PermaLink The MacBook Pro - a review04/17/2006 02:56 PM

I picked up one of Apple's newest Intel-based machines on Friday, and have lived with it through the weekend.  Here's what I think so far.

I admit it... it was the zero-interest-for-five-years deal that got me.

I went over to CompUSA on Friday and picked up a new laptop, one of Apple's Intel DuoCore-based MacBook Pros.  While I was there, I also picked up a new laser printer, an HP 1020 (which I'll also talk about briefly) and have been playing with both for the past few days.

I wasn't quite sure what to make of it, this idea that Apple was moving to Intel-based chips, but when I first heard some of the performance marks these things were setting -- if you haven't heard, the fastest Intel-based laptops in the world are now the MacBook Pros  from Apple -- I was intrigued.  Let me talk a little about the new beast and what it's good at what it's not.

Overall stuff

To start with, I bought the MacBook Pro 2Ghz unit, which comes with a 15.1" display good for 1440x960 true color output, a 100Gb drive, a SuperDrive (DVD burner), and a gigabyte of PC2700 memory on a 667mhz frontside bus.  It includes built-in Airport Extreme 802.11g, and built-in Bluetooth 2.0 with the Extended Data Rate capability.  Mac OS X 10.4.6 is preinstalled.

The first thing that gets you about the MacBook Pro is the box.  The box for each of my iBooks was small enough, but the MacBook Pro is following even more stringently along this new, slim-packaging trend Apple has been following for some time.  Just as the new iPods are in a box barely larger than a double-CD case, compared to the big, friendly cube my earlier iPods came in (true, the early ones came with a lot more stuff, like docks and stuff, too), the MBP's box is barely thicker than the machine itself, and contains exactly five items:  the MacBook, a power pack, an extra cord for the power pack, a remote control, and a small box with the Mac OSX discs in it.

That's it.

Well, some styrofoam, too.  And a cover that says, as always, "Designed By Apple In California."

You can have the machine out of the box and plugged in and running in under 30 seconds, unless you're like me, and take your time to savor truly elegant packaging.

The feel of the MBP is solid, industrial but elegant.  The case is aluminum, and noticeably thinner than the iBook.  It has a heft to it that I like, and since its power pack is quite light compared to many Windows laptops, it's easy to cart around.  The 15" model I bought fits perfectly well in the Targus shoulder bag I've used for a couple of years with my iBooks, and the power pack zips into the front pocket perfectly.  The adapter is larger than the iBook, but the same shape and layout.

Power it up, and it chimes majestically and goes about its business setting things up for first use.  I made use of a feature unique to Apple:  if you have another Apple, and this MBP is replacing the old one, all you need is a FireWire cable, and the system talks you through setting your old machine up in target-disk mode (where the whole iBook or iMac basically acts like a big external disk for the new one to use), and it copies over not only all your data, but also all your configuration information, settings, most preferences, right down to the position of icons on your desktop.  No Windows machine has ever done this, or probably ever will, but Apple does it every day.  If you want to keep using your old machine on your existing network, all you need to do is give it a new name (since the new machine will take over the old name).  Total time to clone the old stuff was about an hour, maybe.

Early reports had it that the MBPs had issues with excess heat, to the point where MBPs were too hot to touch and painful to put on your lap.  This one, from a slightly-later series of production serials, does get warm, but not unreasonably so (my iBooks both got warm).  If you buy one, avoid any serial number that starts lower than W8610.  Early units, as a matter of fact, have been being quietly replaced by Apple.  If you can get a W8611, so much the better.


This son of a bitch is fast.  What else do you need to know?

No matter what I ask it to do, it's a ton faster than any laptop I've ever used, including fairly new Gateways and Dells.  Things zip open, images and sound get processed faster than ever.  The best performance comes from apps which run as "universal binaries" -- in other words, they are written specifically for the current version of Mac OS X designed for the Intel chips -- but even things which use Apple's "Rosetta" hardware-translation layer are perfectly acceptable.  For instance, Firefox 1.502 is the first version for Intel, but the current Thunderbird, 1.50, uses Rosetta, and both are fine to use.


Might as well talk about how the new hardware runs with the stuff you already have.  Most things I've tried with the new beast run perfectly well, everything from email to peer-to-peer clients to games to image and sound-manipulation tools.  There are certain Apple applications like FinalCut and Logic that really need to be upgraded to the upcoming Universal Binary versions.  Most third-party apps run just fine.

The big exception to this, though, will be almost anything that expects certain things about the hardware.  I'd worry, for example, about VirtualPC, though I haven't tried my copy (see below), and one tool which just fails outright is
KisMac, the open-source net.stumbler tool.  Recent versions now support passive mode for the Airport Extreme, but perversely, the instant KisMac actually finds a wireless network through its channel-hopping scan, it crashes instantly and vanishes from the screen.  Putting the driver in active mode results in it not being able to find the adapter's driver at all.  Other active-mode scanners like MacStumbler work OK.

There are rumors that USB modems won't work nicely with the MBP.


You'll notice I didn't worry much about VirtualPC.  This is for two reasons.  The first reason is
BootCamp, Apple's tool to allow you to set up and run Windows natively on the MacBook Pro hardware.  BootCamp does several things when you install it, one of which is to dynamically and nondestructively repartition your MBP's hard drive.  It also allows you to burn a CD which contains the Apple-specific Windows drivers you'll need to do anything useful with Windows running on the thing:  drivers for the CPU, the sound, the networking, the Bluetooth, the trackpad, power management, video, etc.  Once you run it, you shove a bootable Windows XP install CD in the slot-load SuperDrive and reboot, and the thing goes ahead and installs regular old Windows in the regular old way.

Seeing the Windows XP logo come up on an Apple machine can be rather puke-inducing, so prepare yourself.

I did the install, and sure enough, it all worked.  Worth noting is that installing Mac OS X from scratch takes about half the time that installing Windows XP from scratch, on the same hardware.  And once you have Mac OS installed, getting it up to current patch revisions is fast and direct, usually a one-step process, whereas on Windows it can take several visits back to Windows Update and a number of reboots.

How does Windows work on the MacBook Pro?  Decently.   The video is good, the sound is good, the networking is OK.  I did notice that the usual Apple trick of doing a right-click (hold the control key while clicking the single trackpad button) does not seem to be recognized by the Windows mouse handler.  I suggest that if you want to use this thing a lot, get a conventional Bluetooth or USB multibutton mouse and plan on using it.

Thing is, this isn't the only option now, if you want to run Windows apps on your Apple.  For the Intel-based Apples, there's a program called
Parallels that allows you to run Windows on Mac OS X at the same time.  Sure, this sounds a lot like the long-available Virtual PC, but there's a huge difference:  VPC was designed to translate Intel instructions that Windows uses into PowerPC instructions that the Mac used to use on the PowerPC-based PowerBooks, iMacs and iBooks.  Since the MBP runs an Intel chip, what Parallels does is to simply pass through most of the Intel calls from Windows straight down to the Intel hardware, which means it is a ton faster than Virtual PC.  I was astonished, actually.  The networking works, the sound works, you can switch from Apple to Windows on the fly, you can run Windows full screen if you want.  And this marvel is only $39.  I don't know how they do it, but they do it.


Some random things about the MBP:

The battery life is considerably shorter than the iBook.  Then again, practically every laptop in the world has a shorter battery life than my old iBook 933, so I can't really fault them, but if you'll be out somewhere using the MBP heavily, I wouldn't count on more than three hours out of the battery before you need to start finding a plug.  Once you do, it charges quickly, and the MagSafe power connector is kinda cool... it uses a strong magnet to keep the power contacts in connection with each other, so if you trip over the cord or try to walk away with the laptop while it's plugged in, you won't break anything, the connector parts and no problem.

The keyboard on the MBP is better than the one on the iBook.  It's smooth, solid, and even better, it's backlit (or, rather, underlit) so you can see what you're doing even if the screen is turned down to save battery.  I like it a lot.

Wireless sensitivity on the MBP is on a par with the iBook, which is to say, damn good.  It can sniff out networks I never suspected were there.

Some MBPs apparently have a flaky behavior wherein the Airport doesn't operate quite correctly if the unit goes to sleep and then wakes up.  I've seen this, and it's been annoying but not an every-time kinda thing, so it's hard to diagnose.  Apparently the newest production runs do not have this problem.


This is a damn fine laptop, albeit pricier than many Windows machines and nearly double the cost of the current 1.42Ghz iBooks.  I think it's worth it, but if all you want is a machine on which you can run Windows, don't buy this.  Leave it for someone who'll use it as what it's best at being:  a great Apple.

Oh, and... the HP LaserJet 1020

I also replaced my now-dead Hewlett-Packard Laser 4MP, the crown jewel of great deals I got from the old, now-defunct Computer City.  A $1500 printer back in 1992 or 1993, it expired when one of the cats whizzed in it.  I replaced it with a new LaserJet 1020, a simple and incredibly inexpensive black-and-white laser printer no larger than some inkjets.  It's simple easy to set up, fast on the print, quiet, and has two trays.  I paid $179 for it, and at that price it's almost not worth replacing the toner cartridge if it lets go some day.  I don't print much, so this is definitely the printer for people who don't print much.

Note for Mac users:  you will find that while your Apple detects this as an HP 1020, there are no useful drivers for it for Mac OS X.  Fear not... go to HP's website and look for the LaserJet 1022, which has a Mac driver.  For some stupid reason known only to HP, the nearly-identical HP 1020 has no driver of its own.  Use the 1022 driver, and it'll work great.
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1. Turtle07/05/2007 11:57:44 PM

Be advised, if anyone still needs the "good" driver, check my July 5, 2007 post. I've provided a link directly to it and written a bunch of nonsense that hopefully will put this link up high on Google. Sorry I didn't get back to all you guys, I didn't even know you'd commented.


2. Nathan04/04/2007 11:51:20 AM

Hi Turtle,

Would you be able to send me an old version of the driver. Thanks a million.

3. John01/28/2007 12:36:00 PM

Hi Turtle. I also need the old driver. H e l p. Much appreciated. Thanks

4. Edmond01/22/2007 08:08:10 AM

Hi Turtle,

I also need this old 1022 driver. Please send me a copy.


5. Josh01/16/2007 08:32:25 AM

well, I guess this serves as a sign to give a big FU to HP.

Never again will I buy an HP product. ;)

6. Simon 01/13/2007 10:11:36 AM

I too am unable to get my perfectly good HP LaserJet 1020 working with my new Mac. Please could you send me the old 1022 driver?
Many thanks,

7. iMac Newbie01/12/2007 06:49:18 PM


Thank you for sending me the 1022 driver. I had to figure out a way to remove the newer version of the driver before this older on would install, but once I did, it installed and I am printing!

I am glad that you still had it.

8. Brian01/07/2007 01:30:03 PM

I, too, would love a copy of the 1022 driver. The one downloaded from HP doesn't work, as you point out. What a hassle. A thousand thank yous....


9. Ian Hurley01/05/2007 01:14:17 AM

You have the old drive for the Hp 1020? You must be the only one on the planet... I have been searching high and low... the new updated 1022 driver, as you know, no longer works and I thought I was being nice when I bought my sis a 1020 for her Mac... what a headache I have cause her... long story short... please pass me a copy if you still have it...


10. Turtle05/26/2006 05:22:07 PM

Update: I'm told that sometime in May, 2006, HP "updated" the 1022 driver so that it magically no longer works with the 1020. However, I do have the original version of this driver. If you need it, email me and I can get it to you.

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