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WWDC 2009:
Analysis of New MacBook 'Pros'

Posted Wed, June 10th, by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist
Updated on Monday, June 15th, with more analysis and counterpoint
Updated on July 31st with added thoughts and experience.

It's clear from the keynote that the design goals for the new 15" MacBook Pro were lower pricing and longer battery life. That's commendable. But there are at least 4 "features" that will potentially keep me from leaping to upgrade:

1. I like having the CTO option for 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo clock speed (matching the fastest iMac), but the GeForce 9600M GT lags behind the state of the art in mobile GPUs. Why can't we PROs have the GeForce 9800 GT or GeForce GTX 280M? Alienware even offers a CTO option for dual HD 3870s in CrossFireX mode on their M17 and dual GTX 280s in SLI mode on their M17x!

2. Longer battery life is great, but if it means I lose easy upgrade the hard drive, then I have mixed feelings. The 'late 2008' model already made it harder for the consumer to upgrade memory. To me the trend should be toward easier upgrade of both memory and hard drive. With prices dropping on 4G memory modules and SSDs, it's what us PROs like to do without having to disassemble the entire enclosure. (NOTE: Since we posted this article, we have gone through the drill of removing the 10 small screws that hold the bottom plate to the 15" and 17" MacBook Pro 'mid 2009.' Once that plate is removed, upgrading the memory and hard drive is simple. Just be careful to keep track of where the screws go since they are not all the same size.)

3. My biggest disappointment is the loss of the ExpressCard/34 slot on the 15" model. That's been very useful for PRO accessories like the two slot Compact Flash ExpressCard reader for PRO photographers with Nikon D200 and D300s who shoot RAW. ("Real men don't use cameras with SDs.") It's useful for the 3G Broadband ExpressCard Modem for PROs on the road who don't want to block the use of the second USB port with USB 3G Broadband modem. It's useful for PRO video and audio creators who want to connect up to 2 eSATA storage devices using the Sonnet Tempo Pro "true" SATA ExpressCard. (Many so-called eSATA ExpressCards are limited to USB speeds.) Companies like Sonnet, CalDigit, LaCie, and OWC have produced some very fast eSATA based RAID enclosures that are designed specificially for the MacBook Pro. They offer transfer speeds three times faster than FireWire 800.

Yes, I know the 17" model retains the ExpressCard slot, but what about the claim that most PROs buy the 15" model? I've heard the argument that a "single digit" pecentage of MacBook Pro owners use the ExpressCard slot, but to remove a valuable interface for professional users makes me question the "MacBook Pro" moniker. Maybe Apple should call the 13" and 15" models "MacBook Semi-Pro."

4. Since we first posted our analysis, we learned of another "un-pro-ish feature": the internal hard drive interface appears to be limited to 150MB/s (SATA I) on the 13 and 15" models. That may not hamper the speed of notebook HDDs, but it definitely hamstrings the 250+MB/s potential of SSDs like the OCZ Vertex. Apple released a firmware update as of June 22nd that should fix this, though some users report that it renders certain HDDs or SSDs incompatible.

Real men (and women) photographers don't shoot to cards. They shoot tethered (often shackeled Ęto a 'puter) because we want to finish shoots while we are relatively young. So the only port that really matters to us is USB or firewire (and increasingly just USB). As soon as Canon gets their act together and installs high-speed wireless transmit directly from the camera, even the tether will go away. CF and SD and other cards are soooo two weeks ago...

The key factor for the new MacBook Pros for my studio is that they can accept 8GB RAM so that post-proc and layout work can be done on them. Everything else is icing (or non fat, free-range, organic, sugar-free frosting). If I need serious speed (Like processing over 100 22mp raw files that are due on press tonight, I use a tower. The MacBooks and MacBook Pros are 1st and foremost portable field machines for capture and power-lunches. The fact that they now can accept an adequate amount of RAM to be used by graphic designers who can then just unplug them and take them home with them is why I will buy them now.
(Eric Gordon, Big Kahuna of eprepservices.com)

Not willing to live without an ExpressCard/34 slot, I've purchased the 17" MacBook Pro 'mid 2009' with the 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo and 500G 7K HDD options. I've upgraded the memory to 8GB and the HDD to a 250G SDD (OCZ Vertex). Though the 17" is bigger and heavier than my preferred form factor for a laptop, it's certainly a stunning chunk of smart aluminum. Though my intent was to test and then sell it, I think I'll be keeping it at least until the next hot new MBP emerges.

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copyright 2009 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"