MacBook Pro 17-inch

For all the hoo-hah about Apple’s transition to Intel processors, the company’s latest Macs have a rather familiar look about them. There’s really not much to distinguish an Intel iMac from a G5 iMac or an Intel Mac mini from the old G4 variety. And while the name has changed from the resonant PowerBook to needlessly wordy MacBook Pro, Apple’s professional laptop is – from the outside at least – essentially a carbon-copy of its predecessor; with added built-in iSight camera and handy MagSafe power adaptor the only obvious distinguishing features. Either he’s on holiday or design guru Jonathan Ive is locked away designing something absolutely amazing.

So it was little surprise when Apple followed the 15-inch MacBook Pro with a 17-inch model, just as it had done with the aluminium PowerBook G4 before it.

The widest MacBook Pro runs on a 2.16GHz Intel Core Duo chip – the fastest Intel processor currently available in a Mac and the same processor available as a £210 build-to-order option on the 15-inch MacBook Pro. While slightly wider and deeper than the 15-inch model, the 17-inch configuration retains the 1-inch height of Apple’s pro laptop line.

Its display is 36 per cent brighter than before. Like the top-end 15-inch model it uses ATI’s Mobility Radeon X1600 graphics chip with 256MB of dedicated GDDR3 graphics memory – impressively capable of connecting Apple’s 30-inch Cinema HD Display.

Announced at the annual National Association of Broadcasters trade show in Las Vegas, it’s aimed squarely at creative professionals who shoot, edit, and produce digital imagery for a living, but will equally appeal to mobile users who don’t lug their laptop around with them every day. The half a kilo weight gap between the 15- and 17-inch models makes all the difference if the laptop is as often on your shoulder as it is your desk.

The 17-inch TFT display boasts a native resolution of 1,680-x-1,050-pixels, compared to 1,440-x-900 with the 15-inch MacBook Pro. The wider screen and additional pixels mean more room to work, something digital video editors and Photoshop pros out in the field will appreciate.

Relight the FireWire
But of greater significance to video pros are two features that have been absent from the MacBook Pro line-up up until now. Like the PowerBook G4, the 17-inch MacBook Pro features a FireWire 800 port. The faster FireWire port had been missing from the 15-inch MacBook Pro offerings; in fact, the 17-inch laptop is the first Intel-based Mac to include a FireWire 800 port. The 17-inch MacBook Pro sports an 8x dual-layer DVD-burning SuperDrive, a feature missing from the 15-inch configurations, which has a 4x single-layer DVD-R drive.

David Moody, Apple’s vice president of worldwide Mac product marketing, told Macworld that these two features make their return to Apple’s laptop offerings because of the use of “different technology” in the 17-inch model. We also think Apple had extra incentive to include these features, given who’s the most likely candidate to purchase a wide-screen MacBook Pro. An 8x SuperDrive that can burn to dual-layer discs would be a prerequisite for any machine targeted at a video pro. And while FireWire 800 hasn’t enjoyed widespread adoption, its faster transfer rates do appeal to people who have to move a lot of data back and forth – like digital video editors.

At the start of May, NitroAV (www.nitroav.com) announced a $90 two-port FireWire 800 card that it says is compatible with MacBook Pros and PCs that use the 34mm Express Card format.

Speedy solution
One of the more impressive feats Apple demonstrated at NAB involved the new MacBook Pro playing four HD video streams at once in the Universal version of Final Cut Pro, with no noticeable drops in frame rates or reduction in playback quality – something the PowerBook G4 could only dream of. For comparison, Apple also set up a Quad 2.5GHz Power Mac G5 next to the MacBook Pro playing the same project; we couldn’t tell much, if any, difference in performance and quality.

Apple’s revelation that it doubled the number of speakers in the MacBook Pro over the 17-inch PowerBook G4 and that we would hear the superior audio performance wasn’t nearly as exciting – or even very detectable during testing.

3D pros will also be keen on this model, as Macworld tests prove that it flies when running Cinema 4D.

The 2.16GHz 17-inch MacBook Pro is at the top-end of the processor speed charts, but not ahead in the numbers game. As a build-to-order option, you can also buy a 15-inch MacBook Pro at the same chip speed for £1,989 – just £10 cheaper than the giant 17 incher, with all its added benefits (larger screen, 8x DVD-R, FireWire 800). Indeed, if you match the two 2.16GHz models to the same spec (upping the 15-inch model’s hard drive from 100GB to 120GB), the 17-inch is actually £60 cheaper than its smaller sibling.

OUR VERDICT

A processor faster than that available in the 15-inch MacBook Pro would have lifted this giant-screened-but-super-slim laptop to the very top of the Mac pile. As it is, Apple is offering similar performance at the top-end of both laptop sizes – responding to most mobile users’ preference for portability choice rather than just giant grunt. Pixel junkies, video, music and graphics professionals will welcome the return of the large-screen Mac laptop, but it’s equally attractive to home users or office workers who don’t want the bulk of a desktop computer – even the rather trim bulk of the 20-inch iMac, which boasts the same screen resolution as the 17-inch MacBook Pro. A brave new design would have been nice, but Apple appears keener to point out that its new Intel Macs might be much, much faster than previous non-Intel models but are essentially the same old Macs as before. And, while this is great for power users, we’ve got that message now, Apple... time to let Mr Ive out of his lab again.

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