MacBook and MacBook Pro review

Joshua Topolsky
J. Topolsky|10.21.08

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Joshua Topolsky
October 21, 2008 6:20 PM
MacBook and MacBook Pro review

Way back in the hazy salad days of 2001, Apple worked up a bold revamp of its flagship laptop line, the Powerbook. The company, in the pursuit of stronger, lighter, more attractive materials, moved from the black plastic casings it had used for its G3 computers to a sleek titanium shell. It was the onset of a new era in Macs. The basic look was clean and simple: squared edges, a roomy and functional layout, a matching pair of stereo speakers to either side of the keyboard, a consistent silver coloring throughout. In 2003, the company refined this design, replacing the titanium with lighter-weight aluminum and heralding in one of the most recognizable and persistent pieces of industrial design in the computer industry. The MacBook Pro (as it became known) has remained largely unchanged in the five years of its existence — in fact, the look and feel of the laptop has become such a staple of the Apple lineup that it's almost as representative of the company as the Apple logo itself. But five years (or seven in the long view) is an awful long time to see one design, and the user outcry for significant updates has been nearly constant.

Those cries were answered last Tuesday, when the company announced the long-rumored (and badly leaked) refreshes for both the MacBook Pro and MacBook lines. As with most of the modern designs emanating from Cupertino, these are evolutionary — not revolutionary — steps, but they're drastic in comparison to the stale, familiar versions of our not-so-distant past. Beyond the spit and polish of the Air- and iMac-inspired casings, the company has re-upped the internals as well; new graphics chips, a completely new motherboard design, and some slashing and burning of familiar ports are part of the new packages. So did Apple deliver the goods on what is arguably the most anticipated laptop release in recent memory, or has it failed to meet the absurdly high expectations placed upon it... and is that even possible? Read on to find out.


Weight wise, the 4.5lb MacBook loses half a pound over the previous generation, but the Pro clocks in just a tiny bit heavier compared with the last model (5.4lbs versus 5.5lbs for the new one). Still, the ingenious and magical designers at Apple have managed to squeeze it all into tighter packages, with the MacBook shrinking down to 0.95-inches from an earlier 1.08-inch frame, and the Pro at 0.95-inches (practically unnoticeable over the earlier 0.96-inch thickness). For those of you squeezing your Pro into a tight bag, you should know that the new version is slightly wider, so you may find things a little snugger than they used to be.

In your lap or on a desk the new laptops feel incredibly sturdy. Where the previous models had a kind of creaky, plasticky feel in parts, these are just like solid slabs. The new treatment on the aluminum is slightly cooler and more textured than older MacBook Pros, and in the right light you can actually see where the metal was cut away, giving them an industrial, sophisticated look. From a design standpoint alone, the MacBook and MacBook Pro definitely raise the bar in the industry — but we wouldn't expect anything less from Apple.

Original MacBook Pro on the left and new version on the right in the same, brightly lit room.

MacBook Pro, new MacBook Pro, MacBook, new MacBook, MacBook Air.

MacBook vs. MacBook (older, newer). %Gallery-35022%




MBP (2.5GHz Penryn) Air (1.6GHz Core 2 Duo) MBP (2.2GHz Core 2 Duo) MacBook (2.2GHz Core 2 Duo) 2008 MacBook (2.4GHz Core 2 Duo) 2008 MBP (2.53GHz Core 2 Duo) 9400M 2008 MBP (2.53GHz Core 2 Duo) 9600M GT
CPU 169.23 79.98 112.93 126.66 147.97 147.73
GCD Loop 15.33 Mops/s 9.67 Mops/s 13.17 Mops/s 13.43 Mops/s 14.79 Mops/s 14.43 Mops/s 12.89 Mops/s
Floating Point Basic 3.37 Gflop/s 2.03 Gflop/s 2.96 Gflop/s 2.95 Gflop/s 2.90 Gflop/s 2.95 Gflop/s 2.76 Gflop/s
vecLib FFT 3.93 Gflop/s 1.71 Gflop/s 2.98 Gflop/s 3.36 Gflop/s 3.22 Gflop/s 3.22 Gflop/s 3.21 Gflop/s
Floating Point Library 36.64 Mops/s 12.82 Mops/s 14.15 Mops/s 17.80 Mops/s 34.63 Mops/s 34.06 Mops/s 31.79 Mops/s
Thread Test 275.13 148.81 219.18 186.4 228.89 288.67 328.72
Computation 6.93 Mops/s 2.77 Mops/s 4.04 Mops/s 3.58 Mops/s 8.54 Mops/s 6.13 Mops/s 8.21 Mops/s
Lock Contention 9.90 Mlocks/s 7.04 Mlocks/s 10.47 Mlocks/s 8.48 Mlocks/s 6.76 Mlocks/s 11.87 Mlocks/s 11.89 Mlocks/s
MBP (2.5GHz Penryn) Air (1.6GHz Core 2 Duo) MBP (2.2GHz Core 2 Duo, Tiger) MacBook (2.2GHz Core 2 Duo) 2008 MacBook (2.4GHz Core 2 Duo) 2008 MBP (2.53GHz Core 2 Duo) 9400M 2008 MBP (2.53GHz Core 2 Duo) 9600M GT
Memory Test 168.11 140.42 137.1 150.23 180.94 181.52 184.05
System 183.01 143.51 126.92 158.95 207.63 204.56 209.12
Allocate 922.99 Kalloc/s 718.86 Kalloc/s 401.22 Kalloc/s 856.78 Kalloc/s 910.38 Kalloc/s 993.12 Kalloc/s 992.49 Kalloc/s
Fill 7424.09 MB/se 5770.30 MB/s 6490.47 MB/s 6480.99 MB/s 8520.83 MB/s 8135.30 MB/s 8458.71 MB/s
Copy 3522.10 MB/s 2802.78 MB/s 2954.03 MB/s 2914.92 MB/s 4386.65 MB/s 4138.21 MB/s 4217.58 MB/s
Stream 155.45 137.46 149.05 142.41 160.33 163.15 164.35
Copy 3059.86 MB/s 2621.64 MB/s 2923.94 MB/s 2799.64 MB/s 3177.13 MB/s 3170.82 MB/s 3175.85 MB/s
Scale 3008.89 MB/s 2602.03 MB/s 2918.16 MB/s 2797.66 MB/s 3149.02 MB/s 3261.27 MB/s 3285.38 MB/s
Add 3525.00 MB/s 3230.58 MB/s 3359.19 MB/s 3196.17 MB/s 3588.52
3652.38 MB/s 3720.07 MB/s
Triad 3523.21 MB/s 3199.37 MB/s 3368.41 MB/s 3211.97 MB/s 3594.99 MB/s 3665.55 MB/s 3675.92 MB/s
MBP (2.5GHz Penryn) Air (1.6GHz Core 2 Duo) MBP (2.2GHz Core 2 Duo, Tiger) MacBook (2.2GHz Core 2 Duo) 2008 MacBook (2.4GHz Core 2 Duo) 2008 MBP (2.53GHz Core 2 Duo) 9400M 2008 MBP (2.53GHz Core 2 Duo) 9600M GT
Quartz Graphics Test 198.29 96.89 141.5 154.32 169.95 181.76 184.82
Line 12.43 Klines/s 6.94 Klines/s 9.23 Klines/s 9.69 Klines/s 10.71
11.68 Klines/s 11.84 Klines/s
Rectangle 70.01 Krects/s 32.23 Krects/s 51.59 Krects/s 51.66 Krects/s 60.89 Krects/s 63.91 Krects/s 65.22 Krects/s
Circle 15.29 Kcircles/s 7.22 Kcircles/s 13.30 Kcircles/s 11.54 Kcircles/s 13.40 Kcircles/s 14.17 Kcircles/s 14.34 Kcircles/s
Bezier 4.92 Kbeziers/s 2.49 Kbeziers/s 3.71 Kbeziers/s 3.79 Kbeziers/s 4.14 Kbeziers/s 4.31 Kbeziers/s 4.43 Kbeziers/s
Text 12.17 Kchars/s 5.53 Kchars/s 6.65 Kchars/s 10.39 Kchars/s 10.21 Kchars/s 11.29 Kchars/s 11.44 Kchars/s
OpenGL Graphics Test 165.99 17.26 129.88 23.36 145.67 174.24 169.39
Spinning Squares 210.57 frames/s 21.89 frames/s 164.76 frames/s 29.64 frames/s 184.79
221.03 frames/s 214.88 frames/s
User Interface Test 326.63 105.81 303.98 244.28 272.06 296.46 302.37
Elements 1.50 Krefresh/s 485.60 refresh/s 1.40 Krefresh/s 1.12 Krefresh/s 1.25
1.36 Krefresh/s 1.39 Krefresh/s
MBP (2.5GHz Penryn) Air (1.6GHz Core 2 Duo) MBP (2.2GHz Core 2 Duo, Tiger) MacBook (2.2GHz Core 2 Duo) 2008 MacBook (2.4GHz Core 2 Duo) 2008 MBP (2.53GHz Core 2 Duo) 9400M 2008 MBP (2.53GHz Core 2 Duo) 9600M GT
Disk Test 33.08 24.05 38.13 39.64 42.90 41.21 42.75
Sequential 60.60 42.21 59.81 66.07 75.33 73.73 79.31
Uncached Write 52.17 MB/s [4K blocks] 30.96 MB/s [4K blocks] 42.60 MB/s [4K blocks] 53.34 MB/s [4K blocks] 52.84 MB/s [4K blocks] 66.02 MB/s [4K blocks] 66.05 MB/s [4K blocks]
Uncached Write 47.88 MB/s [256K blocks] 31.19 MB/s [256K blocks] 39.19 MB/s [256K blocks] 47.63 MB/s [256K blocks] 48.54 MB/s [256K blocks] 45.33 MB/s [256K blocks] 58.39 MB/s [256K blocks]
Uncached Read 9.89 MB/s [4K blocks] 7.27 MB/s [4K blocks] 11.59 MB/s [4K blocks] 10.83 MB/s [4K blocks] 14.19 MB/s [4K blocks] 12.09 MB/s [4K blocks] 12.64 MB/s [4K blocks]
Uncached Read 39.17 MB/s [256K blocks] 30.42 MB/s [256K blocks] 39.37 MB/s [256K blocks] 49.62 MB/s [256K blocks] 54.67 MB/s [256K blocks] 60.83 MB/s [256K blocks] 60.59 MB/s [256K blocks]
Random 22.75 16.81 27.99 28.31 29.99 28.60 29.26
Uncached Write 0.81 MB/s [4K blocks] 0.57 MB/s [4K blocks] 1.08 MB/s [4K blocks] 1.03 MB/s [4K blocks] 1.09 MB/s [4K blocks] 1.04 MB/s [4K blocks] 1.07 MB/s [4K blocks]
Uncached Write 18.56 MB/s [256K blocks] 18.35 MB/s [256K blocks] 19.24 MB/s [256K blocks] 22.73 MB/s [256K blocks] 26.51 MB/s [256K blocks] 23.03 MB/s [256K blocks] 23.44 MB/s [256K blocks]
Uncached Read 0.41 MB/s [4K blocks] 0.35 MB/s [4K blocks] 0.41 MB/s [4K blocks] 0.48 MB/s [4K blocks] 0.46 MB/s [4K blocks] 0.47 MB/s [4K blocks] 0.46 MB/s [4K blocks]
Uncached Read 18.44 MB/s [256K blocks] 13.28 MB/s [256K blocks] 16.33 MB/s [256K blocks] 19.31 MB/s [256K blocks] 20.84 MB/s [256K blocks] 20.75 MB/s [256K blocks] 20.56 MB/s [256K blocks]

Battery life

We didn't put the laptops through a litany of hardcore battery benchmarks — we'll leave that to the more minutiae-obsessed critics. Instead, we wanted to see what these performed like in real-world scenarios, say, a day editing Engadget, or scrambling some brains in a deathmatch. On the MacBook, we found we could get around 3 hours of solid use before we needed to plug in again. Those numbers were diminished when gaming or watching video, though the hit wasn't as bad as we thought it would be (then again, these are new batteries). The Pro fared similarly, though there's a palpable increase in drain when you're using the 9600M (did you expect other results?). As our good friend Ryan Block noted, the new batteries sport a 20 percent lower energy rating, (60Wh to 50Wh for the Pro, 55Wh to 45Wh for the MacBook), though there's speculation that the difference is made up by utilizing the integrated GPUs more effectively. Compared to previous models, these seem to get good — if slightly diminished — battery life out of the box. Of course, nothing lasts forever, and just like old versions, you'll see those numbers decrease over time.

Wrap up

Apple is offering the MacBooks starting at a base configuration for $1299, or $1599 for the 2.4GHz model with a larger drive. The MacBook Pros start at $1999 and move up from there — fully kitted out you'll be pushing $3000 or more. These are in no way the cheapest laptops you could buy, but you get quite a lot for your money.

Ultimately, however, you have a call to make if you're due for a laptop purchase and you're looking at Macs. Apple has drawn lines in the sand with these models, and they're asking you to accept a couple of hard facts when you put down your credit card. Though the company has axed the familiar and oft-used Firewire 400 port and you're forced into buying an adapter if you want to use an old monitor (not a huge expense, but a minor annoyance), neither one of those is reason enough to hold off here. The problem lies with the choice (or lack of choice) on the glossy display. Some users will find the glass screens distracting — we did — and that's more than a minor niggle when you're talking about something you'll use for years that costs $2000. If you can tolerate (or prefer) those screens, and / or you're a user without a real attachment to older standards or peripherals, these are terrific choices — not only from an industrial design standpoint, but in specs as well. They're smart, tough, handsome laptops that more than get the job done and look pretty stunning while doing it.

Now Apple, about a matte display option...

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