Apple ups MacBook Pro processor speed

I spoke briefly this morning with Dave Russell, Apple's senior director of portables and wireless product marketing, about the MacBook Pro laptop with Intel Core Duo processor. The MacBook Pro starts shipping this week and next with slightly faster processors than Apple previously announced.

"We could do it, so we did," says Russell, noting that processor speed increased but price didn't.

The US$2499 model will ship this week with a 2.0-GHz processor rather than a 1.83-GHz processor. A built-to-order option accommodates up to a 2.16-GHz processor. The US$1999 model will ship next week with a 1.83-GHz processor rather than the 1.67-GHz processor.

Apple's 12-inch and 17-inch pro laptops right now are still PowerBooks with the PowerPC G4 processor, and in fact, Apple's site still shows that you can get a 15-inch PowerPC-based PowerBook for US$1999. (Not sure how long that 15-incher will last.) In any case, the 15-inch MacBook Pro differs from PowerBooks in a few ways.

The good ways: The Intel architecture on the MacBook Pro allows for a faster front-side bus, memory bus, and graphics bus (PCI Express rather than AGP). Plus, you get a SATA hard drive. By the way, the new magnetically-attached power adapter looks pretty cool.

The bad and/or inconclusive ways: No modem. Apple sells a US$49 external USB modem if you need one. The MacBook Pro's optical drive is slower than the PowerBook's optical drive (4X not 8X DVD write speed). Russell says that the MacBook Pro's physical size wouldn't accommodate the PowerBook's slightly thicker current optical drive and expects write speeds to catch up. There are still no real-world numbers on battery life. Apple says that it is competitive with the PowerBook.

I haven't gotten my hands on a MacBook Pro yet, but this is sounding like an attractive set of specs. Pro users beware, though. If your software of choice (like Photoshop) is not optimized for the Intel processor, you'll still run through Apple's Rosetta translation software. Russell says that, for creative pros who need maximum performance, the PowerPC architecture is for them.