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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Performance

With a faster front-side bus, better graphics, 6MB of shared Level 2 cache, an updated Core 2 Duo processor and other under-the-hood tweaks, Apple's new MacBook Pro should readily handle almost any task thrown at it. A quick benchmark test using Xbench 1.3 returned an overall score of 123.

By way of comparison, last year's top-end 17-in. MacBook Pro with a 2.4-GHz processor scored 118 on the same test, and a 2006 model with a 2.33-GHz Core 2 Duo checked in at 108. In other words, the speed gains are there, but they're not so dramatic that you're likely to see much difference if you're upgrading from a relatively recent MacBook Pro.

Of course, if speed is important to you, you'll want to upgrade the hard drive to one that spins at 7,200 rpm for an extra $50 and move to the optional 2.8-GHz processor, which together will add $300 to the price of the system, making for a total of $2,849. That's a lot of money for bragging rights. Unless you're doing high-end data crunching or video work that can really take advantage of that processor, save your money.

Incidentally, if, for some reason, you want to go with the solid-state drive option, you lose a lot of storage space -- the only SSD available holds 128GB of data -- and it'll add $500 to the system cost. Though solid-state drives have come a long way in the last year or so, you'd be spending more money for less space. That's not a good return on investment.

Battery life is good, although squeezing out the Apple-advertised five hours of use is easier said than done. With the screen brightness turned all the way up, the graphics and energy-saver settings set to best performance, and Wi-Fi on, I managed three hours of use doing routine Web surfing and text editing. Turning down the brightness and tweaking the energy-saver settings will easily extend that time.

Conclusions

All in all, Apple's new MacBook Pro represents a definitive leap in design, and a more modest advance in technology. The combination of the two, however, makes this a major update to what has become an increasingly important product for Apple's bottom line.

More important, with almost everyone looking to stretch their dollars as far as possible, Apple's new laptop lineup -- including the new MacBook -- should stand the test of time, offering good value for years to come.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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