mbp15.pngI love my original 13″ MacBook Unibody. With 4 GB of RAM and an upgraded Intel SSD drive it’s a powerhouse that gets the job done all in a sleek, tough and quiet package… for the most part.

Being my primary machine for both work and personal use, I go from development (Xcode / Coda) to word processing (Microsoft Office in VMware) to Photoshop to Aperture and back to responding to E-Mails all in a single day. As such I usually have all these apps open at once and to be honest, having a more powerful beefy machine would make my day go a lot smoother. Also as much as I hate to admit it I’ve outgrown the meager display resolution of the 13″ model. 1280 x 800 pixels of screen real estate just isn’t going to cut it anymore. I more often than not do not have the luxury of connecting to an external display while on the road or traveling so having a higher resolution display on my portable would be ideal.

When Apple decided to update their MacBook Pro line this month I took advantage. I opted for the 15″ Mac Book Pro with the high resolution glossy screen (1680 x 1050 resolution) in the Core i7 2.66GHz flavor with 8 GB of RAM. I defaulted to the cheapest hard drive (in this case a 500GB 5400 RPM drive) as I was simply going to swap my existing Intel 160 GB SSD from my 13″ MacBook into this one. I was pleasantly surprised that my usual course of purchasing a machine with the least amount of RAM and upgrading from Crucial was unnecessary as Apple seems to have brought their RAM pricing down to very competitive levels.

Regardless I still had to pop the bottom side open to swap the hard drive out when it finally arrived a week later. This was my first experience with dismantling an Apple laptop with the new high capacity batteries in them as the new unibody chassis no longer has the quick easy access panel for upgrading the RAM and hard drive but rather has encased the entire back side in a single piece of aluminum. This made the process of getting to the innards only slightly more cumbersome as it now involved the removal of ten philip head screws and propping off the back cover before I was able to access the drive. Once exposed though swapping it out was trivial and easy.

Once my SSD was in I booted up from the included Snow Leopard install disc and proceeded to erase and reinstall the OS using a custom install so I could exclude some of the more larger components like printers, languages and X11 components I didn’t need thereby saving some very precious space on my almost full drive. Install of the base OS took about 25 minutes and I spent the next few hours re-installing all my apps and moving my data from my backup drive over. My usual method of doing this involved using the excellent migration assistant but for a few reasons I chose to do this manually this time around since I wanted to clean out some crud I had collected over the years in the process. The manual process was actually very easy to do and was much quicker than I had initially thought.

First thoughts… WOW this boots lightening quick. Once booted: WOW look at that absolutely gorgeous display. It was stunning. After being stuck in low resolution land for oh so long the new high resolution screen was just absolutely a breath of fresh air. Everything was so crisp and detailed and oh my look at all that extra real estate! I dug up some code I had been working on and reveled in the way the text was so much more readable with far less line wrapping. I then brought up Aperture… holy cow! The images looked stunning. And with the i7 processor, accelerated NVIDIA GPU kicked in and 8 GB of memory I was flicking through RAW images like they were tiny thumbnails. I then fired up VMware Fusion (I know but sometimes you can’t escape Windows) and opened up Microsoft Office and Google Chrome and futzed around for about 10 minutes and… what’s that… my fan hasn’t turned on yet, I still have a bunch of free memory available according to Activity Monitor and my system hasn’t slowed down to a crawl. I was in heaven.

In my experience real world battery life was between 5 and 6 hours… not too bad at all. Most reviews on realistic battery life use I find is not that realistic. I think dimming the screen half way is just a bit too low for me. I usually have it about three quarters brightness when unplugged with Bluetooth turned on and maybe about 8 to 10 apps opened up. Five plus hours is usually no problem at all on this machine. If I’m using anything that uses the NVIDIA GPU as opposed to the lower powered Intel one battery life drops significantly. This included using iPhoto extensively and viewing videos in QuickTime Player.

Since having an iPad I find myself using my laptop on my lap far less frequent and it couldn’t have come at a better time. While my new 15″ MBP is as close to perfection as I can get I do miss the form factor of the 13″ MacBook. I have no problems using this machine sitting on the couch but the larger more cumbersome size does reduce me from doing it more often than I did with my old machine. Having the iPad, my new machine is now mostly constrained to my desk while at home and a table top while traveling so it’s no issue for the most part.

With the SSD disk installed the machine runs absolutely silent. So far heat hasn’t been an issue either. The integrated SD card slot makes transferring my pictures from my camera so much more seamless and less cumbersome. The speakers sound much better than on my old machine and surprisingly very crisp. The keyboard seems to have a better feel to it compared to my old machine but that may be due to it being new and never used.

Like I said before, for me this machine is as close to perfect and I can get. Having said that there’s always one or two things I can think of that I can dream about that would actually make it perfect. One would be upgrading the USB to the new USB 3.0 spec though honestly I can live without that as I only use my USB ports to backup my machine to an external drive once a week. The most anticipated change for me though would be the removal of the optical drive altogether and using the freed up space to put an even larger capacity battery in. The only time I use the optical drive is to install the OS and this could be done through a bootable USB flash drive instead. I understand many users rely on the optical drive so I would see this as a built to order option.

Hard core users who are considering this machine shouldn’t hesitate in the slightest. If your eyes can take it upgrade to the higher resolution display and if you haven’t already get an Intel SSD and be prepared to have an absolutely scorchingly fast, quiet and powerful workstation that is an absolute pleasure to use on a daily basis.

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