Apples MacBook features Intel innards but still feels just like a Mac laptop should.

Here’s what all the fuss has been about. In a blaze of headlines, Apple has abandoned its long-standing use of the PowerPC processor in favour of new chips from Intel. A key factor in the switch has been the lack of a competitive PowerPC chip that runs cool enough to fit in Apple’s famously slim portables, making the MacBook Pro’s release a defining moment.

Given the transformed architecture and instruction set driving the MacBook Pro, its most remarkable trait is how much like the PowerBook G4 – its immediate predecessor – it feels. Only small details indicate any change, most notably the built-in iSight video camera over the display – an overdue catch-up with rival manufacturers. The screen itself has 60 pixels shaved off its resolution to make room for the iSight’s circuitry, but otherwise meets Apple’s high standards, presenting deep blacks.

Inside are a 2GHz Core Duo processor and 945-series chipset – a combination that greatly improves its performance over the PowerBook G4. That’s helped by a front-side bus that’s around four times wider than previously. What’s less encouraging is the MacBook Pro’s performance compared to Windows laptops with a Core Duo. Asus’ A6Ja offers a slower CPU clock speed with an equivalent front-side bus, hard disk and graphics card, yet beats the Apple laptop in two of three speed tests that use native code. The Pro’s DVD writer is also disappointing, with the slim case forcing the use of a slow component that writes at a mere 4x speed.

It’s still early days for the Apple-Intel pairing, and we suspect there are substantial gains to be had from future OS adjustments. For today’s buyer, though, the MacBook Pro is off the pace compared to Windows laptops, despite its dramatic gains over recent PowerBooks.

Your choice of software can have a profound impact on performance. Mac software that’s not yet converted to run natively on Intel processors relies on Rosetta, Apple’s emulation system. In Photoshop CS2, this has a performance hit of at least 15 per cent. In the less demanding Microsoft Office, the lag is less apparent. If you rely on processor-intensive software such as media-editing tools, make sure it’s been updated to Universal Binary, which runs natively on the MacBook Pro.

Design matter
There is ample compensation if you do opt for MacBook Pro. The manual control over processor speed available on PowerPC models has gone, but the machine makes efficient use of the Core Duo through automatic power management. We got over three-and-a-half hours from a battery charge in everyday use, while a far more stringent test, running a DVD non-stop on medium brightness, sees the Pro far outstrip the A6Ja.

More importantly, the MacBook Pro is responsive, quiet and elegant in use, enabling you to work without distraction. (It does run significantly hotter than its predecessors, however.) The backlit keyboard is familiar – a subtle option for working in poor lighting – while the bright display copes well with outdoor light. Designed to avoid accidents in settings where you’ve improvised connecting your laptop to power, the magnetic power lead clips neatly to the MacBook Pro’s side in use, but dislodges when you apply a reasonable degree of force.

The MacBook Pro is Apple’s first laptop to offer the company’s Front Row software, its distance-view playback software in the style of Windows XP’s Media Center. Now you can sit back in a hotel room and enjoy DVDs and music with the accompanying remote. The remote is also able to activate Keynote slideshows and cycle between slides, providing the bonus of a ready-made remote presentation system.

It’s touches like these that show that Apple’s commitment to quality goes beyond designing eye-catching enclosures. While it delivers only acceptable performance, the MacBook Pro is a pleasure to use. It’s everything that was great about the PowerBook G4, turned up a notch.

Reccomended Retail: $3,199

Available from Apple Store at www.apple.com.au

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