The 'Book Review

MacBook Pros vs. PC Competitors, Mobile Core 'i' Demystified, Graphics Switching Glitches, and More

This Week's Mac Notebook News

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2010.04.23

So we can post our three news roundups (Mac News Review, The 'Book Review, and The iNews Review) earlier, we first do a quick proofread and link check, leaving out images. We add images later when time permits. dk

General Apple and Mac desktops is covered in The Mac News Review. iPad, iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV news is covered in The iOS News Review. All prices are in US dollars unless otherwise noted.

News & Opinion

Reviews

Tech Trends

Products & Services

Bargain 'Books

News & Opinion

Comparing the New MacBook Pros to the PC Competition

Notebooks.com's Kevin Purcell says that with Apple releasing new 15" and 17" MacBook Pros, it raises the question of how they compare to their PC counterparts, noting that whether you are a PC or a Mac, you may be surprised.

Using price as the cutoff, Purcell went to Toshiba, Sony, Dell, and HP to compare what one could get for the same price as Apple's new base configuration MacBook Pros, asking what kind of 15" or 17" notebooks he could get from the competition if handed either $2,300 or $1,800 for a notebook.

While he gave the edge to the PC competitors in most of the comparos, Purcell says he was surprised at how comparable the Apple systems' base configurations were to the high-end notebooks from the major PC vendors, having expected the Windows PCs to blow the MacBooks away, but finding some bake-offs very close.

And, of course, this was a pure hardware comparison, without reference to the relative virtues of OS X versus Windows 7 or the fact that with the Mac you can have both.

i5, i7 Demystified: New MacBook Pros are Not Quad-Core

The Mac Observer's John Martellaro says:

"Unlike the quad-core Intel i5 and i7 desktop processors found in the Apple iMac, the mobile i5s and i7s in the new 15 and 17-inch MacBook Pros are two core processors. Both include Intel's Hyper-Threading technology, so both can run four virtual threads."

Nvidia GeForce GT 330M GPU Used In 15" and 17" MacBook Pros

PR: The Nvidia GeForce GT 330M GPU hits the sweet spot for mobile users who demand great performance and an awesome multimedia experience.

GeForce GT 330M GPUs deliver up to 30 times better performance, accelerated GPU features in Window 7, and built-in Nvidia PhysX technology enabling hyper-realistic gameplay.

C330.jpg

The powerful GeForce GT 330M GPU brings more realistic game environments and virtual worlds playing at high resolutions and fluid frame rates up to 30 times better than integrated graphics. Built-in Nvidia PhysX!" technology enables hyper-realistic gameplay, bringing dynamic forces of nature and massively destructible environments to some of the most anticipated games such as Terminator Salvation and Darkest of Days.

Outstanding Performance for Demanding Tasks

Take advantage of Nvidia CUDA!" technology with accelerated applications and experience new multimedia capabilities. Automatically clean up video from your camcorder with vReveal from MotionDSP and easily edit HD movies with GPU-based applications like PowerDirector 7 by CyberLink.

GPU Engine Specs:

  • CUDA Cores: 48
  • Gigaflops: 182
  • Processor Clock (MHz): Up to 1265 MHz

Memory Specs:

  • Memory Clock (MHz):
    • Up to 1066 (DDR3)
    • Up to 800 (GDDR3)
  • Memory Interface Width 128-bit

Feature Support:

  • Nvidia PureVideo Technology HD
  • Nvidia PhysX!"-ready
  • Nvidia CUDA!" Technology
  • OpenCL

HybridPower!" Technology

  • Microsoft DirectX
  • Compute, 10.1
  • OpenGL 2.1
  • Bus Support PCIe 2.0
  • Certified for Windows 7
  • PowerMizer Power Management 8.0

Display Support:

  • Maximum Digital Resolution: 2560x1600
  • Maximum VGA Resolution: 2048x1536
  • Standard Display Connectors: HDMI
  • Dual Link: DVI
  • Single Link:
    • DVI
    • VGA
    • DisplayPort
    • Multi Monitor

i5 and i7 MacBook Pros Making Questionable Graphics Switching Decisions

Engadget's Chris Ziegler reports that Apple's latest round of MacBook Pros appear to making some awful decisions about when to turn on that "power-sapping" Nvidia GeForce GT 330M discrete chipset.

Ziegler observes that while the Intel integrated graphics processor used with the new Core i5 and i7 CPUs sips power, it's less capable than the Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics processor used in previous the MacBook Pro generation, so there's a greater demand for the discrete graphics processor in graphically intense situations. However, the new automatic switching protocols are manifesting some shortcomings, and Ziegler says that Apple needs to bring back an ironclad disable option for the discrete graphics - like it had with the older unibody models.

MacBook Pro Highlights the iPad's Failings

The Inquirer's Lawrence Latif says that the latest MacBook Pro launch highlights how underwhelming the iPad really is.

Latif registers mild disappointment that the 13" MacBook Pro got passed over for a Core "i" CPU upgrade and has to make do with slightly faster Core 2 Duo chips, speculating that Apple was unable to engineer adequate cooling into the smaller chassis. Your editor is skeptical of that, as the Core "i" chips reportedly run cooler in the larger MacBook Pros than the preceding Core 2 Duos did, and best-guesses that the primary reason was to hold the $1,199 price point on the base 13-incher - and also to widen the specification distinction between the high-end $1,499 13" model and the entry-level 15-incher.

However, Latif's central focus is how lame the iPad is compared to what you get with even the baseline MacBook Pro, contending "it's shocking" that anyone would opt to spend say $700 for a a 64 GB WiFi iPad, and that the comparison gets even more staggering when you consider the consumer oriented $999 MacBook, especially refurbished units with the same warranty as its new models for even less money, noting that the notebook models all run real Mac OS X - or Windows or Linux via Boot Camp or virtualization -are connectable, expandable, and printable, while the iPad struggles along with the iPhone OS, minimal connectivity, no printing or mouse support, and the underpowered A4 CPU instead of a Core 2 Duo or Core "i" chip, to say nothing of the laptops' more powerful graphics support, all of which "beats the living daylights out the graphics core in the A4 chip when it matters."

I couldn't agree more.

Not only that, but both the iPad and the 13" MacBook Pro have the same claimed battery life, around 10 hours. Latif concludes that Apple's MacBook Pro range are quality machines that are honestly priced, accentuating that that Apple's new tablet "toy" really is being sold at an "unbelievable price".

Other editor's note: Comparing the iPad to a notebook is as foolish as comparing a notebook to a desktop or an iPhone to an iPad. The machines are similar in some ways but different in nature. Just as you can't readily touch type on an iPad, you can't run iPhone OS apps or directly manipulate objects on the screen on a MacBook. While some may replace their notebooks with iPads, it is not intended as a notebook, iPhone, or iPod touch replacement: It is a unique product with its own market, its own advantages, and its own disadvantages. dk

iPad vs. Laptop: Time To Leave the Laptop Behind?

iPhoneCTO's Bill French says it's been 10 days since his iPad arrived and 11 days since he used his laptop.

To see if iPad was up to the task of displacing his laptop, French purposely left the office every day for a few hours to see if he could continue to work productively with only his iPad and a Bluetooth keyboard from time-to-time.

Issues discussed include:

  • Remote Desktop Networking
  • Word Processing
  • Pages vs. Office Document Formats
  • Sharing Documents
  • Skype and Multitasking
  • Keyboard
  • Presentations [Still far from perfect]
  • Unexpected [But Noticeable] Productivity Gains

In the end, French says he can't unreservedly recommend a cold-turkey, wholesale transition strategy like the one he's tried, but he remains hopeful.

This Column Was Not Written on an iPad

PC Magazine's John C. Dvorak says he's spent a lot of time debating the usefulness of the iPad with a number of people, and he keeps hearing the same thing over and over from them: "it's replaced my laptop" - a common theme, but it's something Dvorak says he doesn't understand. [Editor's note: Me neither. cm]

Dvorak says he's begun to realize that the ubiquitous laptop has become something of a universal - but often expendable - device for a number of people, although the concept of replacing a laptop with an iPad remains "an eye-roller" for him.

Dvorak also says that he has no idea how some users have adopted the laptop as a desktop replacement, which many have long since done, but observes that he can't imagine an iPad being adequate to replace a laptop in those instances.

What the iPad does replace, he contends, is the casual browsing some people do while watching TV or serving as a casual gaming device - like a Nintendo DS for adults, concluding that the operative question is: "how big is the market for a sofa-based Web browser or giant music player?" and concludes that "I cannot see writing columns on the device. No way."

Reviews

Primate Labs Posts MacBook Pro Benchmarks

Primate Labs says:

"When Apple released the updated MacBook Pro lineup on Tuesday the lineup included a Core i7 MacBook Pro. Now people are asking how does this new lineup perform compared to the previous lineup? I've gathered some Geekbench results to find out."

Overall Performance

  • 17" 2010: Core i7 @ 2.67 GHz: 5423
  • 17" 2010: Core i5 @ 2.53 GHz: 4974
  • 15" 2010: Core i7 @ 2.67 GHz: 5422
  • 15" 2010: Core i5 @ 2.53 GHz: 4994
  • 15" 2010: Core i5 @ 2.40 GHz: 4806
  • 13" 2010: Core 2 Duo @ 2.66 GHz: 3739
  • 13" 2010: Core 2 Duo @ 2.40 GHz: 3390
  • 15/17" 2009: Core 2 Duo @ 3.06 GHz: 4214
  • 15/17" 2009: Core 2 Duo @ 2.80 GHz: 3904
  • 15/17" 2009: Core 2 Duo @ 2.66 GHz: 3719
  • 15" 2009: Core 2 Duo @ 2.53 GHz: 3570
  • 13" 2009: Core 2 Duo @ 2.53 GHz: 3561
  • 13" 2009: Core 2 Duo @ 2.26 GHz: 3137

"In summary, the new 2010 Core 'i' machines seem to be about 20 percent faster than the June 2009 Core 2 Duo models, with the slowest Core i5 faster than the fastest Core 2 Duo processor despite running at a lower frequency (2.40 GHz vs. 3.06 GHz). There is a less substantial improvement for the speed-bumped Core 2 Duo 13" 2010 models."

Their sensible recommendation: Go with a i5 processor and spend the money saved (compared to the cost of an i7) on upgrading the RAM to 8 GB.

Note that Geekbench only benchmarks the CPU and memory systems. It does not benchmark hard drives or graphics processors.

MacBook Pro Core i7: Built 'Incredibly Well'

Engadget's Paul Miller has posted a thorough and thoughtful review of the new Core i7 MacBook Pro.

A few selected snippets:

  • ....the laptop has remained virtually unchanged externally for almost two years . . . still the class leader in looks, with an understated aluminum and glass design that isn't close to going out of style.
  • ....too-close-together and too-few-in-number USB ports...
  • [The heat] situation has been much improved in the new version, at least in average use . . . there's hardly any fan noise ever....
  • ...the "inertial scrolling" Apple has added to the touchpad . . . is very much like the motion on the iPhone . . . or the motion available with some free-spinning scroll wheel mice
  • ...Apple has really outdone itself in restricting your GPU flexibility. There are only two options for automatic graphics switching: on and off.
  • ....Apple's battery life is really industry leading when it comes to a Core i5 or Core i7 machine with discrete graphics....
  • ...the base model 15-incher is now $1,799 (instead of $1,699) due to the loss of an integrated-only option....
  • ...Apple has carved an amazingly large niche out for itself by building incredibly expensive laptops incredibly well, and this generation is no exception....

15" Core i5 MacBook Pro: The One to Get?

AnandTech's Anand Lal Shimpi says:

"For nearly a year now I've been telling everyone who wanted a new MacBook Pro to wait for Arrandale. It would've been a solid plan had Apple not dramatically increased battery life at the end of last year. If you've managed to stay the course and skip 2009's tempting battery life upgrade, it's time for the day of reckoning - Apple's Arrandale MacBook Pros are finally here."

iFixit 15" MacBook Pro Core i5 Teardown

PR: The new MacBook Pro doesn't look any different than its predecessor, but Apple has made quite a few subtle tweaks within their latest professional laptop. We dove inside to find out exactly what a year's worth of tweaks and improvements looks like.

1NAqnCQJxMrFmJSE.huge_.jpg

Highlights:

  • As usual, there's a sticker warning against removing the battery. Por qué, Apple? The printed manual that came with the machine shows you how to replace RAM and hard drive. The battery is just three screws and a connector away from being able to be replaced.
  • For some odd reason, Apple has stopped using five-point Torx screws found on other MBP 15" Unibodies in favor of Tri-Wing screws. Perhaps the sound of a thousand technicians crying out in unison made them change their mind?
  • The battery is now rated at 77.5 Wh. That's just a tad bit bigger (6%) than the 73 Wh battery we found in last year's 15" model, but not enough to explain the 2 hour battery life (22%) improvement Apple is claiming for this machine. Apple has dramatically reduced this machine's power consumption, and we expect it to run quite a bit cooler than the previous model.
  • Apple moved the WiFi/Bluetooth board. This redesign no longer requires that the wireless connections be integrated into the camera cable, greatly decreasing the size of the connector.
  • Since the WiFi/Bluetooth board is now mounted inside the all-metal case, Apple added an antenna that is mounted on the frame for the optical drive opening. Pretty clever! Time will tell what impact this move has on wireless performance.
  • Apple changed the design of this speaker assembly slightly, moving from a single plastic enclosure to separate plastic enclosures for the speaker & subwoofer that are connected by the speaker leads.
  • Apple announced that they are not using Nvidia's Optimus technology as had been widely rumored. Instead, the OS switches to the Nvidia GeForce GT 330M graphics as needed for higher demand applications like Chess, and uses the integrated Intel Core i5 graphics for Solitaire. (Ars Technica has a great overview of this new technology: http://arstechnica.com/apple/news/2010/04/inside-apples-automatic-gpu-switching.ars)
  • 25xCtYODow1ZZwT3.huge_.jpg
  • Apple is using Intel's HM55 Express Chipset. Apple has clearly tweaked Intel's chipset to enable the seamless switching between the Intel and Nvidia graphics. Interestingly enough, the chipset hub (BD82HM55) is not connected to the heat sink. Enough heat is convected from the surface of the silicon to remove the small amount of heat generated. Another advantage of this Intel chipset over Optimus is that the integrated graphics are powered down when the discrete GPU is active.
  • Apple has decided that pushing battery performance is more important to consumers than pure speed, and we are seeing that philosophy integrated throughout their product line.

35aYyJTJ3cZBNbV.huge_.jpg

Is there anything else that you want to know about this mildly-revised MacBook Pro? Let us know.

Cheers,
Kyle Wiens
iFixit

Tech Trends

Google's Chrome OS Means a Less Personal Computer

Technology Review's Simson L. Garfinkel says Google's nascent Chrome operating system will be fast and safe. But in return, you'll be asked for your personal data, noting that the "Chrome" naming scheme reflects Google's ambition to create an operating system that is all but indistinguishable from the browser.

"Gone will be the normal files, directories, and applications. Instead, Chrome OS will put Google's cloud computing infrastructure - services and applications delivered over the Internet from its vast array of servers - at the heart of practically everything you do. Within a few years, Chrome OS could become the planet's simplest, fastest, and safest environment for personal computing. But there's a catch: it will also make Google the gatekeeper of your personal information. It could let Google delve further into your data to make its online advertising business more profitable than ever."

Garfinkel further notes that Chrome OS will be a Web browser running on top of a hardware-controlling Linux kernel, taking up less than a gigabyte of your computer's hard drive and able to boot in seconds, making it ideal for netbook computers that have modest memory and processing power.

Several computer makers, including Samsung and Acer, have announced plans for Chrome-powered netbooks, and Google itself may yet deliver a Chrome OS- powered netbook computer that's built to the company's own hardware specifications, like the Nexus One cell phone.

Products & Services

Henge Docks Docking Stations for Apple Notebook Computers

PR: Henge Docks has created the first truly comprehensive docking station solution for Apple's line of notebook computers. This means you can quickly, easily and cleanly incorporate your MacBook computer into a desktop setup or your home theater system, so you get the best features of a laptop, desktop and media center PC all from one computer. Henge Docks patent-pending design doesn't require any hardware, software or settings changes to your computer. In fact, every current MacBook is compatible with our system, right from the factory.

Henge.jpg

Each Henge Dock model is designed for a specific type of MacBook computer. Click your style of MacBook above to select the Henge Dock that is right for you. Included with each dock are a full compliment of custom USB, Ethernet, Audio cables and in some models FireWire cables, designed to work with the Henge Dock system.

Henge2.jpg

The Henge Dock MacBook docking system reuses a customer's existing Apple supplied MagSafe power source and Mini-DisplayPort to DVI adapter. If you choose to purchase a spare MagSafe Power Adapter or Apple Mini DisplayPort to DVI Adapter adapter we recommend you buy only original Apple accessories to guarantee compatibility.

Henge3.jpg

Setting up a Henge Docks unit is straightforward, allowing you to select only the cables you need making docking and undocking the computer as easy as possible. For more information visit the Support Page, watch the Henge Docks Demo Video, or download the User Guide.

  • Clean up your desktop. Henge Docks puts all of your connections in one place, freeing up desk space.
  • A better home theater. Browse the web, listen to music and watch movies all from the comfort of your couch.
  • Pick only the connections you need. Henge Docks' flexible setup is perfect for every peripheral and hardware combination.

Henge4.jpg

Each Henge Dock model is designed for a specific type of MacBook computer. Select your MacBook model below to choose the Henge Dock that is right for you.

Henge5.jpg

Included with each dock are a full compliment of custom USB, Ethernet, Audio cables and in some models FireWire cables, designed to work with the Henge Dock system. Our MacBook docking system reuses a customer's existing Apple supplied MagSafe power source and Mini-DisplayPort to DVI adapter.

All 13" Aluminum MacBook and MacBook Pro Docking Stations are currently in stock.

From $59.95

AT&T Announces Availability of New LaptopConnect Device

PR: AT&T has announced that the newest device in the AT&T LaptopConnect device portfolio, the Sierra Wireless AirCard 890, will be available to business customers beginning May 5. The unique 2-in-1 form factor supports both PC Card and ExpressCard slots while providing customers with durable and flexible options to stay connected on the nation's fastest 3G network. The AirCard 890 will be compatible with AT&T's High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) 7.2 technology.

ac890.jpg

Whether traveling across town or in the more than 195 countries where AT&T offers data service, the AirCard 890 is a great solution for business customers who need to access email, the Internet and business applications from their laptop while on the go. Customers can also enjoy convenient access to AT&T's more than 20,000 US WiFi hotspots (with qualified DataConnect plan and WiFi enabled laptop).

"The Sierra Wireless AirCard 890 offers our first 2-in-1 form factor, with both PC Card and ExpressCard slot compatibility," said Michael Woodward, vice president, Mobile Phone Portfolio, AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets. "In addition to enhancing our portfolio of HSPA 7.2 devices, the AirCard 890 provides a flexible and convenient solution for business customers to access email and business applications while on the go."

Additionally, the device offers built-in GPS functionality, enabling location based services, making it easier than ever for customers to get to their desired destination, or providing benefits to companies with a mobile workforce. Through AT&T's mobile applications such as TeleNav Track LITE™ and Xora GPS Locator from AT&T, enterprise customers can add tracking and location awareness of employees, a benefit for companies looking to improving efficiency, such as response time by easily locating the closest worker to a service call.

"For more than 12 years, mobile professionals have relied on Sierra Wireless AirCard products for fast, convenient access to online information and applications," said Mike O'Brien, vice president, North American Carrier and Distribution Sales for Sierra Wireless (TSX: SW - SWIR). "The Sierra Wireless AirCard 890 2-in-1 device offers a low profile, durable design that allows it to be safely stored in the laptop for a quick connection between flights or in the back of a taxi. Features like GPS, VPN support, and automatic reconnection capability make it an invaluable tool for busy professionals. We are pleased to extend our longstanding collaboration with AT&T and to provide the AirCard 890 exclusively to AT&T customers."

The AirCard 890 ships with AT&T's Global Network Client (AGNC), which provides business customers integrated and highly secure connectivity with AT&T VPN Services. AGNC offers a single connection client that makes standardization easier and enables access to corporate networks, including mobile data networks, WiFi and broadband.

Beginning May 5, Sierra Wireless AirCard 890 will be available online and through AT&T business channels nationwide for $49.99 after mail-in rebate and a new two-year DataConnect contract of at least $35 a month (pay $149.99 and after mail-in rebate receive $100 AT&T Promotion Card. Two-year agreement and DataConnect plan required).

  1. AT&T imposes: a Regulatory Cost Recovery Charge of up to $1.25 to help defray costs incurred in complying with obligations and charges imposed by State and Federal telecom regulations; State and Federal Universal Service charges; and surcharges for government assessments on AT&T. These fees are not taxes or government-required charges.
  2. Nation's largest WiFi network based on non-municipal company and owned and operated hotspots and an 802.11 b/g enabled device. AT&T Hot Spots require a DataConnect plan of at least $35 per month and a WiFi enabled laptop.
  3. Coverage not available in all areas. Other terms and conditions apply.
  4. AT&T Promotion Card: Price before AT&T Promotion Card & with 2-year contract is $149.99. Allow 60 days for fulfillment. Card may be used only in the US is valid for 120 days after issuance date but is not redeemable for cash & cannot be used for cash withdrawal at ATMs or automated gasoline pumps. Card request must be postmarked by May 15, 2010 & you must be a customer for 30 consecutive days to receive card.
  5. Limited-time offer. Other conditions & restrictions apply. See contract & rate plan brochure for details. Subscriber must live & have a mailing addr. within AT&T's owned wireless network coverage area. Up to $36 activ. fee applies. Equipment price & avail may vary by mrk & may not be available from independent retailers. Early Termination Fee: None if canceled in the first 30 days, but up to $35 restocking fee may apply to equipment returns; thereafter up to $175. Some agents impose add'l fees. Offnet Usage: If your mins of data use on other carrier's networks ("offnet usage") during any month exceeds your offnet usage allowance, AT&T may at its option terminate your svc, deny your contd use of other carriers' coverage, or change your plan to one imposing usage charges for offnet usage. Your data offnet usage allowance is the lesser of 24 MB or 20% of the KB incl'd with your plan). DataConnect Plan is not unlimited and substantial charges may be incurred if included allowance is exceeded.
  6. Sales tax calculated based on price of unactivated equipment.

*AT&T products and services are provided or offered by subsidiaries and affiliates of AT&T Inc. under the AT&T brand and not by AT&T Inc.

Bargain 'Books

For deals on current and discontinued 'Books, see our 13" MacBook and MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, 13" MacBook Pro, 15" MacBook Pro, 17" MacBook Pro, 12" PowerBook G4, 15" PowerBook G4, 17" PowerBook G4, titanium PowerBook G4, iBook G4, PowerBook G3, and iBook G3 deals.

We also track iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, iPod classic, iPod nano, and iPod shuffle deals.

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