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Macs, Movies, Games, Books, etc. The Rants of a Mad Man.

Review: Apple MacBook Pro (2008)

March 5th, 2008 by Raj

To the casual observer Apple’s latest MacBook Pro (MBP) would undoubtably be indistinguishable over it previous iterations. Right now sitting side by side with my previous, now 10 month old, MBP the only way I can tell them apart is the one on the left has that new machine feel on its keys and is a tad cleaner overall. Aesthetically there is very little different between the two machines, adorning the F7 through F9 keys you now have the iTunes controls we’ve come to love on Apple’s newer external keyboards, as well as the Expose & Dashboard icons on the F3 & F4 keys respectively. Personally I’d rather the F3 & F4 keys to not be branded as one of the first things I do is remap these functions to others, but thats by the by.

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Can you tell which one is the new version? I can’t!

Beyond the keyboard the only other distinguishable visual difference is the semi-new LED backlit screen. Whilst this screen has been available in the prior model it wasn’t until this release that it has been available across the board in both the 15 and 17 inch variations. The evenness of the backlight provides a much needed colour boost to the screen almost comparable with “gloss” screens, which is still an option should you not have an issue with glare in your work area. To be honest I’ve had to turn down the brightness a tad off full because it felt like the white was cooking my retinas from the inside out, an experience that completely shames my prior machine.

Aesthetics aside, its under the hood of the new MBP’s now tired shell where this new model really starts to break away. At the heart of the machine is the new Intel Penryn 45nm processor, ranging from 2.4Ghz to 2.6Ghz depending on your selected configuration. As with the exterior of the machine, looking at the clock speed itself you’d think nothing’s changed but its the 45nm build of the chip that makes both a difference in operating temperatures and battery life. No longer will you endure 3rd degree burns after 15 minutes of use, instead they’ll only be 2nd degree and take an extra 10 minutes! w00t! There’s also the added bonus of 6MB of L2 cache on the CPU also for that extra kick.

Standard now in all models is what I’d consider an above average laptop hard drive size of 250GB @ 5400rpm. This is a nice improvement over previous pitiful options topping out at 160GB. Should you have the cash to burn there’s even a 300GB option available in the 17″ model however you take a speed hit with the drive only running at 4800rpm. For the video editors out there there’s also the 7200rpm option but Apple tops out at 200GB.

The video card also receives a mild bump, more to “keep up with the Jones’s”, than anything else. Retaining the same Nvidia 8600M GT card the VRAM is boosted to 512MB in the top 15″ and 17″ models but stays at 256MB in the cheaper 15″ option.

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Lastly, in line with the recently released MacBook Air the MBP receives the new Multi-Touch trackpad. The trackpad enables the user to make use of the “pinch” and other movements to manipulate photos and other rudimentary functions that the majority of people will dismiss or probably never even know the trackpad can do. Luckily there’s a new, slightly more useful, function Multi-Touch can do in allowing you to swipe between webpages by using 3 fingers on the trackpad instead of 2 fingers that you would use for scrolling. OK, so maybe its not the innovation of the century but I might use it once in a while.

With all of these new components, most important of which is the CPU, Apple claim a new battery life of 5 “wireless working” hours. It seems with this new release Apple PR have decided to now measure battery life in how long their laptops can actually be used continuously with a wireless network connection. A bold move considering their prior models were advertised with 4.5 hours of “optimal” life and now to the average Joe their new machine does basically the same?! How many are going to read the fine print to figure out you can actually use it for that full 5 hours instead of about 3 (if you’re lucky) on the previous model? Whilst the newly advertised 5 is probably a stretch, I’m sitting at 3.5 now and still have 15% left in the pack so I’m happy.

Tech specs and changes aside lets have a look at some real life figures to see if there is any difference at all, and whether or not my extra A$250 to spring for the 2.6Ghz CPU was worth it. I’ll be comparing my previous model (Mid 2007 – 2.4Ghz, 2GB RAM, 120GB @5400rpm HDD) against the brand new Penryn based MBP (Early 2008 – 2.6Ghz, 2GB RAM, 250GB @5400rpm). Both machines have a fresh install of Mac OS X 10.5.2.

Test 1: Boot time (to desktop, with autologin enabled)
Mid 2007: 59 seconds
Early 2008: 48 seconds

Test 2: AAC Encode (4 minute 160kbps CBR MP3 converted to 160kbps CBR AAC using iTunes)
Mid 2007: 8.9 seconds
Early 2008: 7.4 seconds

Test 3: Video Encode (190MB DivX to 2 pass H.264 using ffmpeg via VisualHub)
Mid 2007: 18 minutes, 29 seconds
Early 2008: 15 minutes, 37 seconds
Note: The old model had its fan running at full speed almost from the second I started the encode where as the new machine barely even spun the fan at all.

As you can see there’s a small improvement in each task, the video encoding especially a welcome relief whenever there is less time involved, but realistically if you currently own a MBP from 2007 is it really worth the upgrade? If you’re happy with your current machine and tossing up whether to fork out the cash that you may not necessarily have lying around then my answer is no, it’s not particularly worth it and with rumours already circulating about another update in June with Intel’s new line of chips as well as the long awaited Blu-Ray drive and hopefully new enclosure I’d recommend holding off. Video/Photographic professionals and gamers will most likely be the ones to benefit from the new CPU and increased VRAM but thats where the benefits end in my opinion.

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