With the MacBook Pro Apple introduced its MagSafe power connector, a magnetic power connector that's designed to easily break away if you accidentally step on the cord or pull it too far instead of taking the notebook down with it. The idea makes a lot of sense, and the connector is significantly smaller than its predecessor, but there are many cases where it can get annoying. Although the MagSafe connector remains attached most of the time, the minute you put more strain than normal on the power cable you can expect it to break away. While normally this behavior would be what you want, it's generally not what you expect if you're used to conventional power connectors. I'm convinced that the MagSafe approach is safer as the chances of you breaking your power connector or even worse, your laptop, are far diminished but it takes some getting used to. If you're used to using your notebook at the very limits of its power cable's length, you'll have to change your ways as the MagSafe connector won't allow it.


MagSafe


The PowerBook G4's old power connector


PowerBook G4 power adapter (left) vs. MacBook Pro adapter (right)

The caps lock LED is now a much brighter green compared to its predecessor's yellow-green color. The MagSafe power connector also features the same green LED, and when charging the LED turns a similarly bright orange. The size of the light on the power connector has been reduced, though, which means that the MacBook Pro won't illuminate a dark hotel room nearly as much as the old PowerBooks did when charging while you sleep. Having spent many trips covering my PowerBook with a pillow while it charged, the change is welcome.

The MacBook Pro's keyboard is identical to its predecessors, which overall isn't a bad thing. The PowerBook G4's keyboard ended up being one of my all time favorites, second only to ThinkPad keyboards which continue to be my top choice for anyone who writes a lot. Being that it uses the same keyboard as before, the MacBook Pro doesn't feature any dedicated page up/page down keys nor any dedicated home/end keys (they are shared with the arrow keys). I would assume that a solid portion of Apple's customers may be folks who happen to be writers, in which case it would make sense for Apple to invest in an updated keyboard layout that accommodates keys frequently used by them.

My only other complaint about the keyboard is actually a complaint I have about virtually all notebook keyboards - that the fn key does not need to be in the lower left corner of the notebook. There are less frequently used areas on the keyboard to stick that key and for some reason it always ends up being around the keys I use fairly frequently (left ctrl, left option and left command). This isn't really any Apple-specific complaint, but rather something that has bothered me about every notebook keyboard I've used.

The trackpad on the MacBook Pro is huge; it's one of the first things I noticed after lifting the display lid. Other than the "why-not?" factor, it seems that Apple made it so big to better accommodate the scrolling functionality that's supported by it. Using two fingers on the trackpad you can now scroll horizontally or vertically. The process is actually extremely natural and far better than other systems I've used where only particular parts of the trackpad are reserved for scrolling. Just as you would guess, you place two fingers on the trackpad and move them in the direction you wish to scroll. Your cursor disappears and you begin to scroll; while it's not as natural as using a scroll wheel on a mouse, it's pretty darn close.

The MacBook Pro, like the Intel based iMac Core Duo, features an integrated iSight camera and Front Row support, both of which I've already looked at. The implementation is no different on the MacBook Pro, and the integrated iSight camera is arguably even more useful on a notebook where you're less likely to have an external USB camera just laying around.

The MacBook Pro: So very similar, yet so very different The Most Powerful Apple Notebook Ever
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  • Calin - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    This could be thanks to slower drivers in BootCamp Windows XP, or slower hard drive access/speed. Everything else is a disadvantage for VM: one more level of indirection in disk access, less memory, running the OS X behind the VM.
    Could you do some disk speed comparation between VM and native XP?
    Reply
  • BigLan - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    I think it's going to be hard drive speed throwing off the benchmarks. The BootCamp partition is going to be at the outer edge of the disk, with much slower speeds than the VM client virtual drive which is on the faster Apple partition.

    I'm not sure if it's possible to assign the entire HD to a windows partition using Bootcamp, but that's about the only way i can think of to level the playing field.
    Reply
  • Calin - Friday, April 14, 2006 - link

    To nitpick, it would be at the center of the hard drive, not at the outer edge :) (ok, based on sector numbers, which starts at the edge).
    Near the "end" of the hard drive, the transfer speed is reduced (there are fewer bytes on a full circle).
    Reply
  • jimmy43 - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    Excellent Review. This may be my first laptop purchase, seems to have everything I could possibly want. Reply
  • monsoon - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    Hello Anand,

    ...i'm waiting for Parallels to finalize their VT release and maybe Merom Macs too...

    I was wondering if the ONE CORE only VT tech is to be the final result of their virtualization software or just a middle-step.

    Seems to me it's rather poor a solution ( ok, it's the best out there for now ) to use a dual-core computer to run both OS on a single core

    =/

    Better would be smart distribution of tasks to the CPU depending on which OS is actually under load...

    ...any thoughts / info on that ?

    Thanks for your nice review !=)
    Reply
  • plinden - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    quote:

    Better would be smart distribution of tasks to the CPU depending on which OS is actually under load...


    Looking at CPU load while running Parallels VM, I see the load spread evenly over both processors (usually < 10% total CPU except at boot, when it reaches 150% CPU). It's just that the VM itself sees itself as running on a single processor.
    Reply
  • shuttleboi - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    I've read that the ATI X1600 in the Mac can run games well, but only IF you overclock the GPU. I can't imagine the Mac getting any hotter than it already supposedly is, and the idea of overclocking an already hot laptop is not appealing. Reply
  • JoKeRr - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    Overall I enjoyed it.

    Would have been nice to see a comparison of screen brightness, as apple claimed 67% brighter!

    And also, the slowness in windows, could it be related to chipset driver stuff?? And what's the gaming experience so far like?? Would it be similar to a desktop 6600 or 6600gt??

    Thank you.
    Reply
  • rolls - Friday, April 14, 2006 - link

    Very interesting numbers all round.

    35% improvement in iTunes when comparing a single core 1.5GHz 7447 with the old slow bus etc, and a new 33% faster dual core intel CPU. 50% improvement in H.264 encoding etc. These numbers suggest that had Apple stuck with Freescale and moved to e600 core based systems, performance figures could have been off the scale. If only...

    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    On paper the X1600 Pro desktop cards actually look pretty decent. 12 pipelines at 500 MHz, with 800 MHz RAM. I would have thought they would at least give the 6600GT a run for the money, given how X1800 compares to 7800. Amazingly (to me), the X1600 gets completely stomped by the 6600GT. What's worse, the cards I have can't even overclock worth a darn on the memory side - 800 is stock, and they get unstable at even minor changes. (Could be an issue with the overclocking tool, though?)

    Anyway, for now I would say X1600 Mobility is going to be somewhere in the realm of 6600 (non-GT) performance, maybe slightly faster. That means gaming is definitely possible, but you will want low-to-medium detail levels for any recent titles. Just a guess, of course, and Anand will have to run benches to get any final confirmation. Really, though, this laptop isn't intended as anything more than a light gaming solution.
    Reply

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