The MacBook Pro: So very similar, yet so very different

When Apple first announced that it had accelerated the introduction of the Intel based Macs and introduced the iMac Core Duo and MacBook Pro, I was not impressed. Maybe it was that my expectations were too high, but for Apple's first attempt at an Intel based Mac I expected a design that would blow me away. I expected the reaction to the Mac mini, but with even more punch, yet all I got were brand new internals in the same old exterior.

Compared to the G5, the new Core Duo processors were significantly less power hungry. As I showed in my iMac Core Duo review, you're looking at about 2/3 of the power consumption of the G5 yet the new CPUs were kept in the same chassis. For the MacBook Pro I expected something that was thinner than ever before, I expected Apple to virtually defy the laws of notebook making and truly deliver the most amazing thing I had ever seen running an Intel processor. Instead, Apple introduced something that looked very similar to my PowerBook G4 - but with a new power connector.

Part of the problem is that it took several weeks after the first announcement of the MacBook Pro for units to even be available to the public. At launch you couldn't go out and actually play with one of the new systems at an Apple store. I state this as a problem because after actually handling a MacBook Pro, the individually small improvements are pretty nice in the aggregate.

Compared to my 15" PowerBook G4 the 15" MacBook Pro is ever so slightly thinner; my PowerBook measured 1.1" in thickness and the new MacBook Pro is an even 1". Apple actually made the MacBook Pro slightly larger than its predecessor at 14.1" x 9.6" vs. 13.7" x 9.5" of the older PowerBook G4, but by making the unit slightly thinner and longer/wider the MacBook Pro actually ends up feeling a lot smaller than its predecessor. The slim theme continues even to Apple's packaging, as the MacBook Pro comes in a fairly thin (for a notebook) box. Much of the impact is psychological, but the MacBook Pro honestly does feel smaller than its predecessor despite being larger in two of its three dimensions. After putting the MacBook Pro in the same place on my desk that my PowerBook G4 used to sit, though, the MacBook Pro is definitely bigger.


PowerBook G4 (top) vs. MacBook Pro (bottom)


PowerBook G4 (top) vs. MacBook Pro (bottom)


PowerBook G4 (top) vs. MacBook Pro (bottom)

One of my first complaints about the PowerBook G4 was that the latch that kept the display lid closed felt like it would be the first thing to break. Thankfully it never has, but it never made me feel comfortable. On the MacBook Pro, Apple addressed the issue and replaced the single latch with a pair of latches. They are still controlled by the single button at the front of the unit but the end result is a more flush fitting display lid when closed and a much higher quality feel.


There's one latch on either side of the iSight camera

The construction overall appears to be better than the PowerBook G4, which held up fairly well while being in use for over a year. Unfortunately, the MacBook Pro does have a couple of assembly related issues, both of which are visible on the keyboard itself. A few of the keys squeak a lot when depressed, mainly the spacebar. More bothersome is the fact that two keys are poorly mounted. The eject button is by far the worst on the unit I'm reviewing as removing the key and replacing it doesn't actually put it back in line with the rest of the function keys. The only solution for this problem is to take it back to Apple.


The eject key looks like it's not set properly, but there's no fixing it. Apple quality control at its best.

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  • mzlin - Saturday, April 15, 2006 - link

    Excellent review, Anand! The Parallels vs Boot Camp comparisons are really well done and very helpful.

    I thought the comment about PowerBook weight being 1/3 more than any other laptop you've used was a little misleading. I'm sure you didn't mean to say the PowerBook was especially heavy, but since you didn't actually mention what it weighs (5.6 pounds), it could be construed as the Powerbook weighs 1/3 more than other 15.4-inch laptops.

    I have been looking for 15.4-inch laptops, PC or Mac, that weigh less than 6 pounds with an integrated optical drive. (For me, having the drive integrated is non-negotiable; I wouldn't want to have it in the wrong place when I needed it, so I would be carrying it around regardless, and much better to save the hassle of digging it out and plugging it in when one needs it.) But the Powerbook/MacBook is the only one I have found so far. On the PC side, the VAIO BX and Toshiba Satellite A105 manage to get to 6.0 pounds, but are also are 1.5 inches thick.
    Reply
  • hechacker1 - Saturday, April 15, 2006 - link

    I'd just like to point out that the buzzing due to power state switching (transitioning between C3 and C4 states) also happens in windows and linux. It's purely a hardware issue, and in most cases it just means the manufacturer used low quality components (capacitors).

    In windows it is not as noticible because it runs with a kernel frequency of 100Hz. In linux it's often run with 1000Hz. Because of the increase in frequency of power state switching the buzzing becomes audible to the ear.

    In windows it happens 10 times less than most linux boxes. Hence you don't hear it as much even with low quality components. My own Dell 700m laptop has this issue.

    The only solution in linux is to disable the lower power states, or change the kernel timer to 100Hz like windows. The best solution is to use dynamic tick switching so you get exactly the responsiveness you need, only when you need it. With a patched linux kernel my laptop automatically goes to 54Hz when idle, and 1000Hz when under load.

    Anyways... the only reason those "fixes" work is probably because they cause the processor to do just enough work to avoid having to go into the lowest power mode.
    Reply
  • corequadro - Friday, April 14, 2006 - link

    I found it as a perfect help against the annoying whine. Just start and then stopp it, and you will – if you aren't using ichat – have a perfectly silent macbook till the next reboot.
    Of course, a fix from Apple would be more effective, but I can live with the widget fix.
    Reply
  • brich - Friday, April 14, 2006 - link

    I really think the MacBooks have legs to grow, especially once the intel transition is completed over the next year and universal support becomes more 'universal.' My 12" PowerBook G4 1.5 has served me very well, even with the limitations of XP Pro running in VPC 7 inside Tiger. I think that some of the PC-only enthusiasts who add a MacBook to their arsenal will discover that the integration of excellent hardware esthetic and design with an OS that is continually developing/improving (OSX) will make the Mac solution quite compelling.

    That said, if I were a user who was totally satisfied with Windows and was not interested in OSX, then I would not buy a Mac to run Windows...no reason to do it. The real differentiation is the new flexibility of the intel Macs with OSX as a viable alternative to XP now and Vista later. Ther ability to run XP on them is frosting on the cake, imho.
    Reply
  • ohnnyj - Friday, April 14, 2006 - link

    Dear Apple,

    I want a 12in Merom MacBook.
    Reply
  • Desslok - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    Acorrding to Daily Tech the hardware bugs you talked about are fixed with the new revs of the MacBook Pro. The article also stated that Apple would allow you to trade your MacBook in if you were having these problems. Reply
  • JAS - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    Tonight, I visited an Apple Store to see the MacBook Pro in person. What a gorgeous, well engineered laptop -- and impressively fast! The units on display did have rather warm undersides; but perhaps these are from the initial manufacturing run ("version A"). Reply
  • trooper11 - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    Great job on the review, it was interesting to see how close things are coming on the software side to run a Windows environment on Macs and pointing out how similar Macs have gotten to every other laptop maker, at least in terms of parts and performance.

    The thing that gets me now is that the change over to Intel processors and ,in general, a more universal system, has made the Mac just another notebook vendor. So whst the Mac Book Pro has going for it is OS X and any of the Apple software, the machine itself is no better or worse then the many laptop manufacturers putting out Windows based pcs. In the past Macs had sort of mystique relating toa percieved uniqueness.

    If everyone realizes this, then Id like to see a review of a Mac Book from the perspective of any normal system evaluation. Comparing the experience with Apple with those of HP, Dell, Acer, or even Lenovo. If Im not a fan of the Mac OS, then I dont see any other reason to pick them over say Acer or Lenovo. I certainly wouldnt pay a price premium for the Apple name unless I saw some first hand reviews relating to price/performance and quality of service you can expect.
    Reply
  • anthlover - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    Those who have a powerbook that runds under 1ghz will be well served by the new books NOW. Those that have 1.5 and 1.67 have not need to quickly switch unless there is some native apps including apps free ones they want to use.

    Those that have no book will do well with them.

    Waiting unless somthing new was coming out in a couple of weeks is silly. Computers and their prices change constantly, models are refreshed and replaced rapidly. One should always buy what they need and try to future proof too much.

    Of course those wanting to save might want to wait for the Ibooks err Mac Book.

    Glad to hear replacing the drive got **easier then on the earlier Alumibooks... Or at least the 12 inch one. I got through the keyboard replacement part of the disasemly I had done before and then read ahead to the upper case disassembly and realized that I need a brighter room, no cats trying to help, and a lot of care. Too much risk. With the books It sounds like when you want that 200gb 7200 rpm drive it will be easy to put in:)
    Reply
  • plinden - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    The choppiness can be made almost unnoticeable by reducing the "Hardware acceleration" - Display Properties/Settings/Advanced/Troubleshooting, and move the slider one notch to the left. Reply

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