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  • Apple’s Notebook Update Mostly Ignores 17-inch MacBook Pro

    October 14th, 2008

    Most of you know that I am addicted to the 17-inch form factor for my notebooks. I first bought a 17-inch PowerBook G4, the one with the 1.33GHz processor, shortly after it was released in late 2003. After a couple of years of regular use, it passed on to my son, Grayson, who later sold it when he acquired a black MacBook.

    I'm now on my second 17-inch MacBook Pro, and it gets more use than ever these days, as I migrate more and more of my workload to the bedroom.

    That takes us to the latest Apple notebook revision, replete with the long-awaited changes to the stagnant form factors that had gone largely unaltered since the days of the Titanium PowerBook.

    Normally these revisions have arrived in the form of modest speed bumps, with faster processors and larger hard drives. However, there hasn't been all that much of an improvement in Intel's CPUs in recent months. So what is Apple to do to refresh its notebook line and garner big sales for the holiday quarter in a seriously troubled economic environment?

    Well, one thing to do is change the looks. So all but the entry-level MacBooks ditch plastics for a specially-crafted unibody aluminum enclosure that also inherits beveled edges reminiscent of the MacBook Air and black borders around the displays, similar to the iMac.

    The metal trackpad is history, replaced by glass, with the MultiTouch feature that supports gestures and pinches in the fashion of the iPhone and iPod touch. Reminiscent of the famous Mighty Mouse, the entire trackpad sports an integrated click button. According to Apple, the new line meets Energy Star 4.0, EPEAT Gold and RoHS standards, making them more environmentally friendly than ever.

    But skin-deep charges weren't sufficient, evidently, so Apple addressed the serious graphic shortcomings of the previous MacBooks, which were fine for displaying regular pictures, but pathetic for gamers. So those Intel integrated graphics are history, replaced by the NVIDIA GeForce 9400M, a new integrated chipset design that supposedly increases performance by up to five times. Since this chip is also included on an updated MacBook Air, it means you can actually use that model, too, for gaming and get decent performance, with performance said to be up to four times faster.

    With creditable graphics on its consumer line, Apple pulls a two-chip trick on the MacBook Pro, so you can stick with the NVIDIA integrated graphics chip and get the best possible battery life or switch to the NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GT discrete chip, which increases performance by 1.5 times at the expense of dropping battery life by up to an hour. Your choice, and I think 90% of the MacBook Pro owners will stick with the integrated graphics for most purposes.

    Of course we'll have to wait for the reviewers to get their hands on these units and see how well they perform in the real world.

    In other developments, the MacBook Air's pathetic 80GB drive was upgraded to 120MB, with a 128GB solid state drive available as an option. The poor, neglected 17-inch MacBook looks the same as the previous model, but is now equipped strictly with the 1920 x 1200 glossy display. The hard drive increases from 250GB to 320GB, and RAM is maxed to 4GB, all at the same $2,799 price as its predecessor.

    I would hope and expect the 17-inch model will get the rest of the updates at some future time, perhaps next year?

    But what of all those rumors about a cheaper MacBook, the first in years that's cheaper than the magic $1,000 threshold? Well, Apple's trick there is just to keep a version of the 13-inch white MacBook in production, and reduce the minimum price from $1,099 to $999. With roughly a third of the dollars spent on personal computers in the U.S. retail market going Apple's way, clearly they want to move as many boxes as they can in the next few months.

    I'm not going to cover all the raw numbers, though. Apple has plenty of online information to satisfy your cravings for all the specifics and prices.

    But one omission does trouble me. You see, content creators were, by and large, not enamored with glossy displays, which are prone to annoying reflections under some lighting conditions. You could order your MacBook Pro with a matte screen if you preferred, but now you can't. It's now glossy or nothing.

    In addition, it appears that Apple is conceding defeat to a large extent with its FireWire standard. At one time, you needed them for camcorders and external drives. But you can't do that with the new MacBook, which omits a FireWire jack. Now that might not impact a lot of our readers, but if you have an external FireWire device of any sort, you're out of luck.

    Unless, of course, you opt for the MacBook Pro, which contains a single FireWire 800 port. And yes, you should be able to adapt that connector to the older FireWire 400 standard. Or live without.

    The other important development at Apple's press briefing answered that expected $899 entry in its price list, a new 24-inch LED Cinema Display, the first update to the line in several years. It carries the same slim form factor as the updated Apple notebooks and the iMac and is due later this year.

    Now if Apple would only produce a 30-inch version, I might indeed place it on my must buy list.



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    19 Responses to “Apple’s Notebook Update Mostly Ignores 17-inch MacBook Pro”

    1. Andrew says:

      Today's announced MacBooks and MacBook Pros made me very glad that I went out 11-days-ago and bought an early 2008 model MacBook Pro. I have a number of FireWire 400 hard drives and numerous cables for them, not to mention the incredible convenience of Targeted Disk Mode, so FireWire, while not essential, is a big convenience for me.

      More important is the screen. I used a MacBook with a glossy screen for a few years and while it was wonderful for watching movies, glare was annoying in the office. My new MacBook Pro has a matte screen, and clearly is destined to be one of the last. Of course, with its LED backlight and 256MB dedicated graphics, images are gorgeous.

      The other feature that I really prefer on my old-style MacBook Pro is the keyboard. The new Apple keyboards are perfectly fine. I am fast and accurate on the aluminum keyboard that came with my Mac Pro, as well as that of my old MacBook, but I've been a huge fan of the MacBook Pro keyboard since the original aluminum PowerBooks, which use the exact same part. I still have a 12" PowerBook and the MacBook pro is even nicer to type on due to the larger wrist rest, but the keys remain about the best ever installed on a non-IBM-branded laptop.

      I would obviously love the new one-piece aluminum shell and the magnetic display latch, but they aren't worth the trade-off to a glossy screen.

      And to paraphrase Steve, "One more thing", the old-style MacBook Pro just got $400 cheaper ($700 for the high-end version), which my local Apple Store was happy to refund this evening. My only regret is that I didn't spring for the more expensive 15" MacBook Pro. I never imagined the price gap between it and the base model would narrow to only $200, but thats OK, the base model is still overkill for everything I use a laptop for.

    2. javaholic says:

      It’s always nice to see Apple forging ahead. The new manufacturing process is very interesting. It’s just unfortunate they have this tendency to disregard any legacy investments customers have made in hardware. Is it really going to hurt their bottom line that much to have kept FireWire 400 on board and provide users with a matte screen option for say, the Pro or new 24” display? Would have been nice to see a little more flexibility in what's now an odd mix.

    3. javaholic wrote:

      It’s always nice to see Apple forging ahead. The new manufacturing process is very interesting. It’s just unfortunate they have this tendency to disregard any legacy investments customers have made in hardware. Is it really going to hurt their bottom line that much to have kept FireWire 400 on board and provide users with a matte screen option for say, the Pro or new 24” display? Would have been nice to see a little more flexibility in what’s now an odd mix.

      Well, other than saving a couple of dollars or so on the chips, I can't see the advantage in ditching FireWire completely for the MacBook. What do you do if you have a FireWire-based backup drive?

      But then if Apple sells tons of these notebooks, they won't care. :(

      Peace,
      Gene

    4. Andrew says:

      Most MacBook owners (as in regular consumers who don't frequent Mac web sites) probably don't even know what FireWire is.

    5. Andrew wrote:

      Most MacBook owners (as in regular consumers who don’t frequent Mac web sites) probably don’t even know what FireWire is.

      I do not disagree. But plenty do. At least some of those FireWire drives, of recent vintage, also include USB ports.

      Peace,
      Gene

    6. John Fallon says:

      Macbook owners who own one of the many FireWire camcorders will care.

      Dell makes FireWire available for many of its laptops, so obviously some PC customers know and care also.

    7. Karl says:

      I find the glossy screens and the lack of FireWire a deal breaker, at least for me. It seems FireWire is on it's deathbed. Does any know if you can use USB drive as a boot drive? Or even use USB in target disk mode?

      I'm sure that the new laptops will sell well for Apple. Just I won't be buying one.

    8. John Fallon says:

      I believe you can boot Intel Mac's from USB. My Mac Pro can boot a USB drive. It was a lot slower than booting the same drive from FireWire.

    9. Andrew says:

      Yes, Intel can, and supposedly there is a trick to make PPC Macs boot from a USB drive. I do not recall where, but I read of an Intel owner installing OS X to a drive, then cloning that drive to a USB key with the APM partition map (required by PPC Macs) and using that drive to boot a G4 PowerBook.

    10. Steve says:

      When Apple first shifted to Intel processors, Apple dropped firewire 800 from the MBP. It offered only 1 firewire 400 port (at least on the 15"). This lasted only about 10 months after which a second FW 800 port was added. Maybe Apple will see the light again soon.

      The lack of firewire on the MacBook would be a deal breaker for me, if I was in that market. I'm also disappointed with the 1 firewire 800 port on the new MBP. While I like many of the other features, I'm going shopping for a good deal on the early 2008 MBP.

    11. Andrew says:

      You won't be disappointed. The 15" early 2008 MBP is, by far, the nicest laptop I've ever used.

    12. adam says:

      I see everyone's point about the matte/glossy screen. Having said that, though, all the screens are now glass which obliterates the matte option. Advantages? Much harder to scratch (you'd be amazed how many badly scratched screens come to the Genius Bar) and much more environmentally friendly which is a stated major goal of Apple's. Easier to recycle, less toxic to make (supposedly) and there's probably more silicon in the world now than oil - so resource friendly.

      I have 2 macbooks (one is mine, one belongs to the company) and I know the glare issue all too well. My past Genius Bar life makes me glad for this change, though. One of the features most loved by repairmen on the newest iMacs is the glass screen.

      My $.02 (today it's probably more like $.002) worth.

    13. Steve wrote:

      When Apple first shifted to Intel processors, Apple dropped firewire 800 from the MBP. It offered only 1 firewire 400 port (at least on the 15?). This lasted only about 10 months after which a second FW 800 port was added. Maybe Apple will see the light again soon.

      The lack of firewire on the MacBook would be a deal breaker for me, if I was in that market. I’m also disappointed with the 1 firewire 800 port on the new MBP. While I like many of the other features, I’m going shopping for a good deal on the early 2008 MBP.

      You can get an adapter for FireWire 400, and daisy-chain FireWire devices, if you have a few. So living with just one isn't necessarily the final straw.

      But I do like my early 2008 17-inch MacBook Pro.

      Peace,
      Gene

    14. I have been waiting for the new MacBook Pros for a LONG time. I have already ordered my custom built (2.8 processor and 7200 drive) and it should arrive next week. I currently have the last model of the PowerBook G4 and I am so looking forward to a faster computer and a larger hard drive. If matte display had been an option I would have gotten that. I have never used a glossy screen on a notebook so I don't know how good/bad it will be.

      I was most surprised at the limited build-to-order options. Usually there are several things that can be modified, but this time it was just the processor and hard drive.

      -Derek

    15. John says:

      You really have to wonder about Apple's decision making at times. I can see forcing the glossy displays on the low end systems but why not make it an option on the professional laptops? I have been looking forward to replacing my 17" MBP next year but now I'm nervous. I have the matte option and it is extremely useful. I use this for making presentations to small groups. One person might find a way to view a glossy screen but not three or four at once.

    16. Andrew says:

      The reasons for all-glossy are obvious; cost and the glass construction. It is probably possible to make a matte screen out of glass, such as the focusing screens on SLR cameras, but I don't know if image quality would be adequate.

      That said, there are plenty of matte screen MacBook Pros in the clearance channel, so while future matte screen purchases will likely be impossible, anyone wanting one can certainly get it right now.

    17. JanJop31 says:

      I checked one of these out and they are impressive. One of the best new features is the user upgradeable hard drive. Dropping the FireWire 400 port while AVCHD camcorders are still not as useable as HDV camcorders wasn't too smart in my opinion and considering all of the new ports Apple users were hoping to see, Apple might have considered adding an express slot to the MacBook too. Instead you're forced into a MacBook Pro to get one. They could have even offered optional express slot based cards for eSATA, FireWire, etc on their website.

    18. Andrew says:

      While disappointed about the loss of FireWire 400 on both models, I am not surprised. I AM surprised, however, that eSATA wasn't added. This would provide a faster, more modern bus, likely with the possibility of keeping targeted disk mode. Oh well, we still have FireWire 800 on the Pro.

    19. jikubutsudzu says:

      Apple MacBook? I want to get an Apple Macbook, but I don't aware much in connection with it. My dad mentions that it's like, a absolutely newsworthiness arrangement to relearm and stuff. what are the pros and cons about buying an apple macbook? or any apple laptops

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