capsule review

Apple MacBook Pro A1297 (17-inch) Laptop

At a Glance
  • Apple 15-inch MacBook Pro/2.66GHz

    PCWorld Rating

    This 17-inch MacBook Pro boasts better design and a big battery life improvement (so long as you don't install Windows).

The new 17-inch Apple MacBook Pro arrived a little late to the unibody makeover party at Apple: Most of the company's laptop line switched to a thinner, lighter, aluminum design in October 2008. But the new version's metallic exterior isn't the only change. Incremental updates boost processor, system bus, and RAM speeds; but the biggest improvement is in battery design. Apple says that the new laptop's battery is 40 percent larger than the battery in its 17-inch predecessor, and enables the new laptop to run for up to 8 hours on a single charge.

This MacBook Pro comes with the same 5400-rpm, 320GB hard-disk drive as the previous one, though you can customize it with a faster (7200-rpm) 320GB HDD for $50, or opt for either a 128GB ($300) or a 256GB ($750) solid-state drive. The new laptop comes standard with 4GB of RAM, as did its predecessor (you can upgrade to 8GB of RAM for $1000 more), but the memory is now DDR3 at 1066MHz instead of DDR2 at 667MHz. The system's Intel Core 2 Duo processor steps up from 2.5GHz in the previous generation to 2.66GHz, though with the same 6MB of L2 cache; for an additional $300, you can upgrade to a speedier 2.93GHz processor. The new 17-inch MacBook Pro has a 1066MHz front side bus, too, versus its predecessor's 800MHz front side bus.

Like Apple's other unibody laptops, the 17-inch MacBook Pro's wide-screen display uses mercury-free LED backlighting and arsenic-free glass. The screen has a native resolution of 1920 by 1200 pixels. The glossy screen shows bright, vibrant colors and deep, rich blacks. For people who dislike highly reflective glossy screens because of glare, Apple offers an antiglare option for $50 extra. The new model moves the optical drive slot from the right front of the case to the right side. All of the ports now reside on the left side.

For connecting an external display, the new Mini DisplayPort supplants the full-size DVI port of previous-generation models. Apple is currently the only company using Mini DisplayPort, and the only Mini DisplayPort LCD it sells is the 24-inch Apple LED Cinema Display. Apple chose not to include a Mini DisplayPort-to-DVI adapter for connecting the new laptop to a DVI connector; it offers the adapter separately for $29.

Like the most recent version of the 15-inch MacBook Pro, the new 17-inch MacBook Pro has a dual graphics subsystem--a high-performance nVidia GeForce 9600M GT chip with 512MB of dedicated GDDR3 memory, and a lower-performing, battery-saving nVidia GeForce 9400M that shares 256MB of RAM with the main processor. The earlier 17-inch MacBook Pro had a single graphics engine, the nVidia GeForce 8600M GT, with its own 512MB of GDDR3 memory. Tests of the laptop running Mac OS X by the Macworld Test Center indicate that the 9600M GT graphics offers a significant performance boost over the 9400M. It sprints through PC WorldBench 6 tests at a steady clip. Earning a 102, it comes in a little slower than HP's HDX 18. This MacBook Pro also posted respectable (though not stellar) scores in Unreal Tournament III. At high settings, with a 1680 by 1050 resolution it runs at about 47 frames per second.

The new battery on the latest 17-inch MacBook Pro uses lithium polymer sheets instead of cylindrical lithium ion cells. It's now a fixed part--and no longer user-replaceable. According to Apple, the battery's new adaptive charging technology will permit the cell to be drained and recharged at least 1000 times while retaining at least 80 percent of its original capacity; that's between three and five times as many recharges as most laptop batteries can support. In the Macworld Test Center's battery life test--which involves looping a video in full-screen mode from a ripped DVD saved to the hard drive, with the display set to full brightness, and the Energy Saver preferences set never to sleep but to use the lower-powered nVidia GeForce 9400M graphics--the new 17-inch MacBook Pro ran for four hours, 43 minutes on a single charge, versus three hours, 36 minutes for its predecessor, and two hours, 46 minutes for the new 15-inch MacBook Pro. (In the PC World Test Center's battery life tests, running Windows Vista it didn't fare quite as well. It only lasted three hours, 18 minutes.)

The new 17-inch MacBook Pro outperformed its predecessor by about 1.8 percent on the Macworld Test Center's system performance suite, Speedmark 5. On most tests, however--including Photohop, iMovie, and iTunes--both machines finished within a second or two of each other. For further details, consult Macworld's benchmark analysis of the 17-inch MacBook Pro.

The latest iteration of the 17-inch MacBook Pro laptop is clearly a winner, but when you start introucing a Windows install into the mix, its battery life doesn't hold up quite as well.

This story, "Apple MacBook Pro A1297 (17-inch) Laptop" was originally published by Macworld.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    This 17-inch MacBook Pro boasts better design and a big battery life improvement (so long as you don't install Windows).

    Pros

    • Much longer battery life (within Mac OS)
    • Thin, rounded design

    Cons

    • Battery is no longer user-replacable
    • Tough-to-press mouse button
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