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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  • Sengir - Saturday, July 22, 2006 - link

    I'm mainly a PC guy, but while working on Apple notebooks at a Notebook Depot, I've become interested in the Mac OS. Previously I had little to no exposure to it.
    I will say this. Apple has made alot of improvement with the Macbook/Pro in terms of repairing. Alot easier to get to the motherboard, hard drive, memory or anything.

    Unfortunately they didn't redesign for the heat of the CPUs, the ventilation just doesn't seem adequate and as a result, overheating is common.

    There are other issues with the hardware, but none I can really go into. I believe people buy Macs for the OS and not the hardware. Since some of the design/materials are cheaper than an HP notebook, for more cost. If I buy a Mac, it will probably be a mini, due to cost. The Macbooks are very nice, but have several flaws that need to be addressed.
    Reply
  • redison - Tuesday, September 05, 2006 - link

    "I've become interested in the Mac OS ..... believe people buy Macs for the OS and not the hardware"

    Right on, and check out the Leopard ( OS X 10.5 )Preview on Apples website, even better if you have the time see Jobs Kenote

    Reply
  • hasapi - Monday, April 17, 2006 - link

    Excellent reading - I just received my 2GHz MBP - and its just fantastic in every way. My only gripe which was noted in the article is the battery life of just over 2.5hrs!, its probably unrealistic but my old PB was getting 3.5hrs - maybe a new third party battery might help but would have been nice to see upwards of 5hrs imo? Reply
  • Eug - Sunday, April 16, 2006 - link

    quote:

    I would recommend waiting for a Merom version if you can. By the time Merom is introduced later this year there will be even more Universal Binaries available for the platform and hopefully by then all of the issues with the current MacBook Pros will have been worked out.

    I agree. Moreover, Boot Camp and Parallels' Workstation both will be improved by then, and Apple's pro line of laptops may just have Blu-ray drives as well available as an option. Even if we don't get Blu-ray drives by the time Merom is incorporated into MacBook Pros, in the very least we'll have 8X DVD-R support as well as dual-layer support.

    I'm most interested in a smaller model though, so I have to wait regardless. I suspect the smallest model may get a 13" 1280x800 widescreen too, considering that as of the Aperture 1.1 update, Apple has arbitrarily (and very annoyingly) removed support for my 1024x768 iBook G4 12" 1.33 GHz, and is saying that a minimum 1280x780 screen is required, even though no such laptop is available yet from Apple.
    Reply
  • tekkstore - Monday, April 17, 2006 - link

    http://www.tekkstore.com">tekkstore.com Reply
  • gamehack - Saturday, April 15, 2006 - link

    Hi there,

    I have a question to any owners of a MacBook Pro - Is the keyboard suitable for heavy use? I planning to get a MBP and use it as my main dev machine so I would typing quite a lot.

    Kind regards,
    gamehack
    Reply
  • bertd - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    in my opinion, the keyboard is one of the best keyboards i've ever used on a laptop... and i code a lot of html, php and css so i use it a lot too Reply
  • bertd - Saturday, April 15, 2006 - link

    Anand:
    great review!

    I've also bought a Macbook one week ago, and I also had a keyboard issue... My 'e' button wasnt working sometimes... When i lifted the key off the keyboard i could see the plastic under the key was kind of broken: there was a little crack in it. I went back to the apple shop, and because I only had the laptop for like 2 days they just gave me a complete new one...

    I've also experienced the 'heat' problems.. the first macbook i had was an 'earlier' version of the macbook : the serial number was W8611*****... With the new one, the one they have given me to replace the one with the broken 'e' key, the serial number started with w8612****, and I've read that macbooks starting with these numbers in their serial should be newer revisions...
    The heat problem is not as bad as with the first one, but still the bottom gets kind off hotter than with any other laptop i've ever had...
    Reply
  • 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

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