On the new MacBooks/Pros

As I write this today, I'm the happy owner of a new MacBook Pro (the "unibody" or "late 2008" version). So, what of it? So far, so great. I'm very happy with the purchase and I'm looking forward to making a happy new Mac user of the designated recipient of my old MacBook Pro. For more details on the new offerings, read on.

For Apple, the focus is always on design. I don't mean "design" as in making things pretty without regard to function. I mean Design, wherein the form and function are molded together in a way that works right for the intended audience. Note: I did say "intended audience", which I think is a theme that will recur in this article.

If you've seen Apple's video on the new MacBooks (applicable also to the Pros), you're already familiar with the revolutionary unibody construction of these laptops. If you've ever been concerned about structural integrity of your laptop as you picked it up from the corner (which, although you're not supposed to do, I'm sure that most of us do on a regular basis). The new construction feels solid, just like the MacBook Air, only more so.

MacBook Pro changes

Besides the unibody construction, the new Pro touts DDR3 RAM--ostensibly faster than the DDR2 RAM of its predecessors--clocking in at 1067MHz instead of the 667MHz of the 2007 MacBook Pro that I am replacing. Basically the same stats as the "Early 2008" version.

The new machine also has a dual-GPU architecture (technically, it's an IGP and and a GPU), with the nVidia 9400M as it's "standard" processor and the 9600M GT as the "overdrive", it's a pretty potent pair. Unfortunately, the current state of system software requires a manual switch (software) and logging out and back in to switch from one GPU to the other, so for the time being I'm expecting most users will stay in one mode or the other. Surprisingly, the 9400M is so zippy (even in comparison to the 8600GT that was in my previous Macbook Pro), that I haven't spent much time in 9600M GT land. Hopefully, this software issue is something Apple will remedy in the near future (preferably before Snow Leopard comes out). A number of message boards have made a big deal about the fact that Apple currently requires you to switch GPUs instead of using them simultaneously for the technology that nVidia calls Hybrid SLI GeForce boost. This method theoretically gives much better performance than just using one or the other (at the cost of battery life). It's unclear from the nVidia web site whether the 9600M GT is even capable of dealing with GeForce Boost... but I'm sure we'll see at some point in the future. For now, even the 9400M's graphics are fine in comparison to the 8600GT for most uses. This is particularly interesting for the MacBook folks, as it's between 55 and 86% of the performance of the previous model of MacBook Pro in graphics performance. I'm sure I'll be using the 9600GT, certainly more so in the future when the software supports it better, for now I'm sticking with the battery life.

With the new unibody construction comes something that makes upgrading and repairs a lot easier. For the first time since forever, Apple's top-of-the- line laptops now have easily accessible hard drives! With the MacBooks, the hard drive was easy to get at, but the MacBook Pro still required substantial disassembly. It appears that the unibody construction has made accessing almost everything easier, as it's now one big hunk of aluminum... so if it's hard for you to get at, it's hard for Apple to get at too.

The same door that gets you in to the hard drive also gets you to the battery compartment. Now, this is a more interesting problem than we've seen for a while on the battery front. If you take a good look at the documentation and the way that it's constructed, it becomes pretty apparent that Apple's designed this notebook with a field-replaceable battery, not necessarily an interchangeable one. I've carried a couple of spare batteries in my backpack for years because of compiling on cross-country trips. It appears that era may be coming to a close. Not that there aren't plenty of power adapter-based solutions for this, but the battery swap on the new Pro is a lot less convenient than it's been on all preceding models. For me, I'm not too upset about this, as Carol's got an Air which also has a hard-to-replace battery and whatever external power pack we get for one will work on the other, but it is a change that I'm certain people will take issue with.

The big, glass, no-button trackpad. Well, I suggest you give it a try. It has a lot of room to spread out, which is nice, and it handles multi-touch, which will be a lot more fun when other applications support it (come on, Apple, publish the Multi-touch API for OS X already!). The "missing" button really is no problem for me, as I tap-click about as often as I hit the button, but I think there will be 3 reactions to it: indifference, like me they just don't notice it; annoyance, because they really miss the discrete button; and joy, because they don't care about the physical button, but the ability to split the click area in half to make a left and right button click will solve their right-mouse requirements.

Well, that's about it for the MacBook Pro. I was going to write some stuff here about the new MacBook, but I really haven't gotten my hands on it, so it'd be all second-hand. Go and check one out if you're curious, though, they look pretty sweet!