Early 2006 17" MacBook Pro Review

Apple unveiled the new 17" MacBook Pro in early 2006, which replaced the 1.67 GHz 17" PowerBook G4, and removed any ambiguity as to which 'Book is king of the hill. Having recently upgraded to an Apple Certified Refurbished 1.33 GHz 17" PowerBook, and quickly fallen in love with it, I was more than casually interested in how the anticipated 17" MacBook Pro would present. It doesn't disappoint.

Not only does the new 17-incher significantly enhance the feature set introduced with the 15" MacBook Pro in January, it also comes at the unexpectedly attractive price of $2,799.00. That's $300 more than the last revision 17" PowerBook sold for, but based on pricing of the 15" MacBook Pro model, which also tops out at $2,799.00 with the build to order 2.16 GHz processor option, I had been expecting something more like $2,999.00. It has been suggested that while the 2.16 GHz Core Duo lists for $240 more than the 2.0 GHz version, Intel's price is expected to drop on May 28, so Apple is absorbing some of the extra cost in reduced profit temporarily.

I expect we're going to hear some grumbling from recent purchasers of the high-end 15" model, and one presumes that we can reasonably expect a price reduction on the smaller machine soon. However, this sort of thing is one of the consequences of early adoption, and they can take some solace in the fact that it's a relatively modest hit by historical standards. For example, early adopters of the high-end WallStreet 292 MHz G3 Series 'Books paid $5,599 for the privilege in 1998. A year later you could buy a refurb. WallStreet 300 MHz machine for $2,000. That represented a mind-numbing $3,600 (64.3 percent) depreciation over ONE YEAR, even worse than the 1997 3400c/240's 57.5 percent freefall in its first 12 months.

Anyway, the 17" MacBook Pro is here, and it's a sweet piece of work, as was its G4 PowerBook predecessor. Styling-wise, as with the 15" MacBook Pro, Apple chose not to mess with a good thing, and what appearance changes they made are subtly evolutionary rather then revolutionary.

Dimensions-wise, here are some comparisons:

15-inch MacBook Pro
• Height: 1.0 inch (2.59 cm)
• Width: 14.1 inches (35.7 cm)
• Depth: 9.6 inches (24.3 cm)
• Weight: 5.6 pounds (2.54 kg) with battery and optical drive installed

17-inch PowerBook G4
• Height: 1.0 inch (2.59 cm)
• Width: 15.4 inches (39.2 cm)
• Depth: 10.2 inches (25.9 cm)
• Weight: 6.9 pounds (3.1 kg) with battery and optical drive installed

17-inch MacBook Pro
• Height: 1.0 inch (2.59 cm)
• Width: 15.4 inches (39.2 cm)
• Depth: 10.4 inches (26.5 cm)
• Weight: 6.8 pounds (3.1 kg) with battery and optical drive installed

Compared with the foregoing PowerBook model, the new 17-incher is .1 of a pound lighter, .2 of an inch deeper, and otherwise identical, Can you tell which is which at a quick glance?

Actually, the giveaway is the built-in iSight video camera in the screen lid of the MacBook Pro, which is presumably the reason for the .2" greater chord depth.

In other specs., the 17-inch MacBook Pro is powered by a 2.16 GHz Intel Core Duo processor with 2MB on chip shared L2 cache running 1:1 with processor speed. Apple says the new 17-incher is up to five times faster than the 17-inch PowerBook G4, "running industry standard benchmarks" and offers an all new system architecture including a 667 MHz front-side bus that is four times as fast as the PowerBook G4 and 1 GB of 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM memory expandable to 2GB that is twice as fast as the PowerBook G4. However, Apple says that the 68-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery in the MacBook Pro should offer comparable charge life to the one used in the PowerBook.

In general, aside from the upgrades and enhancements noted here, the new 17-inch MacBook Pro includes the same feature set as the 15-inch MacBook Pro including the iSight camera, Apple's Photo Booth, application that lets users take quick snapshots with the iSight camera, add visual effects and share pictures with the touch of a button, Apple's Front Row media software that allows you to control digital lifestyle content including music, photos and videos, from across the room using the Apple Remote, and a full slate of high-end Apple laptop connectivity features that include a FireWire 800 port, a FireWire 400 port, three USB 2.0 ports, optical and digital audio input and output, built-in Bluetooth 2.0+EDR (Enhanced Data Rate), and integrated AirPort Extreme 54 Mbps 802.11g WiFi wireless networking.

The new MacBook Pro comes with Apple's MagSafe Power Adapter that safely disconnects from the computer when there is strain on the power cord, preventing the 'Book from being pulled off its work surface, and Apple's Sudden Motion Sensor that is designed to protect the hard drive in case of a fall or impact.

According to Apple, the 17-inch MacBook Pro's display is 36 percent brighter than that of the model it replaces, and is supported by an ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 PCI Express graphics with 256MB of dedicated GDDR3 graphics memory supporting both dual display and video mirroring with full native resolution on the built-in display and up to 2560 by 1600 pixels on an external display, both at millions of colors.

There is a Scrolling TrackPad and Apple's cool backlit illuminated keyboard with a built-in ambient light sensor. This sensor monitors surrounding light levels and adjusts the brightness of the screen backlight and keyboard illumination accordingly.

The software bundle includes OS 10.4.6 with the latest versions of Safari, Mail, iCal, iChat AV, Front Row and Photo Booth, plus iLife '06, the next generation of Apple's suite of digital lifestyle applications featuring iPhoto, iMovie HD, iDVD, GarageBand and iWeb, a new iLife application that makes it super-easy to create amazing websites with photos, blogs and Podcasts and publish them on .Mac for viewing by anyone on the Internet with a single click. All the iLife '06 applications are now universal binaries that run natively on Intel-based Macs.

Despite its visual similarity, the 17" MacBook Pro isn't just the 15" model upgraded with a bigger display, although it certainly has that - a 1680 x 1050 pixel resolution unit as opposed to the smaller model's 15.4-inch, 1440 x 900 resolution screen.

The 17" model comes with both FireWire 800 and FireWire 400 ports, while the 15-incher has only FireWire 400, the big 'un has three USB 2.0 ports to the 15" machine's two, and it comes standard with a 120 GB, 5400 RPM hard drive to the high-end 15-incher's 100 GB unit.

The 17" model comes with an 8x dual-layer SuperDrive, as did the October, 2005 revisions of the 15" and 17" G4 PowerBooks, while the 15" MacBook Pro has only a 4x, single-layer SuperDrive (the limitation preventing installation of the 8x unit in the 15"-incher is apparently not case-thickness, but an internal clearance issue that does not obtain with the .8" deeper chord dimension of the 17" machine.

This new 17" MacBook Pro addresses most of the compromises of the original 15" version, although Classic holdouts like myself still lament the lack of Classic Mode support, and ExpressCard 34 peripherals are not yet very plentiful. I also have somewhat lively hope that the lessons learned from early production bugs in the 15-incher will have been applied to good advantage with this machine. I certainly would love to have one, although I am very satisfied with my 1.33 GHz PowerBook G4 for the time being, and I imagine that my first Macintel will be one of the yet-to-be-announced 13.3" widescreen MacBooks some way down the road. However, I wouldn't rule out a refurbished 17" MacBook Pro as the eventual successor to my current machine. Now that I'm used to a 17-incher, it will be hard to go back. For more information, visit: http://www.apple.com/macbookpro/