, along with a boost to 4 GB means there is virtually no wait for applications to load or for the machine to shut down. The graphics subsystem is the biggest gainer in the lot, with a move from the GMA950 chip to nVidia’s 9400M system. This means smoother transitions in Keynote, more frames in both games and iTunes visualizer and more speed in the future when more applications use Apple’s OpenCL computing language. I’m looking forward to that.
To put a numbers to the improvements, I took measurements of some common computing tasks of both machines.
|2.0 GHz MacBook||2.26 GHz Unibody MacBook Pro|
|— Quartz Graphics||149.15||177.57|
|— OpenGL Graphics||264.8||80.92|
|Windows 7 Index||3.2||4.0|
|iTunes Visualizer (fps)||60||60|
|CPU with 720p Trailer||35%||20%|
Overall the machine certainly feels speedy, with minimal pauses between application changes. Disk performance is basically the same, seeing as the drive was just transferred between systems.
A big change I have noticed is that this computer is far quieter than my previous MacBook. That one had fans that would peak at 6200 RPM when doing anything remotely computation intensive. Even watching Flash video would cause the fans to spike. On this computer, they seem to peak at 2200 RPM, as that was the maximum speed I observed while encoding some MP3 files recently. Obviously it’s a change that won’t be listed on the spec sheet, but it is a welcome change for anyone using their computer for semi-heavy lifting.
I’ve been very happy with this new machine and the benefits it brings. Though I said it about the last MacBook I owned, this MacBook Pro will likely stick around for a long time, thanks to its powerful processor, aluminum shell and fast graphics chip.