Apple MacBook Pro (15in, Core i7)

The new MacBook range employs Intel's new Core i5 and Core i7 processors

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Apple MacBook Pro  (15in, Core i7)
  • Apple MacBook Pro  (15in, Core i7)
  • Apple MacBook Pro  (15in, Core i7)
  • Apple MacBook Pro  (15in, Core i7)

Pros

  • Excellent aluminium unibody design, great build quality, Core i7 processor option, increased performance and battery life over previous models, excellent keyboard, large trackpad

Cons

  • Trackpad has areas with poor response, glossy display, 5400rpm hard drive, restricted graphics card switching, USB ports poorly positioned, can become uncomfortably hot on occasion

Bottom Line

The design remains the same, but Apple's latest MacBook Pro has received a welcomed upgrade under the hood. The glossy display, slow hard drive and poorly positioned USB ports remain issues, but better performance and battery life than previous models make this notebook a winner.

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It's been almost 12 months since Apple updated its premium MacBook Pro range. There have been no changes to the design of the 15in MacBook Pro — it's what under the hood that's special. Apple's latest MacBook range boasts Intel's new Core i5 and Core i7 processors, promising better performance.

The MacBook range comes in three sizes (13in, 15in and 17in). We got our hands on the top-of-the-line 15in model, which sports an Intel Core i7 processor. The latest MacBook Pro looks almost identical to its predecessor. It uses a "precision aluminium unibody enclosure" crafted from a single block of aluminium. The result is a notebook that feels superbly built, and one that certainly seems capable of taking its fair share of knocks and bumps. A minor complaint is that the aluminium edges of the MacBook often dig into your arms while typing. We think the MacBook Pro still has one of the best notebook designs out there, and it looks far from outdated.

The MacBook Pro has a 15.4in display surrounded by a glossy black bezel; despite being thin it's one of the sturdiest notebook displays we've seen, exhibiting minimal flex when twisted. The screen does exhibit slight puddling when the lid is pressed, though this is a minor issue and only occurs if you press it with some force.

The MacBook Pro's screen is LED backlit, which makes it more power efficient than a standard notebook display. Under florescent office lighting the glossy screen can be distracting, and viewing it from even a slight angle results in a harsh yellow colour shift. We would recommend the optional non-glossy display ($210), especially for an office environment. The anti-glare option also comes with a higher resolution — 1680x1050 pixels rather than the standard 1440x900.

The MacBook Pro's keyboard is excellent. The well-spaced keys provide excellent tactility and make typing a comfortable experience. For night use, the keyboard is illuminated and works in conjunction with the auto-brightness feature of the display. The notebook's function keys provide access to features such as display brightness, Expose, Dashboard and media playback controls.

The MacBook Pro's trackpad remains one of the largest we've seen on a laptop and it uses the same multitouch technology seen on the iPhone. First introduced on the MacBook Air, the glass trackpad allows users to swipe with two, three or three fingers to navigate, and pinch and squeeze to zoom in and out of certain applications. Its large size makes it easy to use, but there are a couple of spots around the edges that sometimes seem difficult to press.

Our review unit was the top-of-the-range 15in MacBook Pro, powered by a 2.66GHz Intel Core i7 CPU, 4GB of DDR2 RAM (with an option for 8GB), a 500GB hard drive and a double-layer, slot-loading SuperDrive. The 15in MacBook Pro also offers 802.11n/b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. A complaint we had with last year's model remains: the 5400RPM hard drive is slow when compared to many new notebooks and Apple doesn't offer an SSD drive as an optional, built-to-order extra.

The new MacBook Pro once again comes with two graphics chips — in this case a 512MB NVIDIA GeForce GT330M and an onboard 256MB Intel HD graphics chip that shares the system memory. The older MacBook Pros required you delve into the system preferences menu and then log out and back in again to switch graphics, but the new model automatically switches graphics cards when it needs to. Though this sounds more convenient, the fact the user can't switch when they would like to is a bit too restrictive, and there is also no way to see which graphics adapter is running at a particular time.

The MacBook Pro delivered noteworthy performance in our tests. It took just 36sec to encode 53min worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3s. We also benchmarked the MacBook Pro using Geekbench; it scored 5403, which is much better than the previous model's 3644. It also handles multiple tasks without any issues — for example, we had two browser windows open, one streaming live TV and the other used for general browsing, and at the same time uploaded photos to iPhoto and listened to music through iTunes and the notebook didn't skip a beat. The notebook also felt faster when conducting basic tasks, such as opening and closing apps.

The MacBook Pro still only two USB ports and they are too close together. We couldn't plug in a Bluetooth dongle for our portable mouse and a USB key at the same time. Rounding out the ports are FireWire 800, headphone and line-out jacks, Gigabit Ethernet and a mini-DisplayPort connection (which requires an extra dongle to connect to most monitors). The MacBook Pro is one of the quietest notebooks we've reviewed, but when running multiple tasks both the bottom of the notebook and the palm rest can become uncomfortably hot.

Battery life is rated at up to eight hours. Apple has once again used a non-removable lithium-polymer battery in this range of MacBooks, and claims it has a lifespan of up to five years. As expected, we didn't achieved the advertised eight hours during our DVD rundown test, but we still managed an improved result over the previous model — the MacBook Pro lasted almost five hours before it powered off.

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