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13-inch MacBook Pro
The 2009 update to the unibody MacBook gets Pro status, SD card, and more
By John Virata

Over the years, I've had always had access to a Macintosh computer, starting way back with the PowerBook 140, to the dual 450 G4, to a 15-inch MacBook Pro with illuminated keyboard. I've never really been a Mac user, because I have been using Windows computers since 1994 and am used to that OS. The new MacBooks, however piqued my interest in part because of the aluminum bodies. A week before the annual WWDC, I sprung for a 2.4GHz MacBook with 4GB RAM and a 250GB hard disk drive. I liked the form factor, and I've been using a Logitech G11 Illuminated keyboard for several years, so I knew the benefits that a lit keyboard brings to the table.

After running the system for several days, fully enjoying it, the system started to randomly just shut off. At first I thought, maybe it was a sleep setting, but the issue became more frequent until the system became unusable. A trip to the local Apple store confirmed the unit was DOA, and with a subsequent call to Apple, the system was sent back for a refund. All this transpired on the day that Apple upgraded the "unibody" MacBook to "Pro" status. So after a few days, I put in an order for the 2.26GHz 13-inch MacBook Pro with 4GB RAM and a 160GB hard drive. I also bought a 500GB 7200 RPM Seagate Momentus drive and installed it. Upgrading the hard drive is a painless installation by the way.

The unit features the aforementioned 2.26GHz Core Duo CPU with a 500GB hard disk drive, NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics (256MB shared with system memory), a glossy 13-inch display with a maximum 1280x800 native resolution and 2560x1600 on an external display at millions of colors. Also featured are a DVD optical drive, FireWire 800, two USB 2.0 ports, mini DisplayPort, Bluetooth, LAN connection, and an SD card slot for those who have digital cameras and camcorders that record to the popular SD card format.

Several factors influenced my decision (besides the fact that my Sony VAIO notebook was already five years old) to go with the 13-inch MacBook Pro; 1) the 4.5 pound form factor. This is a lightweight notebook computer made of aluminum, so it is strong with zero flex; 2) the illuminated keyboard. The illuminated keyboard is a must have in dark situations such as airplane seats during the movie, or in conference halls at trade shows; and 3) the unibody aluminum construction. The MacBook Pro feels super strong and lightweight, yet it retains a heft to it.

A nice touch with the system (though not new on the MacBook Pros, just a better location) is the battery status indicator located on the side of the MacBook Pro. Depress a small button on the side of the unit and up to eight green lights brighten through the aluminum enclosure. This way you can get a quick check on the battery's condition.

LED lights tell you the status of the battery

The battery in the MacBook Pro, a 73-watt-hour lithium-polymer unit, is now "sealed" in that it is not user replaceable. You can't carry a spare when you are flying to the Philippines (14 hours from the West Coast), and need to use your MacBook Pro. No spare is available in this scenario, but you can get an airplane adapter that'll let you plug into power. Apparently Apple did studies and determined that most people don't buy or carry spare laptop batteries. So Apple engineered a battery with a claimed 7 hours of battery life (I've been consistently getting just north of five hours with moderate use) with normal use, with support for up to 1000 charges, which Apple says will last up to five years. This is about as long as most notebooks are kept before replacement. In my case, the VAIO was at five years.

Like I mentioned before, I've used on occasion a 15-inch MacBook Pro that is in the house, but never on a daily basis, so Mac OS X is still relatively new to me but so far I'm liking it. The latest TV ads may tell you that Windows notebooks run on the same processors and can get the job done in the same way, and they can be had for $400 less than $1199 list on the 13-inch MacBook Pro. Well, I must say that those commercials are sort of bunk in that they don't tell you the differences in operating systems and the difference in how memory is used, or even what kind of memory is in the budget Windows notebooks. You can get the same job done for the most part, because once you are in the application, and it is cross platform, most everything should look the same. However, many know that Windows Vista is a resource hog that is soon to be EOL'd in favor of Windows 7, which may or may not have a better user experience than Vista. Vista has got to be the shortest lived OS in Microsoft history.

One of the innovations with the MacBook Pro is the trackpad and the gestures that you perform with one or two or multiple fingertips. Scrolling up and down in an application is a simple two finger up or down movement on the track pad. It works especially well in the Safari web browser. You've also got a three finger and a four finger swipe as well as taps and double taps.

I ran the standard DMN tests on the MacBook Pro and received some interesting results. The Photoshop Gaussian Blur test returned as fast as most desktop systems tested in the last six months. The After Effects tests were another story, as were the Cinebench R10 tests. But you have to keep in mind that the unit doesn't have a dedicated graphics adapter with its own memory, so the tests are still respectable, especially given the price point of this system. But then again, who will work in After Effects on a computer with a 13-inch screen? The MacBook Pro tied the last system that we tested, a Lenovo W700 ds mobile workstation on the Animation test, was 2 seconds slower on the Realism test, 9 seconds slower on the Data Project, 1 second faster on Gambler,  35 seconds slower on Source Shapes, and 21 seconds slower on Virtual Set. It did beat the W700 ds on the Photoshop test by 1.5 seconds. Keep in mind that the Lenovo was running a 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme CPU Q9300, with 4GB RAM and an NVIDIA Quadro FX 3700m with 1GB graphics memory.

Results in seconds
Version of After Effects used: CS4
Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, 4GB RAM, NVIDIA Geforce 9400M , Mac OS X1 10.5.7
Test 1: Animation   3 seconds 
Test 2: Realism      24 seconds
Test 3:  Data Project  52 seconds 
Test 4: Gambler   15 seconds
Test 5: Source Shapes    89 seconds 
Test 6: Virtual set   67 seconds
CineBench r10       See Cinebench.com for more results 
CPU Benchmark Rendering 1 CPU  2577 CB CPU
CPU Benchmark Rendering multiple CPU      4931 CB CPU
Multiprocessor speedup       1.91x
OpenGL Standard test       4637 CB CPU
Single CPU Render Test /Multiple CPU Render Test     2577/ 4931
Photoshop CS4 Gaussian Blur test (apply Gaussian blur with 6.3 radius on 9.51MB JPG image     1.31 seconds

First Impressions
One of the main reasons I purchased the 13-inch MacBook Pro is to have a portable unit that is powerful yet small enough to not worry about carrying a notebook computer around, and the 13-inch MacBook Pro fit the bill. I also like the unibody aluminum construction, the track pad and the illuminated keyboard is a must have. I've seen Windows notebooks with lights located on top of the bezel to light the keyboard, but haven't yet seen an illuminated keyboard implemented in the same way as found on the MacBook Pro. Testing the system turned up some surprises as well. The integrated graphics perform respectably, especially given the price of entry on the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

One thing I would like to see optional is that of a matte display. The 15-inch MacBook Pro in this household sports the matte display, and I feel it is just much more pleasant to look at. Another thing I'd like to see is the return of the Express card slot in lieu of the SD card slot. As it is, my digital cameras use xD cards and Compact Flash, and not SD cards, so I'm still using a cable (I haven't yet sprung for the wireless Eye-fi memory cards, but then again, those are SD cards so the point would be moot).  I am enjoying the experience I've been having with the 13-inch MacBook Pro and it will definitely see some heavy Photoshop and iMovie use.


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John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at [email protected]

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