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Apple MacBook Pro 2.33GHz Review

Highs

  • Runs cooler and faster than previous MacBook Pro systems; 6X SuperDrive; bright display

Rating

Our Score 8.5
User Score 7

Lows

  • ExpressCard/34 instead of PC Card; large power brick; cables do not match the look of the system
The MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo is a fantastic laptop for professionals, average users and students with a more generous budget.

Summary

The newly released MacBook Pro offers a massive increase in computing power and energy efficiency thanks to the Core 2 Duo processor by Intel. With the greatly improved CPU, Apple took an already smart and sexy laptop and gave it a 39% faster, turbo-charged, Mensa-crushing, better base configuration and a 50% faster SuperDrive, all without increasing the price. With all its benefits, it’s no surprise that businesses, creative professionals and students are finding the new MacBook Pro hard to resist.

Features and Design

It is very difficult to tell the old MacBook Pro apart from the new MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo, mainly because there has been no significant change in body style. The new features are found through subtle differences – one new port and a lot under the hood. These changes are important to power users and upgrade-junkies, as well as to the future of the MacBook Pro.

First, Apple has returned the Firewire 800 port, allowing thousands of video and photography specialists to collectively utter a sigh of relief. Ultra-high bandwidth data transfer is once again friend to the mobile pro. There are still two USB 2.0 ports and one Firewire 400 port for those who have not invested in Firewire 800.

While the LCD screen on the first-generation MacBook Pro was much brighter and clearer than on the last generation of PowerBooks, Apple managed to out-do themselves again. The new MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo has a super-bright screen with amazing contrast and life-like colors. The optional ‘glossy’ screen is truly a work of art. Not only does the glossy overlay greatly enhance colors and make video pop, it does so with a minimal amount of glare or reflection. Other glossy-screen laptops, such as some by HP and Sony, are more like LCD mirrors; too distracting for actual work, but great for paranoids who want to see if someone is behind them without turning around. No such glaring issues with the MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo glossy screen. After over 400 hours of use, I am convinced that the screen had actually enhanced my productivity and creativity.

The first-generation MacBook Pro came with a slow but reliable 4X SuperDrive. In a May 2006 review , I complained that the 4X SuperDrive should be upgraded. Some readers rejected my comments and suggested that it was impossible. Because I know Apple as an innovative company, I knew that a better, faster SuperDrive was in the works. Of course, Apple delivered. The new 15″ MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo comes with a speedy 6X Double-layer SuperDrive (DVD+R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW). Thanks Apple! Burning DVDs is now about 50% faster.

Apple MacBook Pro
Apple MacBook Pro

Features and Design Cont’d

The MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo has an ExpressCard/34 slot. Even though this is a faster alternative to the ubiquitous PC Card slot, very few ExpressCard/34 options are available to Mac users. Flash memory card readers are most prevalent.

An almost insignificant enhancement was made to the iSight camera mount. In the first-generation MacBook Pro, the iSight camera was seated in the LCD frame along side a tiny pinhole that would light up if the camera was on. The tiny pinhole is now gone, with the iSight’s indicator light hidden under the silvery skin of the LCD frame. It’s a neat trick – a green “on” light appears, seemingly from under the metal frame. Ground breaking? No. Neat? Heck yes.

The MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo still uses fast and efficient 5400rpm SATA hard drives. As an upgrade option, one can select the 4200rpm 200GB hard drive. The base configuration includes a 120GB SATA drive. Sadly, it is much more difficult to upgrade the hard drive in the MacBook Pro than it is in the MacBook. When buying your MacBook Pro, be sure to get more hard drive space than you think you’ll need.

Apple MacBook Pro Right Side
The  Right side of the MacBook Pro Apple MacBook Pro Left Side
The Left Side of the MacBook Pro

The MagSafe power connector, one of my favorite innovations to accompany the Intel switch, seems to have been improved upon. Early reports of hot connectors, though few in number, have almost entirely disappeared. Of course, the power brick has increased in size, likely indicating where the improvement was made.

For anyone thinking of switching from a PowerBook to a new MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo, there’s a little-mentioned improvement… the battery bay. No longer does accessing the battery bay require loose change, an iron-like thumbnail or a screwdriver. The new battery has a simple and elegant two-thumb slide-eject system. It is effortless to remove and replace the battery. And with two latches holding the battery in place, it is doubly secure it its bay.

The white plastic power-brick, cables and external video adapter still do not match the silvery MacBook Pro. How gauche! Steve – where’s the design team on this one?

MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo Setup and Use

For experienced Mac users, there’s nothing new to setting up a MacBook Pro. Everything you need to use the system is right in the box – laptop, power cord, restore DVDs, video adapter, Front Row remote and documentation.

For those who are new to Mac computers, setting up the MacBook Pro is a memorable experience – powerful in its simplicity. As soon as I got my new MBP home, I opened the box and set the MacBook Pro on a desk, plugged in the MagSafe power adapter and pressed the power button.

The ‘select language’ screen appeared in 1 minute 32 seconds. The flashy OS X “Welcome” screen appeared at 2 mins 13 seconds. By the time I’d successfully entered my wireless network’s password, a mere 3 minutes 08 seconds had passed. My user account was then created by 4 mins 19 seconds. OS X was set up and running by the time 5 mins 54 seconds passed.

Of course, no system setup is complete without downloading and installing all the software updates. With my many previous Windows systems, this often took an hour or more. On the MacBook Pro C2D, my OS X updates were completed and fully installed in about 7 minutes. Total setup and config time – from the MBP being in it’s retail box to my running a fully updated OS X system – took less than 13 minutes.

Once the system was fully updated, I opened a few pre-installed apps like iPhoto, GarageBand, Safari and iCal. I was surprised to actually notice an obvious increase in speed over the previous 1.83GHz MacBook Pro Core Duo. I then installed a few Universal Binary applications like Transmit 3, Firefox 2 and Aperture 1.5. All apps ran lightning fast, as expected.

Rosetta apps like MS Word, Photoshop and Adobe Acrobat Pro are known to be slower on the Intel-based Macs. PPC-optimized programs have often required 2-4 times as long to open and run specific functions. Photoshop CS2 has generally been the worst of the bunch. However, with the most recent 10.4.8 software update for OS X, Rosetta apps now operate much faster. Based on numerous speed tests, I saw that Photoshop ran faster on the MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo than on my G5 iMac.

Photoshop CS2 – OS X 10.4.8 on G5 iMac (1.5GB RAM)
Photoshop initialized then opened the 2.1MB image in 22.7 seconds.

Photoshop CS2 – OS X 10.4.8 on MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo (2GB RAM)
Photoshop initialized and then opened the 2.1MB image in 16.9 seconds.
*Note that the MacBook Pro 1.83GHz Core Duo took 52.2 seconds to open the same file!

Thanks to 10.4.8 and the incredible nature of the Core 2 Duo processor, Rosetta is no longer the drag it used to be. Still, Adobe and Microsoft need to get off the pot and deliver some Universal Binary versions of their software.

Experimentation with Crucial Memory

The new 15″ MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo comes in two standard configurations – the 2.16GHz model with 1GB RAM, and the 2.33GHz model with 2GB of PC2-5300 (667MHz) memory. PC2-5300 laptop memory is some of the fastest on the market and allows the MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo to rip through beefy programs with whiplash-inducing speeds. Additionally, the MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo can operate with a maximum of 3GB RAM. Physically, the logic board will allow for installation of 4GB RAM, but the Intel chipset limits accessible RAM to 3GB.

I decided to test the MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo with all likely RAM levels – 1GB, 2GB, 3GB and 4GB – to see how applications, including OS X itself, would respond. The results were quite interesting. I used Crucial memory, not only due to the great quality I’ve come to expect, but for the benevolent pricing of RAM upgrades.

MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo & 1GB RAM
OS X boot time – 33 seconds
Open iTunes 7 – 12.2 seconds
Open Firefox 2 – 9.0 seconds
Open Acrobat Pro 7 – 30.3 seconds
Burn 512MB DVD – 6 mins 46 seconds
Import 112 photos (512MB) – 4 mins 45 seconds
Open 2.1MB photo in Photoshop – 39.6 seconds
Fully boot XP Pro in Parallels – 36.1 seconds

MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo & 2GB RAM
OS X boot time – 31 seconds
Open iTunes 7 – 6.9 seconds
Open Firefox 2 – 8.0 seconds
Open Acrobat Pro 7 – 25.73 seconds
Burn 512MB DVD – 6 mins 44 seconds
Import 112 photos (512MB) – 4 mins 44 seconds
Open 2.1MB photo in Photoshop – 16.9 seconds
Fully boot XP Pro in Parallels – 15.7 seconds

MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo & 3GB RAM
OS X boot time – 30 seconds
Open iTunes 7 – 3.89 seconds
Open Firefox 2 – 7.0 seconds
Open Acrobat Pro 7 – 11.39 seconds
Burn 512MB DVD – 6 mins 43 seconds
Import 112 photos (512MB) – 4 mins 44 seconds
Open 2.1MB photo in Photoshop – 15.2 seconds
Fully boot XP Pro in Parallels – 19.3 seconds

MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo & 4GB RAM **
OS X boot time – 30 seconds
Open iTunes 7 – 4.6 seconds
Open Firefox 2 – 8.3 seconds
Open Acrobat Pro 7 – 29 seconds
Burn 512MB DVD – 6 mins 43 seconds
Import 112 photos (512MB) – 4 mins 48 seconds
Open 2.1MB photo in Photoshop – 19.3 seconds
Fully boot XP Pro in Parallels – 17.1 seconds
** Again, the logic board will allow for installation of 4GB RAM, but the Intel chipset limits accessible RAM to 3GB.

Clearly, the 3GB configuration was the best overall.

A RAM anecdote: Like many techies around the world, I have regular occasion to open and edit large numbers of html files at a single sitting. My last project involved batch editing 170 beefy files. With my G5 iMac (1.5GB RAM, 2GHz), I was limited to opening about 40 files for batch editing under TacoHTML and TextMate before the system would begin to bog down. With the MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo and 2GB RAM, I was able to double the number of files I could edit simultaneously. With 3GB RAM, I’ve been able to open and edit nearly three times as many files at once, effectively cutting my work time by about 60%. The same scenario has been experienced in Photoshop and other apps most critical to my productivity.

Also important, the Crucial memory chips I’ve been using seem to run a bit cooler than the Samsung and Hynix chips that Apple supplied with the last two MacBook Pros that I purchased. Cooler is better.
Battery Life

I was expecting the battery life to increase once the MacBook Pro was infused with Core 2 Duo power, but I have not noticed any longer uptime. More importantly, I haven’t noticed the battery life decreasing. Logically, if one considers a 39% faster processor (according to Apple) with no drop in battery life, it’s safe to say something has been improved. Next goal – more processor power AND more battery uptime.

Screen Test

The screen on the MacBook Pro C2D is gorgeous. As I mentioned earlier, the screen is awesome for photo editing. It’s also amazing for watching digital TV and DVDs. The glossy screen makes DVD-watching even more fun and engrossing. Blacks are pitch black, whites are brilliant and colors are vibrant and real. Response time is fantastic – no hard stats on the response time, but in real-world tests, the screen is close to perfect.

Best Enhancement after RAM

As an avid photographer, I am often reviewing or editing multiple photos in Photoshop, iPhoto or Aperture. Because I am so accustomed to using an iMac with 1680×1050 screen resolution, I was slightly hampered by moving my entire operation to the MacBook Pro C2D and its 1440×900 screen. It represented a screen res drop of nearly 15%.

The saving grace was the ample 256MB video card in the MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo. I knew it would handle an external display without the slightest drop in performance, so I bought a newly released Samsung 20″ LCD with 1680×1050 screen res. Now, when I edit photos in Photoshop, or if I want to watch a full-screen TV show while checking email or browsing the net, I do so on two screens.

This is no PR or marketing baloney – I’m literally getting though my projects 20% to 30% faster with an extra screen. Because the MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo has a 256MB video card, I know I can shred though my work without stressing my computer or hyperventilating. Of course, the faster Core 2 Duo processor and 3GB of Crucial memory add much to my productivity.

As a side note, the Samsung LCD cost about $289 after a rebate. Not bad when considering all the extra work I can generate now. If you find yourself slightly hampered by a 1440×900 screen like I was, I highly recommend an external LCD for your MacBook Pro.
Conclusion

The MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo is a fantastic laptop for professionals, average users and students with a more generous budget. The fact that the C2D model is the second generation of the MacBook Pro line, it is implicitly understood that all the bugs from the first-generation MacBook Pro (excessive heat, wireless troubles, MagSafe temps, etc.) have been properly ironed out. After 400 hours of using the MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo, not a single bug has presented itself. Absolutely nothing caught the attention of this hyper-sensitive and picky user.

While the MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo is aesthetically the same as the original MacBook Pro, the upgrade to the Core 2 Duo processor is more than significant. It represents a massive increase in processor power and, no matter what applications you use on a regular basis, your productivity and/or efficiency is bound to experience a boost.

Unlike previous PPC and Intel-based laptops with 512MB basic RAM, the entry-level 1GB RAM allocation is enough for basic tasks. There’s no bog-down. The 2GB config is really a workaholic’s best bet. And for those who need a portable powerhouse with little to no limits, upgrade to 3GB – either as a build-to-order option on apple.com or as an after-market upgrade via crucial.com.

The MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo would make an unforgettable Christmas gift for yourself or a family member who’s been extra good all year. It may also be an ideal upgrade for your business, especially if you value higher productivity and increased morale.

No matter your reasons, the new MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo will make an indispensable asset.

Pros:

• Sexy, light-weight design
• Silent operation
• Runs much cooler and faster than original MBP
• Super-bright glossy screen
• New 6X SuperDrive
• Ability to run OSX and Windows XP
• Rev2 means few to no hardware bugs

Cons:

• ExpressCard/34 instead of PC Card
• Larger Power brick
• Powerbrick, cables, external video adapter do not match the look of the MacBook Pro

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