Apple’s MacBook Pro has been left without Intel’s latest Core processors while PC rivals streak ahead, but by updating its all-aluminium notebooks Apple has slipped inside a few new features alongside the new silicon. This isn’t just a speed-bumped MacBook. Read our MacBook Pro review and we’ll break down the new features, and more importantly, whether they warrant the upgrade.
The new MacBook Pro is a blessing to video editors, media hounds and posers alike. There’s no doubting that this is still the best looking laptop ever made. Apple’s aluminium unibody and large glass trackpad are unchanged, as is the delightfully springy backlit keyboard and LED-backlit display.
The new MacBook Pro does have one external update though. Or, at least, its charger does. Apple has quietly updated the new 15-inch MacBook Pro’s MagSafe power connector, giving it an aluminium skin and cylindrical design.
It’s neat, but in an annoying case of form over function it’s now possible to block the MacBook’s ethernet port with the new connector, since it’ll attach magnetically whichever way around it’s introduced to the new MacBook Pro. It’s not a deal-breaker, but is an odd annoyance all the same.
What isn’t an annoyance is the performance boost delivered by the new MacBook Pro’s updated processor. Fling open the lid, using Apple’s lovingly-crafted thumb scoop just under the screen’s edge, and you’ll find it’s a humdinger of a machine. We tested the most basic 15-inch MacBook Pro, with a 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 processor, alongside 4GB of DDR3 memory, Intel HD graphics and a dedicated Nvidia GeForce GT330M graphics card.
In particular, those two last specs are worth taking note of. While previous MacBook Pro laptops have packed multiple graphics chips, this is the first to seamlessly switch between them without the need for logging out of OS X, depending on how much power an individual app requires.
Previously, Apple’s MacBook Pro laptops have either had their full-power graphics switched on, or off. What’s more, manually switching between them was a fiddly process. Now it’s all automated, with Apple’s Mac OS intelligently selecting which chip to use, depending how intense an app’s graphics needs are.
It’s a smart system, but in our tests the new MacBook Pro was easily fooled. In most cases, such as firing up 3D accelerated games, the new MacBook flicked from Intel’s low power, but equally low performance, integrated graphics to its Nvidia chipset instantly, boosting performance and providing pixel-perfect visuals. HD video editing saw a performance boost from the Nvidia chip too with Apple’s iMovie software smartly selecting the beefed up graphics chip.
It’s not foolproof though. Using iTunes to play back a HD video clip, the new MacBook Pro refused to engage its beefier graphics, and while it’s fair to say the Intel chip did an admirable job of decoding the pictures, there’s no way to tell if the Nvidia hardware would have done it any better.
Similarly, we found a few apps that Apple’s new graphics switching struggled with. iPhoto, for example, doesn’t make use of the new graphics chips, while oddly the Twitter app Tweetie makes them flick unnecessarily into high gear, potentially draining the battery while on the road.
And speaking of the battery, Apple has upped the capacity of the new MacBook Pro’s, claiming up to nine hours use, despite the weight remaining a respectable 2.5kg, just like its predecessor. In practice, however, we didn’t notice much difference between this new MacBook Pro and the previous model. It’s likely that extra juice is in place solely to contend with the increased grunt under the new MacBook Pro’s slinky shell.
The big question then, is whether this MacBook upgrade is worth the outlay. If you’re in the market for a brand new laptop, then it’s an unquestionable yes. The extra power makes 3D games and HD video a treat, although those with previous generation MacBooks aren’t missing out on a great deal, and could arguably see better efficiencies by sticking with manual switching for graphics.
The new MacBook Pro remains the best looking, easiest to use, and most powerful standard-spec lap-dweller we’ve ever used, but there’s not much call for the upgrade itch to be scratched if you already own one of Cupertino’s machines.