Author:
Yan Lin
03/09/2008

The New Aluminum Unibody MacBook Pro

The New Aluminum Unibody MacBook Pro

On October 14th 2008, Apple announced their new unibody design for the MacBook and MacBook Pro. In addition to the standard hardware upgrades, this new model boasts a chassis cut directly from a single sheet of aluminum. This is a welcome change that provides for a lighter, stronger and more environmentally friendly machine. This change also resolves case warping: a problem that plagued previous generations of the machine.

At first glance, the MacBook Pro retains the same matte metallic finish the previous generations have used for their machines. The unit encompasses 2 USB 2.0 ports, 1 Firewire 800 port, 1 Gigabit Ethernet Jack, a Mini-DisplayPort, and audio in and out jacks. The replacement of a Firewire 400 port by a Firewire 800 port in no way hinders the machine’s use in any way, as this problem can easily be remedied by purchasing a 9-pin to 6-pin Firewire cable. Amongst the various changes in connection ports, one of the prominent substitutions is the removal of DVI and the addition of a Mini-DisplayPort port. The Mini-DisplayPort is a video output port capable of delivering the 2560×1600 resolution used by the Apple 30” Cinema Displays via Dual Link DVI. Combined with the power of the new nVIDIA GeForce 9600m GT graphics processors, this is quite a contender in the world of mobility computers that aren’t intended to be full on desktop replacements. A very unique approach Apple has taken in this release was the addition of a lower power nVIDIA 9400m card. The advantage of having two graphics processors in the machine lies in the capability for users to use a lower power graphics processor when battery life is a concern, and switch over to the higher power card when they desire more processing power. On the 9400m, the MacBook Pro has a battery life of approximately 4-6 hours, whereas on the 9600m GT, 4-5 hours can be obtained. However, the true life of these batteries lie completely in what applications and processes you are running, along with the backlight setting, wireless, Bluetooth, and so forth. One thing that is evident on Apple’s online store is that the base models have the same processor speeds as the February 2008 models. It has been confirmed that both models use the same processors as their predecessors, but Apple does give the option of a higher clock speed on the 2.53GHz model.

Upon opening the MacBook Pro, you’ll notice that the stock units come with a black bezel surrounding the LCD, with a glossy display. This is very much similar to the Aluminum redesign of the iMac desktops issued in August of 2007. To coincide with the change to the color scheme and the chassis, the MacBook Pro has now adopted the “chiclet” style keyboard, found in MacBook computers.

The New Chiclet Style Keyboard

The New Chiclet Style Keyboard

One significant change many users will notice is the lack of a click button on the track pad. Apple has integrated the tactile click into the physical tracking surface itself, making the entire trackpad a button. This gives the user a much larger surface for controlling the trackpad, as well as more functionality with the integration of multi-touch technology.

A common complaint of many MacBook Pro users throughout the years, is of the extreme temperatures dissipated by the battery when using the machine both on and off the charger. Users have often commented that it is uncomfortable to use “on their lap”. In this revision, the MacBook Pro no longer sports a battery that is encased in a chassis that is swappable on the fly. Instead, the new UniBody design contains a latch on the bottom of the case which, upon operating, reveals a hatch that cleverly disguises the placement of the hard disk drive and the battery. The placement of the battery underneath a piece of the casing helps with the temperature complaints, as well as makes the hard disk drive much more accessible for users to service. As a result, they also have moved the battery indicator off of the battery itself, and onto the side of the machine.

However with new hardware, there are usually complaints and problems that arise. One of the minor nuisances that reared its ugly head was with the battery modes. The option to switch between “higher battery life” and “better performance” is coded into the operating system, and for some reason requires the user to log out every time they wish to switch power settings. While this is not a major problem, one can only hope Apple will address this in one of their system updates, or at least upon Snow Leopard’s release. Also, the option of the glossy screen only (at the time of writing this review) makes the machine less than desirable for those who use their notebook often “on-the-go”. While the multi-touch trackpad had a few issues at the original time of launch with tracking properly, those problems have since been fixed via system updates, which just goes to show how dedicated Apple has been with supporting the products that they release.

The new 15” MacBook Pro’s pricing starts at $1899 (Academic Pricing) and comes with Mac OS X Leopard preinstalled, as well as iLife ‘09. It is available at any Apple store, the UC Davis TechHub, or any other Apple Authorized Reseller.

Pros:

  • New sleek “environmentally-friendly” design
  • Multi-touch track pad gives user much functionality
  • New dual graphics cards mode allow user better guarantee of battery life

Cons:

  • Lack of capability to switch power settings on the fly
  • Only available in a glossy finish for the screen, rather than matte
  • New proprietary Mini-DisplayPort for video output. The dongle runs $29 on the Apple Online Store
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