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First Look: Pairing the new 2010 17 inch MacBook Pro with iPad

Apple's latest revision of its 17" MacBook Pro boasts better performance and a lower price tag. With an iPad companion for working on the go, is it now less important to have a highly portable notebook?

Ever since Apple delivered its first 17" notebook back in 2003, the model has tempted users with a high resolution, dazzling screen that was also significantly more expensive and less mobile than the more mainstream 15" model. Often dubbed the "aircraft carrier" due to its expansive width necessary to accommodate its widescreen display, Apple's high end notebook model has historically served a professional niche that cared more about lots of pixels than weight or cost.

With the 2010 model however, Apple has dropped the base price of the 17" MacBook Pro by $200, despite its getting a significantly faster CPU and GPU. This makes it just $300 more than the similarly equipped 15" model, which has not changed in price relative to its last revision. Externally, the new unibody MacBooks look identical to the previous batch from last summer.

The MacBook Pros ship in a simple box with little more than a power adapter and the usual regulatory papers and Apple stickers. There's also the customary two DVDs for restoring Mac OS X and the included apps.

unboxing 17 MacBook Pro

inside 17 MacBook Pro box

Mini Me: 17" MacBook Pro and iPad

In addition to the 17" model now being tantalizingly closer in price to the 15" model, there's also a new reason for notebook users to worry less about how much their machine weighs and how big it is: iPad. Having positioned iPad as a new product category between the handheld iPhone and the full powered MacBook line, Apple appears to be working to make the high end MacBook Pro that much more attractive to users on the go with mixed needs.

Pairing the 17" MacBook Pro with an iPad gives you a vast, beautiful desktop experience that can travel between the office and home, while also enabling increased handheld mobility when you're doing things that don't demand the full notebook experience, such as browsing the web from the couch or watching movies while commuting or flying across country.

The two machines sport very similar lines, with the same glossy screens, the same minimalist aluminum bodies, and the same rounded off edges to their rigid unibody designs milled from blocks of metal. They look like they belong together.

iPad and 17 MacBook Pro

iPad and 17 MacBook Pro

iPad and 17 MacBook Pro

Advantages of the 17" MacBook Pro

If you subscribe to Apple's vision for pairing the MacBook with an iPad, then the high end 17" version becomes even more attractive: it delivers a beautiful, vast 1920x1200 resolution display that debuted in January 2009 with the unibody construction version of the big screen MacBook Pro (previous 17" models had delivered a 1680x1050 screen).

That gives the 17" MacBook Pro the same high pixel density as iPad: 132 PPI. That's the greatest pixel density of any notebook or desktop Mac (the new high resolution 1680x1050 option for the 15" model takes it to 128 PPI, and costs $100 extra, one third the cost of upgrading to the 17" version.)

If you work with lots of documents on screen at once, or simply value seeing the most real estate possible when using Final Cut Pro or Photoshop or simply browsing the web, the 17" MacBook Pro gives you the most pixels per inch (and the most pixels!) of any Mac. And you can still carry it around.

The other unique features of the 17" model are its three USB ports (rather than two on the 15" 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" is the only way to get it on a MacBook.

Like other new MacBook Pro models, the 17" now ships with the right angle MagSafe power connector similar to the MacBook Air. While you can still use existing adapters with square MagSafe connectors, the 17" and 15" models' power adapters supply 85 watts, so if you use older versions (or the 60 watt adapter intended for the 13" MacBook Pro), it will take longer to charge. The new MagSafe design looks a bit slicker, directs the power cable backward, and appears to be a little more resistant to wear and tear than the original square design.

MagSafe MacBook Pro

On page 2 of 2: Disadvantages, build to order options.