Except for a minor boost in processor speed, the new 15in 2.66GHz MacBook Pro is identical to the 15in 2.53GHz MacBook Pro it replaces.

As far as upgrades go, the top-of-the-line 15in MacBook Pro's makeover is far from extreme. But we're not going to complain if Apple chooses to gently boost the processor speed a little bit without expecting a penny more for the effort.

Aside from the slight boost in processor speed from the model it replaces, the 2.53GHz 15in MacBook Pro (which was also £1,712 when it was released) and, the rest of the new 2.66GHz MacBook Pro's specs remain identical, including the unibody case, ports, bus speed, hard drive capacity and more.

15-inch MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo/2.4GHz review

17-inch MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo/2.66GHz review

Unibody case

Instead of assembling the laptops piecemeal and expertly splicing the components together, the new MacBook Pros sport a unibody architecture that constructs the entire machine out of a single piece of recyclable aluminium.

Such assembly, according to Apple, eliminates the need for fine-tuning parts and diminishes the possibility of construction failures. With the new MacBook Pro in hand, it feels almost like an extension of your arm.

There's no clasp keeping the lid shut: simply grip the thumbscoop etched into the bottom of the case, and it opens right up. Even without a clasp, it feels secure when closed.

Apple MacBook Pro

The unibody composition also makes these new laptops easier to service and fix, and great for do-it-yourself types who have, in the past, lamented how difficult it was to do things like swap out the hard drive or battery. The new MacBook Pro makes it very easy to access the battery and hard drive - move the lever on the bottom of the case, and you're in. Upgrading RAM requires the removal of eight screws; the previous MacBook Pro had only three screws.

All ports are grouped together on the left side of the case, including the MagSafe power port, Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire 800, two USB ports, audio in and out ports, and an ExpressCard/34 slot. The microphone is under the left speaker grille.

The new Mini DisplayPort connects to Apple's new 24in Apple LED Cinema Display (£635). You can connect other monitors to the new MacBook Pros, but you'll have to buy a £20 Mini DisplayPort to VGA or Mini DisplayPort to DVI adaptor, or £68 for a Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI adaptor.

The right side of the machine has the slot-loading SuperDrive and a Kensington lock slot. And if you're using the lock, it automatically locks the access door underneath, thus protecting the hard drive and the battery. An elegant battery indicator on the side of the case glows green through eight tiny dots and when all is well and flashes five times when the battery needs replacement.

NEXT PAGE: glossy screens

Except for a minor boost in processor speed, the new 15in 2.66GHz MacBook Pro is identical to the 15in 2.53GHz MacBook Pro it replaces.

Glossy screens

Opening up the new MacBook Pros reveals a bright, glossy, 15.4in (viewable) widescreen LED-backlit monitor that's pure joy to behold. The 1,440-x-900-pixel screen is no longer encased in a metal bezel, but rather seems to float on its own, ringed by a deep black frame.

It's all glass. There's only the thinnest hint of a bezel if you view it at a particular angle. These displays are just beautiful, and a lot more attractive than previous MacBooks. They are also ecologically friendly, being both mercury and arsenic free.

There's no longer a choice of screen finishes, unfortunately, and many will grumble about the glossy screen. Personally, the more I look at glossy screens (especially on laptops where they don't remind me of a huge negative mirror) the more appealing they become.

Not only is the graphical contrast visually striking, but these new screens show greyscale gradations that are virtually undetectable on matte screens. They also have a 3D quality that makes everything on-screen burst with energy and vivid colour. But some people will not like that, and it may cause eyestrain for others. We do wish a matte screen were offered as an option.

Dual graphics chips

It's the brand new graphics chips that make the difference in how the laptop handles high-intensity graphical applications such as 3D, video, professional imaging and design applications, and games.

The new MacBook Pros employ nVidia's Hybrid SLI technology, a pairing of two graphics chips-one integrated in the motherboard (GeForce 9400M) and the other discrete (GeForce 9600M GT).

The 9400M has 16 parallel processor cores and is capable of 54 Gigaflops, while the latter has 32 parallel processor cores and is capable of 120 Gigaflops.

As for video memory, the 2.4GHz MacBook Pro's 9400M uses 256MB of main memory. The 2.66GHz MacBook Pro's 9600MGT has dedicated video memory; the 2.4GHz MacBook Pro gets 256MB of DDR3 SDRAM, and the 2.53GHz model has 512MB of DDR3 SDRAM.

You can switch off between these two chips to get either better video performance or longer battery life. While you have to log out and then log back in to switch graphics chips - and some people might complain that you can't simply switch on the fly - it seems like something you'd decide beforehand depending on how you're planning to use your ‘Book.

For people who use their MacBook Pro in a home or office setup, plugged in and attached to large monitor and separate keyboard, the higher performance graphics mode makes sense because they're not concerned with battery life.

However, when travelling, say, on the plane working or watching a movie, then switching to the integrated graphics chip will conserve battery life.

For gaming or other graphics intensive operations, the Higher Performance mode would be the way to go, regardless. You can change your settings via the Energy Saver preference (whose icon has changed from a standard light bulb to a cute energy-saver style compact florescent).

Hands down

The new MacBook Pros support even more gestures on bigger trackpads. The new Multi-Touch trackpad looks huge, measuring about 4.13in horizontally and 3in 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.

Apple MacBook Pro keyboard

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, we 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.

NEXT PAGE: front panel

Except for a minor boost in processor speed, the new 15in 2.66GHz MacBook Pro is identical to the 15in 2.53GHz MacBook Pro it replaces.

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 aluminium keyboards, I find this one more comfortable to use than the aluminium 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.

Speed boost

Apple's top-of-the-line 15in MacBook Pro gets a speed boost from a 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo to a 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo.

When comparing just the rated processor speed specification, the new 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo processor is a little more than 5 percent faster than the 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo. That's almost exactly the difference in Speedmark scores between the new and old top-of-the-line 15in MacBook Pros.

The biggest improvements were, of course, in processor-intensive tests like our Cinema 4D Render test and Compressor MPEG Encoder test, where the new 2.66GHz MacBook Pro shaved 4 or 5 seconds off the time of the 2.53GHz MacBook Pro.

MacBook Pro Speed Charts

See the speed results in more detail here.

Our test showed smaller improvements in tasks involving both processor and hard drive, and no difference in strictly storage-related tasks. The 2.53GHz model was a touch faster than new 2.66GHz model at Quake, but only by 1.5 frames per second.

The hard drive in the new 15in 2.66GHz MacBook Pro appears to be a bit zippier than the 17-inch 2.66GHz MacBook Pro, with the new 15in model beating the 17in model by a few seconds in several of our tests.

The full-sized, faster spinning hard drive in the new 2.66GHz 24in iMac kept that system ahead of the new 2.66GHz 15-inch MacBook Pro in all but the most processor-intensive tasks and our Quake 4 test.

And as we've seen before, the unibody MacBooks hold their own very well against its Pro siblings. The new 15-inch 2.66GHz MacBook Pro posted about a 10 percent faster Speedmark score than the 2.4GHz MacBook.

Macworld.com

15in MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo/2.66GHz: Specs

  • 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4GB Memory, 320GB hard drive, NVIDIA GeForce 9400M + 9600M GT with 512MB, Illuminated keyboard, Mac OS X v10.5 Leopard
  • 24.1x364x249mm
  • 2.49kg
  • 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4GB Memory, 320GB hard drive, NVIDIA GeForce 9400M + 9600M GT with 512MB, Illuminated keyboard, Mac OS X v10.5 Leopard
  • 24.1x364x249mm
  • 2.49kg

OUR VERDICT

Except for a minor boost in processor speed, the new 15in 2.66GHz MacBook Pro is identical to the 15in 2.53GHz MacBook Pro it replaces. The minor speed boost, without a similar boost in price, can only be good news. And if you bought the 15in 2.53GHz MacBook Pro when it shipped in February 2009, you won’t have a bad case of buyer’s remorse.

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