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  • The New MacBook Pros: Are they Safe to Buy?

    October 24th, 2006

    You can imagine that buying new Apple hardware these days might seem more than a bit risky. While the first Intel-based iMac and Mac mini seem to have transitioned to the new processor architecture in pretty decent fashion, not so for the note-books. Early versions of the MacBook Pro were notorious for running too hot, and some had a battery deformation problem, which was unrelated, by the way, to the problems with Sony batteries that might “flame on.”

    The MacBook, Apple’s best-selling computer these days, didn’t fare much better. Some of the white models suffered from a discoloring effect, and there was that sudden shutdown issue. The first was traced to a problem with the plastics used to make the case, and the latter was apparently caused by a faulty heat sink assembly.

    However, it does seem that these issues and others have been addressed, as the number of complaints appear to have died down, and it’s not at all clear that sales of new Macs have suffered. Or maybe more and more folks are so disgusted with Windows that they’ll take a Mac, warts and all.

    The new Mac Pro isn’t immune to production defects. According to my friend, Mac author Kirk McElhearn, at least some of Apple’s professional desktops that were equipped with the Bluetooth option shipped with incorrect wiring. The wrong cable was connected to the Bluetooth chip due, apparently, to incorrect labeling, which means that the antenna wasn’t hooked up to the module. The most common symptom was sharply reduced range for your Bluetooth peripherals, such as a mouse. Not good and surely difficult to diagnose.

    Of course, there is that issue of a Windows virus that shipped on some iPods last month, but the real complaint there is not that it happened, but that Apple choose to use smug language in its apology.

    In passing, I know some of you had other problems to report, but the point of this article is not the specifics, Rather, it’s the fact that they happened at all. Right now, you might wonder whether it is worth buying any new Mac these days, considering all the troubles that have been documented online and elsewhere. That being said, while Apple might take a little more time than you’d like to figure out the nature of these problems, it does do its best to fix them.

    Alas, no electronics product is perfect, and the best you can hope for is that a company like Apple will learn from its mistakes at the beginning of a production run and correct them as quickly as possible. Fortunately, the new versions of the MacBook Pro are basically speed bumps with a few minor component changes, such as the addition of FireWire 800 and dual-layer burning SuperDrives on the 15-inch models. Hard drive capacities are expanded, as is the standard memory.

    In other words, these are basically modest revisions, not reinventions. It is often said that you shouldn’t buy a new car during the first year of its production run, although the more reliable brands seem to suffer less from early defects these days. Perhaps the same can be said for a personal computer, particularly one that has lots and lots of new parts, and that was certainly true with the first Intel-based Macs.

    At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with a little caution. The 15-inch speed bumps are shipping now, and the 17-inch variants will follow in a few days. No doubt, lots and lots of early adopters will be acquiring them quickly enough that you can watch for the online chatter over the next few weeks to see if there are any true show-stoppers.

    You’ll also want to put trouble reports in perspective. No matter how good Apple’s reliability might be these days, some defective products will ship. That’s the way it is, and it’s also true that, except for reporting benchmarks, people who do not encounter any significant issues with a new product aren’t inclined to spend much time talking about the matter.

    But if something goes wrong, a few loud voices may seem like a lot. To be sure, I’m quite optimistic that the newest MacBook Pros will be solid products, essentially free of the ills that afflicted the original versions. I accept that I might be proven wrong, but I don’t expect to be.



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