Early Impressions of the New MacBook Pro

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Early Impressions of the New MacBook Pro

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Since I’m all into this Mac thing now, quite a few people have asked me for my impressions of the new unibody (late 2008) MacBook Pro. Here are my thoughts, in no particular order (thanks to John Holliday for getting me to write these down):

Construction – Can you say “gorgeous” about a computer without sounding like a freak? I don’t know, but this thing sure is well built. It’s solid as a rock and the ability to swap hard drives with the turn of a single screw is dyn-o-mite (well, one normal screw and four Torx screws if you want to mount the drive properly in the shock pads). I know it’s the same weight and thickness as the old machines but it just feels lighter and thinner. The only complaint I have is where they stuck the power button; when I use it with an external monitor I like to put it under the monitor stand and the button being so far back on the chassis means I have to pull the whole thing out to turn it on and off.

Screen – This was my big issue. I was convinced that I was going to hate the glossy screen – I always have in the past. But, to be honest, it hasn’t bothered me that much. I have to be a bit careful where it sit – no putting your back to the windows at Starbucks – but it hasn’t bothered me nearly as much as I thought it would. And the colors are tremendous (although Heather points out that they’re not realistic – be sure to take this into account if you’re doing any serious print proofing).

Performance – I was in a bind and had to buy something right away so the retail models were my only option. If I had to do it over again I would order the 2.8Ghz version online but overall the performance of the 2.5Ghz is pretty good. It took me two full weeks to manage to get everything converted and moved over to an SSD drive I already had (that’s a whole ‘nother story) and that bumped up the speed a bit more (but I eventually had to go back to my original disk due to random freezing issues with the Patriot SSD). I wish it could handle 8GB of RAM but supposedly that will only require a firmware update from Apple to fix – nVidia has stated publicly that the mobo supports that much memory.

Battery – Battery life is pretty darn good. In battery saver mode it routinely gives me estimates of 5+ hours. I haven’t burned it all the way down to see how accurate that is but I have used it for most of a day going from meeting to meeting without running out of juice.

Keyboard – If you already use the external Mac keyboards you know what it’s like. Personally, I prefer the old sculpted keys but the chicklets work just fine. If you’re a touch-typist they take a bit of getting used to but I can type just as fast now that I’ve got the feel.

Trackpad – This seems to be a love it or leave it thing with most people. Darrin Bishop hated the trackpad so much he returned his MBP to the store. I’m on the other end of the spectrum – I really like it. It’s nice and big – something the PC manufacturers need to figure out – and I’ve already adapted to the multi-finger gestures. It does take a fair bit of pressure to engage the click action (I don’t use the tap to click feature as it just gets in my way). It’s also a bit on the noisy side but the buttons on my last few PC’s were the same way. Darrin complained that his thumbs were always activating the mouse so the way you type might have an impact on your usability. Try it at the Apple store first and see how you fare.

Vista – Ok, this is where we come to a full stop. This is absolutely NOT a machine to run Vista/Win2k8 natively. The nVidia drivers are nowhere near ready for primetime. Sure, you can run it, but the chipset locks into full-performance SLI mode and there is no way to downclock it effectively (and believe me, I tried). Battery life is awful (1.5 hours at best) and the thing gets so hot you can fry bacon on it. There’s a glitch with the trackpad drivers which requires three fingers instead of two and the lower-right “right click” function doesn’t work (the updates that were supposed to fix these issues had no effect whatsoever). Bottom line: VMWare Fusion and Unity are the only option for Vista/Win2k8 unless you dual/triple boot just for presentations where battery life and heat are non-issues. I also noticed that Vista x64 had a tendency to freeze randomly for a few seconds on this hardware; I cloned an exact image from my old MBP that had no problems at all so I’m guessing it is particular to the nVidia boards but it could also just be my machine (see above – turns out this was caused by the SSD). I haven’t noticed those issues in my Win2k8 Bootcamp image under Fusion.

Overall I would give it two thumbs up. My major annoyances are with Leopard and not with the machine itself. If you’re already used to Mac OS (which I most certainly am not) then your experience should be good. I’m not sure it’s worth the inflated price tag but that’s the price to play in the Apple sandbox. I priced out similarly equipped models from Lenovo and HP and they’re about $500 cheaper – and three to four pounds heavier with absolutely zero sex appeal. In fact, compared to this machine they’re all downright ugly.