You're going to want to swipe this MacBook Pro. And pinch it. And twirl it, too.
Actually it's not so much the 15-inch MacBook Pro you're going to be swiping -- it's the new multitouch trackpad it features. The trackpad, which represents the biggest change from earlier MacBook Pro models, borrows some of the same hands-on -- maybe I should say fingers-on -- user interface touches that premiered in the iPhone. The change to a multitouch trackpad means you can use the trackpad to perform a number of functions that heretofore required key combos or trackpad taps and clicks.
Late last month, Apple unveiled an incremental update to its popular aluminum-clad MacBook Pro line and its entry-level MacBooks. Apple's professional-level laptops now sport 45-nanometer Penryn processors from Intel, the latest versions of the Core 2 Duo chips that have been in use since 2006.
Other improvements include a switch to an LED screen in the 17-inch model instead of the fluorescent LCDs used until now; 200GB or 250GB hard drives (depending on model); up to 512MB of video RAM; and the multitouch trackpad. (And no, according to Apple officials, the new trackpad functions won't be ported back to earlier models; they can't be, since the multitouch trackpad requires a combination of software and new hardware.)
Nice features -- but not cheap
If you're jonesing for multitouch, head out to the Apple store and plan on coughing up some money. The 15-inch model starts at US$1,999, which nets you the 2.4-GHz processor, a 200GB hard drive spinning at 5,400 rpm and an NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT graphics card with 256MB of video RAM. For US$500 more, Apple gives you a 2.5-GHz processor, a 250GB hard drive and 512MB of video RAM. If you want to upgrade to an optional 2.6-GHz chip, that is a built-to-order option that will cost you an extra US$250.
That same hardware, including the 2.5-GHz processor, underpins the basic US$2,799 17-inch model -- with the added benefit of the larger display. The 2.6-GHz processor is available for an additional US$200 -- US$50 less than it costs to order that same processor in the 15-inch model. (Bias alert: A 17-inch model with the high-resolution screen is my personal fav and the one I have at home.)
While both the 15-inch and 17-inch models can be upgraded to the faster 2.6-GHz processor, stop before you buy. Is 0.1 GHz of clock speed really worth US$200 or US$250? For most people, the difference in real-world, day-to-day use between the three Core 2 Duo processors is negligible -- I would save my money and invest in more RAM or opt for the speedier 7,200-rpm hard drive Apple offers. Either is almost certainly a better investment (though you'll want to get the RAM from a third-party reseller, not Apple, which charges too much).
The 15-inch model reviewed for this article was totally tricked out with the faster 200GB hard drive, 2.6-GHz processor, 4GB of RAM and 512MB of video RAM. If you're going for the 15-inch model and want the ultimate, this is it. With the stock 2GB of RAM, this model would cost you US$2,799. With the 4GB of RAM Apple installed in our review unit, you d pay a whopping US$3,199. That s why you should buy extra RAM elsewhere.
If the price tag scares you, don't worry -- the basic US$1,999 model offers just about everything you need. If you want to splurge, get the faster hard drive and you're out the door for US$2,099 plus tax.
Here, however, is the main point: If you bought the last-generation model in January and are wondering whether you should upgrade, you need answer only one question: Do you absolutely, positively need the new multitouch trackpad? If not, there's no need to spend more money now. But if it's been a couple of years since you last bought, and your first-generation Core Duo-based 15-inch model is getting a little long in the tooth, keep reading.