Review: Apple's 15-in. MacBook Pro delivers on speed, battery life

The move to faster PCIe flash storage offers a noticeable boost in performance

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The high-end MacBook Pro comes with a pretty significant leap in price: $2599. In this configuration, you get a 2.3GHz quad-core i7 with Turbo Boost speeds of 3.5GHz; 16GB of 1600MHz memory; 512GB of storage; the integrated Intel Iris Pro Graphics and a discrete NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M with 2GB of dedicated GDDR5 memory. (You can also upgrade to faster processors and more storage if you need extra horsepower.)

As before, OS X decides which graphics card to use on the fly based on performance needs, but you can choose to always use the more powerful NVIDIA chipset by going to Apple Menu> System Preferences> Energy Saver and making sure Automatic graphics selection is unchecked. Depending on how you use the laptop, this may affect battery life. More about this in a bit.

Both MacBook Pro models support dual external displays with a resolution up to 2560x1600 pixels for extending your desktop and for video mirroring.

Peripheral connections

When it comes to peripherals, the MacBook Pro offers a variety of connectivity options. On the left side of the laptop, next to the MagSafe 2 power connection, are two Thunderbolt 2 ports, a USB 3.0 port and a headphone jack. (The headphone jack is compatible with the Apple headsets that ship with the iPhone, and supports digital and analog audio out.) Thunderbolt 2 offers the latest generation of wide-bandwidth I/O technology, supporting everything from external drives to displays on a dual-channel 20Gbps bus.

On the right side of the laptop is another USB 3.0 port, an HDMI port (perfect for connecting to an HDTV), and an SDXC card reader.

The MacBook Pro also has two microphones, which help cancel out background noise during dictation and video conferencing, and a 720p camera, which is hidden within the black border at the top of the Retina display. (A green indicator light shines next to the camera when it's turned on.)

Low power Bluetooth 4 and all of the usual 802.11 wireless standards are supported, including a/b/g/n, and -- new to this model -- 802.11ac. That latter should improve Wi-Fi speeds if your router also offers 802.11ac.

The lighted chiclet-key keyboard is unchanged, as is the now-standard glass trackpad, which allows you to use multitouch gestures much as you would on an iPad. Regarding gestures, Apple engineers have brought some consistency between product lines, making it easier than ever to switch from an iPad to the MacBook Pro and vice versa. OS X supports a variety of gestures, though oddly, not all of them are enabled by default. A quick visit to Apple Menu> System Preferences> Trackpad allows you to select the ones you want to use.

Another carryover from the previous MacBook Pro is the magnetic latch. When you close the lid, the magnets catch with a satisfying snap and put the machine to sleep. The magnets are hidden in the aluminum frame, so there are no latches to wear out. The lid opens easily and OS X is usually up and running from sleep before you're finished positioning the screen.

Finally on the feature list, it's important to note something that's not here: Apple laptops don't have built-in Ethernet or an optical drive. If Wi-Fi isn't available and you need a physical Ethernet connection, Apple offers a Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter for $29. If you're still using optical media like DVDs and CDs, you can get an external drive from Apple for $79.

Getting up to speed is easy

These days, getting a new Mac up and running is a cinch. First, there's the option to use Migration Assistant to move data from your old computer (or a Time Machine backup) to the new one. But if you decide to start with a fresh install, Apple's iCloud services make the move easy. During the initial setup, there is an option to log into iCloud. By the time you're logged in on the laptop, your iCloud information is already being synced. My email, AIM, Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn and Vimeo accounts were all added automatically, as were my contacts, calendar entries, reminders, notes, Safari bookmarks and documents. Within minutes, I was receiving Calendar notifications for upcoming birthdays, too.

If you've bought apps from the App Store, restoring your purchases to the new computer is simple. Launch the App Store (under the system-wide Apple menu in the menubar), go to Purchases Tab, log into iCloud (you may have to answer some security questions),and then click Install on the apps you want installed.

Essentially, if you're already in the Apple ecosystem, moving from one machine to another is remarkably painless.

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