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November 2014
Issue: October 1, 2006

REVIEW: APPLE'S 17-INCH MACBOOK PRO

By: Dariush Derakhshani

PRODUCT: Apple MacBook Pro

WEB SITE: www.apple.com

PRICING: Starts at $1,999

- Intel Core Duo inside

- ATI Radeon X1600 video card

- Sleek and sturdy

If you're in the post production business, you need a laptop, at least if you don't enjoy being chained to a desk. Many applications used for post, namely Apple's Final Cut Pro, Shake, DVD Studio Pro, all run on OS X, not to mention Digidesign Pro Tools and some Avid tools.

So when Apple offered to send me their new 17-inch MacBook Pro to review, I figured it was worth a go round to see how its new portable workstation stacks up to a deskbound G5, as well as to the several mobile workstations I have come to rely on for my work. Apple's newest workstation laptop, the MacBook Pro is one hell of a nice machine. I have worked on several laptops in my day and I used to have a single favorite. While the MacBook Pro won't supplant my current favorite, it easily resides right beside it.

However, from the start, my testing is  hampered by the new Intel CPU and chipset that is at the heart of the MacBook Pro. Any software not currently ported to the Intel chip will need to run under Rosetta (a PowerPC emulation mode). I don't know the technical details, but I can tell you it just cripples the speed of the application. When you're a power user, you can't afford to lose cycles to an emulator.

But at least two applications that matter most to post pros have recently been ported to the Intel chip and now run smooth as glass: Shake 4.1 and Final Cut Pro 5.1 Universal. For Shake, there is really nothing new since 4.0, aside from several bug fixes — as a Shake artist friend put it, "undo now works." Undo indeed.

Aside from FCP and Shake, the cold truth of it is, the MacBook Pro is stuck between the chicken and the egg right now. Only a few core applications are available to run natively on the Intel Macs as of this writing (though admittedly, two powerhouse applications).

More workstation apps will be Universal and will host new features and improvements in their next release iterations. But if your direct deposit depends on the work you do now in Adobe's Creative Suite or Autodesk Maya, I'd have to say hang on to your PowerPC Mac until further notice. You will see a performance loss using PowerPC applications on the Intel Mac. That's the inevitable, though beneficial, march of progress.

THE NUTS and BOLTS

A dual-core Intel Core Duo processor at 2.16GHz captains the ship with a complement of 2GB of memory, more than enough for most DCC needs, especially in a notebook. I have had many different PC laptops cross my, well, lap, and I'm a demanding user to be sure: I have high expectations of the MacBook Pro. My initial impressions on switching over to the MacBook Pro were a pleasant surprise. I've always known the Mac laptops are nice machines, but having worked on one for a while now, I can say the MacBook Pro is a really nice machine. The flair and composure with which it handles day-to-day computing chores, from video iChatting with friends to OS workflow, I makes the MacBook Pro flat out nice. I find OS X extremely pleasant to work with  and the machine tightly integrated, offering niceties that my PC laptops don't think of, like a built-in iSight Webcam or a backlit keyboard.

As far as form factor, I have to give it up to the MacBook Pro without hesitation. Its sleek brushed metal look is striking, it's touchpad and keyboard are a pleasure to work on, and the screen is literally brilliant. I'm disappointed in the LCD hinges and the silent latch mechanism; they seem a bit loose and the latch is prone to opening when you pick up the notebook, kicking it out of sleep mode.

Comparing connectivity is going to be a toss-up for the most part with any other high-end laptop — having plenty of USB ports, DVI output, fast wireless and Gigabit Ethernet, and dual-format DVD burning is the norm for a good mobile workstation. Though I have to give Apple jazz hands for giving a full 6-pin powered FireWire port as well as a FireWire 800 for ultra fast external storage options. With the proper drive enclosure, you could have a FireWire 800 RAID running your footage in and out of the MacBook Pro easy peezy.

Comparing power is where things get contentious. Here it's tough since you are comparing apples to oranges even when comparing the performance of cross platform applications like Maya and Photoshop — take into account the degradation in PowerPC emulation. But subjectively, with the Universal Shake 4.1, the MacBook Pro rocks, there's no doubt there.

The ATI Radeon X1600 video card has a max resolution of 1680x1050 on the gorgeous LCD screen. I wish I could get a step-up in resolution to WUXGA (1920x1200), as is the option on Precision M90 and HP nw8440 machines. It would also be wonderful to see an Nvidia Quadro FX2500M option for ultra high-end graphics performance. You see the Mac Pro desktop machines with the Quadro FX4500, so maybe it's just a matter of time.

The fact that Adobe is waiting until its CS3 release in Q2 of '07 for Mac Intel support is not a good thing. Adobe's Simon Hayhurst, says: "We are committed to providing a high quality release for Intel-based Macs, which involves thousands of hours of testing. This can be best done as part of a major release cycle, so we are focused on delivering Universal applications in our next major version of products, not as dot releases of current products."

By the time most apps roll out Universal support, the MacBook Pro will be based on the Intel Core 2 Duo since, according to rumors, Core 2 Duo MacBooks are expected to hit laps late this year. Power users will have to wait.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The MacBook Pro comes out at a rough time when power users are left without their applications at full bore — except for FCP 5.1 and Shake 4.1.

MacBook Pro is a great mobile workstation but will suffer until other apps come rolling along.