Monday, 25 July 2011

Apple Macbook Pro 15 Early 2011

I know that the Apple has released their new range of Macbook Pros towards the late February 2011. I was unable to test one unit until recently. The unit for testing was the baseline model of the Apple Macbook Pro 15 which comes with a Core i7-2635QM cpu and 256MB AMD HD 6490M discrete graphics card. For the next few weeks I am going to pay more attention to the device including tips for upgrading the unit besides pros and cons of the unit itself.

Perhaps it will be good to start by listing down the specification of the Macbook Pro 15 2011 version. As described, it is a 15.4" (standard resolution of 1440 x 900) laptop which comes with two fans (one for the cpu and another for the gpu). It has all the usual hardware installed e.g. bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, 2X usb 2.0 ports, one SDXC compatible memory card, Megsave port, Firewire 800, headphone jack which is compatible with Iphone's microphone and a Thunderbolt port.

Don't get borg down with the 'Thunderbolt' port. Until now, you have limited use of it apart from connecting it to an Apple Display and Pegasus NAS which will harnest the power of the port (data access speed for up to 10Gbps).

Besides that, there is a new Facetime 1.3MP digital webcam at the front which replaces the iSight on previous Macbook Pro models. The webcam is capable of recording 720p High Definition videos. The unit has a set of stereo speakers mounted on each side of the keyboard and a subwoofer. The keyboard itself is backlit so you can use it under low lit. Above all, it comes with a Superdrive DVD-RW on the right hand side of the machine and a battery indicator on the left hand side and a Kensington lock just beside the Superdrive. The battery which came with it is capable of running seven hours with a single charge. I will have to take it for a spin to verify the claim.

The machine came with 4GB DDR3 SODIMM and a 500GB 5400rpm SATAII Seagate hard drive. I will be giving a review as to the performance after an upgrade to 8GB and 1TB if hard drive space, I have also upgraded the OS from Snow Leopard to Lion. For this moment, I am going to start the review.

When I have received the brown box from UPS, my thoughts were to get the Macbook Pro out of the box as quickly as I can! Well, once I've removed the brown box, I could see the Macbook Pro sitting on four hard cardboard corners. The Macbook Pro had a plastic cover surrounding it. I guess that is what you pay is what you get (expensive stuff will have a better treatment). Using a knife to open the seal, you will see that the Macbook Pro is covered with another layer of plastic. You will have to break the seal on the plastic to get through to the Macbook Pro itself.

Before I switched on the laptop, I did have a go with the battery indicator on the left hand side. It showed five dotes!I do not need to do any charging for the next few hours or so. Anyway, Let me start off with the hands on experience of the Macbook Pro 15.

I do like the design of the Macbook Pro 15. I had a great time with the machine. The glossy screen is just perfect for me as I rarely sit under the sun to do my work. Usually it would be in a coffee shop and I rarely get reflections when I am in a building unless my back is facing the light. I had the greatest joy of using Facetime and the 3x3 wireless! It's super quick! I have no problems in receiving signals even though it is weak. I think that is expected of an expensive laptop, isn't it? 

The 1.3MP webcam is sharp but not as good as the webcam on my previous Dell XPS 17 (L702X). The Dell's 2MP HD webcam is somehow superior to Apple's 1.3MP webcam. However, it is a good upgrade to the previous iSight camera on previous generations of Macbook/Pros. I would not recommend people to use the build in webcam on the Macbook Pro to take pictures. It is best to use a digital camera instead.

Apart from the HD webcam, I had the opportunity to use the existing bluetooth and the in-build two usb 2.0 ports. The bluetooth is great as I do not need to use a wired mouse anymore! The range of the bluetooth is around 9m and I think that is sufficient given today's technology! I have managed to use the Firewire 800 port too. I think it is good for Apple to include the Firewire 800 port as camcorders will not work without it.

I am totally disappointed with the way how Apple positioned their USB ports. All ports are stationed to the left hand side of the machine as you would only have a SuperDrive and a Kensington lock on the right. With the usb ports stationed all to the left, it will hinder right handed people from using the mouse as some mouse cords are short!  

I do like the backlit keyboard on the Macbook Pro. I have to congratulate Apple for including an Ambient Lighting sensor which is working both for the screen and for the backlit keyboard. That is genius! The chicklet keyboard is quite standard these days and it has a wide spacing between them. It is good for some people but it is not for me. I guess that I would have to familiarised with the new style keyboard then. As I've come from a PC to a Mac, it is rather difficult for me to get used to the wide spacing of the chicklet keyboard. It will be better for Apple to close the gap so that some people like me would not need to fix some typo errors all the time! I am also thinking about recommending a number keypad on both the 15" and 17" Macbook Pro. It will be so convenient for people to type numbers! However, as the Macbook Pros are using the unibody chassis, it will be little which Apple can do about it.

The Macbook Pro 15 came with a standard 8X SuperDrive. It will play and record dual layer DVDs and also CDs. It is not noisy during operation and certainly the whole chassis does not shake when accessing the contents of the DVDs. This is so unlike previous Dell laptops which I had. I would feel that the whole machine is shaking violently! It goes the same to Sony and HP machines. Well, kudos to Apple this time. However, it will be best if Apple were to include an option to install a Blu-Ray on their machines. I do not understand why Apple would shy away from providing such an option to their customers.

I would like to recommend MegSave charger style for all laptop users irrespective of whether it is a PC or a Mac. I do feel that such an ingenious idea should be used by all manufacturers. The MegSave charger will save consumer money as it will not break if anyone were to pull the laptop away accidentally when the power cord is still stuck onto the power supply. I am just wondering how long would the magnet last on the MegSave charger.

There is a Thunderbolt port which will allow users to daisy chain it up to six equipments (if it is relevant). I did use the port to link with up an external monitor. I find it quite useful. However, Thunderbolt equipments are rare so it will be some time before it will be widely used.

Last but not least, I need to comment about the fan vents. There are no fan vents at the bottom as traditional Macbook/Macbook Pros will see that the fan vents are always in the middle of the chassis. While running some graphics intensive softwares e.g. Photoshop, I can feel that the fan started to spin and the noise would get louder and louder until it sounds like a jet engine. Bear in mind that I have allowed dynamic switching of graphics card on the Macbook Pro. The sound would get softer when I am only using the Integrated Graphics Unit of the Core i7-2635QM.

I am quite disappointed with the noise coming from the vents. I was wishing that Apple would have redesigned the fan to support the latest Sandy Bridge processors from Intel. In fact, they have used the same type of fan on their previous 2010 model of Macbook Pros! I do find that the previous model of Macbook Pros are quieter with the Nvidia graphics. I still feel that Nvidia is a better choice for graphics and not AMD (used to be called ATI).

Battery life is quite good, actually. The battery would last me for around three hours when I am running both Mac OS X Lion and Windows 7. Obviously, if I were to run solely on the Mac OS, it will last for around 7 hours and 30 minutes (brightness set to medium with wireless and bluetooth switched on). That is 30 minutes more than the specification given by Apple. Bear in mind that I have upgraded the machine to a 1TB hard drive and 8GB memory from Crucial.

On the whole, I am pretty happy with the Macbook Pro though. The chassis is superb and it weights slightly more than I have expected. I think it is just my imagination as 2.5kg is just nice to travel around with it. I could have ordered the Matte screen and it would have bring down the weight to 2.4kg.

I do find that the Mac OS X is stable and superb! I have no questions about it. Everything is perfectly build including the 2.1 channel speakers! It has a subwoofer and I would have to say that the sound quality is good but could have been better. It is not as good as the sound system of the Dell XPS range (with MaxxRange and JBL subwoofer).

Last but not least...
I do feel that using a Mac has the best of both worlds - You can run a Mac OS and Windows on it via VM or BootCamp. Personally I would use Parallels Desktop and not using Boot Camp as I would not be able to access to Mac OS if I am running Boot Camp.

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