Apple's MacBook Pro laptops have retained essentially the same form factor since before the Intel processor transition, using the aluminium PowerBook G4 as a template. Now five years on, Apple has updated the line with a wholly new approach to laptop construction.

As with the MacBook reviewed last month, the MacBook Pro takes the unibody idea, with the main chassis of the machine precision-carved out of a solid extrusion of aluminium.

Aside from the improvements in rigidity, heat dissipation and overall durability, it embues the new machines with a laptop build quality that's untouched anywhere else in the world. You might see this quality of engineering on a high-end professional camera - but never before on a consumer notebook computer.

And while Apple would have you believe that this is a professional notebook, we can't see many design professionals or photographers being impressed with the high-gloss screen that Apple now fits as standard on its 13in and 15in laptops. In low-light conditions, it may be easier to be impressed by the saturated colours. But take the MacBook Pro into a well-lit room, and you'll have trouble seeing beyond your own reflection or that of windows and room lights.

Apple MacBook Pro

The spec is almost identical to the MacBook 2.4GHz we tested, but aside from preserving the latter's lost FireWire port (although previous model actually had two), it adds a second nVidia graphics card for more demanding 3D visuals such as gaming.

To switch between cards, you're required to log out first, although a speedier solution is rumoured for the next OS update. Less certain is whether you'll then be able to combine the two GPUs together to further augment performance, as some Windows laptops have promised when using Intel's latest Centrino 2 chips.

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Despite using the same Intel P8600 processor as the 2.4GHz MacBook, we got slightly disappointing scores from WorldBench 6 - only 89, versus the 91 of the smaller MacBook. And this was with the main nVidia 9600M GT graphics card engaged, because when running Windows Vista with the help of Boot Camp, there seems to be no provision to select the more economical 9400M GPU.

One addition for Windows users is that the huge trackpad now gains click-to-tap functionality in Boot Camp. It's worth noting that the sometimes hair-trigger sensitivity of the glass pad made the guiding of a mouse a twitchier experience than ever before in Windows. And even in the prefered Mac OS X environment, the trackpad takes a little getting used to for even mundane tasks like standard clicking, as the cursor is wont to jump off target with tap-clicking.

Apple MacBook Pro

The general interface of the MacBook Pro's OS X experience did not always feel quite as snappy as we'd hoped. Checking against our reference MacBook Pro 2.4GHz (early 2008), we ran the Mac system benchmark test Xbench to see how the two machines compared. Averaged over three runs each, the older model recorded a score of 123.44, while the new unibody MacBook Pro gave us 123.69 - results so close to suggest that there is no overall speed benefit in the newer machine's use of faster DDR3 RAM.

In our graphics test, checked with the 9600M GT card engaged in Windows Vista, we achieved a framerate of 53fps in FEAR at Maximum quality settings, and 19fps for the onerous Crysis at 1024x768, High detail. For this challenging game, a good balance between speed and visual quality was found by resetting to 1280x960 resolution at Medium settings, running now to a useful 30fps.

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Apple MacBook Pro 2.4GHz (Late 2008): Specs

  • 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600
  • 15.4in (1440x900) LED-backlit glossy display
  • Mac OS X 10.5.5
  • 2GB DDR3 RAM
  • 250GB 5400rpm SATA HDD
  • nVidia GeForce 9600M GT & 9400M graphics cards
  • Multi-Touch trackpad
  • 1 x FireWire 800
  • 2 x USB 2.0
  • 8x DL SuperDrive (DVD±R/W)
  • mini displayPort digital video output
  • gigabit ethernet
  • Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR
  • 802.11a/b/g/draft-n
  • ExpressCard/34 slot
  • audio in and headphone out, with Toslink digital optical
  • 50Whr battery
  • 2.49kg
  • 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600
  • 15.4in (1440x900) LED-backlit glossy display
  • Mac OS X 10.5.5
  • 2GB DDR3 RAM
  • 250GB 5400rpm SATA HDD
  • nVidia GeForce 9600M GT & 9400M graphics cards
  • Multi-Touch trackpad
  • 1 x FireWire 800
  • 2 x USB 2.0
  • 8x DL SuperDrive (DVD±R/W)
  • mini displayPort digital video output
  • gigabit ethernet
  • Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR
  • 802.11a/b/g/draft-n
  • ExpressCard/34 slot
  • audio in and headphone out, with Toslink digital optical
  • 50Whr battery
  • 2.49kg

OUR VERDICT

The biggest disappointment with Apple's new MacBook Pro remains the withdrawal of the non-reflective matt screen option on the notebook’s display. And for anyone familiar with recent pre-Unibody models of Apple’s MacBook Pro, there is no appreciable performance benefit gained from the new processor and RAM. That’s only part of the story though, as the revised Multi-Touch trackpad’s versatility, along with the prestigious fit-and-finish of milled aluminium still combine to make make an attractive proposition for a state-of-the-art notebook computer.

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