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Wednesday, April 28, 2010, 04:00 pm PT (07:00 pm ET)

Review: Apple's early 2010 MacBook Pros


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Unibody design and other details largely unchanged

While the MacBook Pro's CPUs and GPUs have been rejiggered, their unibody construction and other features are largely unchanged: rigid aluminum cases with strong edges; good keyboard feel with backlit typing; a big, glass trackpad that supports gestures and secondary clicks; all the same ports as the previous models; and the same high quality displays with wide viewing angles and a glossy screen.

There are a few new options however. The 15 inch model now offers a high resolution screen option of 1680x1050 for $100 more, providing a pixel density nearly identical to the 17 inch version. Both high end models can be ordered with a custom matte finish for $50, although the 15 inch matte option is only available in conjunction with the high resolution screen option (making it part of a $150 package).

All MacBook Pros continue to ship with integrated batteries, which means you can't swap out external packs but that your internal battery will last about as long as two conventional notebook batteries anyway. The new 13 and 15 inch models provide slightly bigger batteries, upgrading from 60 Watt hours to 63.5 on the 13 inch model and from 73 Watt hours to 77.5 on the 15 inch version. The 17 inch model remains the same at 95 Watt hours.

This results in a 10 hour "wireless productivity" rating for the 13 inch MacBook Pro and an 8-9 hour rating for the 15 and 17 inch editions. That figure is based upon browsing the web and word processing with the screen set at 50% brightness, so playing video games or watching DVDs will consume more battery. However, this still gives the MacBook Pros a much longer lifespan than most other notebooks on the market.

iPad and 17 MacBook Pro

iPad and 17 MacBook Pro


The batteries are also rated to last through 1000 cycles, meaning they should outlast conventional batteries and not need replacement throughout the primary life of the system (around five years). They can be replaced for a fee that's comparable to buying a new conventional battery.

With bigger batteries come greater power supply responsibilities. The new 15 and 17 inch MacBook Pros ship with slightly larger, 85 Watt adapters to charge the battery faster. The new adapters also come with streamlined new MagSafe plugs that seem more durable and route the power cable back rather than in a loop that juts out perpendicular to the machine (below).



Unique features among the three MacBook Pro model sizes

As with the previous generation of MacBook Pros (review), the 17 inch model uniquely features three USB ports (rather than two on the 15 inch model) and its ExpressCard/34 slot (rather than just an SD Card slot on other MacBook models.) If you want an SD Card slot reader, you can get one for the 17" model's ExpressCard slot for about $20. The card slot comes in handy if you want to use 3G WWAN card or have some specialized need for an interface like eSATA or additional Firewire ports, although Apple's says its surveys show that only 10% of users ever actually use the ExpressCard slot. If you're in that minority of users who need it, the 17 inch model is the only way to get it on a MacBook.

The 15 inch model supplies 256MB of dedicated video RAM to its GPU, although the high end Core i7 processor option ships with a 512MB. The base CPU model of the 17 inch MacBook Pro comes with a full 512MB of video RAM. The 13 inch version uses 256MB of shared system RAM for its graphics processor.

The 13 inch MacBook Pro now comes with 4GB RAM standard, and all models are expandable to 8GB of RAM. The size of the standard included hard drive is also bumped up slightly across the board, making the new models a slightly better deal in a variety of ways. The biggest jump on the new models, however, comes from the 15 and 17 inch models' new Intel Arrandale processors.

On page 3 of 3: The Arrandale advantage.