Keith Combs' Blahg

Ramblings from another nerd on the grid

My MacBook Pro - first impressions

My MacBook Pro - first impressions

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I'm always like a little kid on Christmas.  It doesn't matter if it's a boring hard drive being delivered or something more expensive.  It's fun to track packages and watch for the delivery person.  Then, it's time to open your present.  Sean told me that opening the package was more fun than most.

MacBookPro I was disappointed.  I expected the package to be kewl looking.  Instead, I got this brown box that looked as if it had been shipped from China.  Duh, it did come from China.  Just like my Thinkpad, it zig zagged across the planet to get to Texas.  My dog sniffed the package.  He looked like he wanted to do something else to the box.  So I get my trusty knife and start opening the box.

Ah ha!!!

Inside the box is a box.  The box inside is the cool looking black box that looks like it was the result of a marketing competition.  It has a pretty picture of the Apple MacBook Pro (MBP).  Now we're talking.  The box is slim.  It's probably the slimmest computer box I've ever received.  Excitement builds...  I notice the seal on the box is broken.  Uh oh.  I hate that.  I'm thinking someone (U.S. Customs) has had their dirty paws on my new machine.  I was right, somebody had.

Don't Touch

The Apple MacBook Pro is a work of art.  There is no denying that.  I open the box and remove it from the custom styrofoam sandwich.  It's wrapped in plastic but I notice someone has been into this part of the package as well.  Then I discover who.  You see, the package was diverted to Seattle so that someone could stick a damn asset tag on the work of art.  The tag is on the lid of the laptop.  That one tag made it look ugly.  They might as well have stuck the tag right in the middle of Apple.  I removed it pronto.  Note to readers: WD-40.  Although most of you use it for a lubricant, it's a great adhesive solvent.

Now that the Pro is all cleaned up, it dawns on me.  This is the nicest laptop I've ever used.  I mean it's too nice.  I worry about scratching the darn thing.  I've never done that.  Sure I take care of my machines, but I've never been afraid to carry one around.  I'm over that now but one thing is for sure, the finish is slick so you have to pay attention to how you hold it.  My ThinkPad is utterly sticky compared to the MBP. 

Power On

I set this on my desk and hook up the power, plug in the ethernet cable and hit the power button.  I could see the OS X v10.5 DVD in the stuff I received but I wanted to see if it was already installed.  It wasn't.  So I wasted no time popping in the Leopard disk and starting the upgrade.  I'm perplexed.  My upgrade took about 1.5 hours but other people have reported upgrades that took 30 minutes.  Strange.  I did notice that it took WAY to long to verify the DVD disk media.  I may be mistaken.  It could have been checking the hard drive contents.  I don't really know.

I actually had some issues during the subsequent reboots after the upgrade.  On a couple of the startups, it seemed to just hang with the spinning thing.  Whatever it was doing seems to have been fixed now.  Now Leopard boots rapidly, suspends nicely, and shuts down rapidly.  It does it so fast, I wonder if it really shuts down.  No time to worry about it now, I'll look under the covers down the road.

Time to Drive

Like all of the installs I do with Windows Vista, I spent some time setting system preferences and getting familiar with the new OS.  I had a Mac a long time ago at EDS for some dev projects, Microsoft MacMail, etc. but it's been a long time and this is very different from the MacOS of those days. I do of course verify wired and wireless networking is working.  I try out Safari.  I setup a pop3 account with the built-in Mail product.  Basically I check out most of the tools to confirm they upgraded correctly.

I haven't really explored all of the stuff that came installed on the machine.  I'll hook up my iPod and stuff over the next few days,  but I'm really interested to see how Fusion works.  You might be wondering about Fusion.  It's the VMWare desktop virtualization product for OS X.

Virtualization

OS X doesn't ship with a built-in virtualization layer and feature set.  Neither does Windows Vista but just like Vista, there is a healthy after market.  I purchased VMWare Fusion and installed it on my Mac.  Today I installed Windows Vista Ultimate x64, Kubuntu v7.10, and SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 SP1.  All of the installs went without issue.  I like Fusion.  It works very nicely with OS X v10.5.  So far so good.

Heat

I've heard about the heat issues on the MacBook Pro for months.  It's definitely present on mine.  They run pretty hot.  It reminds me of the Dell Latitude D820 I used to use.  My wife uses the D820 now and the warmth doesn't bother her.  However, you aren't going to use a MacBook Pro directly on your lap.  I won't set it directly on my desk either.  I have a custom oak desk and I'll be damned if I'm going to burn an Apple insignia into the wood.

Now keep in mind I've been pushing this Mac a little.  Installs tend to drive up the heat because the hard drive and DVD drive are running on max, nonstop, for a long period of time.  The fan inside the MBP spin up to high on several occasions today while I was doing the installs.  So how do you put a barrier between this hot little laptop and your skin or the precious wood of your desk?  Plastic my friends.  I use the Targus Podium Coolpad.  I don't have mine jacked up as high as they show in the picture, but you can decide by stacking the little plastic pieces that come with it.

Hardware Impressions

I love the backlit keyboard.  The keyboard feel is really good and I'm not getting lost on it too much.  I've learned a few of the shortcuts but I hate learning shortcuts.  By the way, backlighting doesn't work when using Fusion.  That's ok

Networking works very nicely.  The wireless networking detected my wireless backbone and prompted me to use it.  Easy stuff.  Wired networking of course worked perfectly as well.  Here's a speed test result.  It's the very first one I've ever tried from this machine.  Now keep in mind this is from my Windows Vista virtual machine.  So it's going from the emulated network card in this Fusion VM, to the MacBook Pro Airport wireless adaptor, then out my fiber connection.  This is using default settings.  I have not tuned anything.  Check it out:

:::.. Download Stats ..:::
Download Connection is:: 13829 Kbps about 13.8 Mbps (tested with 12160 kB)
Download Speed is:: 1688 kB/s
Tested From::
http://testmy.net/ (Main)
Test Time:: 2007/11/02 - 11:23pm
Bottom Line:: 241X faster than 56K 1MB Download in 0.61 sec
Tested from a 12160 kB file and took 7.203 seconds to complete
Download Diagnosis:: Awesome! 20% + : 125.56 % faster than the average for host (verizon.net)
D-Validation Link::
http://testmy.net/stats/id-S48C30NDP
User Agent:: Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 7.0; Windows NT 6.0; WOW64; SLCC1; .NET CLR 2.0.50727; .NET CLR 3.0.04506; Media Center PC 5.0) [!]

The screen is nice.  I like the screen in my ThinkPad T61p better.  They are both super bright if needed.  I turned the MBP ambient light sensor off.  It works good during the day in my brightly lit office, but I noticed it was having a hard time deciding a level earlier tonight so I turned it off.

I've grown accustomed to lots of connectivity options and would prefer to have more USB ports on the MBP.  I would also like to swap the two USB ports that are there.  The one on the right side appears to be powered at a higher level.  This comes into play with my 2.5" USB drive enclosure since it must plug into that port.  I would rather have it on the left side for convenience. 

I love the weight and feel of the machine.  I can't wait to travel with it, although my cell phone card won't work with it.  I have a PCMCIA card and the only slot available is the 34MM ExpressCard slot.  If I get something new, I'll probably look for a card that has software for both Windows and OS X and uses the USB port.  If someone has a recommendation on one, let me know.

The speakers are very good for a laptop.  Considering Apple makes the iPod and their artist connection, this doesn't surprise me.  I haven't tried the microphone or external speaker ports yet.  I also haven't tried the DVI connection to an external monitor yet.  That will all come in time.

Summary

The machine is solid.  It's no wonder it's selling like hot cakes.  You get what you pay for and you pay more for the MacBook Pro.  A recent article rated the T7700 based MBP the fastest laptop "they've tested".  The MBP is fast, but speed should not be your only criteria.  Lust should be included as well.

Apple needs to fix the thermal issues, but it's the only real glaring issue I have with the machine thus far.  OS X runs well enough on it.  There are some obvious bugs in Leopard but they'll get some of that ironed out.  I am a little shocked I've already seen two serious system crashes.  There isn't much excuse for that in such a tightly controlled platform.

I'll have a better feel for the reliability in four weeks.  You tend to get a sense for such things over the course of a month or so.  I'll write more about the software over the next few weeks.

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  • I have been thinking the same thing. Buying a MBP but just wondering how Vista, VS2005 and MOSS 2007 would run with it. This as a development machine, do you think I should take the plunge?

  • If you want to run all of the operating systems on the market, there is really only one choice.  

    You are going to pay a lot more for that privilege.  My Mac was $1300 more than my ThinkPad.  The CPU difference is $300 so you can factor that out.  If Apple shipped a 1GB stick MacBook Pro, I probably could have saved another $500-600 on memory.  So that leaves an extra margin of $300 or so for the design and backlit LCD screen.

    Bottom line is that if you can handle the money, don't mind the poor thermals, and want to run OS X, Windows Vista, Linux, etc., then the MacBook Pro with VMWare Fusion is going to be hard to beat.  

    My only beef on the money part is the premium Apple is getting for memory.  But then again, if you are worried about the $300-400 extra you are paying for that, then you probably should be looking at a different tier of machines.

  • WD-40, I am always surprised yet I think you can solve any problem with DW-40...

  • @Kanwal:

    I have a MBP myself, and it is the fastest Vista Machine I have seen.  PCWorld agrees, rating it the fastest Vista laptop of 2007 (http://www.pcworld.com/article/id,136649-page,3-c,notebooks/article.html).  Visual Studio works fine as well.

    As far as MOSS 2007, however... that is a server-oriented product, so disk I/O on a laptop hard drive (as well as the amount of available memory you have) will be a factor.  That is more a limitation of using a laptop to run MOSS than the particular vendor you choose.

  • The PC World article is flawed in my opinion.  First of all they don't tell you what hard drives were used in the test and trust me, laptop hard drives are not created equal.

    Second, look at the difference in speed in the top 10 laptops.  They are so close to each other that most people aren't going to notice the difference in everyday usage.  

    And third, thermal cooling should be in the test mix and properly weighted.  If it was, the MacBook Pro would NOT be number one.  

    Regarding Sean's comment on MOSS 2007, if you plan to run something that is I/O intensive, make sure you plan to a virtual machine like that off the laptop hard drive to an ExpressCard attached eSATA drive.  Most of the top laptops include ExpressCard slots.  The MBP uses a 34mm slot.  The ThinkPad uses a 54mm slot.

  • Keith, you're a very entertaining writer. I really enjoyed reading your story! :) Thanks!

  • I have a neighbor running Windows Vista Ultimate on the mac and indicates that it's running beautifully.  How are other applications running?  

  • Thank you for your first impressions.  I am considering a MBP.  One note, I've been using smcfancontrol on my macbook for about four months and it lowers the temperature dramatically.  It simply gives you the option to increase your macbook fan speed.  Seems to work quite well.