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).

I usually run Xbench when I get a new laptop. It's not an infallible test tool, but it does give you an overall idea of how any particular model compares to Apple laptops present and past. Xbench taxes the drive, RAM and graphics processor to determine an overall score.

The score for this particular MacBook Pro topped out at 189. Fast. Very fast. (By way of comparison, my Air returned an Xbench score of 141. That 2007 MacBook Pro with a 2.4-GHz Core 2 Duo processor -- the top-of-the-line model two years ago -- got a score of 118.)

It's always difficult to compare different tasks on different computers, but I wanted to see how the top-end MacBook Pro compares to the top-of-the-line MacBook Air. So I opened iMovie, selected a minute-long digital video clip and exported it as a 960-by-540-pixel movie. Doing that on the MacBook Pro took two minutes and seven seconds, with the processor cores at about 75 to 80 percent utilization. On the Air, which has a 1.86-GHz chip, the video export took almost exactly twice as long: four minutes and 16 seconds.

The same differential shows up when launching apps. Firing up Photoshop Elements 6 on the MacBook Pro took just under 4 seconds; on the Air, no slouch in the app-launching department because of its SSD, it took 8 seconds. And in earlier testing, launching the same software on the 2007 MacBook Pro took 16 seconds.

Saving a few seconds here and there may not sound like much, but if you use your computer to do a variety of tasks and can save a few seconds with each task, those seconds and minutes add up over time. And time really is money.

Final thoughts

An Apple official described the company's goal in creating the latest MacBook Pro as follows: "It's designed for performance users... [who] crave high-performance technologies." By that benchmark, the MacBook Pro clearly hits the target. There's not much more you could ask for -- especially with the build-to-order options -- so the question becomes: Would you be happy with less?

Apple's lineup runs the gamut from trendy, hip portable for road warriors (the MacBook Air), to mainstream laptops for the masses (the MacBooks), to upscale for professionals (the MacBook Pros). Assuming you want or need the biggest screen available, the question then centers around storage and processor.

For most would-be owners, even the stock configuration will exceed their needs by orders of magnitude. Apple's newest laptop should handle anything thrown at it. If you've managed to avoid the belt-tightening that comes with a recession -- in other words, you've got the money and need to shave a few seconds off routine tasks -- go with the SSD, order the faster processor and double the RAM (though you can get the same amount of RAM for about US$750 from third-party resellers).

Your wallet will be noticeably lighter, but at least for the near term, you'll have one of the fastest, best-built, most-eye-pleasing laptops on the planet. And there's value in that, too.

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Ken Mingis

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