Wednesday, August 4, 2010

New computer! Macbook Pro 15" laptop

So, having worked all summer, I finally worked up enough cash to buy myself a brand-spanking-new Macbook Pro from Apple. I'd been eying one for a couple years now, and man was it exciting to be able to finally have a computer to totally call my own. I bought the baseline 15" model, with a 2.4ghz CPU, 4gb of DDR3 RAM clocked at 1066mhz, and the other base settings (glossy 1440x900 screen, etc.). It was just over $1,600 from Amazon.

-Form Factor

I've always liked the way Apple engineers their products, and this is no different. The computer is silver and black, made primarily out of aluminum (casing), glass (screen, trackpad, apple sign), and some type of durable plastic (keys, hinge), excluding the internal parts.

Though I'm certainly not going to drop it intentionally, the casing feels sturdy and durable. It also emanates an aura of precision. All of the ports and edges are sharply carved, and the keys sit snug in their places. The speakers on either side of the keyboard consist of extremely small holes; so small that you can't really tell the difference between the speakers and the regular casing by running your finger over it.

The trackpad feels (and is reportedly) composed of glass. It feels extremely smooth to the touch, and is overall easy to use. Rather than include a separate button, Apple made most of the entire pad pushable to use as one button. This takes some getting used to, especially if you're used to pushing a separate button, but it works well with some practice. Actually, only about 75-80% of the trackpad is really effective as button. It seems to have been made to slant down when you push it, so you can't actually press down on the top. Still, after getting used to this approach, it's actually a bit uncomfortable to use other trackpads that have a separate button.

On the right side of computer, you have your ports. From the top down, you have a magnetic charging port, ethernet, FireWire 800, MiniDisplay Port, 2x USB, an SD Card Slot, Audio out, and Audio in. I do have some disappointments with this. First, only two USB ports? It's not horrible, but I think Apple could have put at least one more in. Second, while I very much appreciate the addition of an SD card slot, I kinda wish I didn't have to trade the ExpressCard slot (exclusive to the 17") for it. My third hiccup was lack of a Firewire 400 port. I've been using a 250GB Lacie external drive for many of my important files, and it only uses Firewire 400. It's not a big deal, since an adapter is inexpensive, but still something I found worth mentioning. Finally you also have the batter indicator lights, which have been relocated from the bottom of the computer. They come in more handy than you might think. On the right side, you have the SuperDrive disc drive, and a Kensington lock slot.

Aside from the thumbscoop, the front is mostly bare, save for the infrared port (presumably for remotes). Speaking of the thumbscoop, attempting to open the computer makes it quickly apparent that, instead of a simple latch, the computer is kept closed with the use of what is probably an internal magnet. The sleep light (which gently pulsates when the computer is asleep) is present as well, but you can't see it unless it's on. If you've seen the indicator light on Apple's wireless keyboard, its the same deal here.

One of my favorite aspects of the physical design has proven to be the screen. It's an LED LCD screen made out of glass, so the color simply pops out. Basically, the screen is gorgeous, and looking at it is a pleasure. The view is enclosed within a black border that also has the built-in iSight Camera at the top. Naturally it blends in well. Like on the iMac, a green light comes on when the camera is active. Incidentally, the keyboard is fully backlit.


I looked at a few benchmarks before I made the purchase, and was surprised to find that, overall this i5 processor is faster than the 2.8ghz Core 2 Duo present in the predecessor's higher end model. It shows. This laptop is quite zippy, with very little lag (if any) to be found while doing day to day activities such as web browsing, file browsing, and opening programs. From the time you press the power button, it's ready to use in about 40-45 seconds, if you bypass the login option (in which case it's even faster). It's also responsive when transitioning from and into sleep mode, going to sleep quickly after closing the shell, and waking up immediately after opening it. For only mild usage, the system usually doesn't go over 2GB of RAM usage (out of the 4 installed).

The battery is rated for 8-9 hours. That's a bit of a stretch. At mid brightness, mild usage (web browsing, document editing, music playing, etc.) will probably get you 5-6 hours. Seven, if you're good. At full brightness, you lose about an hour. I'm sure you could get 9 hours if you put it at the lowest brightness setting and just played music or typed a document (and turned off Airport and Bluetooth), but it would be a little tight. Basically, if the display is on, you lose at least 2-3 hours off of the rated charge. Still, 5-6 hours is a full evening of use, which is fine by me.

Operating System

This computer came with Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard pre-installed, as well as a suite of iLife applications. In true Apple fashion, the OS works closely with the hardware to produce a more efficiently running computer. There's often multiple ways to get something done, which means you always have options. For example, finger gestures open up a world of possibilities. You could, for example, right-click the classic way by holding down control, or you could just click while holding two fingers. You could use the arrow keys or on-screen buttons to maneuver through selections, or you could swipe with three fingers to navigate. You could four-finger swipe to switch between applications, or you could set up Expose to show all your open windows (a surprisingly handy feature, and choose the one you need.

I've also noticed that the Mac OS seems to accomplish certain things much faster than PCs. File transfers to external devices, while taking a fair amount of time on my PC (which is much faster than my Macbook, to be fair) running Windows 7, rarely take longer than a couple seconds on Mac. Whether this is a hardware or software boon (or, in Apple's case, a special combination of both), I don't know. Also, both Airport Extreme and Bluetooth operate very fast, and reliably. Airport connects quickly, and has actually made some progress in renewing my confidence in Wifi (which I tend to dislike).

Mostly carried over from 10.5, Snow Leopard comes packing a lot of little features that add up to a very intuitive experience. The Dashboard serves as a home to many little widgets (not unlike sidebar apps in Windows 7, or just simple apps that you'd find on a smartphone or iPhone) that you can install. You can set up a feature called Expose, which can map certain system actions (screen saver, show desktop, etc.) to corners of the screen, triggered when you put your cursor in the designated screen corner.

If I had to pick three features of the OS that really stand out to me, it would probably be Quick Look, the Dock, and the way the system handles application files. I'll start with Quick Look, which is a really handy way to quickly preview common files without actually opening any programs. For music and videos, this would mean immediate playback in a small window that pops up. For pictures, of course it would be a simple view window. Files that don't have more extensive access can instead have their general specs shown, such as date created, and file size.

The Dock is a versatile feature. You can put folder shortcuts on it, and many programs that support it change their icons under certain circumstances to give you quick information. For example, Chrome and Safari both show download progress on their Dock icons when relevant. iCal shows the current date and month. Activity Monitor can be customized to show various system monitors, such as CPU or HDD activity.

Application files are handled a little differently on Macs, compared to Windows PCs. As anyone moderately experienced with Windows knows, somewhere on your primary drive, all of your programs store their files in one large directory which is named "Program Files" by default. When you uninstall a program, it usually deletes the program's folder in the "Program Files" folder (which contains the files necessary for the program to run). However, there are often some traces left behind. With Macs, the entire program is downloaded as a package. To the average person, it looks like you're just downloading the program's icon. But you can right-click to access the "icon"'s program files. This is why, when installing a new program, all you have to do is drag the icon to the Applications folder. Because the icon IS the program, complete with all necessary program files. By the same vein, you can uninstall a program by deleting the icon (moving it to the trash). It's surprisingly simple. Still, programs can leave traces too, particularly those that require external plugins, or make use of file caches. Most of these "external" program files can be found in the Library folder, though.

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