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MacBook Pro: First Impressions

The Ethernet port on my 17-inch PowerBook G4 failed late last week. The machine is still under warranty, but as my email, word processing, Excel, and business data machine, it's a critical component in the daily operation of my business, so I really can't be without it for more than a couple of hours. Since the Apple Store sends out most PowerBook repairs, including logic board replacements, that's a guaranteed two days of down time — longer if there's a delay with the parts.

Fortunately, my main man in Developer Relations was sympathetic to my problem, and in this case he went way above and beyond — and as a result I have a MacBook Pro 1.83 in front of me. I'm trying not to get too attached to it, because it really is quite nice, and I know that the loaner period is finite. However…

As much as I like my PowerBook G4, it's frustratingly slow to develop on - builds can take a very long time. My initial experience with an Intel iMac was very positive, so I was hopeful that the MacBook Pro would be able to hold its end up. I was not disappointed. Here are the results of a "time xcodebuild clean build -target BBEdit -configuration Release":

PowerBook G4 1.67, 2GB, 7200rpm drive 46:28
MacBook Pro 1.83, 512M, 5400rpm drive 23:35
Power Mac G5 dual 2.0, 2GB, local build 21:29

Note that the MacBook Pro is almost exactly twice as fast as the PowerBook G4, despite being handicapped by one-fourth of the installed RAM and a nominally slower disk. However, the MacBook Pro is only slightly slower than the beefy dual-processor Power Mac G5. I attribute the MacBook Pro's performance to an I/O subsystem which is vastly better than what we've seen on Macs to date. I think this bodes very well for professional desktop Macs based on their new hardware architecture — I expect real fire-breathing hardware that leave today's top-of-the-line Power Mac G5s far behind.

I'm very glad to have had the opportunity to get my hands on a MacBook Pro without having to invest in one - it's a great extended test drive. I upgraded from a 15-inch 1.25GHz G4 to a 17-inch 1.67GHz G4 primarily because I needed the screen real estate, and the 15-inch MacBook has similar screen dimensions to my 17-inch display. In switching to the MacBook, I've given up sixty pixels of vertical, and I'm curious to see whether that has any significant effect on my usage. If it doesn't, I can look forward to a 15-inch MacBook Pro in my future (and I'll be perfectly happy to go back to a smaller, lighter laptop).

One other thing? 512M is not enough. This machine is constantly swapping, even when doing basic Safari, iChat, and Finder stuff. I have a 1GB module on order, and it can't get here fast enough to suit me. A memory shortage is easily solved, though, and doesn't reflect badly on this machine at all. I may follow up with additional thoughts once the RAM is in place and this machine starts to show what it can really do.


Rich, glad you were able to get up and running again with minimal fuss (especially because I'm depending on you guys for BBEdit and now Yojimbo as well). I'm also happy to hear the MacBook Pro did so well in your tests.

Your statement about losing "sixty pixels of vertical" puzzles me though. The 17" PowerBook has been available only in 1440 x 900 and 1680 x 1050 resolutions. The 15" MacBook Pro is available in 1440 x 900. So assuming you had the lower resolution 17" PowerBook, your number of pixels should be the same, albeit on a smaller screen.

The loss of 60 vertical pixels should only be an issue when moving from the old 15" PowerBook (1440 x 960 at 15:10 ratio) to the new MacBook Pro (1440 x 900 at 16:10 ratio).

Either way, enjoy the loaner! I hope to get one for myself in the not too distant future.

Any noises? Whining, hissing, squeaking, that sort of thing.

Dennis: You're absolutely right; I don't know where I got the idea that the 17-inch PB screen was 1440x960. Thanks for checking my work. :-)

John: The only noise I've noticed so far is the whirring of the fans. The machine does run pretty hot when it's working hard - hotter than I can recall my 17 or its 15-inch predecessor. I've heard reports of a whine in the MacBook Pro, but haven't had the same experience just yet. I'll keep an ear open.

As someone who recently moved from a 900x1440 screen (iMac on a stick) to a 1.67GHz G4 PowerBook (960x1440), I can say that I notice the extra vertical space and really like it, even if my aging eyes just occasionally find the smaller pixels harder to see.

When the time comes to replace this laptop (18 months away), I hope they will have increased the resolution of the MacBook Pro.

Rich, I bet you will be longing for those dotties after a while!

Just curious, are there no ethernet PC Cards that would have tided you over? Admittedly, I wouldn't have passed up a chance to test drive a MacBook Pro either.

Go ahead and grab yourself a 2Ghz one with a 7200rpm drive an 2GB of memory - you've earned it. :)

This is in response to John's concern on the whining noise from a Macbook Pro. I got my new Macbook Pro last week and I love it!! The first day i used it for 7 straight hrs. I did notice a whining noise after 4 hrs of operation. But it wasn't until i paid good attention to it, as i had read reviews @ this at various websites. Some even posted solutions to it, which is to turn on photobooth and minimize it. But u dont have to keep photobooth running. Open it up, take a snap, click on the pic that shows at the bottom of the window and close the program. The noise stops immediately and does not come back.

boy you need wifi
nice story

i'm not an OS guru, but i think where you say swapping, it really needs to say paging. otherwise, thanks a lot for reminding me how hopelessly outdated the hardware i paid so much money for is now.

You know, it almost seems like Apple should be giving you guys new machines every time they make an architecture switch, since you always seem to be right on it.

As I understand it (and this matches my own experience), one common kind of whine happens when running on battery. The CPU gets slowed when not in use, to save power; in practice, it slows and speeds up Many times per second. There is a whine associated with this, that people blame on the power supply (or some such component internal to the laptop). This whine only happens on battery, is really only noticable when the room is quiet, and quiets down when the CPU gets busy.

It definitely exists on mine, and reports from the Apple discussion boards suggest that it doesn't happen on all. It's not that big of a deal for me, but it'd be neat if they could fix it with a firmware or OS upgrade.

Want more useable vertical space? Put your dock on the right. That's the best spot for it.

I received my new macbook pro 3 days ago and have had lots of problems. I've never had a Mac before and was so excited to get this. I keep getting and error message when I turn it on and then the battery is completely dead. Also had lots of problems with discs getting stuck in the superdrive. Called Apple and I have to send it in for a new logic board. Not too happy.