Review: MacBook Pro Core2Duo

The new MacBook Pro is a winner. (November 20th, 2006)

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Product Manufacturer: Apple Computer, Inc.

Price: $2,499.00 US

The Good

  • Runs cool and quietly, which is a major improvement. The iSight LED is a nice design. FireWire 800 is back. Screen is fantastic and lit evenly.

The Bad

  • Keyboard backlight sensors too sensitive or in the wrong location.

Apple recently introduced upgraded MacBook Pro models with the new Core2Duo processors. Three models of the MacBook Pro are available, a 2.16GHz 15.4-inch, a 2.33GHz 15.4-inch and a 17-inch model running at 2.33GHz. The 17-inch model also includes a 160GB hard drive, and an 8x double-layer SuperDrive.

This review covers the 15.4-inch model, with a 2.33GHz Intel Core2Duo processor, 2GB of memory, a 256MB ATI X1600 video card, 120GB SATA hard drive, and a 6-speed Dual Layer SuperDrive. This is the stock configuration. The 4MB of Level 2 cache per processor, the stock 2GB of memory, and the faster SuperDrive, which now supports dual layer writing, and the addition of a FireWire 800 port are welcome upgrades. The laptop ships with a power adapter and cable, remote control, and DVI monitor cable. A small box contains some information sheets, user guide and two install discs. The installed operating system is Mac OS X 10.4.8.

design changes

There are some distinct differences in the upgraded MacBook Pro. The built in iSight camera is the same, but the indicator LED has changed. There is no longer a pinhole in the bezel surrounding the LCD screen. The LED lights up behind the bezel, which is very finely machined with tiny wholes that make this part of the bezel thinner. When the LED is off, it blends into the finish of the rest of the MacBook Pro casing. When the LED lights up, it shows through the bezel in a nice pattern. The second noticeable change is on the back of the unit. Underneath the LCD hinge, the grills are much larger, which I assume is to allow for better cooling. The only other exterior physical change is on the right side of the base, where the new FireWire 800 port is located.

Temperature Issues Resolved

When the original MacBook Pro was introduced, users were wowed by its performance and the MacBook was welcomed for the smooth curvy lines, pricing, and new magnetic latch. The machines had a heat problem though, which I experienced first hand. My current MacBook runs hot, but my now-returned MacBook Pro ran too hot to even touch. The fans in the MacBook Pro, which I no longer own, ran a lot of the time. The processor temperature was about 79?C, and topped out at 81?C when performing simple tasks, like browsing, reading email, or simple Photoshop editing. This revised machine runs much cooler. While resting, it is as low as 45?C, with some CPU usage reaching 49?C, and maxing out at 67?C. I monitored temperatures with a very handy application called CoreDuoTemp. The fans do not engage as often, and when they run, they are so quiet that they are barely noticeable. This is a massive improvement and means that I can now comfortably use the laptop, actually on my lap.

Noisy Fans Wrangled

You may have heard odd chirps coming from your laptop, or read about them online. I can vouch that these problems actually exist, because I heard them in my machine. My previous MacBook Pro whined when I used it while charging the battery. The noise would lessen when using only the battery power, but was still there. When I taxed the processor by running Photoshop, it would work silently, with no whine at all. This new machine works like a dream, I can type without the distracting noise. My current white MacBook is also silent, but the previous one I had mooed, like a cow. The problem was that when the machine reached a certain temperature, the fans sped up and slowed down, which created the cow-like noise. A firmware update helped, but caused the fans to engage a lot more often. I could detect no fan problem with the new model, just a barely detectable, quiet whirring noise.

performance

Apple touts speed gains of 39% with the introduction of the MacBook Pro Core2Duo. These are, of course, under ideal conditions. I ran a series of twelve different filters and actions in Photoshop and experienced a 10% and 14% speed increase. This improvement is due to both the new processor and the increased Level 2 cache. I experienced smaller increases while using other applications. iTunes launches much faster, but only shows a very small performance boost. Moving files, opening windows, and general use also seems a little snappier. Your experience may vary depending on the applications you use.

Do You Need to Upgrade?

The MacBook Pro Core2Duo speed increase, improved graphics performance and build quality is superb. If your present laptop is frustrating to use, these upgraded features may be worth buying the new MacBook Pro. If you only surf the web and check email, with the odd bit of word processing or Photoshop, then a MacBook is probably sufficient. If you need professional features, such as a bigger screen, and better performance while doing page layout, music, or video, then the choice is easy. The MacBook Pro Core2Duo delivers on all these counts. Plus, you have the peace of mind that the problems discussed earlier have been eradicated.

Choosing the MacBook Pro over the lower price MacBook reveals many differences. First, you have the choice of the regular TFT display or a glossy finish screen. Although the glossy screen on the MacBook is superb, you do have to get used to it. I had to adjust my viewing angle quite a bit to get an even view. The screen on the MacBook Pro is very crisp. I reviewed the normal screen model, which provided much easier viewing angles and even brightness across the whole screen. In my opinion, it is much nicer than the gloss finish.

Other Features

The keyboard is a similar story. The square protruding MacBook keys look cool and after a short period of use, are very comfortable. The Pro wins out again though, because the keyboard has just the right amount of feedback and perfect spacing. The casing and finish on the MacBook is plastic, and my own experiences of alignment and general fit have been acceptable, but never perfect. The Pro just feels so much better. There were no alignment problems and the screen lid closed nice and true. The new 6-speed dual layer SuperDrive is a lot quieter than the previous version. Over and above the MacBook drive it also offers a speed increase and dual layer writing. Dual layer burning makes backing up to DVD quicker and more convenient. If you need to justify the added expense of a MacBook Pro these features may make the difference for you. I feel a more secure recommending this MacBook Pro than the previous model.

The MacBook Pro Core2Duo is superb. The small changes, like the iSight LED shows that Apple is always improving things. The heat improvement is a really big issue that has been solved. The quality of the fit and finish, and the quality control seems to have been stepped up too. I had only one minor problem while using this laptop. The keyboard backlight seems to have very sensitive sensors. The illumination fluctuates all the time. This is caused by shadows from my hands being picked up by the sensors that are located behind the speaker grills. I searched for a solution, but found none.

by Dave Cryer


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