An already solid laptop just got better

More praise for the MacBook Pro

It has been said that buyers should generally avoid the first year of a new model car, Version 1.0 of just about any application and most Rev. A computers -- especially Rev. A computers.

Well, if you held off buying the first Intel-based versions of Apple Computer's MacBook Pro laptops, you can safely venture forth to the nearest computer store and take one home. I base that on my hands-on experience with Apple's latest updated consumer MacBook lineup, the recently revamped 15-in. MacBook Pro and -- now, finally -- the 17-in. variation of Apple's professional laptop line.

To paraphrase Victor Kiam, the late Gillette CEO, I liked the latest 17-in. MacBook Pro so much that I bought my own. And I'd like to note that it is the first time I've bought an Apple laptop that I didn't have to immediately upgrade with more RAM, a faster hard drive or some other extra. Out of the box, the 17-in. model comes completely stocked. About the only thing you can add is extra RAM (for 3GB max) or a different hard drive.

OK, you also get to decide whether you want a matte or glossy screen and on that decision, I am neutral. Until now, I've always had the matte screen, in part because Apple didn't even offer screen sheen until earlier this year. Unlike the Core Duo 17-in. model that I bought in May -- which some lucky family member will inherit in time for the holidays -- this time, I went shiny. I may never go back. Colors seem richer, and screen images look more film-like. Reflections are minor and don't bother me at all. Which screen is "best" is a matter of taste, like choosing Coke or Pepsi.

But that's just me.

The latest crop of 17-in. MacBook Pros is only now trickling into owners' hands. Announced last month, the first batch was due to ship to buyers in the first week of November. They were delayed, meaning most owners haven't had these laptops for more than a week or so. Yes, I played the "check order status" game on Apple's Web site just like everyone else, repeatedly looking to see when my laptop would ship, then tracking it as it crossed the Pacific from China to the U.S. in a relatively speedy 36 hours. (My Computerworld colleague Scot Finnie ordered exactly the same model, a day after I did, didn't pay for two-day shipping and got his the same day as me. Go figure.)

In case you've missed the latest specs on these portable workstations, the MacBook Pro -- both 15-in. and 17-in. models -- sport Core 2 Duo processors from Intel Corp. that are marginally faster in terms of clock speed but noticeably faster in real-world use. One factor behind that speed increase is the 4MB of dynamically allocated Level 2 cache RAM used by the new chip -- twice what the Core Duo offered. It's not a huge jump in processing power, nor would you expect it to be when moving from Rev. A to Rev. B hardware. But it's more of an increase than Apple used to provide back in the not-so-halcyon PowerPC days.

"With the Core 2 duo, obviously it has a faster clock speed and it has double the L2 cache over the previous generation Core Duo," said Gail Nishimura, senior product manager at Apple. "The L2 cache is right there on the chip, so what's great about that is it can be dynamic allocated between the two (processor) cores. It's larger.... That's a really big difference."

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