Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (April 2010)

The new MacBook Pro may look identical to its predecessor, but it's what's inside that counts. With Intel's newer line of Core-i CPUs and better graphics capabilities, this is a hefty spec update.


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Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.


After slipping the usual January refresh, we wondered when Apple's new MacBooks would be upon us. Finally the refresh has come about, with Core i5 and i7 gracing the 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pros, while the 13-inch Pro stays with Core 2 Duo.

This is the new wave

The new MacBook is an effort of refinement rather than that of an overhaul, with new features turning up both on the exterior and the interior.

First up is the new MagSafe adapter, which now takes a right angle to sit flush with the side of the MacBook, allowing much greater flexibility when you're moving around and lowering the likeliness of getting tangled in cords.

Then there's inertial scrolling, a nice little addition to the touch pad. When the user flicks two fingers down to scroll, if the fingers leave the touch pad the page continues to scroll for a little after, similar to how the iPhone functions. You can still precisely scroll if you want, but this requires you to either keep your fingers on the pad, or to set the touch pad options to "Without momentum" under "System Preferences". Apple still has the best touch pad on the market, from its large size to its multi-touch capability, and it's only gotten better with this feature.

In response to criticism of its glossy screens, Apple has also offered matte upgrades on both its 15- and 17-inch models, but there's a catch: the upgrade also incorporates a higher resolution screen, bumping the default 1440x900 to 1680x1050. We're always fans of higher resolution screens, and just getting one of these will set you back AU$140. But for those who just want matte, they'll also have to wear the cost of the high resolution screen, adding AU$210 to their order cost.

Other options include 8GB RAM (up from the standard 4GB for AU$560), and if you start from the base model a flotilla of hard drive updates, with 500GB (AU$140), 500GB 7200rpm (AU$210), 128GB SSD (AU$420), 256GB SSD (AU$1060) and a 512GB SSD (AU$1960). While the SSD costs aren't too far from market price, you'd be better off adding after-market drives for the mechanicals.

Then we come to the usual bag of hurt known as AppleCare. Apple's standard warranty offers only one year (with phone service limited to 90 days), and to expand this to three years will cost you a whopping AU$579. We'd always recommend taking AppleCare on-board, but just remember that it makes the MacBook's final price that bit more expensive.

It's what's on the inside that counts

Internally, a few things have changed as well; our 15-inch review sample was running a Core i7 clocked at 2.66GHz, and a GeForce GT 330M. Gone is the integrated Nvidia graphics, as Nvidia simply didn't have a licence to pair its chipset with Intel's Core i processors. In its place is a switching solution similar to Nvidia's Optimus technology — when using apps that don't require 3D acceleration, the MacBook Pro uses its integrated Intel HD graphics, saving on battery. When 3D acceleration is required, the GT 330M seamlessly kicks in to give the extra power.

It's an excellent idea in theory, but the execution isn't perfect, with a few sites reporting that the MacBook sometimes turns on the GT 330M when it shouldn't, and sometimes doesn't manage to turn it off after an application that was using it has been closed. This is no doubt a tricky equation to get perfect, especially with things muddying the water like the web — for the most part web browsing won't need the GPU, but what happens when you come across an embedded H.264 clip that could benefit from hardware acceleration?

Incidentally, the answer is nothing; the MacBook continues to use the Intel card. You can force the discrete graphics on through the "Energy Saver" options under "System Preferences" to address this, but you can't do it the other way around — if you'd prefer to use the Intel card and the MacBook has decided the Nvidia one is a better option, you're boned. Thankfully, an independent developer has come to the rescue with gfxCardStatus, a program that lets you see exactly what GPU is being used and allows you to switch it at any time.

Finally, the MacBook Pro has gained the ability to send audio over its Mini-DisplayPort, a boon for those using third-party Mini-DisplayPort to HDMI adapters, although it remains to be seen if such adapters need to be updated first. Apple, for what it's worth, still refuses to embrace HDMI officially on anything but the Apple TV.

Playing the same old tune

The MacBook 15-inch is otherwise identical, but this is not a bad thing. From the unibody aluminium shell to the great speakers, to the built in webcam, gigabit Ethernet, FireWire 800, two USB ports, SD card reader, headphone and microphone jacks and DVD+-RW drive, if you've seen last year's revision, you know what this one is all about.

The little touches are still there too, like being able to see the battery charge without opening the MacBook, the backlit keyboard and the soft whump of the lid closing are still there, and while using the MacBook you feel like you're using quality; this is an exceptionally well built machine. It's likely not worth the upgrade if you own the previous generation MacBook Pro (unless you're absolutely hankering for Core i7 power), but if you're considering buying a Mac, this is a good time to do so.

Performance

With a new processor and graphics card, the interest was always going to be on how the new MacBook performed. Installing Windows 7 64-bit, 3DMark06 captured a decent score of 6752, meaning the new MacBook should be able to handle for relatively new games, freaks like Arma II aside. The PCMark05 score of 7630 establishes it as an excellent work machine too.

Turning off all power-saving features, setting screen brightness and volume to maximum, we played back an XviD file in OS X to see how long the battery would last. Using gfxCardStatus to force which GPU was used, under Intel HD graphics it lasted four hours, 22 minutes and 55 seconds, while under the Nvidia GT330 it came in at three hours, 47 minutes and 20 seconds.

While the battery switching mechanism still needs refining, the MacBook Pro is still the excellent machine it always was, now with more power and a few more features to boot. Highly recommended.

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PhilippaP Facebook
7
Rating
 

"I prefer the 2008 MacBook Pro"

PhilippaP posted a review   
Australia

The Good:ummm looks better than any of the competition, nice display, good battery life

The Bad:there's nothing really bad, but it's nothing special

I bought 2 of these, used them for a couple of months, sold them, and took my old 2008 2.5ghz Macbook Pro 15's. The Unibody notwithstanding, I don't know why it had to be bigger than the old model. It doesn't fit in my old STM bag, I've had to move to a larger one. Then there's the keyboard, I prefer the old keyboard - I ilke the chicklet keyboard on all my other Notebooks, but I don't like it on the new Macs - I have no idea why, they look practically identical - maybe it's perception and I just don't like black keys.

Anyway, keyboard aside, I find I get the spinning top a lot more on the new MacBook Pro's than on the old one too.....and I run all the same applications. Even swapping hard drives - the 2010 hard drive works better in the 2008 MBP.

Battery life is good. I only get 4 1/2 hours out of the old MBP and it's anything up to 8 hours on the 2010 model. So that's a plus.

All in all, Thunderbolt's and what have you aside (in the 2011 model which I'll never bother buying) - I'd rather my older model MacBook Pro's. What on earth (other than Apple displays) uses Thunderbolt? I've never even found anything I wanted to buy that uses Firewire.

 

Elle posted a comment   

I have a HP currently, for just two years. Already its giving up on me. It overheats to burning temperatures with just simple tasks and the screen has a strange flicker that refuses to go away. As a result of the HP's disappointing performance I am looking at upgrading to the new Macbook Pro.

Things I am looking for: better battery life, will last at least three years, no overheating and greater speed.

Hopefully the mac will provide.

Barry
9
Rating
 

Barry posted a review   

The Good:Handles any game i throw at it, beautiful screen, extremely fast, operate windows 7 bootcamp.

The Bad:battery life is not as good as you would expect it to be, expensive

Greatest laptop i have ever owned by far, it feels like your actually on a piece of technology that is reliable and beautiful at the same time, instead of your conventional laptop were it feels like plastic in your hands. by far the best experience, has not let me down ever.

davo_adl
9
Rating
 

davo_adl posted a review   

The Good:Speed, reliability and build quality

The Bad:We still pay too much in Australia for Apple products

I have a MBP 15" and 27" Cinema display. Both work exactly as I have become accustomed to with my previous Apple computers - fast and stable. In terms of price, the machines are still great value considering you get iLife included which does 90% of what most users would need. You simply can't get the same integrated experience on a PC with Windows, as you end up buying a whole range of third-party software that doesn't talk to each other.
We do however pay way too much compared to the same in the US Apple Store. I'm not sure why there is such a huge difference since our dollar is almost at parity.
In any case, I highly recommend the MBP and the aesthetics are just a bonus!
Davo

Geoff
10
Rating
 

Geoff posted a review   

The Good:Build quality, display, design, speed and reliability.

The Bad:It does get a tad warm.

This is my third Mac and I am very happy with the MacBook Pro 15". It is fast, and the build quality is second to none. A few reviewers complain about the price, but you must consider that this is a top-end machine that will last much longer than cheaper alternatives.

 

Cinematographer posted a comment   

I just started a course in film making at uni in SA. I am looking at buying a mac book and was wondering if any one can tell him what sort of system i need to run final cut or any other video editing software?

 

Geoff posted a reply   

You would want the fastest system you can because video editing requires a lot of CPU power. Get the fastest Mac you can afford.

I use a Mac Pro to run Final Cut Pro.

get something that's not double the price of its competitor
3
Rating
 

get something that's not double the price of its competitor posted a review   

The Good:most things

The Bad:price

save yourselves about $1500 with a HP. the only real reason for buying a macbook is the aesthetics and HP's look quite similar. If you really want, put apple software onto that and youve got yourself a macbook.

 

Don0508 posted a reply   

Read what I said in my last post.....

You can show - off more with an overpriced item, and you can't show - off with a "good value" item

 

Geoff posted a reply   

There is more to a Mac than aesthetics. It is a quality high-end laptop running an excellent stable OS. Mac users understand this and see the value. It is not all about the 'specs'.


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User Reviews / Comments  Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (April 2010)

  • PhilippaP

    PhilippaP

    Rating7

    "I bought 2 of these, used them for a couple of months, sold them, and took my old 2008 2.5ghz Macbook Pro 15's. The Unibody notwithstanding, I don't know why it had to be bigger than the old model..."

  • Elle

    Elle

    "I have a HP currently, for just two years. Already its giving up on me. It overheats to burning temperatures with just simple tasks and the screen has a strange flicker that refuses to go away. As..."

  • Barry

    Barry

    Rating9

    "Greatest laptop i have ever owned by far, it feels like your actually on a piece of technology that is reliable and beautiful at the same time, instead of your conventional laptop were it feels lik..."

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