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Apple MacBook Pro review

Verdict

An Intel-based Mac is still a Mac, but its reassuring Intel heart makes it tempting as a mobile Windows alternative. Beware the price, though, particularly if you need Microsoft Office

Review Date: 17 Mar 2006

Reviewed By: David Fearon

Price when reviewed: (£1,989 inc VAT) as tested

Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

The basic chassis design of the MacBook Pro is nothing new, having been around in the form of the PowerPC-based PowerBook for several years. It's a wide metal-finish machine with a 1,440 x 900 resolution display. The width alone places it outside the realms of an ultraportable. Factor in the 2.54kg weight and you've got something that, while certainly portable, makes its presence felt on your shoulder.

Beneath the familiar Apple exterior beats a heart of purest PC, an Intel Core Duo processor. Apple is 'not releasing' any information about the design of the Core's supporting components. However, the company showed us a schematic of the system architecture, which looks remarkably similar to the standard Intel setup of a north bridge memory controller and south bridge peripheral controller. It's safe to assume that Intel has had more than a passing involvement here; the same 945 chipset found in Core-based Windows notebooks is likely.

Existing PowerPC software is translated into x86 machine code dynamically by a software layer known as Rosetta. Apple's applications are now native to Intel, but third parties will take a while to catch up. Adobe is one of these, and according to Apple will need to change development environments before any of the big hitters such as Photoshop can go native: it took 42 seconds to complete our Adobe Photoshop panorama test, compared to 20 seconds for the Sony VAIO VGN-SZ1VP. It's also likely that an upgrade to Intel code won't be free. If you've already paid for your copy of Photoshop, you're probably going to have to pay again in order to use the Core Duo to its full advantage.

The base Unix-derived Mac OS X has a stack of extras and applications, including the iLife Suite, providing media handling with iDVD, iMovie HD, iPhoto and the ubiquitous iTunes. There's also iChat videoconferencing for use with the integrated iSight webcam. Out of the box, however, you don't get full office productivity, merely trial versions of iWork '06 - consisting of the Pages word processor and Keynote presentation package - and Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac. iWork is fully functional for 30 days, but Office has various restrictions. A full version of iWork will set you back only £55 including VAT, but Office weighs in at £449.

From a practical point of view, possibly the most impressive aspect of the whole system is its power management. Close the MacBook's lid and it instantly goes to sleep; open it back up and it's instantly ready. This level of responsiveness should arrive with Vista, but for now it beats XP by a mile. It means you'll get the most out of the battery, which also gives a good account of itself: we managed just under four-and-a-half hours in light use.

Gorgeous little features abound. The MagSafe power connector is a unique touch. The power lead doesn't plug into the body, it's magnetic. The connector plug is a short, rectangular affair that sucks itself onto the matching aperture on the side of the chassis with surprising force. But trip over the cable and it immediately disengages, the MacBook remaining on the desk instead of lurching towards the floor.

Then there's the remote control, a tiny infrared unit with styling similar to an iPod shuffle. It's great for Keynote presentations - once you've paid for your copy of iWork - and its Menu, Play/Pause, Volume and Back/Forward buttons make it perfect for controlling Front Row, Apple's equivalent of Windows Media Center but without TV. Press the remote's Menu button and the full-screen Front Row interface swishes to life; press it again and the OS X Desktop swishes back. The only downside is that there's no dock or nook in the body of the MacBook in which to store the remote itself.

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