Apple, Tech, and Gaming

17" MacBook Pro on the Way Out or Changing with the Times?

- 2012.05.15 - Tip Jar

In response to Dennis Sellers' Should Apple Kill The 17-Inch MacBook Pro? posted on MacNews (covered in the May 11 edition of The 'Book Review), I offer my own argument for the 17" MacBook Pro.

17" MacBook ProAny speculation that Apple would entertain the notion of discontinuing the 17" MacBook Pro (as well as the Mac Pro) is hard to believe, although anything is possible. Sellers feels that the end is near for these powerhouse behemoths, but he also cites a good argument otherwise and says there is no reason that Apple can't and shouldn't continue to support both consumer and professional lines of products.

From my standpoint as a proud owner of one of these machines (the 17" Core 2.3 GHz i7 Early 2011 MacBook Pro), it is easy to say that I only support the idea of keeping them around since I take the concept of ending this line personally. I do support the idea of Apple keeping the 17" MacBook Pro around to a degree, since I would like to eventually own another many years down the road when the time is right to upgrade. It's a wonderful machine and gives you everything you could want in a portable workstation. These larger and more powerful machines offer much more than their smaller counterparts can offer to even intermediate users and beg to have their full potential unleashed.

Alas, in our consumption-heavy world, 17" notebooks represent a shrinking percentage of the user base. However, I would argue that what they offer for the price in a fully integrated package provides incredibly more value than a smaller model with a similar hardware configuration. I have the option of FireWire 800, USB 2.0, ExpressCard34 (if I fancy to add USB 3.0/eSATA, external video cards, etc.), Thunderbolt, an optical drive, and a 1920 x 1200 screen that can display full 1080p video natively. None of the other MacBooks currently available can match the 17" model feature for feature (unless the rumored Retina Display is indeed on the way with the upcoming refresh).

For now though, if you want to have it all - whether you're a multimedia junkie that likes to have options or a creative pro - the 17" MacBook Pro is the best choice and can be had for not much more that the cost of a richly configured 15" model (especially a closeout or refurbished unit). The 17" size is not ideal for airline travel or tight spaces, but for a mobile workstation it's second to none in terms of screen real estate and connectivity.

In his article, Sellers also points out that a line of thinking persists leaning towards the principle of simply having a 15" model and using it alongside a 27" Thunderbolt Display, eliminating the need for a larger built-in display. Indeed it's possible, for an additional $999, and yes, you get incredibly more screen real estate, but the extra cost and it's sedentary nature defeats the purpose of a somewhat larger screen on the go.

What is the best current 17" offering?

The February 2011 models (like mine) are truly the ultimate "crossover" portable Macs offering incredible quad-core i7 power and are among the last to boot natively into OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard (and hence be able to run PowerPC applications through Rosetta). At the same time, these machines also have the best of both worlds from a connectivity standpoint (ExpressCard34 being the most valuable). To me, the 17" February 2011 MacBook Pro is the modern equivalent of the 1 GHz 15" Titanium PowerBook G4 that I recently picked up after selling some other gear (it's the fastest Mac OS 9 portable, yet it also has the ability to boot into OS X 10.5 Leopard and meets the 1 GHz G4 requirement to run iTunes Video). Why not have it all if you can?

What would make the transition less painful?

As already stated, current high-end 15" configurations cost basically the same as a entry- to mid-level 17" model. With high-resolution 15" 1680 x 1050 screens, graphics cards equal to that of the 17" model, and adapters that enable just as much connectivity as the 17" models, it's easy to see why Apple could potentially eliminate the 17" model. Then again, when closeouts are factored in, getting a previous model 17" vs. a new 15" prices are almost the same.

15-inch and 17-inch MacBook Pros side-by-side
15" and 17" MacBook Pros side-by-side.

Caption: You could get a new 15" 2.2 GHz quad-core i7 MacBook Pro from Apple with a hi-res antiglare 1680 x 1050 screen with the same GeForce 6750 (albeit 512 MB VRAM vs. 1 GB VRAM), same 750 GB hard drive, and same 4 GB of RAM for $2,049 - or get the larger 17" 2.3 GHz version I have from February 2011 brand new on MacMall's closeouts for roughly the same price!

If the Retina Display rumor for the next generation MacBook Pro holds true, the pixel count could grow to staggering proportions, greatly exceeding the 1920 x 1200 on the current 17" model and maybe well beyond that of the current 27" Thunderbolt Display, eliminating the need for a larger portable, unless designers could make a compelling case for even more pixels on the larger displays using Retina technology

In addition to the Retina Display MacBook Pro rumor, there have been rumblings that Apple is investing in technology to keep optical media alive rather than kill it off through an incredibly thin optical drive, along with the aforementioned adapters (most notably for Thunderbolt - including ExpressCard34 adapters such as this one from Sonnet), it's easy to start to believe the rumor that the end is neigh for the 17" model, especially when closeouts can be had for such a great value. It may be a strong reflection of supply vs. demand.

When you consider the potential of a new, greatly advanced optical drive (dual-layer Blu-ray at a minimum please) and several times the pixels of the current notebooks through a Retina Display, along with a next generation Ivy Bridge Chipset and staggering graphics potential, the proposition of a 15" notebook being the largest available doesn't seem so bad after all (that was the only choice we had during the Titanium PowerBook era).

The MacBook (all varieties) and the PowerBook (including iBook) lines that preceded it have seen a series of size choice fluctuations throughout history. Apple has generally responded well to the demands of professionals and consumers to offer the best variety of solutions it possibly can.

The notebook has clearly cemented it's place in our hearts over the years for its portability, but what about high-powered workhorses that can do much heavier lifting that stay put? What about the Mac Pro that hasn't been updated in two years now and has been a standard in scientific labs and audio/film studios? Is the end in sight for the Mac Pro or is a big revival headed our way? Come back for later this week for a deeper look at the future of the Mac Pro. LEM

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Dan Bashur lives in central Ohio with his wife and children. He uses various PowerPC G3 and G4 Macs running Tiger and Leopard. Besides finding new uses for Macs and other tech, Dan enjoys writing (fantasy novel series in the works), is an avid gamer, and a member of Sony's Gamer Advisor Panel. You can read more of Dan Bashur's work on ProjectGamers.com, where he contributes regular articles about the PSP, classic gaming, and ways you can use Sony gaming hardware with your Mac.

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