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When it comes time to update its 17-inch laptops, Apple always faces a challenge: how to improve a machine that already has just about everything?
In the case of the latest 17-inch MacBook Pro , the company stuck to the basics: It added the latest and fastest Intel mobile processor available (a 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, replacing the 2.16GHz Core Duo), doubled the standard memory (now 2GB), and boosted hard drive capacity (from 120GB to 160GB).
It also upped maximum RAM from 2GB to 3GB. The machine still has only two memory slots, though, so maxing out your memory involves replacing one of the normal 1GB modules with one that holds 2GB—an upgrade that will cost you a whopping $575 if you have the system configured to order from Apple, and even more if you buy from a third-party supplier.
In every other respect, including its $2,799 base price, the new 17-inch model is just like its predecessor—same huge (1,680-by-1,050-pixel), bright widescreen display, same graphics card (ATI Radeon X1600 with 256MB of dedicated memory), and same array of features built-in: iSight camera, AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth 2.0+EDR wireless connectivity, ExpressCard/34 expansion slot (but no PC Card capacity), Gigabit Ethernet jack, DVI-out port capable of driving Apple’s 30-inch Cinema HD display, illuminated keyboard, MagSafe power connector, and so on.
Altogether, the makeover is less substantial than the 15-inch MacBook Pros received when they moved up to the Core 2 Duo: the smaller members of the family also got a FireWire 800 port, faster graphics circuitry, and improved SuperDrives. Apple has a good excuse for not making similar changes to the 17-inch model, though: all the refinements in the latest 15-inch MacBook Pro models were already included in the original 17-inch model.
On the whole, the Core 2 Duo chip, with its 4MB of Level 2 cache memory shared between two processing engines, delivers a welcome, though not overwhelming, improvement in performance. Macworld Labs’ testing, however, produced a surprising result: in some operations the new 17-inch MacBook Pro is slower than the 15-inch model configured with the same CPU and memory. Much of the problem involves a puzzling anomaly with ColorSync profiles in the Labs’ iPhoto test images—the previously published benchmarks offer a thorough explanation. But the 17-inch model also lagged well behind its smaller sibling in the UnZip Archive test (and slightly behind in the Photoshop CS2 and Unreal Tournament tests).
While the issue is troubling, it doesn’t affect most tasks; in general, the new 17-inch MacBook Pro is plenty speedy. In particular, graphics pros who have been hesitant about upgrading to an Intel-based model should note that the latest MacBook Pros handily outperform the fastest-ever G4-based PowerBook when running Adobe Photoshop CS2, even though the application has to run through Apple’s Rosetta code-translation technology.
Core 2 Duo Benchmarks
|Speedmark 4.5||Adobe Photoshop CS2||Cinema 4D XL 9.5.21||Compressor 2.3||iPhoto 6.0.5||Unreal Tournament 2004||Zip Archive||UnZip Archive|
|SUITE||SUITE||RENDER||MPEG2 Encode||IMPORT PHOTOS||AVERAGE FRAME RATE||1GB FOLDER||1GB FILE|
|17-inch MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo/2.33GHz||211||1:12||0:57||2:02||2:55||72.6||2:18||1:34|
|17-inch MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo/2.33GHz (120GB drive)||218||1:11||0:57||2:07||1:21||72.4||2:24||1:33|
|15-inch MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo/2.16GHz (1GB RAM)||209||1:16||1:01||2:17||1:12||63.9||2:48||1:26|
|15-inch MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo/2.33GHz||226||1:10||0:57||2:07||1:10||72.9||2:22||1:19|
|15-inch MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo/2.33GHz (1GB RAM)||222||1:11||0:57||2:07||1:12||72.1||2:39||1:24|
|15-inch MacBook Pro Core Duo*/2.16GHz (1GB RAM)||190||1:40||1:06||3:02||1:51||59||2:37||1:17|
|MacBook Core 2 Duo/2GHz (White-1GB RAM)||178||1:25||1:14||2:41||1:15||17.8||2:53||1:40|
|15-inch PowerBook G4/1.67GHz (1GB RAM)||132||1:35||3:57||6:59||2:04||19.9||3:30||1:32|
Best results in red. Reference systems in italics. Asterisk (*) denotes system tested with optional 7,200-rpm hard drive.
Macworld’s buying advice
We can think of a few new features we’d like to see in Apple’s flagship laptop—an eSATA port for external drives, for example, and maybe a built-in reader for flash memory cards. Even without those improvements, however, the 17-inch MacBook Pro is a marvelous machine. If you can afford the price and don’t mind the size and weight inevitably associated with such a large display, you won’t be disappointed.
[ Henry Norr is a veteran Mac technology writer based in Berkeley, Calif. ]
Like its 15-inch counterparts, the 17-inch MacBook Pro gets a processor bump (up to 2.33GHz from 2.16GHz) as well as a new processor entirely. The Intel Core Duo makes way for the Intel Core 2 Duo, a next-generation chip promising better performance with the same battery life. The amount of shared L2 cache has doubled, as has the installed memory -- the 17-inch MacBook Pro ships with 2GB of RAM. (You can install up to 3GB.) Hard drive capacity has increased to 160GB from 120GB.
- Classic design
- Lovely screen
- Ample RAM and hard drive capacity
- Fast performance
- No internal modem option
- No eSATA port
- Performance glitch slows some tasks
- Few cards available for ExpressCard/34 slot
- No PC Card slot