The New ‘Santa Rosa’ MacBook Pro 17

Just as I was sending last month’s newsletter, Apple released a significant update to its MacBook Pro line. Among other things, the 15-inch model got an LED screen, which I’ve examined closely. It’s very bright, and consistently so across the entire screen. The MacBook Pro LCDs are almost as bright, but like all LCDs, they have minor anomalies, and they tend to fade a bit with age. The expectation is that the LEDs will be more consistent and won’t fade so much. I couldn’t find any downsides to 15-inch LED screen, but I’m interested to hear from readers who have it. If you do, please send me a note and let me know what you think of it.

The new 17-inch MacBook Pro also came with a surprising set of upgrades. Finally, the 17-inch model offers 1,920-by-1,200-pixel resolution. That had been a glaring omission in the previous MBP line. The new higher-resolution display is a $100 option. I vastly prefer this resolution for this size screen. It gives you a lot more screen real estate. Some people may find that some things are too tiny for comfort, but Apple does a much better job than Microsoft at creating UI structures that work well in multiple resolutions. So, for example, the tiny colored dots that let you close, minimize, and expand Finder and program windows appear to be the same size no matter what resolution you’re in. The only issue you may have is with the text of some Web pages. Safari has an optional toolbar button pair that lets you increase the font size of the current Web page up or down one notch. (The Command+ and Command- keyboard combos also handle this.) That was only the only adjustment I needed to make for my aging eyes.

In addition to the new high-res screen, the new MBP 17 has Intel’s faster Intel Santa Rosa chipset running a Core 2 Duo at 2.4GHz and an 800MHz frontside bus. The new MBP 17 comes with 2GB RAM standard (supporting up to 4GB of RAM), and there’s a $150 7,200-rpm 160GB hard drive option. Standard equipment delivers a 5,400-rpm 160GB drive, and there’s also an optional 4,200-rpm 250GB drive.

Graphics moved up a little to Nvidia’s GeForce 8600m GT graphics processing unit with 256MB of GDDR3 SDRAM. It offers dual display and video mirroring and external display at resolutions up to 2,560 by 1,600 pixels.

The new MBP 17 is identical in appearance, size, and weight to the previous generation. In fact, in all other details that I could find (see Apple’s spec page), it’s identical to the previous generation.

Computerworld’s Ken Mingis and I each bought this new machine, and we wound up configuring our purchases identically (with the glossy high-res screen and the 7,200-rpm 160GB hard drive). You can buy the new MBP 17 for $2,799 (same price as the previous generation). With these two upgrades, the list price increases to $3,049 (see Apple’s options configuration page). I paid a lot less because of one of the benefits of signing up to Apple’s ADC developer program, which costs over $500, is a decent discount on one Apple hardware purchase during the one-year membership period. My price was just over $2,400.

I followed Ken’s lead and tried a new RAM vendor to upgrade to 4GB of RAM. Large RAM upgrades under Windows often leave you wondering why you bothered, since there’s rarely more than a minor noticeable performance improvement. But this 2GB upgrade on the Santa Rosa MacBook Pro had a noticeably positive effect. It runs much faster after you double the RAM size.

Apple charges way too much for RAM upgrades. It’s cheaper to take Apple’s default 2GB of RAM on this computer and then purchase two 2GB RAM sticks, replacing the Apple RAM, than it is to buy the 4GB upgrade from Apple at the time of purchase.

Ken and I each bought two 2GB DIMMs for the new MacBook Pros for $215 from OtherWorldComputing.com. Unfortunately, the price has gone up to $228.50 since then. But it’s still a pretty good deal. Other World Computing also offers a $50 rebate on your original 2GB of Apple RAM if you fill out a form and ship your RAM to them.

Another low-cost RAM vendor with which Mr. Mingis and I have had good luck is Data Memory Systems. DMS’s version of this 4GB kit is $238, but without a rebate option.

The OWC DIMMs have run perfectly on both new Macs.

After several weeks using the new MacBook Pro 17 as my main computer, it’s hard to imagine a better notebook computer. It is the best notebook of any operating system that I have ever used. There are no tiny miscues or fit and finish issues. Other than the keyboard, which isn’t on par with that of a Lenovo notebook, I have no wish list at all. The only nit I can find with this computer is that it runs hotter than the 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro 17 it replaces. In particular, whenever I launch Parallels running Windows XP, this Mac forces me to find some sort of large magazine or pillow to place on my lap as a heat buffer. Otherwise, my legs start baking. My guess is that the 2.4GHz MacBook Pro 15 gets even hotter because the case is smaller and can’t dissipate the heat as well.

For excellent additional information of the new MacBook Pro 17, check out the Computerworld review by Ken Mingis: First look: The new MacBook Pro 17, now with hi-res screen.

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