Following on the heels of the 15.4-inch MacBook Pro and replacing the 17-inch PowerBook G4, the 17-inch MacBook Pro delivers many of the same beloved features as its little sibling, such as a scrolling track pad, the Sudden Motion Sensor, and an excellent software package, and adds a huge, bright 17-inch display that’s great for graphics work. Better yet, our fully loaded test configuration powered through most of CNET Labs’ performance tests, exhibiting only a few of the growing pains encountered by other Intel-based Apple laptops and desktops, such as the iMac Core Duo. Of course, such performance doesn’t come cheap: the 17-inch MacBook Pro’s default configuration costs $2,799 (upgrades on our review unit brought the price up to $3,099). But for graphics professionals and other Mac users who have money to spare, the 17-inch MacBook Pro is a dream.
With the MacBook Pro, Apple hasn’t radically redesigned the PowerBook form factor, it has just made a few refinements to it. Measuring 15.4 inches wide, 10.4 inches deep, and 1 inch thick, the sleek, aluminum MacBook Pro looks very similar to the 17-inch PowerBook G4 it replaces. At 6.8 pounds, the 17-inch MacBook Pro is a hair lighter than its predecessor and the lightest laptop of its size on the market. With its AC adapter, which like other Apple laptops connects magnetically to the case, the MacBook Pro weighs 7.9 pounds. For the sake of comparison, the Dell Inspiron E1705 weighs 8.2 pounds, while the Toshiba Qosmio G35 weighs 10.2 pounds.
Underneath the lid, the MacBook Pro extends the tradition of the PowerBook’s minimalist design. The MacBook Pro has just a power button, a big keyboard framed by stereo speakers, a very large touch pad with a single mouse button, and a handy built-in iSight camera that sits above the display. Though the keys are a bit shallow, they’re comfortable to type on, and we love the keyboard’s backlighting feature, which adjusts to changes in ambient light levels. We don’t like that the keyboard is located 5.4 inches back from the laptop’s front edge; we wish it were centered to encourage a more ergonomic typing position. The touch pad lets you scroll through long documents, Web pages, and spreadsheets by dragging two fingers down or across the pad, a terrific feature that’s unique to Apple laptops. Arguably the 17-inch MacBook Pro’s most stunning feature is its display: the large wide-screen display features a fine 1,680×1,050 native resolution.
The 17-inch MacBook Pro offers a decent selection of ports and connections, though it comes up a bit short of what you’ll find on a similarly sized PC laptop, including the Inspiron E1705. That said, the MacBook Pro features three USB 2.0 ports; FireWire 400 and FireWire 800 ports; an ExpressCard slot; and a DVI port (VGA with included adapter) for connecting to an external monitor. It’s also equipped with Bluetooth 2.0+EDR (enhanced data rate), and you can access the Internet via 802.11g Wi-Fi radio, and Gigabit Ethernet. As with the PowerBook, the MacBook Pro features a slot-loading SuperDrive that plays and burns DVDs and CDs. One new extra is the Apple remote that controls the included Front Row multimedia player; we wish, though, that the MacBook had a storage slot for it. Unlike most PC laptops, the MacBook Pro lacks a built-in media reader for flash memory cards, and there’s no S-Video output or built-in modem–both of which the PowerBook had.
The MacBook Pro ships with Mac OS X Tiger, highlights of which include the incredibly cool Spotlight search utility and the customizable Dashboard, a collection of handy desktop tools. Also included is the robust iLife ’06 software suite, Front Row media center software, and a handful of other apps. In addition, the beta of Boot Camp lets you turn the MacBook into a dual-boot machine that runs full versions of Mac OS X and Windows XP (though you need to purchase a full version of Windows separately).
The 17-inch MacBook Pro comes in one default configuration that costs $2,799. Though there aren’t a lot of upgrade options, our review unit included RAM and hard drive enhancements that brought the price up to $3,099. For that much money, you’d expect some pretty high-end specs, and the MacBook delivers; it has a fast, 2.16GHz Intel Core Duo processor; 2GB of speedy 667MHz DDR2 RAM; an ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 graphics card with 256MB of VRAM; and a blazing 7,200rpm, 100GB hard drive. Still, the MacBook Pro is a bit more expensive than similarly configured Windows laptops; for example, an Inspiron E1705 with comparable specs costs $2,889.
CNET Labs compared the 17-inch MacBook Pro against a number of older Apple laptops running the PowerPC processor as well as other Core Duo-based Macs. Unsurprisingly, the MacBook Pro trailed behind a PowerBook G4 when running Sorenson Squeeze, which requires the Rosetta translation program to run on the new chipset. But its ample amount of RAM and quick hard drive helped it power through our Photoshop CS test, in spite of Rosetta. (We expect the MacBook Pro’s performance to even out once software publishers release more so-called universal binary apps; however, we recommend checking if your applications are or will soon be Intel-compatible before buying any new Apple system.) Of course, on native applications such as iTunes, the 17-inch MacBook Pro saw significant gains over the previous generation of PowerBooks. Likely due to its discrete graphics card, the 17-inch MacBook Pro displayed very respectable Doom 3 frame rates, though its 23.2 frames per second (fps) can’t compete with the 56.5fps achieved by the Inspiron E1705 we tested. In our DVD battery-drain test, the MacBook Pro lasted 2 hours, 54 minutes–quite respectable for a desktop replacement that’s not likely to see too much time away from the wall socket.
Apple backs the MacBook Pro with an industry-standard one-year warranty that covers parts and labor, but toll-free telephone support is limited to a mere 90 days–well short of what you’ll typically find on the PC side–unless you purchase the $349 AppleCare Protection Plan, which extends phone support and repair coverage to three years. By way of contrast, you can upgrade most PCs’ warranties to three years of support for about $200. Apple does offer online troubleshooting, and its Web forums are a good resource for getting tips from other users and downloading the product’s printed manual.
(Shorter bars indicate faster performance)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)