The 'Book Review

16 GB MacBook Pro Achieves 'Warp Speed', iPad 2 vs. MacBook, MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro, and More

This Week's MacBook, PowerBook, and iBook News

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2011.03.18

General Apple and Mac desktop news 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

Products & Services

Bargain 'Books

News & Opinion

16 GB Upgrade Sends MacBook Pro 'into Warp Speed'

OWC blogger Michael says:

"Two weeks ago we blogged about how upgrading to Apple's maximum supported 8 GB of memory and an OWC Mercury Extreme SSD could speed up your machine to two and a half times faster then [sic] stock in the latest 2011 MacBook Pro Core i5 and Core i7 machines.

"Two weeks ago, we were ecstatic about the performance numbers we were seeing. Like an average 25% faster performance with 8 GB of memory!

"Two weeks ago, we dubbed these machines with our upgrades as screaming fast.

"That was two weeks ago...

"Fast forward a mere eight days and imagine our excitement when we heard that the first OWC PC3-10600 DDR3 1333 MHz memory modules had arrived. As the first modules were released from our quality control and integrity testing, we installed a set into the latest MacBook Pro models only to find that, eureka, they worked!

Photoshop benchmarks"Several rounds of performance and load testing proved no issues whatsoever with these modules in the latest and greatest of the MacBook Pro line-up. This was exciting - 16 GB in an Apple notebook!

"It came time for the best part of the testing (ok, ok . . I'm a bit biased to make that comment as this is where I personally get to play with the new stuff)the benchmark testing.

"Now, a mere two weeks from my initial post, I'm proud to announce:

"If the 8 GB configuration makes these machines screaming fast, then 16 GB sends the machines into warp speed!"

Shootout: iPad 2 vs. MacBook

Mac 360's Ron McElfresh says:

"It seems every other tech web site has something going about Apple's hot-selling iPad; what its missing, what it needs, why it's great, why it's worthless, how it's too this or too little that. So, let's do an old fashioned head-to-head shootout - iPad 2 vs. MacBook."

"Rather than compare an iPad with wannabe competition that clearly isn't ready for prime time, let's compare the post-PC era PC, the iPad 2, with the premier PC-era personal computer, Apple's very own and perpetually hot-selling MacBook line in a head-to-head, feature-to-feature shootout."

13" MacBook Air vs. 13" MacBook Pro

Laptop Mag's Brian Oliver Bennett examines the relative merits of Apple's two most compelling notebook options sharing a common-sized (although different resolutions) display: the 13.3" MacBook Pro and the 13.3" MacBook Air.

He notes that these both - two of the best 13" notebooks on earth - have seductive aluminum unibody designs, but there are crucial differences, notably that the new $1,199 MacBook Pro has a blazing-fast 2.3 GHz Intel Core i5 CPU (an even faster Core i7 is optional), a future-proof Thunderbolt I/O interface, and a FaceTime HD camera, while the $1,299 Air is superthin, weighs just 2.9 pounds, and uses flash memory to turn on almost instantly.

Both Apple notebooks are Laptop Editor's Choice winners, but as Bennet observes, only one portable can reign supreme.

Categories covered in this MacBook face-off are:

  • Design & Display
  • Speakers, Keyboard & Touchpad
  • Ports, FaceTime & Camera
  • Performance, Graphics & Bootup
  • Battery Life

Publisher's note: One interesting tidbit - for 3D graphics, the 1.86 GHz MacBook Air with its discreet Nvidia GeForce 320M GPU edges out the 2.3 GHz Core i5 MacBook Pro, which is dependent on integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics. With its lower resolution display, the MacBook Pro. dk

Some Thoughts About the 13" MacBook Pro

MacNews' Dennis Sellers says while the latest MacBook Pro's are getting great reviews, especially the 15" and 17" models, there are some minor concerns about the 13" MBP, most notably why the screen resolution is on the Pro model stuck at 1280 x 800 when the 11" MacBook Air offers 1366 x 768 resolution and the 13" Air 1440 x 900.

How to Switch GPUs on MacBook Pros to Extend Battery Life

MacFixIt's Topher Kessler notes that some latest MacBook Pro systems from Apple (including some before the aluminum "Unibody" design) contain two GPUs: a discrete GPU and an integrated GPU. While the latter is a slower graphics processing option, the system can turn off the more powerful discrete GPU and conserve battery life when using the integrated GPU.

He observes that in order to specify which GPU to use, Apple provides settings in the Energy Saver system preferences, but they may differ depending on the system you have. He suggests using the free gfxCardStatus utility to monitor and control which GPU is in use.

Early 2011 MacBook Pro Issues with iTunes Home Sharing

AppleInsider Staff report:

"Numerous owners of Apple's early 2011 MacBook Pros report being unable to connect devices or maintain connections through iTunes Home Sharing."

This problem persists in iOS 4.3 and iTunes 10.2.1.

Biggest Tech Surprise of 2011: Google's Chrome OS

The Street's Anton Wahlman says that while the headlines right now have lot about the impact of Apple's iPad 2 these days and we'll hear as much about the expected iPhone 5 in June, no devices launched in 2011 could beat their huge impact, right?

Well, maybe. Wahlman notes that the global PC market is about 400 million units, and Microsoft's Windows OS still dominates, with challenges to Microsoft's hegemony to date having been modest - Apple's second-place Mac OS is shipping at fewer than 15 million units per year - and while the iPad may ship 50 million units over the next 12 months, analysts and users agree that the iPad is no replacement for a laptop for the needs of serious workers - an important complement, but not a replacement.

Consequently, Wahlman finds the lack of attention being paid to Google's nascent Chrome OS curious and reports that he's been using Google's Chrome OS Cr-48 laptop for the last three months and comparing it to Apple's MacBook Pro and his old Dell PC laptop, and based on that experience, he concludes that that PCs based on Google's Chrome OS stand to take over perhaps as much as half of Microsoft's Windows PC franchise over the course of the next few years - starting in Q3 2011, with Chrome OS PCs shipping in the range of 200 million units per year by 2014, which would be one of the highest and fastest impacts in any computer market ever.

Why does he expect Chrome OS to have this phenomenal impact on the IT world? Because it's faster, more secure, and cheaper than Windows or the Mac.

Publisher's note: The Chrome OS Cr-48 laptop, which is not a commercial product, boots in about 10 seconds, wakes from sleep instantly, includes WiFi and 3G networking, has a built-in webcam for video chat, and has no hard drive. Sounds like Google has been paying attention to the iPad and MacBook Air. The Cr-48 is built around a single-core 1.66 GHz Intel Atom N455 CPU and only has 16 GB of flash memory, so it seems clearly aimed at what remains of the netbook market. dk

Reviews

Small and Mighty: Ars Technica Reviews the 13" i7 MacBook Pro

Ars Technica's Jonathan M. Gitlin posts a thorough review of the early 2011 revision of the 13" MacBook Pro, noting that while he had had no plans to upgrade, he ended up walking out of a big box retailer with a shiny new 13" i7 MacBook Pro anyway. Gitlin is an iPad devotee and had figured he'd wait some time before upgrading his laptop, but then his Santa Rosa plastic MacBook took ill, and the upshot is that he says he now gets what the unibody fuss is all about.

One particularly interesting thing about this review is that Gitlin obtained a loaner 17" Core i7 MacBook Pro from Apple for comparison purposes. He notes that with the exception of GPU-intensive work, the 13-incher's dual-core i7 seems to more than hold its own against the quad-core 17" giant.

AnandTech Reviews 13" and 15" MacBook Pros

AnandTech's Anand Lal Shimpi, Brian Klug, and Vivek Gowri have posted a typically detailed and technically analytic review of the Early 2011 MacBook Pro range, observing that while the iPad and iPhone now account for 56% of Apple's hardware sales, all Macs put together only represent 20%.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that Apple launched its new MacBook Pro lineup with little fanfare. No press event and no Steve Jobs keynote, just some press releases and revised Apple Store pages.

'Apple tends to not mix architecture updates and chassis changes.'

The AnandTech team observes that Apple tends to prefer not mixing design architecture updates with chassis changes, so the 2011 MacBook Pro lineup retains the aluminum unibody form factor, as well as screen resolutions, introduced in October 2008.

However, that's pretty much where the commonality ends, with all three MacBook Pro sizes getting a thorough internal makeover with adoption of Intel Sandy Bridge CPUs with Turbo Boost and integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics plus AMD Radeon discrete graphics processors on the 15" and 17" models, displacing the Nvidia GPUs of the preceding versions.

The reviewers note that other than screen size, ports, and internals, there's little separating the 13", 15", and 17" MacBook Pros from each another. They all feature the same excellent backlit keyboard (keyboard size is constant across all models) and a variant of the same high quality display. All of them have the same front facing 720p camera and the same large glass trackpad, and all are still equipped with a single 2.5" 5400 RPM hard drive and an integrated slot-load DVD drive, so Apple still distributes OS X and the application preload on a pair of DVDs. (Editor's note: That suits this fan of incrementalism just fine. cm)

AnandTech notes that they don't mind the lack of standard SSDs and Apple's sticking with 5400 RPM hard drive, noting that if you need additional capacity or speed, there's always the hardware option with aftermarket kits from MCE and NewerTech that allow you to replace the optical drive with another 2.5" SATA drive bay, and Apple offers an array of BTO (Build to Order) SSD options (some recommendations are made).

Another contentious issue addressed: The reviewers report that under OS X, the new Intel HD Graphics 3000 IGPU provides about the same performance and is sometimes even faster than the Nvidia GeForce 320M used in last year's 13" MacBook Pro (publisher's note: Ars Technica found the same thing, see above).

Editor's note: If you're an at all geekily inclined Mac laptop fan, you'll want to read this review. cm

13" i7 MacBook Pro: Where's the Turbo Boost?

PC Pro says:

Where's the beef?
Where's the beef,
er, Turbo Boost?

"The Apple MacBook Pro 13in is a glorious laptop. Its thin and light, gorgeous both to look at and to use, and it packs no small amount of power in its tiny chassis. Yet our tests have uncovered a performance issue that will affect every user.

"We ran our new Real World Benchmarks on the top-end model, with a dual-core 2.7 GHz Intel Core i7-2620M processor, 4 GB of DDR3 and a 500 GB hard disk. It's a very fast laptop for its size, as a final score of 0.70 shows that's only around 20% slower than the top-end quad-core 17in model. Yet it's not quite as fast as it should be.

"We first noticed a problem when the benchmarks finished five full runs and the results popped up on screen: the times taken to complete several of the most intensive tests were rising with each run."

Editor's note: Also see the AnandTech MacBook Pro review (linked above) on this topic. cm

Publisher's note: PC Pro's "Real World Benchmarks" appear to be based on performance under Windows 7. It seems that the Turbo Boost issue occurs only with the i7 version of the 13-incher when running Windows. In other words, this is not a performance issue that will affect every user. dk

The Register Reviews the MacBook Pro 15"

The Register's Tony Smith says that while the 13" Early 2011 MacBook Pro he reviewed last week is a machine for users who want a carry-around computer but a bit more than the way more portable 13" MacBook Air can provide, the 15" version is a desktop replacement for the power hungry, and although it's mobile and has decent battery life, the 15-incher's primary virtue is performance, not portability.

"And what performance...."

Quad-Core i7 in the MacBook Pro: The Difference Goes Beyond the Processor Frequency

Hardmac's Lionel reports that technically analytical users testing the new 15" and 17" MacBook Pro have been surprised by significant differences in performances among the different models, especially the 2 GHz and the 2.2 GHz models, but detailed examination of respective CPU specifications reveals an explanation.

Comparison of 4-core Mobile i7 from Intel's website
Comparison of 4-core Mobile i7 from Intel's website.

The first difference is on the Turbo mode. The 2 GHz model can go up to 2.9 GHz, 900 MHz (45%) more than its basis frequency, while the 2.2 and 2.3 GHz versions get a better overclock, adding 1.1 GHz (50% and 48% respectively).

The 2.3 GHz model also gets 8 MB of cache, while the other two get only 6 MB, and the 2 GHz model's memory bandwidth reaches only 21.3 GB/s while the other two reach 25.6 GB/s, and the Intel HD Graphics 3000 IGPU is limited to 1.2 GHz on the 2 GHz model while the other two go up to 1.3 GHz, not to mention the huge difference between the 256 MB Radeon HD 6490M, has one-quarter as many processing units, and the 1 GB Radeon HD 6750M discrete GPUs.

Turbo Boost 2 Tested on 2.3 GHz MacBook Pro

Hardmac's Lionel says that testing Turbo Boost 2 on the 2.3 GHz 15" Early 2011 MacBook Pro, he achieved 3.1 GHz at first - the maximum on Turbo mode when overclocking all 4 cores - and after 30 seconds the fans cooling were running at full speed. Then the frequency went down and stabilized around 2.7 GHz. He notes that it's difficult to make Mac OS X use two cores fully. He did reach 3.3 GHz fleetingly but was unable to push the CPU to its maximum frequency of 3.4 GHz on one core.

However, he reports that overall Turbo Boost 2 works perfectly under Mac OS X on the MacBook Pro, and the laptop's cooling system is efficient enough to keep all four cores running at 2.6 GHz (13% above its nominal 2.3 GHz speed) for extended periods, with performance comparing favorably to the iMac and even the Mac Pro.

Products & Services

Henge Docks for Mac Laptops

Henge Dock for 13" MacBook ProPR: Each Henge Dock model is designed for a specific type of MacBook computer. Included with each dock are a full complement of custom USB, Ethernet, Audio cables and in some models FireWire cables, designed to work with the Henge Dock system. The Henge MacBook docking system reuses a customer's existing Apple supplied MagSafe power source and Mini-DisplayPort to DVI adapter.

Models Available

  • MacBook, Version A, White or Black Plastic, 2006 to mid 2009, $64.95
  • MacBook, Version B, White Plastic Unibody, Mid 2009 - Current, $59.95
  • 13" MacBook, Aluminum Unibody, $59.95
  • 13" MacBook Pro, Aluminum Unibody, Mid 2009 - Current, $64.95
  • 15" MacBook Pro, Aluminum Unibody, $69.95
  • 15" MacBook Pro, Aluminum Unibody, Mid 2009 - Current, $69.95
  • 17" MacBook Pro, Aluminum Unibody, Mid 2009 - Mid 2010, $74.95
  • 17" MacBook Pro, Aluminum Unibody, Mid 2010 - Current, $74.95

Henge Dock for 15" MacBook ProCustom Accessories

  • Mini DisplayPort to DVI Henge Docks Custom Adapter: Mini DisplayPort to DVI Adapter lets you connect our dock to a digital monitor or television.
  • Mini DisplayPort to HDMI Henge Docks Custom Adapter: The Mini DisplayPort to HDMI Adapter lets you connect our dock to a digital monitor or television.
  • Mini-TOSLINK Audio Cable Custom Fiber Optic Audio: The Mini-TOSLINK Fiber Optic Audio Cable lets you output a digital signal to TOSLINK enabled audio equipment.
  • Mini DisplayPort Extension (Female) Custom Adapter: The Female Mini DisplayPort Extension allows you to connect any Male Mini DisplayPort adapter or cable.
  • Mini DisplayPort to VGA Henge Docks Custom Adapter: The Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter lets you connect
  • Mini DisplayPort Extension (Male to Male) Custom Cable: The Male to Male Mini DisplayPort cable allows you to connect to other Mini DisplayPort equipped monitors.

ClearSkin Ultra-Clear Keyboard Cover for 11" MacBook Air

PR: Designed to protect from dust, dirt, and spills, the ClearSkin keyboard cover has been engineered to fit the 11" MacBook Air notebook. The ClearSkin keyboard cover is the thinnest, clearest cover KB Covers have ever made, and now, it's been specially molded to fit the keys on the 11" MacBook Air's keyboard.

The ClearSkin keyboard cover is made of a 0.1mm advanced plastic film, so clear that it's almost invisible when installed on the keyboard . . . and because it is so thin, you'll hardly notice it when typing.

You can protect your investment in your 11" MacBook Air with a KB Cover - hand washable and easy to keep clean.

Price: $24.95 - 20% off all Keyboard Covers for Macs March 10 - 24 - Use Promo Code SAFETEXT

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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