When I first started using a PowerBook G4 over a year ago it quickly turned into the best experience I'd ever had with a notebook. My biggest issues with notebooks were always related to reduced productivity, mainly because of screen size and resolution constraints. Despite its name, Windows does an absolutely horrid job of managing lots of windows, something which looks to be on the road to getting fixed in Vista but back then there was no hope in sight. It also just so happens that when I'm getting a lot of work done and when I happen to be my most productive, I have a ton of windows open at once. The move to tabbed browsers alleviated some of the problem, but for the most part it still existed. And on a notebook, with a small lower-resolution screen and an uncomfortable to use pointing device productivity suffered.

My experience with OS X and the PowerBook G4 changed all of that; window management under OS X was significantly improved for reasons I've outlined before (Exposé, hiding vs. minimizing windows, the zoom to fit control, etc...) and it even addressed the issue of user input. With the large number of keyboard shortcuts that existed for virtually everything in OS X, I spent far less time using the trackpad and much more time actually getting work done.

But my PowerBook experience wasn't perfect; I opted for the 15" model because I did want to get work done and needed the large screen with its higher resolution. The problem was that the 15" PowerBook weighed at least a third more than any notebook I had used in the previous couple of years, and although initially I had no issues going to a larger, heavier notebook it eventually became a pain. I still wouldn't trade away the added productivity for something smaller and lighter, but you always want what you don't have.

On the CPU side, the PowerBook G4 was growing a little long in the tooth. While for the most part the performance of the notebook wouldn't bother me (and outfitting it with 2GB of memory definitely helped), there were definitely times when doing a lot of Photoshop work at an IDF or doing anything other than writing where I missed my desktop. The battery life of my PowerBook G4 also left me wanting more. It's tough to test notebooks with five hour battery lives and then write about them on a unit that can manage only half that.

Despite my complaints, I still wouldn't part with it. The PowerBook G4 was the best notebook I had ever owned, and even when the MacBook Pro was announced it wasn't a big enough leap (at least on paper) for me to justify the upgrade. Having just tested Intel's Core Duo processor and wanting it used in every battery-powered device I owned, I still resisted.

When it was finally announced that the first Intel based Macs had booted Windows XP, there was a lot of excitement from those who were on the fence about giving OS X a try. Had this all happened to me back in the summer of 2004 when I first gave Apple and OS X a try that probably would have been me showing my excitement as well. But for almost two years now I've been living a life happily as a dual user, so a hack that let me boot Windows on my Mac meant nothing to me.

Then Apple announced Boot Camp, effectively a very handy utility to partition, boot and run Windows XP alongside OS X on any Intel based Mac. Even more people wrote me, telling me that they were extremely excited that this had happened and that they wanted a review of the experience, much like I had done OS X in the past. You see, Apple is very careful about where and when they send review hardware, so any sort of MacBook Pro article was going to require me going out and buying a unit myself - thus an extensive cost benefit analysis had to be performed every step of the way.

But the straw that broke the cost benefit analysis model's back was the announcement of Parallels' Virtual Machine 2.1 beta. The beta would let you run Windows XP under OS X in a virtual machine with support for Intel's Virtualization Technology (VT). After that announcement I knew there was no avoiding it, an article had to be done; not only on the MacBook Pro but on Boot Camp and Parallels' solution.

What follows is that article.

The MacBook Pro: So very similar, yet so very different
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  • ss284 - Friday, April 14, 2006 - link

    Which pretty much drops macworld's benchmark credibility to zero. Actually, their credibility was already really low so its no big deal. Reply
  • ss284 - Friday, April 14, 2006 - link

    Unless the benchmark was how fast it could burn a hole in your pants and sterilize your important parts. Reply
  • jbb132 - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    Sadly, even the most recent MacBook Pro's continue to suffer from the hardware problems you noticed. I've now had two units with the "whine," particularly when the laptop is running on battery power. The only way to stop it is to turn photobooth on and leave it on. Various hacks (magicnoisekiller in particular) help but really...
    Reply
  • Pirks - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    Hey Anand!

    Thanks for an interesting review! Now, what was the video source codec and resolution in your H.264 encoding test? I've got a Mac zealot here saying he's got only 2 frames per second in similar H.264 encoding task. He also has Mac OS X 10.4.6 and Quicktime Pro 7.0.4. I wonder is you used source with resolution like 160 by 120 for that test??

    To other readers: take with a grain of salt Anand's view on running multiple apps simultaneously in XP. He says something like "uh oh we can't run multiple apps all the time on win coz win can't manage its RAM blah blah", but in fact if you disable XP swap AND if you stick 2 or 3 gigs or RAM in your mobo you'll get my experience of running dozens of apps open at the same time and even some games while at it (DOOM 3 + Matlab + Maya 7 + other little apps like VDub open at the same time is a no brainer on my XP). Stick 4 gigs and open even more, without loss of performance. In fact if you wanna get Mac OS X experience, just stuff your mobo with RAM and turn off swap, that's it, no need to spend $$$ on Mac to get this "experience" :-))

    One last minor correction - Anand tells you "anything more than 2GB of RAM on your PC is useless" but he does not know about /3GB switch (google up "/3GB switch") which again allowed me to run Matlab with THREE gigs or RAM consumed, not two.

    Just my 2 cents to debunk some myths that Mac zealots love to spread ;) Don't get caught in that stuff, read docs/mans and be smart.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, April 14, 2006 - link

    The source for my H.264 test was the Hoodwinked trailer from Apple's Quicktime trailers site.

    My comments about memory usage and Windows XP have nothing to do with the /3GB switch. The point I was trying to make is that Windows XP does not do a good job of caching to reduce disk accesses. Microsoft itself has admitted that there's lots of room for improvement, which is why you hear about all of the caching improvements that will be introduced in Vista.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • kleinwl - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    BTW: if you don't think that anandtech knows about the /3GB switch you certainly haven't been here very long. Reply
  • Pirks - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    quote:

    if you don't think that anandtech knows about the /3GB switch you certainly haven't been here very long.
    Did Anand ever mention this switch in any of his reviews? Or anyone else besides him from AT staff? I've never seen it before. How about you? Would you provide me with a link or some other proof? I'd love to be corrected here, since AT guys should know about it, and I wish I were wrong stating the opposite, especially about Anand himself.

    As for the stability - I run Matlab with 3GB consumed routinely, it also loads some Maya 7 stuff internally via my own DLL and there's another Maya 7 hanging around to check results from Matlab quickly, and I never saw a slightest glitch. Of course YMMV but I heard too much "omg windoze is 2GB limited and mac is TrUe 64-bit WoNdEr" and I've got some experience with Matlab on both Mac OS X (no 64-bit matlab there) and WinXP (now this is true 64-bit product) to let Anand repeat that kind of sh.t. Mac guys are ok to say that, they live like this, so no big deal but not Anand please :-) So let's just say "please Anand be a bit more correct in some places and don't sound like a dumb Mac user", saying windows can't properly run a lot of apps at once and stuff like that.

    Speaking of Vista I've read somewhere on MSDN that a lot of XP 64 code is in there so it _should_ be as robust as XP 64 with regard to RAM handling. I'm sure after SP1 or SP2 it'll be absolutely rock solid :-)
    Reply
  • kleinwl - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    I've used the /3GB switch as well... however it can (and does) degrade the stability of your system (running fluent (a CFD program) on XP SP2). I wouldn't run around recommending the normal use of the /3GB switch. Some programs don't even support it (ie. Catia V15). Ultimately we upgraded to XP x64 (which came with it's own headachs).

    2.5GB seems to be the most that XP SP2 can really handle well.. everything else is a waste. OS X just does a better job handing large amounts of ram and not "losing" it with time.

    I am interested is seeing how VISTA will perform and if will be as good as OSX or XP x64 with ram... or something quite better (or worse).
    Reply
  • boinkle - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    Great review, apart from making me think "that's still quite pretty!", at the end of the day it's just a PC in an Apple enclosure. It's shiny, fast, but has all the problems of an Apple 1st gen product, with few of the benefits of Core duo showing up...

    How I wish someone had given Freescale some incentive to develop the G4 further (to a reasonablt timescale). It's amazing that it's still even *reasonably* competitive. Imagine dual-core, 65nm G4 derivative production? Don't TI have a 65nm fab up and running now? That's where your 5 hours would come from, Anand... pie in the sky, I know.

    *sigh*
    Reply
  • littlebitstrouds - Thursday, April 13, 2006 - link

    How about some gaming benchmarks. If you run windows and game are you getting good performance numbers? If I could have a Mac for everyday use and boot up windows when I want to game I might jump on this. Reply

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