So, what’s the difference between a “pro” notebook computer (we don’t call them “laptops” any more because almost all of them worth their salt can burn holes in your lap) and a “consumer” notebook? Besides price, of course.
A consumer notebook is designed to give you the basic capabilities of a desktop while you’re away from the desk. Basics like email, websurfing, simple photo and perhaps movie capture and management, maybe some music, those kinds of things. Sure, you might empty your digital camera’s memory card onto your consumer notebook to free up space for more photos, but you wouldn’t want to do serious batch Photoshopping until you got home to the more powerful desktop.
A pro notebook, on the other hand, should have features that give the user a “near desktop experience” - powerful processors, lots of RAM, huge hard drives, big bright displays powered by dedicated GPUs (graphics processing units), optical drives, etc.
This week Apple “revved” both the 15” and 17” models of their professional notebook, the MacBook Pro (we’ll call it the MBP from now on). The MBP’s basic aluminum “form factor” (tech-speak for “what the thing looks like”) hasn’t changed significantly in a couple of years. It’s still striking, uncluttered, and classy. Even if you think you’ve never seen one, you have they’re “set dressing” in 90% of TV commercials depicting notebook computers. MBPs bear a full complement of input/output ports on the sides, a slot-loading DVD-burning optical drive up front, built-in iSight webcam, MagSafe power cord connector that prevents someone tripping over your power cord from pulling your MBP off the desk, built-in wireless networking, and offer up to 200 GB hard drives.
But with the new MBPs, it’s truly what’s inside that counts. Both models get Intel’s new 64-bit Core 2 Duo processors (2.16 and 2.33 GHz), ready for Apple’s future plans to move the platform to 64-bit computing. Apple claims the Core 2 Duo is as much as 39% faster than the Core Duo it replaces.
Now, as well-informed, in-tune, regular readers of the MacMaineiac, you know that clock speed alone does not a fast computer make. The Core 2 Duos in the new MBPs sport 4 MB of L2 cache running 1:1 with processor speed and up to 3 GB of fast RAM. They also use the Mobility version of ATI’s Radeon X1600 graphics processor. Look close, and you’ll see that these are pretty much the same “guts” in Apple’s desktop iMacs (hence the title of this article).
When Apple made the decision awhile back to switch its lines of desktop and notebook computers to “Intel Inside”, they cited “performance per watt” as a key decision factor. Engineers measure processors by (among others things, surely) these three variables: speed, power (electricity) used, and heat generated. Faster processors require more electrical power and generate more heat.
In a conventional roomy “tower” desktop plugged into an electrical outlet all the time, power and heat are not significant issues. There’s abundant electricity and abundant cooling space and fans can dissipate the heat.
In a sleek and stylish all-in-one computer like the iMac, there’s not as much cooling space, and you don’t want a relatively noisy fan running all the time. In a smaller portable notebook enclosure, power and heat become critical issues affecting battery life. The excellent performance per watt numbers of the Core 2 Duo bring cutting-edge desktop power to the portable nicely.
Finally, the prices. $1999 for the base 15” configuration, $2499 for the souped-up 15”, and $2999 for the 17” flagship less, actually, than similarly equipped Dells.
© 2006 Peter F. Zimowski