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Friday, October 24, 2008, 07:45 am PT (10:45 am ET)

Apple's unibody MacBook Pro: an in-depth review with video


Expansion ports

Unlike the MacBook and its missing FireWire, the new MacBook Pro retains everything from the previous model, with some key differences. There's now no longer a separate FireWire 400 and FireWire 800 port; only the faster one. This may result in some users having to invest in a few bucks to get a FW400 to FW800 cable, but the daisy chain architecture of FireWire prevents the single port from really being a problem. FireWire can also be used with a hub to support lots of devices. The faster speed of FW800 makes it nice that Apple kept the jack on the Pro model, although many users would have liked to see a MacBook Pro in the 13" size as well.

All ports are now on the left side, so rather than having one USB port on each, there's two next to each other. The other difference in port arrangement is the new Mini DisplayPort, which replaces the much larger DVI port on the previous model. All of the MacBooks now use the Mini DisplayPort apart from the unchanged 17" MacBook Pro and the carried forward White MacBook. Future iMacs, minis and Pros will also get the new port, likely making it common enough to find straight cables rather than having to use a dongle to connect to DVI or VGA. It's disappointing that Apple didn't just come out with a series of Mini DisplayPort to VGA or DVI cables rather than the dongles, but this should be addressed by third parties.

The new models apparently provide no support for audio over a Mini DisplayPort cable (as can be supported in the specification), so unlike Apple TV there's no way to output both audio and video over the same cable in the manner of HDMI. That necessitates also using the headphone audio output or a digital optical toslink port for audio output to a TV display. The MacBook Pro retains the excellent audio in and out functions that supply both standard line-in and headphone audio as well as digital optical mini S/PDIF connections.

The headphone jack now also supports iPhone-style headphones with an integrated mic and a playback control button. That's a great feature for anyone doing iChat audio or video conferencing or using another VoIP program on the go, as the built in microphone makes it hard to isolate background noise, and most mics and headsets designed for generic PCs lack the higher line level output required by the Mac's mic input port.

iPhone/iPod AV Cables


For more information on FireWire features, see: Jobs responds to outrage over MacBook's missing FireWire
For more information on audio and DisplayPort features, see: Inside the new MacBooks: Audio and Video
For more information on iPhone-style headphone jacks, see: Using iPod & iPhone Video Out: Background and In-Depth Review

The battery and drive bay

Removing the battery is nearly as easy as previous models. Rather than unlatching two catches, you flip a lever on the back to remove the cover and simply lift the battery out. The cover also provides some additional protection against casual battery theft, as an attached locking cable prevents the back cover from being removed. The battery cover panel is extremely thin, making it fairly easy to bend out of precision alignment. It feels slightly thinner than the back panel of the Titanium PowerBook.

The battery unit is smaller and therefore lighter, which contributes to the new model only weighing a tenth of a pound more than the previous model, despite its heavier aluminum shell. The advance of using NVIDIA's controller for graphics, rather than a dedicated GPU by default, also pares down the battery demands of the new model enough to retain its same rated battery life.

On the other hand, the battery simply has less capacity (50Wh versus 60Wh), so you're more likely to need to carry a spare, particularly if you hope to enable the higher performance of the dedicated GPU. The internal battery now presents a signal level on the side of the unit, with eight LEDs rather than five on the previous model's batteries, offering some additional accuracy. However, loose batteries now lack any built-in indicator to show if they are charged or not.

MacBook


MacBook


The MacBook Pro's battery bay hard drive is now removable with a single screw, rather than requiring the entire back to be taken off first. Apple offers a 250 and 350GB hard drive as standard, respectively, on the good and better models. It also offers upgrade options to a faster 7200 RPM hard drive or a smaller capacity, but much faster and pricier SSD.

MacBook


Above the battery bay cover is the main cover held in place by eight screws. Once removed, you can access the optical drive and RAM. Since the MacBook Pro comes with 2GB and maxxes out at 4GB, this somewhat limited access to RAM probably isn't a significant issue. RAM access on the previous model was a bit simpler, only requiring the removal of three screws. Another internal change over the previous model is the optical drive, which is now SATA. That holds out the potential for an aftermarket bracket for mounting an additional SATA hard drive in the place of a removed optical drive, for users who want extra storage more than access to optical discs.



On page 5 of 6: Performance overview: CPU and RAM; % Performance overview: graphics.