The 13.3-inch Apple MacBook and 15.4-inch MacBook Pro, both featuring Intel Core 2 Duo processors, impressed us by mixing Apple's lauded industrial design and user-friendly operating system with the kind of high-end hardware usually seen only on the PC side -- not to mention the ability to run Windows XP through Boot Camp.
The high-end 17-inch MacBook Pro adds some hard drive space and screen real estate over the 15-inch MacBook Pro, boosting the base price by £200. The £1,899 system (our £2,279 review unit was tricked out with extra RAM) is very light for a 17-inch laptop, and it's a good choice for anyone needing an easily transportable big-screen laptop, although most users will be just as happy with the excellent 15-inch version.
The aluminium MacBook Pro is a clear departure from the black or white plastic look of the iPod, the iMac, or the (non-Pro) MacBook. Weighing just 3.1kg (3.4kg with the AC adaptor), it's easily the lightest desktop-replacement laptop we've seen. Other 17-inch systems, such as the Dell XPS M1710 and the Fujitsu LifeBook N6420, weigh between 1.5kg and 2kg more. The MacBook Pro is also very thin, measuring 392mm wide by 265mm deep by only 26mm thick. While it's still too bulky to commute with every day, it can certainly make for high-impact presentations and can act as a decent portable home cinema.
Opening the lid, you'll find the typical minimalist Apple design, including only a keyboard, a power button, stereo speakers and a sizable touchpad with a single mouse button. The built-in iSight camera sits above the display. The keyboard is the same size as the one on the 15-inch MacBook Pro, and it's somewhat jarring to see it floating in the middle of this giant keyboard tray. Other desktop-replacement systems make up for this by using larger keyboards and adding separate number pads. We continue to be big fans of the two-finger touchpad scroll (run two fingers down the touchpad and it scrolls like a mouse wheel).
The 17-inch MacBook Pro includes three USB 2.0 ports, both FireWire 400 and FireWire 800 ports (previous models had only FireWire 400) and a slot-loading SuperDrive DVD burner running at 8x, compared to the 6x drive in the 15-inch MacBook Pro. You still won't find a media card reader, however, which has become an almost ubiquitous feature on Windows laptops, but you will find an ExpressCard slot, handy for adding mobile broadband capabilities later on. Built-in networking hardware includes an AirPort Extreme 802.11a/b/g wireless card and Bluetooth.
The 17-inch display looks positively massive against the thin, silver screen bezel. The native resolution is 1,680x1,050 pixels, standard for a screen this size. We've seen only a handful of laptops with higher resolutions, such as the 1,920x1,200-pixel Dell XPS M1710. Those involved with very high-resolution photo editing might like a higher resolution, but the default is perfect for common tasks such as Web surfing and displaying media. Output to an external monitor is available via a DVI port on the side, and a DVI-to-VGA cable is included.
For Apple devotees, it's the little things that make the difference, and the MacBook Pro has a handful of extras that help it stand out amid a fairly generic field of competitors. The MacBook's AC adaptor connects magnetically to the laptop, so if you accidentally trip over the cord, it will simply detach instead of sending the entire system crashing to the floor. And additionally, you get Apple's Front Row remote. This tiny remote is the same as the one that comes with the iMac, and it controls Apple's Front Row software for playing back movies, music and photos from a 3m interface.
Also included is Apple's excellent suite of proprietary software, iLife '06, which includes intuitive tools for building Web sites, creating DVDs, composing music and working with photos.
There are only a few configurable options on the MacBook Pro. The 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU is set in stone, but the RAM and the hard drive are both upgradeable. Going from 2GB of RAM to 3GB (which our review unit had) adds £380 to the cost, because it requires one expensive 2GB RAM module plus a regular 1GB module. The standard 2GB configuration uses two 1GB modules.