Apple's new 17-inch MacBook Pro rocks

Upgrades can push the price past $5k, though, so choose wisely

The biggest of Apple's laptop line compared to the smallest, a second-generation MacBook Air (right).

The biggest of Apple's laptop line compared to the smallest, a second-generation MacBook Air (right).

Apple custom-designed the battery and used as much room in the expansive 17-inch chassis as possible. In fact, it even eliminated the battery-removal mechanism used in earlier models -- just to make a little more space for the new battery. (Since there's no latch on the bottom of the laptop, accessing the RAM and hard drive now requires the removal of 10 very small screws.)

And it has introduced new adaptive-charging technology specific to this model that meters out battery charging depending on what you're doing at the time. The goal was to extend the life of the battery so that you won't have to replace it anytime soon.

Apple estimates the battery should be good for 1,000 charge cycles -- more than three times the number for a typical laptop battery -- or about five years. That's assuming four full charges a week, at eight hours a charge. Naturally, your battery life will vary.

If you do need the battery replaced, you'll have to get Apple or an Apple authorized service center to do it for you. The cost is $179, and Apple says the job can be done in a day.

But wait -- there's more

As noted earlier, there are several ways to trick out the MacBook Pro. In addition to opting for the faster processor and doubling the RAM -- 4GB should be fine for most users, by the way, so you can save US$1,200 right there -- you can also choose a solid-state disk drive.

I've been a big fan of SSDs ever since I got one in my second-generation MacBook Air last fall. They're fast, use less energy, run dead silent and, since there are no moving platters, are less susceptible to damage should you jolt the laptop suddenly or drop it. They're also expensive, and you actually get less storage space than with a traditional hard drive for the same money.

The 17-inch MacBook Pro comes standard with a 320GB hard drive spinning at 5,400 rpm. If you opt for the 128GB SSD, you'll pay $300 extra. And the 256GB SSD -- the largest one yet offered by Apple -- costs $750 more than the base configuration. That makes the gigabyte-per-dollar equation dicey at best, at least for now. But what an SSD lacks in price, it makes up in speed.

Boot-up time, for instance, is just 25 seconds from start-up chime to desktop -- the same as on my MacBook Air, which has the 128GB SSD. (That's about half the time needed to start up my old 2007 MacBook Pro.) Applications launch in a fraction of the time it normally takes, and Mac OS X always feels snappy. The speed boost shows up in benchmarking tests, too.

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