While new iPad owners were wondering whether the Apple tablet would sound the death knell for laptops (and netbooks), Apple was putting the finishing touches on the next generation of its professional laptop line. On April 13, Apple delivered the goods, unveiling updated 13-, 15- and 17-in. MacBook Pros, the two larger models sporting fast Intel Core i5 or i7 processors and all three getting upgraded graphics chips and the prospect of longer battery life.
In other words, the laptop is alive and well at Apple, and I say that as the owner of a new iPad, which I do think will change the way a lot of people use computers and access data and the web.
Virtually all of the changes rolled out last week are under the hood. (Take a look at iFixit's teardown if you really want to see under the hood of the new MacBook Pro.) The by-now-familiar unibody aluminum-and-glass look of the lineup is unchanged.
This is a good thing, since these laptops remain the benchmark for solid construction. They simply ooze quality, from the operating room-bright LED screens to the glass-coated trackpad to the illuminated keyboard.
Prices range from £999 for the 13-incher to £1,899 for the 17inch version, though of course you can bump up the processor and add RAM, boosting the price in the process. That's especially true if you spring for the optional 512GB solid-state drive (SSD), the largest SSD Apple has ever offered. That option alone adds between £1,040 and £1,200 to the baseline price (depending on which MacBook Pro you're buying). But isn't it nice to dream of all that SSD space?
For review purposes, Apple sent over the basic 15inch MacBook Pro, though there's really nothing basic about it. For £1,499, you get a 2.4-GHz Core i5 processor from Intel, 4GB of RAM, integrated Intel HD graphics and a discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 330M graphics processor with 256MB of video RAM, a 320GB hard drive, a SuperDrive for burning and playing CDs and DVDs, the usual retinue of ports and wireless connectivity and, probably most important for laptop lovers, a tweaked battery design that Apple says now offers up to nine hours of juice. Weight is unchanged at 2.54kg.
Still not enough for you? For £150 more, you can opt for a 2.53-GHz Core i5 processor and a 500GB drive. Spend another £300, and you can move to the Core i7, which clocks in at 2.66 GHz and offers more video RAM (512MB).
Faster graphics, better battery life
Enough with the specs. What's noteworthy about this revamp, and what Apple officials most like to talk up, is that these laptops are not only faster at data-crunching because of those Core i5 and i7 chips, but they also offer substantially faster graphics, and do both of those things while delivering much improved battery life. My experience so far shows that Apple appears to have hit the mark all around.
Before getting into the details about the 32nm Core i-series processors, I should point out that the 13-inch MacBook Pros still use Core 2 Duo chips. That's because the Core i3 processor that a lot of Mac fans were hoping for, nay expecting, didn't fit the bill for the smallest MacBook Pro. According to Apple, using the Core i3 would have meant relying on the integrated Intel HD graphics subsystem. Instead, Apple went with the more powerful Nvidia GeForce 320M GPU and those Core 2 Duo processors (2.4 GHz in the £999 13-inch version, 2.66 GHz in the £1,249 model).
Apple says the GeForce 320M is basically a discrete processor working in an integrated fashion, meaning it uses up to 256MB of system RAM. It also has 48 processing cores, triple the number in the old Nvidia 9400M, and is up to 80 per cent faster, according to Apple.
Even with the newer Core 2 Duo processors and the beefy 320M GPU, Apple says the smallest MacBook Pro now gets up to 10 hours of battery life for ordinary tasks such as web browsing over Wi-Fi. The company estimates that the larger 15inch and 17inch models get between eight and nine hours, depending on which of the two graphics systems you're using.
Unlike the smallest MacBook Pro, the 15in. model has both the Intel HD integrated graphics for light use and a GeForce GT 330M for more intensive graphics work. If you're surfing or writing a Word document, you're using the Intel HD graphics; if you're doing video work with Aperture or detailed jobs in Photoshop, you're using the 330M.