When the latest 13-inch Apple MacBook and 15-inch MacBook Pro were announced in October 2008, a similar revamp of the larger, 17-inch MacBook Pro was nowhere to be seen. But, in January 2009, Apple announced the 17-inch MacBook Pro would be getting the same unibody aluminum chassis, buttonless (or, more accurately, all-button) trackpad, and edge-to-edge glass on the LED-backlit display.
Now big-screen fans can get all the latest and greatest Apple improvements in a desktop-replacement design, starting at around £1,950.
Internally, Apple has moved to a Nvidia chipset with improved integrated graphics, which is paired with a dedicated Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT graphics card that can be turned on and off as needed to improve battery life or boost performance.
The Pro, while expensive, remains a favourite of media professionals, and the new 17-inch version will be an especially welcome addition for those who want the latest graphics, chassis and trackpad upgrades in an hi-def-friendly package with a 1,920x1,200-pixel resolution.
At just under an inch thick, this Pro actually thinner than some of the chunkier 10-inch netbooks, such as the Asus Eee PC 1000HE. Like the current 13-inch MacBook and 15-inch MacBook Pro, the 17-inch Pro is constructed from a solid block of aluminum that has been carved down, rather than a thin outer shell that has had support struts added to it. The result is a lighter and thinner, yet stronger, chassis that feels very solid and substantial.
The glass trackpad is the same as that found on the smaller 13- and 15- inch machines, and offers a much larger surface area than before, thanks to the elimination of a separate mouse button. In fact, the entire trackpad depresses like a button, although simple tapping, as on a PC laptop, will also work, once you turn that option on in the settings menu. While the trackpad seemed massive on the 13-inch MacBook, we could actually stand to have an even bigger version on this model.
With multitouch capability, you can hide all your apps by sweeping four fingers up on the pad, and you can also designate one corner of the trackpad as a 'right-click' zone. Also very useful is the ability to bring up the application switcher by sweeping four fingers to the left or right. We think that, once you've got used to it, going back to a standard trackpad will be difficult.
The wide-spaced, flat-key keyboard is an Apple standard, and we're always a fan of backlit keys, which are standard on the Pro and also available on the higher-end 13-inch MacBook.
The 17-inch widescreen LED display offers a 1,920x1,200-pixel native resolution, which is particularly useful for working on 1080p high-definition video content or editing large photos -- two tasks that MacBooks are particularly associated with.
The colours are rich and deep but the glass also attracts stray light rays, making the glossy screen seem even glossier. Adding a matte-screen coating is an option, but it costs an extra £35. With a system that costs almost £2,000, Apple really shouldn't pass that particular expense on to consumers.
While the Pro line offers a FireWire port, we still think many users would love to have an SD or CF card slot and the option of a high-end Blu-ray drive, especially with such an eye-catching big-screen display.
Apple is making a firm move to the DisplayPort camp by including a Mini DisplayPort connection instead of Mini-DVI or VGA, but a variety of external dongles (sold separately) will give you any video output you need.
The company also offers the option of up to a 256GB solid-state hard drive, although that will set you back £600. The price of bumping the standard 320GB drive from 5,400rpm to 7,200rpm is much more reasonable, costing only an extra £35.
With a 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, the Pro performed excellently on our standard benchmark tests, but only marginally faster than the 2.6GHz 15-inch version. A 2.93GHz chip is available for an additional £210. While Windows-based laptops with similar CPUs are also fast, efficient machines, Apple laptops have the advantage in our benchmark tests because many of the apps we test with, such as QuickTme, iTunes and Photoshop, run more quickly on Mac OS X.
Besides the dedicated Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT, the Pro also includes the same integrated GeForce 9400M GPU found in the smaller machines. The settings menu has two power options: high performance or longer battery life. Choosing high performance turns the 9600M chip on, while choosing longer battery life turns it off, leaving you with just the integrated 9400M chip. With the integrated graphics, we got 56.4 frames per second in Quake 4 at a resolution of 1,024x768 pixels, and 86.2 frames per second with the dedicated graphics.