17in MacBook Pro review

The new 17in MacBook Pro costs the same and looks the same as the £1,899 17in MacBook Pro released last year. But inside, a 2.53GHz Intel Core i5 replaces the 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo used previously.

The dual graphics processors and the way you switch between them are also new. The Nvidia GeForce GT 330M replaces the Nvidia GeForce GT 9600M processor as the higher-powered discrete graphics option. Intel HD graphics are now used as the lower-powered, energy-saving, integrated graphics option, replacing the Nvidia GeForce 4200M. As with the latest 15in MacBook Pros, an automatic graphics switching technology seamlessly switches between the processors depending on the needs of the programs currently running.

The number, type, and placement of ports remains the same, as does the 1,920 x 1,200 resolution glossy screen, 4GB of RAM, the 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive, and captive battery.

Apple offers a few options for customising the 17in MacBook Pro. For more processing power, a 2.66GHz Intel Core i7 is available for an additional £160. Doubling the RAM to 8GB will cost an extra £320, and faster drives, including solid-state drives, are also available. For those bothered by the stock glossy display, an anti-glare screen costs an extra £40.

Performing artist

Using our Speedmark 6 system performance benchmarking suite to compare the new 2.53GHz Core i5 model to the 2.8GHz Core 2 Duo model it replaces, we found the i5 model to be almost 12 per cent faster than the Core 2 Duo model.

The new system made its biggest gains in processor-intensive tasks like Cinebench, where it was 22 per cent faster than the previous 17in offering, and MathematicaMark 7, where the new model beat the older system by 30 per cent.

Aside from the screen size and an extra 256MB of graphics memory, the new 17in MacBook Pro shares nearly all of the specifications of the £1,649 15in MacBook Pro. It’s no surprise, then, to see that the two models performed very similarly – in fact, results were within 1 or 2 seconds of each other in more than half of the tests.

But the 17in MacBook Pro couldn’t top another 15in configuration – the £1,799 model with Core i7 processor. That 2.66GHz Core i7 chip bested the 2.53GHz Core i5 17in MacBook Pro by about 5 per cent in our Speedmark 6 tests.

A comparison of the new Core i5 17in MacBook Pro and the 2.66GHz Core i5 iMac shows the lingering performance penalty to be paid for choosing a portable over a desktop. The portables use slower spinning hard drives and dual-core mobile versions of the Core i5 and i7, while the iMacs use quad-core desktop versions.

Both the desktop and mobile processors offer Turbo Boost, which allows the processor to speed up for a short period of time or to shut down unused cores and give extra resources to the cores in use. For example, Turbo Boost can increase the clock speed of the 2.53GHz Core i5 processor up to 3.07GHz.

OUR VERDICT

The new 17in MacBook Pro offers better performance and a little more battery life. The smaller, lighter 15in 2.66GHz Core i7 MacBook Pro costs less and performs better, but it you want a larger screen or need an ExpressCard/34 slot, the 17in is the only member of the MacBook line to offer such features. For mobile Mac users who favour larger laptops, this model is a definite improvement over previous 17in offerings.

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