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Review Apple MacBook Pro v5 Notebook

Alu-Block Pro 15"

The new Apple MacBook Pro notebooks, the 5th generation, are available and are completely re-engineered. The most important innovations are a newly designed aluminium case made of a single part, two graphics cards, and a crystal touchpad. The following review covers how the new 'Professional' notebook performs in our first test.

Apple MacBook Pro Aluminium 2008

Case

In the 5th generation of MacBook Pros Apple completely re-engineered the MacBook Pro, and adopted the trend-setting MacBook Air design.

Especially the rounded display lid reminds very much on the MacBook Air. And also the power switch and the keyboard are the same. Nevertheless, we liked the old power-button of the MacBook Pro even more. The aluminium case only finds a contrast in the display's black border (with crystal coat) and in the black plastic cover of the hinge (in order to guarantee WLAN and Bluetooth reception).

The full body aluminium case has an excellent haptics and appears to be of very high-quality. Compared to the former model, the case is even thinner and marginally lighter. Typical Apple the gaps are precise and the display lid finally closes due to the new closing mechanism of the MacBook Air absolutely flush. The magnetic lock works trouble-free and holds the lid sufficiently tight if closed.

Finally, Apple also reacted to the biggest disadvantage of the beautifully counter-sunk display hinge. The opening angle of the display is now bigger by some degrees and so also sufficient  for working on the lap.

Only the 'old' Magsafe plug (I know like in the MacBook Pro) does no longer match the new look of this Apple laptop.

Connectivity

Alike the former MBP (MacBook Pro) also the new model is only sparsely equipped with interfaces. Actually the connectivity is even worse, because Apple did not provide the old FireWire 400 port, because of lack of available space. The old Dual-Link DVI interface was replaced by a modern mini DisplayPort. In order to be able to connect most of the available external screens a DVI or VGA adpater is also required.

It is noteworthy that all interfaces except of the Kensington lock are now on the left side. This is preferable for right-handers, but could cause troubles for left handers.

However, most of all we miss a dedicated docking station port, which would help avoiding cable spaghetti in the office or at home.

All interfaces (except of the Kensington Lock) are on the left side: MagSafe (power), Gigabit LAN, FireWire 800, 2x USB 2.0, Mini DisplayPort, Line-In (analogue / optical), Headphones and Line-Out (analogue / optical)
All interfaces (except of the Kensington Lock) are on the left side: MagSafe (power), Gigabit LAN, FireWire 800, 2x USB 2.0, Mini DisplayPort, Line-In (analogue / optical), Headphones and Line-Out (analogue / optical)

The provided software consists of the newest version of the Mac OS operating system, that is Mac OS 10.5 Leopard,  and the application suite iLife 2008. Therewith the beginner is actually prepared for all standard applications.

By default Apple extends a warranty of 12 months. This can be directly enhanced to 36 months for a surcharge of 349.- Euro (including support) at Apple. This is 90.- Euro less than for the old MacBook Pro models. Apparently Apple relies more on the new construction than on the old one or Apple reacted to the animadversion on the high warranty prices. In Austria the speciality retailer, McShark offers a cheaper solution with the geniuscard, which costs 149 Euro (99 Euro for students). However, this warranty is only valid in Austria (i.e., the notebook has to be brought to a McShark retailer).

Input Devices

Single-Key Keyboard

The new keyboard of the MacBook Pro is also based on the research done for the MacBook Air and is the same as the  new MacBook aluminium keyboard. The keys are now directly embedded in the case and have a soft yet clear feedback. Similar to the expensive MacBook model also the keys of the MacBook Pro are lighted from below. Because the keyboard unit is screwed to the full body the keys are tightly embedded in the case an do not clatter. It also does not give, because of the aluminium shell. Compared to the similarly looking keyboard of the MacBook Air, the key feedback appeared to be somewhat softer in our test.

The layout of the Apple keyboard is very good for Mac OS X. In our test we were able to touch type immediately without problems. The cursor keys stayed small (which is especially inconvenient for gamers) and so did the very small enter key.

As usual we have to warn Windows PC switchers. The layout is optimized for Mac OS X and characterized by being only sparsely labelled (e.g., the labels for the following characters are missing: '[]|{}'). So, you'll need to find them by trial and error at the beginning.
Whether you like this keyboard better or the one of the older MacBook Pro depends on your individual preferences.

The new glass - trackpad

One of the biggest innovations is the new trackpad made of glass without dedicated touchpad button. Apple successfully improved the already very good gliding properties once again. The glass surface obviously pays off, even though it does hardly look like glass. The Multitouch use is also easy and intuitive. Compared to the predecessor the functionality was enhanced by some functions requiring four fingers (expose and task switch by default), which certainly need some time to get used to.

The Apple designers created a completely clickable touchpad  (actually only 4/5 because it is a rocker switch), because the button was missed out for a bigger touchpad area. About one thumb from the upper edge, the touchpad can be clicked like a button (not only the tab-click, which all touchpads can). It turned out that the new trackpad can even be used in a traditional way (as if the button still were in the bottom part).
Summarizing the above, the already very good touchpad was further improved and can so probably be called today's best touchpad. An exception is the touchpad of the new MacBook, which is actually identical to the one in the MBP.

Small Cursor Keys
Small Cursor Keys
Excellent Glass - Touchpad (Picture from Apple)
Excellent Glass - Touchpad

Display

Following the successful iMac design, the black framed screen of the new aluminium notebook is covered by a reflecting glass pane. This design should make the screen stabler and more resistant. Unfortunately, this does no longer allow a matte display version. But, the reflections are limited unless a light source is directly behind the user, because of the high maximum brightness of 370 cd/m² of this screen with LED background lighting.
Steve Jobs' comment to this was that it would be easy to change to position of the notebook in order to avoid reflections. But, we feel that this is a weak argument which should only conceal an obvious disadvantage. On the other hand you'll profit from the higher contrast and the bigger brightness (compared to a roughened, that is matte, screen surface). Unfortunately the illumination of 73% of this panel is still not very good.

323
cd/m²
328
cd/m²
303
cd/m²
324
cd/m²
370
cd/m²
325
cd/m²
270
cd/m²
280
cd/m²
285
cd/m²
Distribution of brightness
Information
Maximum: 370 cd/m²
Average: 312 cd/m²
Brightness Distribution: 73 %
Black: 0.76 cd/m²
Contrast: 487:1

We personally liked the colours of the MacBook Pro's panel very much. The skin colours appear real and the colours are strong. Our measurments also prove this, because the calculated maximum contrast of 487:1 is really good. The grey gradients showed minimal steps, but only if you look close. Subjectivelly, the reaction speed was sufficient too.

Alike nearly all of today's notebook panels the viewing angle stability from top to down is somewhat limited. From the sides the contrast stays stable for long. Overall, the viewing angles are quite alright and won't restrain the user much.

Performance

The biggest technical change was that the graphic chip from Intel was replaced by one from Nvidia. Apple settled on the new MCP79MX chip set, called GeForce 9400M by Apple (Nvidia calls it GeForce 9400M G on its homepage). At the time of writing this offers the fastest integrated graphic and can use up to 256 MB of RAM. If you demand more graphical power, you can switch to the dedicated Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT with 512 MB memory of its own. However, in order to do so, you'll need to logout from Mac OS first. The 9400M graphics solution is sufficient for standard load and allows a longer battery runtime and lower emissions. The 9400M is about equally fast than today's entry-level graphics cards, e.g., a 9300M GS (but with video memory of its own). The 9600M GT is the direct successor of the 8600M GT in the predecessor model. Due to 65nm technology it can be higher clocked and has new video processor functions. Further information about this is available in our comprehensive comparison of graphics cards and in the benchmark list.

Regarding processor the changes were much smaller. While former models were equipped with T-series processors produced in 65nm from Intel, these were  replaced by T and P-series CPUs in 45nm. These belong to the Penryn refresh series and communicate with 1066 MHz (formerly 800 MHz) with the chip set. Furthermore, the maximum TDP (thermal design power) of the P-series is only 25 Watt (T-series: 35 Watt). So, the system should be marginally faster and at the same time slightly more energy-saving. You can also opt for a faster Core 2 Duo T9600 (2.8 GHz, 6 MB L2 Cache, 1066 MHz FSB), but, this demands more energy (35 Watt TDP).

Cinebench R10 Comparison MacBook / MacBook Pro (old and new)
Cinebench R10 Comparison MacBook / MacBook Pro (old and new)

As expected a very good performance (under MacOs X 10.5.5) was proved by the X-Bench and Cinebech R10 benchmarks. The processor performance of the reviewed 2.53 GHz model with 6 MB L2 cache belongs to the top models of all notebook reviewed so far (slightly faster than the former MacBook Pro top model with 2.53 MHz). Because it comes with GDDR3 memory the graphic performance of the GeForce 9600M is also very good (good average). So, it is possible to play demanding games on medium details and older or less demanding games on high details. Because of the DDR3 RAM, the integrated 9400M graphics card, which achieves above 2000 points in the 3DMark06 benchmark scores points too and also suffices most games on low details.

XBench Comparison
XBench Comparison
Cinebench R10
 SettingsValue
 Rendering Single 32Bit2817 Points
 Rendering Multiple CPUs 32Bit5528 Points
 Shading 32Bit5177 Points

The built-in 320 GB hard drive runs only on a revolution speed of 5,400 rpm and is therewith quieter than HDDs with 7,200 rpm. In the Xbench 1.3 HDD test this mass storage devices reached a maximum writing speed of 63 MB/sec (reading speed 58 MB/sec). Therewith it is good average (today's fastest hard drives, which we reviewed, achieved 90 MB/sec).

Emissions

Temperature

Our on-site test sample ran for about 18 hours without interruption (but without load) as demonstration model for customers before the test. Immediately before doing the temperature measurements we ran XBench and Cinebench R10 (under Mac OS X). This notebook might get hotter under higher load and in warmer environments (in summer).

In detail, the measurements and the personal impressions were very positive. Especially the palm rest areas stayed always below skin temperature of 32°C (the right one was with a maximum of 26.7°C even rather cold). This is, because the battery was located close to the front. Even the maximum temperature of 33.9°C, which we measured left above the keyboard, cannot be called hot.

Max. Load
 33.9 °C33.4 °C27.9 °C 
 33.7 °C31.5 °C27.3 °C 
 29.6 °C27.9 °C26.7 °C 
Maximum: 33.9 °C
Average: 30.2 °C
27.2 °C28.9 °C28.2 °C
27.9 °C30.3 °C29.8 °C
26.7 °C31.3 °C30.0 °C
Maximum: 31.3 °C
Average: 28.9 °C
Room Temperature 22 °C

System Noise

Because the test was done in a rather loud environment, we do not have precise measurements. During our several hours lasting test we ran this notebook most of the time with 9400M graphics card and could never hear the fan running. This fits well to the other Apple notebooks, which are also very quiet unless run under high load for a long time. However, Apple fans are known to turn into small turbines under high load. But, in standard operation such periods will be rare.

Loud speakers

In contrast to the MacBook, the loudspeakers emit their sound through a perforated area beside the keyboard. This slightly improves the sound. Due to the same reason as above (see system noise), we can only provide a detailed evaluation with a coming test sample.

Battery Runtime

The test period was also too short for an intensive test of the battery life. A striking detail is that this Apple notebook is only equipped with a 50 Wh Lithium polymer battery while the capacity of the former model's battery was still 60 Wh. If running on the integrated 9400M (G) graphics card, the energy demand should be a little bit lower, but, the 9600M GT has the same energy demand than the 8600M GT. So, the battery runtime should be somewhat shorter than of the predecessor model. Apple specifies 4 hours (and the specifications of Apple are close to reality most of the time). With 9400M graphic up to 5 hours should be possible (comparable to the smaller MacBook).

Considering this is a small, thin, and powerful notebook, these are rather good values. Unfortunately Apple does not offer a bigger battery.

The built-in 320 GB hard drive runs only on a revolution speed of 5,400 rpm and is therewith quieter than HDDs with 7,200 rpm. In the Xbench 1.3 HDD test this mass storage devices reached a maximum writing speed of 63 MB/sec (reading spped 58 MB/sec). Therewith it is good average (today's fastest hard drives we reviewed achieved 90 MB/sec).

Battery Runtime
Idle (without WLAN, min brightness)
6h 24min
DVD
2h 20min

Mac OS X Switcher

Alike with all Apple products, Windows switcher should be warned that Mac OS X follows some different concepts. If you are new to PCs it might well be that the Macintosh concept is even easier to learn. Detailed information is available in our MacBook Pro long-term review. One important thing first, Windows programs only run under Mac OS X with pre-installed Windows (via emulation) or in a multi-boot system if you boot from the Windows partition.

Verdict

To summarize the new MacBook Pro is a brilliantly designed Premium notebook with excellent workmanship, which is to our opinion worth the high price. As in former models the ratio of performance and weight is excellent. Furthermore, Apple could also keep the emissions very low (with usual load).

Disadvantages are once again the mediocre interface equipment and that a matte display is not available, even not as option for business users.

For user who want to run this notebook mainly  under Windows (per Bootcamp parallel installation) it is important that the results are not that perfect as under Mac Os X (because the battery runtime is shorter, the drivers for the input devices are worse, and the system noise is louder).

Competitors of the MacBook Pro are the powerful business and workstation models from Dell (e.g., Precision M4400), HP, or also Lenovo (Thinkpad T500). The strongest competitor in the consumer sector is the smaller Macbook also made by Apple. It mainly differs by the smaller size, the smaller and slightly worse screen, and the lower graphics performance.

MacBook Pro versus MacBook - Directly compared the MacBook is only missing a second more powerful graphics card, Firewire 800, and an ExpressCard slot.
MacBook Pro versus MacBook -  Directly compared the MacBook is only missing a second more powerful graphics card, Firewire 800, and an ExpressCard slot.

 

Many thanks to the company McShark Multimedia AG (especially to the store in Linz), who kindly allowed us to test the new MacBook Pro model in detail. As all other Apple notebooks also the MacBook Pro is available in each store of McShark.

Under Review: Apple MacBook Pro 15" 5th Generation
Apple MacBook Pro 15" 5th Generation
Rating Apple MacBook Pro 15" V5

Specifications

Apple MacBook Pro 15
Graphics adapter
NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT - 512 MB, Core: 500 MHz, Memory: 800 MHz, GDDR3 + GeForce 9400M (G), ForceWare 176.44 (Windows Vista)
Memory
4096 MB 
, GDDR3 1066 MHz
Display
15.4 inch 16:10, 1440x900 pixel, glossy crystal coat, glossy: yes
Mainboard
Nvidia MCP79MX (9400M G)
Harddisk
Hitachi Travelstar 5K320 HTS543232L9SA02, 320 GB 
5400 rpm S-ATA
Soundcard
Realtek ALC885/889A
Connections
1 Express Card 34mm, 2 USB 2.0, 1 Firewire, 1 DisplayPort, 1 Kensington Lock, Audio Connections: optical /analogue audio in- and out, Uni-directional Irda for Apple Remote, FireWire 800
Networking
nVidia nForce 10/100/1000 (10/100/1000MBit), Broadcom 802.11a/b/g/n (a b g n ), 2.0 + EDR Bluetooth
Optical drive
Matshita DVD-R UJ-868 ATA
Size
height x width x depth (in mm): 24.1 x 364 x 249 ( = 0.95 x 14.33 x 9.8 in)
Weight
2.49 kg ( = 87.83 oz) ( = 0 oz)
Battery
50 Wh Lithium-Polymer, 10.8V
Price
2249 Euro
Operating System
Apple Mac Os X 10.5
Additional features
Cleaning cloth, printed manual, iLife 08, Mac Os X 10.5 Leopard, Recovery DVDs, 12 Months Warranty

 

[+] compare
The new MacBook Pro 15" of the 5th generation is ...
The new MacBook Pro 15" of the 5th generation is ...
The strongest competitor of the MacBook Pro is the actually smaller ...
The strongest competitor of the MacBook Pro is the actually smaller ...
Performance and emissions are of the high-quality Apple is known for. The switchable graphic (chip set or dedicated) allows to perform even better in the balancing act.
Performance and emissions are of the high-quality Apple is known for. The switchable graphic (chip set or dedicated) allows to perform even better in the balancing act.
Hence, there are unfortunately only reflecting display versions, which heavily reflect in the sunlight, available.
Hence, there are unfortunately only reflecting display versions, which heavily reflect in the sunlight, available.
... and a glass pane was put in front of the complete construction (iMac remake).
... and a glass pane was put in front of the complete construction (iMac remake).
The wide-screen display has now a black border ...
The wide-screen display has now a black border ...
Nevertheless, the most striking highlight is new trackpad, which is made of etched glass. Its gliding properties are brilliant and it supports many multi-touch features.
Nevertheless, the most striking highlight is new trackpad, which is made of etched glass. Its gliding properties are brilliant and it supports many multi-touch features.
As in the MacBook Air, also this notebook comes with the user-friendly single-key keyboard.
As in the MacBook Air, also this notebook comes with the user-friendly single-key keyboard.
The infra red port on the front is for the optional MacRemote.
The infra red port on the front is for the optional MacRemote.
The biggest disadvantage of the MacBook Pro is its sparse interface equipment.
The biggest disadvantage of the MacBook Pro is its sparse interface equipment.
Finally, it is possible to easily replace the hard drive. The memory modules can be accessed via the 2nd cover on the bottom side, which can be removed after unscrewing 8 further screws.
Finally, it is possible to easily replace the hard drive. The memory modules can be accessed via the 2nd cover on the bottom side, which can be removed after unscrewing 8 further screws.
Only the power button of the former MacBook Pro model looked better to our opinion.
Only the power button of the former MacBook Pro model looked better  to our opinion.
Interestingly, the workmanship does not appear to be completely precise if the sun irradiates in a certain way. But this impression does not persist if the vantage point is changed.
Interestingly, the workmanship does not appear to be completely precise if the sun irradiates in a certain way. But this impression does not persist if the vantage point is changed.
Furthermore, the MacBook Pro became even thinner and marginally lighter this way.
Furthermore, the MacBook Pro became even thinner and marginally lighter this way.
and convinces by an excellent stability, look, and haptics.
and convinces by an excellent stability, look, and haptics.
The new case uses many design elements of the MacBook Air ...
The new case uses many design elements of the MacBook Air ...
... completely made of an Aluminium block.
... completely made of an Aluminium block.
... , alike the complete MacBook Aluminium family, ...
... , alike the complete MacBook Aluminium family, ...
13.3" MacBook Aluminium, which is recommendable for all who do not need the power of a 9600M GT graphics card.
13.3" MacBook Aluminium, which is recommendable for all who do not need the power of a 9600M GT graphics card.

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Pro

+Design
+Workmanship
+Stability
+Best touchpad so far
+Switchable graphics
+Very good emissions with 9400M
+Very bright screen
+Performance
 

Cons

-Reflecting display
-In order to switch the graphics it is still necessary to logout.
-Key labels fulfil just minimum requirements
-Price
-Only few interfaces

Rating

Apple MacBook Pro 15
10/28/2008
Klaus Hinum

Chassis
99%
Keyboard
90%
Pointing Device
98%
Connectivity
83%
Weight
82%
Battery
85%
Display
87%
Games Performance
90%
Application Performance
90%
Temperature
90%
Noise
88%
Add Points
92%
Average
90%
90%
Multimedia *
Weighted Average

Price Comparison

Apple MacBook Pro at Ciao

Pricerunner.de

> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Archive of our own reviews > Review Apple MacBook Pro 15" v5 2008 (Unibody, 9600M GT + 9400M)
Author: Klaus Hinum, 2008-10-21 (Update: 2012-05-26)