• Fleshing Out the MacIntel Line: Notice Anything Strange?

    April 29th, 2006

    Unlike the release of the original 15.4-inch MacBook Pro, the announcement of a 17-inch version Monday morning seemed almost an afterthought. The announcement came in a press release, and the appropriate updates at Apple’s online store. The $2,799 price is also consistent with the model it replaces, and if you don’t look at the specs closely, you can accept the situation and get on with your life. Or prepare to place your order, since they’re going to be shipping next week, and there are no long waits. At least not yet.

    But you have to look at the smaller model, and you wonder. You don’t have to examine the specs all that closely to realize the new model’s pricing represents a much better value, at least for the time being. What do I mean? Well, take the 2.16GHz Intel Core Duo processor, which is standard on the 17-inch version. In order to add that option to the smaller MacBook Pro, you have to add $300, which makes the list price identical. And that’s before you add the larger hard drive to the package. No doubt that portends an upcoming price reduction or processor enhancement for the original model, but it does seem strange right now.

    When the MacBook Pro originally appeared, professional users were concerned about the missing FireWire 800 port. Well, maybe a lot of people didn’t use them, and you should be able to get an add-on card to satisfy that need. Well, eventually, because there isn’t much available to fill the new ExpressCard/34 slot. There will be, of course, but Apple is at the beginning of the curve in supporting the higher-speed replacement for PC cards. They’ll come if enough people want to buy them.

    But the 17-inch model answers that call, because it, like its predecessor, does contain FireWire 800 and even adds a third USB 2.0 port. This may just be the consequence of having more space to add parts, or it may portend that near-term update to the 15.4-inch version with similar choices.

    Another complaint was the use of a slower SuperDrive, lacking dual-layer support. The speed hit may not matter, unless you make lots of DVDs, although dual layers are nice, but Apple claimed there wasn’t room to put in the speedier optical drive. Again, the 17-inch version does have the heftier SuperDrive. A consequence of a larger chassis, or does Apple plan to update the 15.4-inch model to reflect this change too?

    If you’re intending to order the smaller MacBook Pro, I’d recommend that you wait for a while, just to see if there aren’t any modifications that might result in a price reduction and the return of those missing features.

    In the scheme of things, however, the introduction of the 17-inch MacBook Pro merely fleshes out the line, as Apple continues its onward rush towards Intel-inside. But it raises still another question, which is the fate of the 12-inch model, cherished by those who like small laptops, or in situations where space is at a premium. Some are suggesting it’ll just be supplanted by the iBook replacement that many expect to arrive in the next few weeks. But that also raises the question of whether there’s room for a small professional laptop in Apple’s product line, and I think that there is.

    That leaves the Power Mac and the Xserve. Apple says it’s on track to complete the Intel transition before the end of the year, but will professional desktops ship that quickly? That’s a question yet to be answered, because the processor family that might grace a future Mac Pro’s interior isn’t due till early in 2007. Unless Apple plans on simply announcing the product and not shipping for a few weeks, this would create the unfavorable specter of not meeting its deadline. That is, unless an interim model is announced, perhaps at the WWDC in August, at the higher-speed version is held back until Macworld San Francisco in January 2007. The deadline will still be met.

    Or perhaps Apple knows something we don’t, which is that Intel’s processor timetable might proceed faster than expected.

    On the other hand, maybe there’s no rush, except for the tepid sales of the existing Power Mac. After all, it’s not that all of the critical professional applications that are staples of Power Mac owners will be available in Universal form. Photoshop, for example, is on top for the first half of 2007, according to Adobe. Not good news, unless you’re willing to run the existing version at half-speed for a few months.

    But if the Power Mac replacement affords a huge speed bump, maybe it won’t matter. Maybe Photoshop, even in emulation, will speed past existing models, even the G5 Quad. If that’s the case, things will be good at first, and great later on.

    In any case, I welcome the arrival of the 17-inch MacBook Pro, and I’m going to seriously consider whether to buy one and retire my two-year old PowerBook G4.

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