• New 17" Macbook Pro Hands-on Thoughts

    While at Macworld I found myself wandering over to the new 2009 edition of the 17" Macbook Pros more than once. Without more exciting things announced by Apple at the keynote all my anticipation and excitement for new Apple products was focused on the only piece of new hardware revealed. Lets face it. The charismatic and awe inspiring keynote by Steve Jobs Phil didn't really leave me with any other shiny new Apple geek gear to play with. In the end the 17" Macbook Pro received a lot of my time/attention. I was all prepared to write up an overly positive hands on review while my eyes were glazed over from shiny new stuff syndrome. For some reason I didn't and now a few days later I have some real thoughts.

    Is it nice?

    Of course. It's very nice. Just like the unibody Macbooks and 15" Macbook Pro's released just a couple of months ago this notebook has excellent build quality and finish. It makes you happy typing on it. It feels solid. Do we expect anything else from Apple? The construction quality is one step above the last revision from a year ago due of course to the unibody design. The newest revision of the Apple keyboard is comfortable to type on and if the Macbook, Pro and Air are any indication the keys wont have paint wearing off or any garbage like that.

    Is it really nice?

    In what way? Some things are good some things = meh. Over all this is just a normal product line update for Apple with nothing particularly special other than standard upgrades (besides the battery). I don't know since this product update is mostly what we already expected. Starting from the outside and working in:


    I'm a big fan of these unibody macs. While previously the casing for the Apple notebook line was nice after aging sometimes the fit would become a bit loose and edges just didn't come together as well as they used to. After owning a unibody mac for awhile these problems don't seem to exist with the unibody design. Comfortable edges, very precise, reliable fitting with the very few places to parts come together, and a very sturdy feel makes the overall fit and finish of the new 17" higher than the previous revision which is no real surprise. It is also not a good reason to rush out and buy the new 17"

    The display

    Well it is very nice. LED backlit @ a resolution of 1920x1200 with 78 percent more pixels than the 15-inch MacBook Pro. Why Is Apple comparing the big Macbook Pro to the small one? Apples to bananas I suppose. Comparing back to October 2008 the screen resolution has not changed on the LED backlit version -- just now it is standard instead of an extra $100. What has changed is the 60% greater color gamut which basically makes the display look more gorgeous than the already gorgeous predecessor (October 2008). In the real world though when we leave paper specs behind most people will not notice much of a difference if any between the screens of the new 17" and old glossy screen 17". Also nice is the option to order a matte screen instead of glossy. The newest revision of Apple's notebook line can only be ordered as glossy and the option to have matte on the 17" is nice for proponents of matte screens (although they get screwed with a $50 charge -- glossy is better anyway).

    The guts

    The processor receives a bump in speed as expected after a year with the option of a blazing fast 2.93GHz Intel Core 2 Duo for and extra $300. The base model is faster as well with 2.66GHz standard. Memory can be upgraded to 8gb if you're a super power user. Stock is 4gb which was the max in the last model. The graphics have really changed from 8600M GT graphics with 512MB of GDDR3 memory to NVIDIA GeForce 9400M integrated graphics processor for better battery life and an NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT for higher performance . This is a very good upgrade as the 8600M GT was getting a little long in the tooth. The new 17" also has the ability to switch between the two graphics architectures just like the 15" model. With the higher performance you can do more intensive graphics in more windows with less lag – it can probably handle most anything you throw at it and in my short testing with iMovie and Photoshop etc all responses were instantaneous with zero signs of hanging (using 9600M GT). Also inside to speed things up you can purchase a SSD drive but I don't consider that a real option as SSD drives still aren't anywhere near cost effective on OS X which does wonders with caching. The other hard drive options remain the same.

    The battery

    My first impression of the internal battery idea is that it is insane. Who wants a laptop with a fixed battery? What are you going to do without the convenience of being able to swap out for a fresh battery when the notebook is out of power? Sure it does look smooth with no battery latches (pictured above) but seriously Apple wtf?

    After a little more consideration about this new batteries specs I have decided that it may be okay. If it really does last 8 hrs (read 6-7 hours if Apple's claim is consistent with past battery claims) then that is 40% longer than the previous model's 5 hrs (read 3-4). Doubling the battery life would make the run-time on the new 17" comparable with the old 17" if you were lugging around and extra battery. That's okay in my book. Same run time as the previous model with an extra battery means saving space and weight while traveling. With 8 hrs you could put in a full work day without recharging which is nearly unheard of in laptops. 1000 charges will also last a couple of years as well and I imagine having Apple replace the battery when it is finally worn out every two years will only take a little time at an Apple store and $100 which may actually be cheaper than buying new removable batteries for the old models yearly. If the new battery performs as advertised it looks to be a winner when compared to previous iterations of the Macbook Pro 17". Unfortunately I wasn't able to test out the battery life – the Apple employees weren't up for me leaving it unplugged all day long.

    All in all

    If you bought a Macbook Pro 17" October or after you got screwed. This one is better for the $ across the board. You should have waited 2 more months. For everyone else while this model is quicker and built better it isn't anything bleeding edge. It is just a normal product update. If you are a extreme power users consider picking one up because of the better graphics and the ability to throw in an extra 4gb of ram. If you aren't you might look out on ebay or craigslist for October 2008 through December 2008 version with the LED display upgrade since it is nearly on par with the new base model 17 incher and will probably keep some cash in your pocket

    Some more photos

    thx random guy for waving your hand around while ppl are taking pictures
    "apple fans move SO fast" - poetic_folly
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