My Long-Term Review of an Apple MacBook Pro

March 9th, 2008 · No Comments

So, I’ve grown quite fond of the first Apple Mac I’ve ever owned, a 17″ MBP (MacBook Pro).  I figure it is high time to write a little bit about it. However, I’m quite nervous doing so as I don’t want to come across as a “fan boy” but instead just provide some honest feedback about my experiences. So with a little reluctance, I’ll provide a summary of my Mac experiences.

I ‘ve had my MBP for about a year now. I requested it at work as a replacement for my unbearably loud and heavy “desktop replacement” Dell notebook after noticing a startlingly rapid rate of adoption of Macs among developers at conferences I had been attending, and then following that up by talking to a number of them in person about their experiences. But the straw that “broke the camel’s back” so to speak was Apple’s switch to an Intel CPU which allowed both VMware and Parallels to provide virtualization software that allowed me to run Windows and Linux on the notebook if it turned out I didn’t like OS X, or couldn’t find apps that I liked or needed running natively on OS X.

Upon receiving my MBP, the first thing that really stood out was the hardware configuration. Apple had clearly solved some significant engineering challenges to put high powered components into a form-factor as light and thin as this. I won’t go into details about the components (CPU, disk, memory, etc.) since its trivially easy to look those up on the Apple product site, plus they change too often to be relevant in this post a year later. Instead, I’ll give my thoughts on things that still impress, or depress, me even a year later. These are listed in magnitude order of the size of my feelings about the topic. That is the first item seems more significant to me than the second, etc.

  • Durability: IMPRESSED.
    Unfortunately, my MBP has taken somewhat of a beating. It’s been dropped once or twice off a table, and once even from the top of a car. As a result it’s metal case has been dented in a good number of places. Yet all the parts, including the display, are still working just fine and nothing has broken off. This is a significant improvement on my past Dell, IBM, and Gateway experiences where various plastic door covers and or case pieces had actually broken off and left electronics exposed to fingers, dust, and possibly even worse.
  • Noise and heat management: IMPRESSED.
    Unlike every other notebook I’ve had, the MBP vents heat out the back through a slot that extends across almost the whole width of the notebook. This causes some very nice things to happen. First, it means cable connections don’t get in the way of how I position the notebook. I can set it on my lap and tilt the base with no worries about the power plug. I can push it up against the back of the seat in front of me and still plug in various cables. In short, it is just supremely convenient and I never want to go back to having cable connections on the back. In combination with that vent slot, Apple apparently really thought through the process of cooling because I rarely hear anyone complain about fan noise anymore. Perhaps this is true of all Core2Duo based notebooks, but I only ever hear the fan kick in if I’m doing a compile or build that lasts more than a few minutes. This is a significant change from my previous notebooks where there was always fan noise no matter what I was doing.
  • Response to the surrounding environment: IMPRESSED.
    It sounds like such a little thing but having a back-lit keyboard and self-adjusting screen brightness means I’m not forever looking for the right key for those infrequent punctuation marks, nor doing a finger stretch exercise to adjust my screen brightness. The fact that the Mac monitors the brightness of the surrounding environment and adjusts the brightness of both the keyboard and screen makes things easy on the eyes, plus probably saves a little bit of battery life.
  • Screen resolution: DEPRESSED.
    This one still depresses me a bit even now. The max resolution at the time I bought my MBP was only 1680 x 1050 so that is what I’ve been living with Honestly, I think I’d have to shoot myself if I had to deal with the 15″ MBP’s max resolution of 1440 x 900. I’m a firm believer in the idea that the more information I can put on the screen at once, the more productive I can be. The newer 17″ MBPs offer a 1920 x 1200 resolution and I’d highly recommend everyone go for that. I wish Apple would push someone to figure out how to manufacture a full-size notebook screen with a 163 ppi like the iPhone has instead of the current 114 ppi mine has. You could then get a 1920×1200 screen in about a 13″ diagonal or a resolution of 2600 x 1600 in a 17″ screen.
  • Battery life: IMPRESSED.
    I never worry too much about fully depleting the charge in my battery nor ensuring it’s fully charged before unplugging it. This doesn’t seem to have caused any serious problems — as one would expect from reading any of the multitude of knowledgeable discussions about this subject on the web. Nor has the daily grind of life doing development tasks on and off the battery really seemed to deplete the battery life when I compare it to experiences with past notebooks. (But just in case, I continually rotate between two different batteries as I’ve run into past issues with getting a replacement battery sometime after getting the notebook itself.)
  • Mouse: IMPRESSED.
    I was pretty freaked out by the “only one mouse button” issue when I was considering switching to a Mac. But this really has proved to be a non-issue. Not because I plug in a USB mouse all the time, but because it really was surprisingly easy to switch to having two fingers on the touchpad when I click to trigger a right-click. (Recognition of this is not enabled by default on OS X — you need to go enable this in the system preferences right away if you haven’t tried it.) In fact, I find this so natural that I really miss it when I have to use any other PC.

Wow, that’s a lot more than I had originally thought I’d write about hardware. I’ll have to leave a discussion of software to a separate post.

Tags: Hardware · IT/Network

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