Review: Apple's new 'unibody' MacBook Pro has both beauty and brains

Carved from a single block of aluminum, it's a solid update in more ways than one

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As for the Air, the solid-state hard drive size has been doubled to 128GB, and it now uses the same shared Nvidia graphics processor that powers the new MacBook line. It also gains the faster 1,066-MHz front-side bus, meaning users should see modest speed increases from the first-generation model. Prices for the two Airs remain unchanged at $1,799 (for the 1.6-GHz version) and $2,499 (for the 1.86-GHz version).

Unibody goodness

The fact that the new unibody MacBook Pro models are already available in Apple stores -- you could buy one the day after Jobs announced them -- is a welcome change from past practice. All too often, Apple announces new hardware and would-be buyers have to wait weeks to get their hands on it. Not so this time.

Late last week I got my hands on the $2,499 top-end 15-in. MacBook Pro, with a 2.53-GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive spinning at 5,400 rpm and two Nvidia graphics chips: an integrated chip that is also used in the new MacBook and MacBook Air, and an Nvidia 9600M GT with 512MB of discrete video RAM.

Why offer two graphics processors? According to Apple, the laptop defaults to the integrated chip for longer battery power, but it can be switched to the more powerful 9600M GT if you need more graphics horsepower.

The nice thing is that if users want to use the 9600M GT all the time -- maybe you're a big-time gamer or are using an app that could take advantage of the extra video juice -- you just set that preference in the Energy Saver control panel. (Incidentally, Apple has changed the icon used for the Energy Saver system preference -- the old incandescent light bulb has been replaced by a florescent bulb icon.) This is a new option for Mac laptop users, and it's pretty straightforward: Just select either "better battery life" or "better performance" where it says graphics.

When you make the switch, Mac OS X will log you out to implement the changes, and then you're good to go. According to Apple, the Nvidia 9600M GT offers up to 2.3 times the performance of the integrated 9400M. I'm not a gamer, but in regular use over the last few days -- surfing the Web, watching videos, editing text documents and using Photoshop Elements -- I detected no difference in video performance between the integrated and discrete graphics chip.

New glass trackpad

A new trackpad system preference lets users customize how the trackpad works.

A new trackpad system preference lets users customize how the trackpad works.

Click to view larger image.

Also new to this revision is the buttonless glass trackpad. Yes, glass -- the trackpad is covered by a thin layer of glass (which isn't immediately obvious just by looking at the computer). The glass layer offers almost no resistance to multitouch finger motions, which can be used to manipulate images and windows and navigate through Web browser pages.

The clicker button is now built into the trackpad itself. To click as you normally would, just press down the trackpad near the front of the computer. The trackpad actually depresses as if it were a button and you can hear a definitive click; melding the trackpad and button accentuates the clean lines of the MacBook Pro.

Apple notes that the multitouch technology was pioneered on the iPhone, and it has introduced even more finger gestures to show off the trackpad. A four-finger swipe, for instance, can be used to move application windows on and off the screen a la Exposé.

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