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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In everyday use, this MacBook Pro generally runs quiet and is cool to the touch. Unless you're powering through something that's taxing the CPU, like rendering video, you're not likely to hear any noise coming from the fans. (When this laptop is going full blast, you'll hear a sound more like the soft hissing of static than the typical whine of a fan.)

Performance and battery tests

To test performance, I have a specific iMovie project I like to render. The iMovie '11 file is always exported using Apple's "Large" settings, resulting in an h.264 m4v file with a 960-by-540-pixel resolution. The 2.8GHz quad-core i5 iMac from 2010 rendered the movie project in 68 minutes; the latest iMac renders it in 47 minutes and 55 seconds. Last year's 2.6GHz Retina MacBook Pro did it in 65 minutes and 27 seconds; this model shaves off another three minutes.

Interestingly, the recently-released 64-bit iMovie '13 renders my project much faster than the older iMovie '11, but I can't confidently report those numbers because iMovie '13 never completes the rendering; the program coughs up a -50 error code about two-thirds of the way through. That's really too bad; iMovie '13 takes advantage of the 64-bit processing power built into Macs that iMovie '11 did not, and if rendering was consistent for the rest of the file, I could extrapolate that the project would finish around the 20-minute mark. That's about a third-the time needed before!

To really stress the battery, I ran this MacBook Pro through the same test I used on the 2013 MacBook Air. The battery was at 100% charge with screen brightness set to 80%, and the laptop set to sleep after 10 minutes of inactivity. Display dimming and Power Nap were turned off in the Energy Saver system preference. The Internet connection was routed through a corporate Wi-Fi network -- complete with AD-authentication -- and the laptop was connected to an external 22-in. Dell display set in portrait mode.

I opened up Mail, which checked for new email once a minute; Safari, which had multiple open tabs (though Flash was not installed); iCal; Terminal; Notes; Pages; Messages and Tweebot. I also had a virtual copy of Windows XP in Parallels 8 running BeyondCompare, Lync and Office (mostly Excel).

For the first test, a USB hard drive was plugged in for 45 minutes. The battery lasted 4 hours and 40 minutes. At no point did the computer sleep, and it always maintained a persistent wireless connection. Once I plugged it back in, the battery recharged to 100% in just over two hours.

I tested the MacBook Pro again, with everything the same except I did not have the external drive plugged in at all. The battery lasted 5 hours and 29 minutes. Finally, I ran the test with the external monitor unplugged, running the same apps. This time, the battery lasted six hours and 20 minutes.

The MacBook Pro offers nearly a workday's worth of battery life, even when performing a variety of simultaneous processor-intensive tasks (like running two operating systems and accompanying apps at the same time). Clearly, with careful power management (like dimming the display and disabling Bluetooth) and shorter bursts of processor-intensive tasks, you should be able to squeeze more time out of this laptop, making Apple's eight-hour battery life boast a reasonable expectation.

Final thoughts

Is the MacBook Pro worth the price? The short answer is yes. Though it's not cheap, what you get is the latest technology in a well-built machine that should last for several years. It does everything you'd expect from a computer in its class, delivering great performance, a gorgeous high-density screen, Apple's consistently great design, excellent battery life and extensive software support.

If you bought a MacBook Pro last year, there's probably no need to upgrade unless you're compelled to always have the latest and greatest -- a habit that can become rather costly over time. But if you're using an older MacBook Pro, or looking to make the jump from Windows, you won't find a laptop better than the 15-in. MacBook Pro.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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