Apple MacBook Pro 15″ 2.4GHz
“The new 2.4GHz MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo is a fantastic laptop for almost every conceivable use”
LED based LCD display; improved battery life; quiet operation
RAM pricing is expensive; overall price is expensive
As predicted, Apple released yet another updated version of its famous powerhouse portable computer, the MacBook Pro. With the new Santa Rosa architecture, a new 256MB video card by Nvidia, Perpendicular Magnetic Recording hard drives, a jump to 4GB of RAM, a 50% faster SuperDrive and an industry-first LED-lit LCD screen, the new 2.4 GHz MacBook Pro is quite impressive. Even more impressive is the fact that Apple hasn’t changed the price over the previous, less advanced version. We gave the new MacBook Pro a thorough exam and have some exciting things to report. Continue reading for more info.
Features and Design
If you placed the new 2.4GHz MacBook Pro next to its 2.33GHz predecessor
, you wouldn’t be able to see any external changes. While the external design of the MacBook Pro remains sexy, true beauty comes from the inside. And Apple packs a bunch of new and exciting components into this new 2.4GHz MBP giving all other laptops (and even the Mac Pro) some real competition.
The new MBP is built with the Intel’s new Santa Rosa platform
. Santa Rosa is essentially the 4th generation of Centrino based chipsets. It offers 800MHz bus speed (an increase from the previous 667MHz bus) and can accommodate up to 4GB RAM. The 800MHz bus speed is variable, which means that it can be intelligently lowered (e.g. to 667MHz) to conserve power. It also uses NAND flash memory for caching. Santa Rosa also integrates a new “enhanced sleep mode” that shuts down both processor cores and the chipset to save even more power. While the increase from 2.33GHz to 2.4GHz isn’t exactly mind-blowing, the Santa Rosa architecture will allow the MBP to “work smarter, not harder”.
The previous 2.33GHz MBP had a 256MB ATI graphics card. This new 2.4GHz model uses the NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT with 256MB SDRAM. Of course, the base model MBP offers 128MB video memory, but the real standard seems to be 256MB. There are some laptops available today with more video memory than 256MB, but these are rare and very expensive. As for the 2.4GHz MBP’s Nvidia card, initial reports show that frame rates have increased by 25-60%.
Ports, Jacks & Plugs
The 2.4GHz MacBook Pro has both a FireWire 800 and 400 port and two USB 2.0 ports. It also has an ExpressCard/34 slot, audio in & out jacks, the MagSafe power jack, gigabit Ethernet, DVI-out and a notebook lock slot for use with products like the Targus DEFCON Notebook lock.
Power, Audio Ports and PC Card Slot
FireWire, Ethernet, USB and DVI Connections
LED LCD Screen
The 2.4GHz 15″ MacBook Pro is the first laptop to offer an LED-lit LCD screen. The transition from traditional LCD backlighting to LED may have been inevitable, but it seems that Apple was prompted to push up the time line after they were harpooned in the press by Greenpeace. Apple wound up near the bottom on a list of environmentally
friendly computer companies. Thankfully, Steve Jobs reacted with class
. Instead of slamming Greenpeace or defending Apple, he simply made necessary changes. There’s an old Chinese proverb that says “Words are mere bubbles of water, but deeds are drops of gold.” As for the LED screens themselves, they use much less energy than the previously used LCD screens. This means that you’ll get more battery life when off the grid. The LED screens are also brighter than the previous LCD screens. LEDs warm up faster, which means that your LCD screen will be properly lit and color-accurate much faster. And finally, LEDs have greater life-expectancy, which means that your screen lighting should retain its beauty much longer.
The first generation MacBook Pro came with a slow but reliable 4X SuperDrive. In a July 2006 review
, I complained that the 4X SuperDrive should be upgraded. Some readers rejected my comments and suggested that it was impossible. Lo and behold, the next gen MacBook Pro had a 6X SuperDrive. And now Apple has managed to best themselves again, cramming an 8X SuperDrive into the MBP. This 8x SuperDrive represents a 50% increase in speeds over the last gen, and 200% increase over the original model. I was skeptical about whether the 50% increase in speed would be attainable in real-life tests or if it was more of a ‘spec’ upgrade. In test after test, burn speeds were absolutely faster and the time tests show anywhere from 30-60% increases in actual speed.
Here’s an update that would have gone completely unnoticed by the world it it wasn’t for two curious geeks at an Apple store. The iSight camera built into the new 2.4GHz MacBook Pro was upgraded from 640×480 resolution to a much greater 1280×1024 res (1.3 megapixels). While the built-in applications (iChat, Photobooth & Quicktime) don’t yet support taking photos or video at 1.3 megapixels, Apple is bound to update their software soon. Another note – it seems that the iSight can take 640×480 videos at a whopping 60fps!
The MacBook Pro still uses fast and efficient 5400rpm SATA hard drives in default configurations, but something exciting has happened. The base hard drive for the 2.4GHz MBP has increased from 120GB to 160GB. Along with that change is the awesome fact that the new drives are Fujitsu perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR) drives. Some perpendicular drives reportedly give 30% better performance, making them closer in performance to 7200rpm drives… not equal, but closer.
In the review MBP, the System Profiler shows the Fujitsu drive model # to be MHW2160BHPL. A Google search shows practically nothing for this model. Drop the “PL” suffix (ostensibly a suffix denoting ApPL
e) and Google’s results come alive. The best reference is clearly Fujitsu’s own site
, where stats abound. 8MB buffer, 5.56 ms latency, 0.13w in sleep mode, 1.9w in full read-write mode, and operating temps between 41F and 131F.
As an upgrade option, one can select a 4200rpm 200GB hard drive or a 160GB 7200rpm drive. When buying your MacBook Pro, be sure to get more hard drive space than you think you’ll need. Personally, I can’t sleep at night if my free space falls below 30GB.
Although the battery in the 2.4GHz MBP is the same as in previous models, battery life has been extended due to lower power consumption overall. In various tests, battery life has been increased by as much as 45 minutes. For computing on cross-country flights, in long meetings and in other off-grid situations, these extra 45 minutes are precious and appreciated.
What Hasn’t Changed?
With all these changes, it’s easy to imagine the 2.4GHz MacBook Pro as an entirely different beast. Well, on the inside, it has certainly been enhanced. On the outside, however, nothing has changed. Nada. It’s the same body, same ports, same, dimensions, same weight, etc. They keyboard is still backlit, and it’s still damn sexy.
The Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch
Setup and Use
As with any Mac computer, the initial setup process is so easy anyone can do it – even the most unfamiliar and computer-phobic. After unboxing the MacBook Pro, plug in the power adapter to the wall, connect the MagSafe plug, open the LCD screen and hit the power button. In roughly 6 (yes, six) minutes, the MacBook Pro will be set up in its basic state.
Typically, I run through the full setup process without importing settings from another system. This allows me to gauge actual setup times down to the very second. As setup times for the MacBook Pro have remained constant under 6 minutes, I thought I would do something a little more interesting this time.
I selected the option to move data and settings from another MacBook Pro. I connected the two MBPs by a Firewire 800 cable and started the process. The new 2.4GHz MBP reported that I was about to transfer 87GB of files, programs, etc. I set it in motion and got busy with some backlogged paperwork. After about 3 minutes, the transfer screen indicated that the 87GB was going to take roughly 5 hours to transfer. Panic? Nope. Another two minutes went by and the new ETA was only 3 hours. Ten minutes passed and the ETA dropped to 2 hours.
Roughly 90 minutes later, the entire transfer was done. When I logged into the transferred account, everything was there – desktop image, programs, links, documents, etc.
I then performed OS X updates. With about 80MB in update files required, the download and installation process took no more than 5 minutes. That was it. Setup was done in less time than it took me to get through bills and filing.
System as tested:
·2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (Santa Rosa) processor
·4GB memory (667MHz DDR2 SDRAM)
·160GB perpendicular Serial ATA hard drive
·15.4-inch LED widescreen display – glossy
·NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT with 256MB SDRAM
·8X Double-layer SuperDrive (DVD+R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
·Built-in AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth 2.0
Experimentation with RAM Upgrades
The 15″ MacBook Pro 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo comes with 2GB of PC2-5300 (667MHz) memory. PC2-5300 laptop memory is some of the fastest on the market and allows the MacBook Pro to really perform like it was meant to. While most people will be satisfied with 2GB, truly serious geeks, video editing folks and other heavy process users will truly appreciate the new 4GB RAM ceiling. 2GB is great, but 4GB is just crazy fast.
I tested the 2.4GHz MBP with two Crucial 2GB chips, bringing the total RAM compliment to an exciting 4GB
. I clearly had a choice when selecting my RAM upgrade from the 2GB base – Apple’s $750 USD upgrade or Crucial’s $280 USD upgrade. Not only is Crucial more cost effective (you can buy an Apple TV, an awesome 22″ LCD screen or most of an iPhone with the savings), their RAM is world-class quality and their customer support is spot-on (not that you’ll ever need them).
MacBook Pro 2.33GHz & 2GB RAM
·OS X boot time – 33 seconds
·Open iTunes 7 – 6.9 seconds
·Open Firefox 2 – 8.0 seconds
·Open Acrobat Pro 7 – 25.7 seconds
·Burn 512MB DVD – 6 mins 44 seconds
·Import 112 photos (512MB) – 4 mins 44 seconds
·Open 2.1MB photo in Photoshop CS2 – 16.9 seconds
·Fully boot XP Pro in Parallels – 15.7 seconds
·OS X boot time – 28 seconds
·Open iTunes 7 – 3.8 seconds
·Open Firefox 2 – 2.0 seconds
·Open Acrobat Pro 7 – 20.1 seconds
·Burn 512MB DVD – 3 mins 58 seconds
·Import 112 photos (512MB) – 2 mins 02 seconds
·Open 2.1MB photo in Photoshop CS3 – 18 seconds
·Fully boot XP Pro in Parallels – 14.8 seconds
While speeds are one important factor, the additional 2GB of RAM allows for more work to be done concurrently. Once limited to a handful of open apps, I can now run everything I need on a daily basis – all at once – without worrying about my MacBook Pro slowing down or tipping the page ins/outs ratio. No matter what I do, the ratio stays n/0.
Universal vs. PPC
These days, Universal Binary applications far outnumber PPC-only apps. Still, a few of the most common and necessary apps need Rosetta to run on Intel-based Mac computers, the most popular being Microsoft Office. Sadly, Microsoft’s progress in pushing out the next Office suite for OS X is pretty bad… slower than government work. It’s been 18 months, and there’s still no product. Given this fact, users of MS Office will have to deal with the less-than-fantastic start times for Word, Excel, etc.
For those of you who want Word capabilities without having to pay the Microsoft tax or wait for Rosetta to open Word, check out free and open source OpenOffice or the even faster (and still free) app called Bean. Check versiontracker.com
for all sorts of useful Mac apps.
Since the 2.33GHz MacBook Pro was released last November, both Photoshop and Adobe Acrobat were made Universal Binary. They’re much, much more efficient than ever before – in some cases upwards of 250% faster. As an example, opening a 2.1MB JPG image in Photoshop CS2 (MBP 1.83GHz) took 52.2 seconds. On the new MBP 2.4GHz, the same image opens in Photoshop CS3 in 18 seconds. Photoshop effects can be applied faster, too.
Because I own an Apple TV, I occasionally convert some of my DVDs to MP4 format for streaming to my TV. I typically use HandBrake
for this task. With earlier MacBook Pros, I’ve seen HandBrake rip video at upwards of 60fps. At 60fps, a 2 hour movie would be converted in 1 hour. On the new 2.4GHz MBP with the 8X SuperDrive, HandBrake converted one of my favorite DVDs at an average of 96fps. That’s impressive.
Thanks to the Santa Rosa platform and more power-conserving components, the 2.4GHz MacBook Pro seems to run slightly cooler than the 2.33GHz model. Granted, the difference in surface and component temperatures between the 2.16GHz MBP and the 2.33GHz MBP is startling (obviously, the 2.33GHz being cooler). The difference between the 2.33GHz and the 2.4GHz is not as drastic, but it’s noticeable. After nine hours of operating my MBP (Bean, burning DVDs, Parallels with XP Pro, iTunes, etc.) the CPU is only at 122F and the hard drive is 99F. The top and bottom surfaces of the MBP feel only slightly warmer than body temperature.
Again, thanks to the LED screen and less power-hungry internals, the 2.4GHz MacBook Pro uses less energy that any of its predecessors. While everyone’s battery life stats will vary slightly, the average uptime is about 3.5 hours with the SuperDrive in use (playing DVDs, burning CDs, etc.) and closer to 5 hours without use of the SuperDrive. Apple claims “up to 6 hours” of battery life, but this can only be achieved under ideal conditions – LED screen turned down to lowest setting, no SuperDrive use, wireless off, etc. It can be done, however, and that’s pretty cool.
A Bad LCD Trip
When I first set up the 15″ 2.4GHz MBP, I was almost sorely disappointed. When the MBP boots for the first time and OS X goes through it’s setup process, there’s usually a grey background with the dialog windows in the foreground. For whatever reason, the grey background was tinted with a sickly brownish hue. Additionally, the outer edges of the screen had very noticeable haloing, presumably from the LED lighting strips. Both the background and haloing spelled imminent disaster for me, an artist and photographer who relies on accurate color.
By the end of the setup process, the ugly brownish hues went away and the haloing dissipated. It must have been some sort of initial LED warm-up or burn-in, because the final result was fantastic. Colors were beautiful, rich and stunning. Custom desktop images (e.g. a couple of my wedding photos from Hawaii) were so unusually crisp, they almost looked 3D. Of course they’re not 3D, but the color accuracy and intensity are remarkable.
As for the LED and brightness, I can say that this new lighting system is much brighter than the LCD on MacBooks and earlier MacBook Pros. I’d estimate that my 2.33GHz MBP, at full brightness, matches with the 80% brightness setting for the 2.4GHz LED model. In low-light situations, I have to turn the brightness down to keep from squinting. When using this MBP outside, upper-middle to max brightness are perfect for bright daylight use. Obviously, the LED lighting uses less battery power, but if you want to squeeze more battery life out of your MBP, turn it down a few notches.
With the Intel chip inside, the MacBook Pro quickly and efficiently runs Windows XP. Boot Camp is a free option that allows users to boot into a 100% Windows environment. Parallels
is an $80 USD option that allows users to run Windows XP (or any other OS) in a program window without ever leaving OS X. With 2GB or 4GB of RAM, the MacBook Pro boots XP (via Parallels) in about 15 seconds and feels just as fast as a stand-alone XP box.
The new 2.4GHz MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo is a fantastic laptop for almost every conceivable use; it’s even powerful enough to act as a desktop replacement. The internal component upgrades over the previous MacBook Pro are groundbreaking, especially the new LED-lit screen and perpendicular SATA hard drive. This is the 3rd major revision of the MacBook Pro and Apple has clearly worked out all the kinks attendant to 1st rev products. In fact, everywhere you look, the 2.4GHz MacBook Pro is flat-out better, faster, more efficient and more advanced than any other Apple laptop ever produced – and perhaps more so than any other PC/Windows laptop on the market today. And though Apple clearly increased the 2.4GHz MacBook Pro’s specifications, they didn’t raise the price one penny.
The base-level 2GB configuration is more than enough for most tasks, but the MacBook Pro becomes a true performance machine when given 4GB RAM. Memory upgrades can be done at an Apple store or as a build-to-order option for roughly $750 USD or as an after-market upgrade via crucial.com for about $280 USD.
No matter what your needs, the MacBook Pro is probably the most satisfying technology purchase one can make. Without a doubt, the 2.4GHz MacBook Pro met and exceeded all my expectations.
• Runs cooler and faster than other MBPs
• New Perpendicular SATA drives
• Insane 4GB RAM option
• Awesome LED backlit LCD screen
• Nearly silent
• 8X SuperDrive
• Ability to run OSX and Windows XP
• New iSight camera with 1.3 megapixel res
• Apple’s 4GB configuration is expensive
• Hard drive is difficult to upgrade, voids warranty
• $2499 USD is expensive for a laptop