Apple's 17-Inch MacBook Pro Is Long on Looks, Battery Life

 
 
By Cameron Sturdevant  |  Posted 2009-04-29
 
 
 

Apple's 17-inch MacBook Pro is appropriate for high-value content producers and executives who desire a highly capable desktop replacement that makes a bang when it enters the room.

The first thing l noticed about Apple's 17-inch MacBook Pro notebook-which earned an eWEEK Analyst's Choice award--is the appealing fit and finish. The solid aluminum unibody enclosure operates smoothly-from the opening of the magnetic clasp to the easy-yet-sure swing of the display to the seamless undercarriage.

Announced in January and available since mid-February, the 17-inch MacBook Pro ranges in price from $2,799 for the unit I tested to $4,899. The MacBook Pro I tested came equipped with a 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB 1066MHz DDR3 RAM, a 320GB Serial ATA drive and an internal optical drive. I tested with the high-resolution glossy widescreen display.

Click here to see a slide show of Labs' tests of the 17-inch MacBook Pro.

The 17-inch MacBook Pro comes with two different GPUs, both from Nvidia. For power-saving utility work, there is the 9400M PCI GPU. For high-resolution graphics editing and gaming, there is the 9600M GT PCIe with 512MB of GDDR3 memory. Switching between the two requires the user to re-login, and the difference in the GPUs' power usage is substantial-the high-performance 9600M GT PCIe GPU should be used only when connected to external power.

The 17-inch MacBook Pro is visually impressive. However, what can't be seen is equally striking; the built-in 95-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery. Apple engineers designed this battery to last for 1,000 charges, for an estimated lifespan of five years. The battery charge provides up to eight hours of continuous, very light-duty use (with all power-saving features set to maximum, no use of the internal optical drive and the wireless network adapter active).

During tests at eWEEK Labs in San Francisco, we saw that kind of battery life using the MacBook Pro. Even under heavier workloads-for example, using the internal optical drive-the battery still provided close to five hours of continuous operation.

Apple provides several battery end-of-life options, ranging from a $179 battery replacement through Apple to full system recycling. The only drawback that I found during testing is that users who often process heavy workloads in places where AC power is not available will find the sealed battery problematic since there is no way to pop in a fresh one. This is a real drawback, and could put some field work-such as managing plans at remote construction sites and survey work-off-limits for the 17-inch MacBook Pro.

The Multi-Touch trackpad that was introduced last October in the MacBook family, is outstanding. The entire trackpad is the button-there is no longer a button bar at the bottom of the pad-and there are myriad ways to configure one-, two-,  three- and four-finger gestures to customize navigation and image handling.

The trackpad is responsive without being susceptible to stray gestures, due to the separation of the palm/wrist resting area from the  the trackpad. The large trackpad also is in proportion to the 17-inch display, which makes it easy to accurately move the pointer to the intended screen location.

There is one design choice that momentarily hampered my full use of the 17-inch MacBook Pro. Despite having nearly 163 square inches of real estate, the full-size keyboard lacks several convenience navigation keys, including page up/down and home/end. It was easy enough to use the key combination of function plus arrow up/down, but I'd prefer a single key for these common actions.

The 17-inch MacBook Pro weighs in at 6.6 pounds-relatively low for a 17-inch system, but still, well, 6.6 pounds. For users who need the premium MacBook Pro but in a more portable package, the 15-inch version shaves just over a pound off the weight.

That said, the 17-inch MacBook Pro is the thinnest and certainly the lightest currently shipping notebook with this size display. Most rival 17-inch systems are significantly heavier but usually come with more memory and drive capacity. The 8.2-pound Sony Vaio AW, which uses the 2.93GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (a processor option for the 17-inch MacBook Pro), comes with a larger, 18.4-inch widescreen display, a hard drive of up to 1TB and an available 256GB SSD with Blu-ray Disc playback and recording. The Toshiba Qosmio X305-Q725, which comes with the Intel Core 2 Quad Processor Q9000 and pretty much more of everything, weighs 9 pounds. Lenovo, HP and Dell all make systems that could be considered in this category, as well.

The 17-inch ultrathin LED display is a great complement to the graphics capabilities provided by the Nvidia GPUs. We tested with the standard glossy display. Reflection was noticeable, but the bright LED display and sharp blacks made up for the annoyance. The display is also available with a matte finish to reduce glare and reflection (with a silver instead of black bezel, to let people know you paid extra) for $50.

I loaded Final Cut Pro 5 on the system, and was able to edit 1,080p high-definition video.

The 17-inch MacBook Pro's connections are mounted on the left side of the system. Connections include a MagSafe power port, Gigabit Ethernet port, single FireWire 800 port, three USB 2.0 ports, Mini DisplayPort, audio line in/out and ExpressCard/34 slot. The Mini DisplayPort, an open and royalty-free connector, is something of a competitor to HDMI, so I wasn't surprised that the MacBook Pro doesn't sport an HDMI port. However, users will likely find that a conversion dongle is necessary more often than not until Mini DisplayPort devices become more common.

Technical Director Cameron Sturdevant can be reached at csturdevant@eweek.com. 

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