Review: Apple's new 17-in. MacBook Pro rocks

Upgrades can push the price past $5k, though, so choose wisely

It took Apple Inc. a while to finally get around to updating the 17-in. MacBook Pro, but the wait was more than worth it.

Apple started rolling out its carved-from-solid-aluminum laptops a year ago, with the incredibly thin MacBook Air. Then, in October, it revamped its MacBooks and the 15-in. MacBook Pro, moving them to the "unibody" manufacturing process (and moving the MacBooks decidedly upscale).

Now, finally, comes the Big Daddy of all Apple laptops, the top-of-the-line 17-incher that has been made truly drool-worthy for professionals who need every bit of computing power and speed while on the go. Of course, speed, size and innovation don't come cheap.

The already well-equipped base model (although I'm loath to call anything this gorgeous and well-built a "base model") starts with a 2.66-GHz Core 2 Duo processor from Intel, 4GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, two Nvidia graphics processors and a simply stunning high-resolution, 1920-by-1200-pixel screen. Price: $2,799.

As with the rest of Apple's laptops, the MacBook Pro 17's chassis is now carved out of a solid chunk of aluminum that eliminates any flex, does away with seams along the edges, and helps make this the lightest, thinnest 17-in. laptop now on the market. It's just 0.98 inches thick with the lid closed, and weighs in at a svelte 6.6 pounds -- 0.3 pounds less than its predecessor.

The glossy screen is surrounded by a piano-black bezel, an echo of the aluminum-and-black look that debuted in 2007 with the iPhone. The multitouch trackpad has a glass veneer and integrated clicker button. There's a lighted keyboard (the keys are now black), the usual retinue of ports -- including the recently introduced Mini DisplayPort for external monitors -- and a built-in iSight webcam. (Note: Video adapters are no longer included in the box, so if you plan to hook up a monitor, you'll have to buy the correct adapter separately.)

The newest 17-in. MacBook Pro (left) and the oldest (right). Note the difference in screen brightness.

The newest 17-in. MacBook Pro (left) and the oldest (right). Note the difference in screen brightness. Click to view larger image.

Oh, and there's the new built-in, nonreplaceable battery that Apple swears will last up to eight hours. Yes, eight hours. More about my own experiences with battery life in a bit.

If that's not enough for you, the 17-in. MacBook Pro can be optioned in ways that should please even the most demanding user.

You say a dual-core 2.66-GHz chip isn't enough? Fair enough. Hand over $300 and you can bump the processor to 2.93 GHz.

The 5,400-rpm hard drive is too slow? Give Apple another $750 for a 256GB solid-state disk drive (SSD).

You can't possibly live with only 4GB of RAM? Toss in another $1,200 to double the RAM to 8GB. (Those 4GB sticks don't come cheap.)

Price out the door for the ultimate MacBook Pro is a recession-denying $5,049, plus tax. At least the shipping is free.

The MacBook Pro's ports are all lined up on the left. The new addition here is the Mini DisplayPort, just to the right of the three USB ports.

The MacBook Pro's ports are all lined up on the left. The new addition here is the Mini DisplayPort, just to the right of the three USB ports. Click to view larger image.

That's the configuration Apple sent over for review purposes, a configuration I affectionately dubbed the MacBook Pro "Pinnacle," because it's hard to imagine what more you could want in a laptop.

Apple officials say this configuration offers up "ultimate Mac performance." I can vouch for that. Short of something like DNA sequencing or editing hours of hi-def video in Final Cut Pro, I haven't yet found a way to tax this setup to the max. But I'm going to keep trying until Apple pries this thing out of my hands in a few weeks.

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