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Review: MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo/2.4GHz and 2.53GHz

At a Glance
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Hands down

While we noted with excitement that the last batch of pro ‘Books supported the new MacBook Air-style hand gestures, these new models support even more gestures on bigger trackpads. The new Multi-Touch trackpad looks huge, measuring about 4.13 inches horizontally and 3 inches vertically as opposed to 3.94 horizontally and 2.81 vertically (with .88 of an inch taken up by the clickable button) on the older model. It’s silky smooth glass and has no separate button because the entire pad is a button. According to Apple, the new trackpad has 39 percent more tracking area than the previous one.

You can use one finger to click, drag, drag lock, and right-click (called secondary click). You can use two fingers to scroll, rotate, pinch open and close, and zoom your screen, as well as secondary tap. A three-finger swipe will navigate you through a photo album, for example, and pulling four fingers up and down will activate the Exposé functions; four fingers swiped to the right or left gives you the Application Switcher. You can tap to click, double tap to choose and move a window, and to lock it in place again, and choose the right bottom or left bottom corner of the trackpad to designate a right-click function.

As someone who’s used the Mac’s trackpad buttons for years, I found this new design hard to get used to. The new unified trackpad/button may cause you to fundamentally change the way you use your Mac laptops. Because the button is so large (and to my hands, harder to click with my thumb as many people are used to doing), some will wind up using hand gestures almost all the time. Instead of leaning on the pad/button every time you want to click, just use the single tap or double tap with your forefinger to expedite most commands. This works out to be much easier on the hands over time and a much quieter way of computing as well. All that button pushing—gone.

Within the System Preferences, there’s now a new Trackpad preference pane that gives you video-enhanced information and demonstrations on how to use the new hand gestures.

Front panel

The laptop’s front panel has undergone a significant redesign. The power button at the upper right hand side of the case is small, and blends in to the panel. The speaker mesh on both sides of the keyboard is likewise very delicate. And there’s a tiny iSight camera embedded in the lid, so small it blends into the monitor’s black border so that you can barely see it.

Within a small depressed well sits the Chicklet-style keyboard. The keys are black and scissor style, similar to the keyboards on previous generation black MacBooks, yet there’s nothing compressed about them. These are generous flat-topped keys with just enough key travel to not be hard on the hands, and which register a solid press without being mushy. While in somewhat the same style of the desktop aluminum keyboards, I find this one more comfortable to use than the aluminum keyboard. And there’s an ambient light sensor that lights up the underside of the keys if you’re working in a low light environment.

Performance

The MacBook Pro 2.53GHz turned in the fastest numbers of any standard Mac laptop in every test category. Our benchmark tests were run with the high-performance setting (the GeForce 9600M GT graphics chip). In our Speedmark test, the 2.53GHz topped its 2.4GHz sibling by 7.5 percent and the previous 2.4GHz MacBook Pro by 15 percent. It bested its slower sibling by 16 percent in our suite of Photoshop tests. It was nearly twice as fast in its Photoshop operations as the previous generation's 2.4GHz model.

The new entry level 2.4GHz MacBook Pro scored 8 percent faster in Speedmark than the older 2.4GHz model, and 12 percent faster at Photoshop. We also compared the new models to an older 2GHz MacBook Pro (February 2006). When that older model was set against the new low-end MacBook, we noted a 48 percent improvement in Speedmark scores, a 32 percent improvement in Photoshop. Quake frame rates were almost two-and-a-half times faster in the new entry-level system (more gaming benchmarks are available for your perusal).

But part of good performance is also energy efficiency. The backlit display saves energy. For the first time, MacBook Pros are Energy Star compliant, and ship with less packaging, while at the same time most components are recyclable. Apple reports it has removed polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and brominated flame retardants from enclosures, circuit boards, and connectors.

MacBook Pro benchmarks

Speedmark 5Adobe Photoshop CS3Cinema 4D XL 10.5CompressoriMovie HDiTunes 7.6QuakeFinderFinder
 OVERALL SCORESUITERENDERMPEG ENCODEAGED EFFECTMP3 ENCODE FRAME RATEZIP ARCHIVEUNZIP ARCHIVE
15-inch MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo/2.53GHz (4GB RAM, unibody)2310:560:531:410:441:0065.74:371:15
15-inch MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo/2.4GHz (Unibody)2151:070:541:530:491:0459.25:051:18
15-inch MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo/2.4GHz (February 2008)2001:160:562:090:491:0262.34:591:49
MacBook Core 2 Duo/2.4GHz (Unibody)2121:050:541:520:491:0339.44:591:32
15-inch MacBook Pro Core Duo/2GHz1451:391:133:231:071:3924.26:142:26
PowerBook G4/1.67GHz913:023:577:471:592:2619.97:142:21
 >Better      >Better   

Best results in bold. Reference systems in italics.

Speedmark 5 scores are relative to those of a 1.5GHz Core Solo Mac mini, which is assigned a score of 100. Adobe Photoshop, Cinema 4D XL, iMovie, iTunes, and Finder scores are in minutes:seconds. All systems were running Mac OS X 10.5.2 with 2GB of RAM, unless otherwise indicated. The Photoshop Suite test is a set of 14 scripted tasks using a 50MB file. Photoshop’s memory was set to 70 percent and History was set to Minimum. We recorded how long it took to render a scene in Cinema 4D XL. We used Compressor to encode a 6minute:26second DV file using the DVD: Fastest Encode 120 minutes - 4:3 setting. In iMovie, we applied the Aged Film effect from the Video FX menu to a one minute movie. We converted 45 minutes of AAC audio files to MP3 using iTunes’ High Quality setting. We used Quake’s average-frames-per-second score; we tested at a resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels at the Maximum setting with both audio and graphics enabled. We duplicated a 1GB folder, created a Zip archive in the Finder from the two 1GB files and then Unzipped it.—MACWORLD LAB TESTING BY JAMES GALBRAITH, CHRIS HOLT, AND JERRY JUNG

Battery life

Macworld employs a different methodology in testing the batteries of the new MacBook Pros than Apple does, so it’s no surprise that our results differ from Apple’s battery life estimates. Because of the dual graphics chips, we tested the battery using each one separately. Our standard tests involve watching a DVD movie clip ripped to the laptop hard drive and looped until the battery is drained in a situation where it would be impossible to recharge the battery.

 The results with movie watching on the 2.53GHz MacBook Pro was about 2 hours, 12 minutes, while the results were roughly the same—2 hours, 18 minutes—on the 2.4GHz model. If you want to conserve battery life, as Apple thinks you might, you can use the GeForce 9400M to watch your movie. Our results indicate that you’ll get an extra 17 minutes of cinematic enjoyment using the less powerful chip on the high end MacBook Pro as opposed to an extra 13 minutes watching on the low end model. As noted in our battery benchmark story, the results between the MacBook Pro’s 9400M battery life and that of the MacBook models is similar.

How does that stack up to the previous MacBook Pro? Not favorably. The same test on the 2.4GHz model (with an Nvidia 8600 GT graphics chip) was 2 hours, 49 minutes. The older MacBook Pro yielded an extra 18 minutes of battery life as compared with its direct clock speed counterpart.

Macworld’s buying advice

If you’re thinking about buying a new pro-level laptop, the new MacBook Pros 2.4 and 2.53GHz present more challenges and ambiguities than in the past. The MacBook Pro’s new design and its features definitely come out on the plus side of the ledger, with some outstanding aesthetic and engineering improvements to recommend it—not the least of which is its significant attention to environmental issues—at exactly the same price as the previous 2.4GHz and 2.5GHz models. However the mandatory glossy screen may be a deal killer for some people. While I personally find the new screen very engaging and I was not especially bothered by its reflective quality as I enjoyed the 3-D optics and its feeling of space and depth. It's too bad that Apple has not offered a matte display as an option in consideration of the many visual professionals (the MacBook Pro’s target users, after all), for which a glossy screen is not considered optimal. The all-in-one trackpad is another question: it takes some getting used to, though it will likely grow on you. The battery life was more disturbing because despite the energy saving integrated graphics option, battery life diminished to a significant degree compared with the previous model.

[Jackie Dove is Macworld’s senior reviews editor.]

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