Mac Musings

Four Times the Power Makes the MacBook Pro 'Totally Lustworthy'

Dan Knight - 2006.01.12 - Tip Jar

Imagine a PowerBook with four times the processing power, and you have a good idea how much power the new MacBook Pro promises. Between a dual-core CPU, Intel's improved architecture, a slightly faster CPU (1.83 vs. 1.67 GHz), and a faster system bus, Apple is claiming "up to four times the speed of the PowerBook G4".

And that's just the start. The MacBook Pro - a name which seems to have few fans here at the Expo - has a 667 MHz bus, Radeon X1600 graphics, and an ExpressCard/34 slot, the PCI Express replacement for the old PC Card slot.

AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth 2.0 are built-in, and the new graphics chip supports dual-link DVI, which means the MacBook Pro supports Apple's humongous 30" Cinema Display.

15" MacBook ProLike the iMac, the MacBook Pro has an internal iSight webcam and an infrared receive for use with Apple's remote control. This is Apple's first notebook to ship with Front Row.

The built-in display is 67% brighter than in the PowerBook, as bright as the Cinema Display, and there's one more innovation - MagSafe. MagSafe uses a magnet to hold the power cord in place, coming free without damaging a socket or pulling the 'Book to the floor when someone trips over the power cord. Brilliant!

There are three places where the MacBook Pro is a bit less than the 15" PowerBook G4: there is no FireWire 800 port, the display in 900 pixels high vs. 960 in the PB, and the MacBook is thinner than any PowerBook.

The weight of the aluminum MacBook Pro matches that of the PowerBook G4, and the footprint is slightly larger, necessitated by the 15.4" display.

Performance per Watt

While unveiling the MacBook Pro, Steve Jobs indicated that the G4 has a 0.27 "performance per Watt" rating, while the newer G5 has a lower 0.23 rating. This may have been the biggest reason we never saw a PowerBook G5.

By comparison, the Intel Core Duo has a 1.05 rating - 4x to 4.5x better than the PowerPC. While there was a time when PowerPC architecture offered better PPW (performance per Watt) and performance per MHz, that's no longer the case.

The October 2005 15" PowerBook battery was rated at 5.5 hours. If Apple has published any specs for the MacBook Pro, I haven't been able to find them, but based on the Core Duo's superior PPW rating, I don't expect it to be any less than that.

What Do We Think of It?

My opinion of the MacBook Pro in one word: Wow! Yes, it's a bit bulkier and can't run Classic Mode, but other than that this is one totally lustworthy notebook. Or, more precisely, pair of notebooks.

The 1.83 GHz is the first 'Book ever to ship with 1 GB of memory, and the screen matches the resolution of the 17" iMac, which runs at the same 1.83 GHz speed as the faster MacBook Pro.

If I needed to buy a notebook within the next few months, the 1.67 GHz MacBook Pro would top my list. Better yet, wait until it's been out 2-3 months, read the field reports (please, Apple, no screen problems or other teething pains this time), and watch the Special Deals page at Apple's online store for the first refurbs.

Fortunately, I don't expect to need a new(er) laptop until much later in the year - but definitely in time for next January's Macworld Expo.

I have to wonder what Apple's going to do with the iBook, especially since Jobs made a big point of having "Mac" in each product's name. Maybe the consumer line will just be the MacBook. (What are they going to call the Power Mac if they're dropping "Power" - Macintosh Pro?)

I suspect we'll see a 13" widescreen MacBook Pro later in the year, along with a 17" one. Personally, the more I lug my 15" PowerBook G4 around, the more I'd be tempted by a 13" widescreen 'Book. We'll see what happens.

iMac or MacBook?

After acquiring my PowerBook G4/400 in January 2001, I used it as my primary computer until the summer of 2003, when I picked up a refurbished 700 MHz eMac. (My last three new Macs have all been refurbs. I think that's the best way to buy a new Mac.)

If I were to buy a MacBook Pro, it could absolutely serve as my primary computer. Gobs of power compared with my 1 GHz dual Power Mac G4 and 1.25 GHz eMac, to say nothing of this old reliable 400 MHz PowerBook I have at the Expo. It would put every Mac I've ever owned to shame.

Of course, the same could be said for the iMac, which is significantly less expensive, a bit more powerful, has more hard drive space, and is a lot less portable. US$1,299 for a 1.83 GHz 17" iMac or U$1,699 for a 2.0 GHz 20" iMac vs. $1,999 for a 1.67 GHz MacBook Pro shows where the core value is - but what's the value of portability?

Two days ago, that was a real question for me. I could definitely see buying a 17" iMac and being able to start playing with iWeb. For all it offers, $1,299 is a very fair price, and I'll be spending $79 on iLife '06 otherwise.

Fortunately I like to ruminate on such decisions for a while, because I got a call on Tuesday: My oldest son totaled the 1994 Taurus the boys drive (he's fine, but the car is a loss). We're going to have to look at inexpensive, reliable used cars next week, and I'm the only one in the family with cash reserves (not much, but enough).

So much for picking up an iMac or MacBook Pro in the near future.

Of course, that just gives me more time to reflect on how much of this is technolust and how much Mac I really need. And it gives Apple more time to introduce new models.

You know the value equation always improves, so waiting isn't such a bad thing.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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