MacBooks and Pros updated

Matthew JC. Powell
27 February, 2008
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Confounding the rumour sites that couldn’t decide whether to predict a MacBook Pro revision this morning or just a MacBook revision, Apple has unveiled updated versions of both the MacBook and the MacBook Pro. That ought to keep them guessing. Both lines have been updated with faster processors, plus larger hard drives and, in the case of the Pro, faster graphics by NVidia. Most significantly, the MacBook Pros now feature the same multi-touch trackpad as the MacBook Air.

The MacBooks include Intel Core 2 Duo processors running at 2.1GHz or 2.4GHz. The 2.1GHz version features a 120GB 5400-rpm hard drive as standard, though this can be swapped out for a 160GB or 250GB drive, also at 5400rpm. The 2.4GHz version can be configured with either the 160GB or 250GB drives, not the 120GB. The premium Black MacBook features the 250GB 5400-rpm hard drive as standard. The slower MacBook — if such a description is apt — also comes with a Combo drive which can read and write CDs but only read DVDs, while the 2.4GHz version includes a SuperDrive. 2GB of RAM is now standard on all models, but prices are unchanged.

The MacBook Pros have seen a rather more substantial refresh, now including Intel’s 45nm "Penryn" processors as has been widely expected. You can buy either a 2.4GHz chip with 3MB of onboard cache or, for the power-hungry, you have a choice between a 2.5GHz and a 2.6GHz chip with 6MB of onboard cache. That’s in the 15-inch model. The 17-inch model only includes the faster processor options. Both machines also come with 2GB of RAM as standard.

Storage options for the 15-inch MacBook Pro start at a 200GB 5400-rpm drive, and you can choose a 250GB 5400-rpm drive or a 200GB 7200-rpm drive — speed or capacity, you choose. On the 17-inch model, you choose only between 250GB at 5400rpm or 200GB at 7200rpm. In case that’s not enough choice you can also pick a 4200-rpm drive with 300GB capacity — pretty big for a laptop.

Both the 15-inch and the 17-inch come with a SuperDrive, and some customers may be disappointed to learn that a Blu-ray Disc burner is still not an option even though the high-definition format war has officially come to an end bar the sweeping. Chances are Apple is looking to introduce a high-definition burner as an option on desktop computers first if indeed it is planning to at all — the MacBook Air suggests that the company doesn’t see much future in physical discs at all.

The NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT graphics processor in the MacBook Pro includes 256MB of RAM on the 2.4GHz configuration or 512MB of RAM on the faster models. This chip can drive both the MacBook Pro’s display at full native resolution and an external monitor at up to 2560×1600. The 17-inch MacBook Pro offers an optional high-resolution LED-backlit display manufactured with arsenic-free glass, which is better for the environment and also — Apple claims — increases battery life by up to half an hour. As the 13-inch display in the MacBook Air is also made with arsenic-free glass, it’s a little unclear why Apple doesn’t offer that as standard.

The grand gesture. Of perhaps most interest to many customers is the inclusion of the muti-touch trackpad, which debuted on the MacBook Air last month at the Macworld Expo. This trackpad expands the range of gestures currently available to MacBook Pro owners — clicking, dragging, double-tapping and scrolling — with the two-finger "pinch and stretch" gesture for zooming in on certain types of content (such as enlarging text in Safari or enlarging a photo in iPhoto), rotation and "swiping". The last involves using three fingers to wipe across the trackpad, navigating forwards or backwards through web pages, for instance.

The trackpad was one of the major selling points on the MacBook Air, and many customers will no doubt be pleased to see its inclusion in the MacBook Pro. Somewhat disappointingly though, the MacBook Pro version of the trackpad remains the same size as on the existing models — the MacBook Air features a considerably larger trackpad. It utilises the same multi-touch controller found in the iPod touch and iPhone, and the gesture-recognition is reliant on this controller — so existing MacBooks and MacBook Pros cannot be retro-fitted with this functionality. The updated MacBook still features the old trackpad — those customers will have to wait for the next revision presumably.

Recent patent filings have indicated that Apple has much more in mind for its gesture system, with a range of different gesture types for different functions described in some of the documentation. How many fo these will become reality is anyone’s guess, and whether they’ll be for future generations of MacBook or some other device is also unknown. The important thing is that Apple clearly sees a gesture-aware trackpad as taking an increasingly important role in user interaction with the Mac.

Pricing. The MacBook starts at $1499 for a White MacBook with 2.1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM and 120GB hard drive, up to $2099 for the Black MacBook with 2.4GHz processor, 2GB of RAM and 250GB hard drive. Apple continues to charge a premium for black — the same configuration in white costs $1949.

MacBook Pro pricing starts at $2699 and rises fairly rapidly from there. The base price gets you a 2.4GHz processor, 2GB of RAM and a 200GB hard drive, while the same screen size with a 2.5GHz processor and 250GB hard drive costs $3399. The 17-inch MacBook Pro costs $3799, and getting the LED backlit screen with its environmental credentials and promised extra battery life will cost an extra $150.

As this story went live Apple was estimating 2-4 business days shipping on all models.

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