The 15in Apple MacBook Pro now comes in three varieties, all of them with 4GB of RAM - which you can double to 8GB for a massive £799 - and hard drives with between 250GB and 500GB of space, or solid-state disk drives of 128GB or 256GB.

For £208 more, the 2.8GHz model can be ordered with a 3.06GHz chip - the first time Apple has offered a processor beyond 3GHz in a laptop. It's also an option on the 17in MacBook Pro.

For those who plan to take their laptop on the road, the 15in MacBook Pro weighs in at 2.49kg.

The most obvious change to the MacBook Pro line is the loss of the ExpressCard/34 slot. It's been replaced by an SD card slot to make transferring pictures from digital cameras easier, according to Apple officials. (You can even install Mac OS X on an SD card and use it to boot the computer, according to an Apple Knowledge Base document explaining the SD slot's use. Talk about an OS in your pocket!)

The only MacBook Pro model that retains the ExpressCard slot is the 17in one, and we wouldn't be surprised if the next generation of this model drops the slot as well. Why the change? Apple says its research shows customers are interested in more easily transferring digital pictures from their cameras. The SD slot means no fumbling for cables.

The Apple MacBook Pro slot works exactly as you'd expect. Just slide an SD card in - metal contacts side down - and an SD card icon pops up on your desktop. When we tested it, iPhoto promptly launched and quickly imported our photos. We then dragged the icon to the trash can to "eject" it, and pulled it out of the slot.

There's no spring mechanism; you just slide it in and pull it out. If you don't see an icon show up on the desktop, you may have to try again. Apple recommends inserting it with a smooth sliding motion.

Another minor change - one you'd have to look for to really notice - is that the Mini DisplayPort video port is now sandwiched between a FireWire 800 port and two USB ports. All of the ports are on the left side of the Apple MacBook Pro's case; the SuperDrive for playing and burning CDs and DVDs is on the right.

Otherwise, the new Apple MacBook Pro sports the same unibody aluminum-and-black look as before. The glass-coated one-piece trackpad/clicker button is back unchanged, and the laptop feels comfortably solid - a credit to the unibody design.

NEXT PAGE: built-in batteries >>

The 15in Apple MacBook Pro now comes in three varieties, all of them with 4GB of RAM - which you can double to 8GB for a massive £799 - and hard drives with between 250GB and 500GB of space, or solid-state disk drives of 128GB or 256GB.

Apple MacBook Pro: built-in batteries

Less obvious is the non-removable lithium-polymer battery, which offers substantially more time on juice than earlier models. The 17in Apple MacBook Pro, which comes with the same 2.8GHz processor as the top-end 15in model, was the first in the lineup to get the integrated battery back in January 2009. Apple says it can power the 17in model for eight hours, and we easily got about 6.5 hours of use without trying very hard when reviewing that particular laptop earlier this year.

The 75 Watt-hour battery that's in the 15in version is the same one used in the new 13in Apple MacBook Pro. According to Apple, it will last up to seven hours. We've never been able to duplicate Apple's battery numbers, but we were able to use this Apple MacBook Pro for just over five hours without plugging it in, mostly while surfing the web wirelessly, text editing and watching the occasional video.

That's the most we've ever got out of the 15in MacBook Pro, and we didn't even turn down the screen brightness as much as Apple does when testing. Others, too, are seeing seriously better time on battery.

It's disconcerting to spend a few hours working and then notice that the battery indicator is still showing the battery half full. That's doubly true if you've used Windows machines that can run through a battery in less than two hours. It's akin to speeding down the highway and glancing at a speedometer that indicates you're doing just 20 miles an hour.

Given that the battery is no longer removable, you won't be bringing extra batteries on cross-country flights. But Apple says the Apple MacBook Pro will play full-screen DVDs at maximum screen brightness - with the volume turned up to the max - for 3.5 hours. It may not get you clear across the country, but if you turn down the brightness and lower the volume, you could still squeeze in two movies.

If you're concerned about not being able to replace the battery - and one of our Mac guru buddies rushed to buy the last-generation laptop for just that reason - Apple claims the built-in battery will last for about 1,000 charge cycles and shouldn't need replacing for five years.

NEXT PAGE: hard drive options >>

The 15in Apple MacBook Pro now comes in three varieties, all of them with 4GB of RAM - which you can double to 8GB for a massive £799 - and hard drives with between 250GB and 500GB of space, or solid-state disk drives of 128GB or 256GB.

Apple MacBook Pro: hard drive options abound

Other than the Apple MacBook Pro's RAM, about the only thing that can be replaced now is the hard drive. It's user accessible only after removing 10 very tiny screws on the underside of the chassis and lifting off the bottom. That's a little more work than on previous models, where the battery and hard drive could be reached by unlatching part of the bottom case. The screws aren't tightened so much that removing them is as difficult as it has been on some earlier models. (We removed the bottom to photograph what's inside.)

As noted earlier, Apple offers a variety of hard drives across the MacBook Pro line, including our favourite option: an SSD. With SSD you're definitely paying more per gigabyte than with a traditional drive, but if you can afford it, the tradeoff in overall ruggedness, system response and power use - SSDs have no moving parts and generally need less power - is worth it.

A 256GB SSD, for instance, adds either £599 or £519 to the bottom line, depending on which specific model you're buying. The 128GB SSD is a more reasonable £160 if you're buying one of the pricier MacBook Pros, £240 if you want it in one of the less expensive ones. In return for spending more on the latest in storage technology, you get less room for data. For that reason alone, most buyers will opt for the tried-and-true hard drives with spinning platters.

The 500GB, 5,400rpm hard drive that came in this particular model surprised us. It's quiet, obviously roomy - half a terabyte on the go gives you plenty of room to grow - and was fast enough that we were convinced it was a 7,200rpm model. We had to check the System Profiler to make sure.

The same drive costs £40 more if you want the extra zip of 7,200rpm - or £80 less if you're willing to settle for that same speed in a smaller 320GB hard drive. Hint: Pay the £40 and get the faster 500GB drive if you want to squeeze out the most speed at the least cost.

We ran the Xbench benchmarking test on the last-generation MacBook - now MacBook Pro - with a 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo chip and the OCZ Apex, a 128GB SSD drive. That machine posted an Xbench score of 141; this one, with a notably faster 2.8GHz processor and traditional hard drive, turned in a score of 155.

For most people, the 260MHz difference between the stock 2.8GHz chip and the optional 3.06GHz processor isn't worth much more than bragging rights - not that we're against bragging rights. Both processors are Intel Core 2 Duos with 6MB of shared Level 2 cache memory, and both are up to any data crunching, video manipulation or digital photo work you have in mind.

If you're eyeing the faster processor, we'd get the optional 128GB SSD. You'll discern the speed boost more.

NEXT PAGE: updated LED screens >>

The 15in Apple MacBook Pro now comes in three varieties, all of them with 4GB of RAM - which you can double to 8GB for a massive £799 - and hard drives with between 250GB and 500GB of space, or solid-state disk drives of 128GB or 256GB.

Apple MacBook Pro: updated LED screens

The new MacBook Pros all have updated LED screens, offering a 60 percent wider colour gamut. That means they're more vivid, according to Apple. Usually, claims of brighter, more richer-looking screens depend on the eye of the beholder, but in this case, we saw a discernible difference between this generation and the last. You need to put the two side by side to really appreciate the change.

Videographers and photographers who use their Macs will no doubt appreciate the new screens, as will movie buffs who watch DVDs on their laptops. It's too bad a Blu-ray optical drive isn't part of the package (Apple doesn't offer one even as an option). The result would be stunning - especially on the 1920-by-1200-pixel 17-in model.

That brings us to a quibble: we wish Apple would offer a higher native resolution in the 15in Apple MacBook Pro line, at least as an option. At 1440 by 900 pixels, the standard resolution is the same as it has been for years. For me, the perfect resolution for this machine would be 1680 by 1050 pixels. The jump in resolution from the 15in to the 17in models is too large.

That said, the 15in Apple MacBook Pro's screen is razor sharp and bright enough to perform surgery by - an excellent trait when working outdoors in direct sunlight.

Apple continues to use two graphics cards in its higher-end Pro models. This Apple MacBook Pro has the Nvidia 9600M GT and the Nvidia 9400M. The 9400 is an integrated GPU that helps extend the battery life; it uses 256MB of shared video RAM. The 9600M GT is the workhorse, offering either 256MB or 512MB of discrete video RAM that gamers and videographers will want to use.

You toggle between the two using the Energy Saver system preference pane. If you're using the battery and don't need the extra video RAM, choose the 9400M. If you're plugged in and want to dive into Doom 3 or immerse yourself in Unreal Tournament, go for the 9600M GT. If you decide to switch between the two, you have to log out for the change to take effect.

Note that the entry-level 15in model, the one that sells for £1,299, has only the integrated Nvidia card. If you're planning to use your laptop for serious gaming or for apps that need the most out of the graphics chip, you should opt for the £1,499 model, which has the 9400M and the 9600M GT with 256MB of discrete video RAM.

It's important to note that the GPU is expected to play a larger role in overall system performance once Apple releases its next operating system, Mac OS X 10.6 'Snow Leopard,' in September. For users of the current Leopard OS, the upgrade price will be a recession-friendly £19. Snow Leopard will allow developers to tap into the GPU's horsepower, offloading some of the functions now performed by the CPU. That should offer a boost in system response and application performance, meaning Apple's laptops are primed to take advantage of the OS when it comes out.

NEXT PAGE: our expert verdict >>

15in Apple MacBook Pro summer 2009 [PC]: Specs

  • 2.53GHz or 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 3MB L2 cache, or 2.8GHz or 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 6MB L2 cache
  • 1066MHz frontside bus
  • 4GB 1066MHz DDR3 memory, up to 8GB
  • 15.4in LED widescreen display
  • MagSafe power port, Gigabit Ethernet port, One FireWire 800 port, Mini DisplayPort, 2x USB 2.0 (up to 480Mbps), SD card slot, Audio line in/line out, Kensington lock
  • AirPort Extreme Wi-Fi wireless networking
  • IEEE 802.11a/b/g
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • 10/100/1000BASE-T Gigabit Ethernet (RJ-45 connector)
  • stereo speakers
  • 250GB, 320GB, or 500GB 5400rpm Serial ATA hard drive, optional 320GB or 500GB 7200rpm hard drive, or 128GB or 256GB SSD
  • 8x slot-loading SuperDrive
  • 24.1x364x249mm
  • 2.49kg
  • 2.53GHz or 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 3MB L2 cache, or 2.8GHz or 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 6MB L2 cache
  • 1066MHz frontside bus
  • 4GB 1066MHz DDR3 memory, up to 8GB
  • 15.4in LED widescreen display
  • MagSafe power port, Gigabit Ethernet port, One FireWire 800 port, Mini DisplayPort, 2x USB 2.0 (up to 480Mbps), SD card slot, Audio line in/line out, Kensington lock
  • AirPort Extreme Wi-Fi wireless networking
  • IEEE 802.11a/b/g
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • 10/100/1000BASE-T Gigabit Ethernet (RJ-45 connector)
  • stereo speakers
  • 250GB, 320GB, or 500GB 5400rpm Serial ATA hard drive, optional 320GB or 500GB 7200rpm hard drive, or 128GB or 256GB SSD
  • 8x slot-loading SuperDrive
  • 24.1x364x249mm
  • 2.49kg

OUR VERDICT

The 15in Apple MacBook Pro seems larger than it is. This is a good thing. Given that the overall design of the MacBook Pro is unchanged, the updates to the model line are evolutionary. It's the price cuts that, for Apple, border on the revolutionary. Ask Apple officials about that and they talk about wanting to "bring more value" to the laptop equation. That, Apple has done. At a time when the economy is soft, companies are squirreling away every IT panny they can, and consumers are leery of big, new purchases, they need every justification possible before plunking money down for a new computer. Price cuts, solid construction and innovative features, combined with a new OS that'll be just £19 in three months, might just do the trick.

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