Apple's revised unibody MacBook Pro 15in (Mid 2009) is also the fastest we've ever tested.

For this mid-2009 update of its laptop range, Apple has kept the unique unibody construction introduced last October, and bumped up processor speeds. But additionally, the new Apple MacBook Pro range sees subtle but important changes to the battery configuration and to the card slot.

We tested the fastest of three Apple MacBook Pro 15in-screen models, using a 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, and priced at £1699. The entry price for the popular 15in screen size is now £1299, taking a 2.53GHz processor and single graphics processor. Meanwhile £1499 buys you a 2.66GHz model.

Both middle and top 15in Apple MacBook Pros include a second dedicated graphics card, the nVidia GeForce 9600M GT, which can be switched on when required for graphics intensive work.

At present, you must log out and back in after any switch, and there's no facility to use both together as you can with some Windows laptops.

See our review of all three new 15in Apple MacBook Pro (Mid 2009) models

A gloss screen is fitted as standard for all 15in Apple MacBook Pro models, and while the display is bright and colourful enough, strong reflections from all and any nearby lights and windows will seriously reduce the legibility of what's on screen.

(On 11th August 2009, Apple quietly reintroduced a matt-finish anti-glare screen option for 15in models. It's a built-to-order option only and commands a £40 surchage over the default shiny screen.)

Also unchanged since the unibody form debuted is the new backlit Scrabble-tile keyboard, which sadly has far too much light bleed between the keys.

While the previous-generation Apple MacBook Pro models had this asset working well to allow comfortable use in darkened rooms, the larger space around each key means you're troubled by unwanted white LED lighting, rather than just the letter shape glowing softly through the key top.

Just like the big 17in model, and the Apple MacBook Air before it, the new Pro series now features integrated batteries across the range. This allows for larger battery packs to be fitted, crucially extending running time to newfound long levels. Where Mac portables could once boast around four or five hours life, the new range promise a runtime of seven hours.

NEXT PAGE: Results of battery, graphics and overall system performance benchmark tests >>

We can't get the MobileMark 2007 battery test to run on Apple's latest generation of laptops with nVidia chipsets, so we tested this model with light use in Mac OS X, with 802.11 wireless on and screen at around 75% brightness. Graphics card was the default nVidia 9400M. Under these conditions, the Apple MacBook Pro stayed alive for 6 hours 47 mins, just shy of Apple's 7-hour figure.

This is short of what we're seeing on the latest long-life Windows laptops, notable the Acer Timeline 5810T, but still a more than useful improvement over every earlier Apple MacBook of any description. And it's worth noting that the Acer Timeline series of laptops are far slower machines, whether you're looking at graphics or overall system speed.

The other significant difference in the new Apple MacBook Pro range is the loss of the ExpressCard 34 slot, to be replaced by an SD card reader. While this may reduce flexibility for introducing new and assorted peripherals such as eSATA, flash memory and multi-format card readers, in practice most people will probably welcome the single-purpose slot.

Of the various memory cards used by digital cameras, for instance, the SD card has risen to near ubiquity, with capacities up to 32GB now readily available.

See our review of all three new 15in Apple MacBook Pro (Mid 2009) models

The SD card slot is connected internally by USB, and in our tests wth a Kingston Class 4 32GB SDHC card, we found reasonable read/write speeds were possible for file transfers: around 8MB/s writing and 16MB/s reading. It's only a shame that the card, once slotted in, does not sit flush with the unibodywork. Instead it sticks out enough that you wouldn't want to put the laptop in a case with the card loaded.

To test overall system performance, we used our usual WorldBench 6 benchmark test in Windows, using Boot Camp to install Windows Home Premium 64-bit. The Apple MacBook Pro sailed through with a score of 98 points, proving itself faster than the previous flagship 17in unibody Apple MacBook Pro. With a 2.66GHz processor, last season's model scored 94 points in WorldBench.

In Windows Vista graphics tests, the new 15in played FEAR at an average framerate of 55fps (Max quality), leading us to try our more ambitious Crysis test. Here the Apple MacBook Pro portable sustained 78fps (1024x768, Low graphics); moving resolution up to more closely match the screen's native pixel count, we averaged 25fps at 1400x960 (Medium setting) and 55fps (Low setting).

NEXT PAGE: Our expert verdict >>

Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch, Mid 2009): Specs

  • 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9600
  • 1066MHz FSB
  • 6MB Level 2 cache
  • Mac OS X 10.5.7
  • 15.4in (1440x900) 16:10 glossy LCD display
  • nVidia GeForce 9400M graphics with 256MB shared RAM, and nVidia GeForce 9600M GT with 512MB dedicated RAM
  • mini DisplayPort video output
  • 4GB (2x2GB) DDR3 RAM
  • 500GB 5400rpm SATA HDD
  • 802.11a/b/g/draft-n
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • 2 x USB 2.0
  • FireWire 800
  • gigabit ethernet
  • MagSafe power connector
  • four-finger multi-touch glass trackpad
  • infrared remote control
  • SuperDrive (slot-load 8x DVD±RW DL drive)
  • webcam
  • built-in mic
  • audio-in/headphone out jacks, both with S/PDIF optical
  • 73W/hour non-removable lithium-polymer battery
  • 325x226x27mm
  • 2.49kg
  • 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9600
  • 1066MHz FSB
  • 6MB Level 2 cache
  • Mac OS X 10.5.7
  • 15.4in (1440x900) 16:10 glossy LCD display
  • nVidia GeForce 9400M graphics with 256MB shared RAM, and nVidia GeForce 9600M GT with 512MB dedicated RAM
  • mini DisplayPort video output
  • 4GB (2x2GB) DDR3 RAM
  • 500GB 5400rpm SATA HDD
  • 802.11a/b/g/draft-n
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • 2 x USB 2.0
  • FireWire 800
  • gigabit ethernet
  • MagSafe power connector
  • four-finger multi-touch glass trackpad
  • infrared remote control
  • SuperDrive (slot-load 8x DVD±RW DL drive)
  • webcam
  • built-in mic
  • audio-in/headphone out jacks, both with S/PDIF optical
  • 73W/hour non-removable lithium-polymer battery
  • 325x226x27mm
  • 2.49kg

OUR VERDICT

It’s not the cheapest 15in laptop currently available, but the new Apple MacBook Pro is arguably the best that money can buy today. Only the poor screen quality really lets down an otherwise near-perfect machine. If you can overlook this, then the thoughtful industrial design and peerless build makes Apple's MacBook Pro the gold standard for all modern 15in notebooks.

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