Esem/Eesn

Macbook Pro 15.4" 2010 unibody< - my thoughts/h2>

Macbook Pro 15.4" 2010 unibody
In keeping with the tradition on this page, I am posting a revision to my Macbook Pro review and steering it towards my "new" laptop - a 2010 Intel Core i5 15.4" hi-res antiglare laptop. I am writing this in 2011, a solid one year later.

2010 Intel i5, compared to my 2006 laptop

  • Lots of design fixes
  • Faster and cooler on average
  • Battery works as intended
  • Unibody is a whole new feel
  • Great keyboard
  • Weird display experience
  • Poor built-in graphics
  • Poor firewire

The 2006 machine - Intel Core 2 Duo 15.4"

  • Bye Microsoft Windows
  • Just works
  • Fast and reliable.
  • Well thought out design!
  • It's OK to love it!
  • Hit or miss Sony battery dies within a year.
  • Very software-based so firmware updates may break it
  • Manufacturing defects add an element of luck
  • Aggressive design decisions regarding heat and noise

In 2010 I happily retired my 2006 Macbook Pro after 3 years 8 months of use. The new one, like my old one, is my main workstation, running two kinds of tasks - medium-scale sound and music projects in Logic and Pro Tools, and web scripting and application development projects for a variety of platforms. Back then I said that the biggest thing about Macs is that you can load them up with a lot of different applications and they work, unlike PCs which usually end up specialised. I stand by my comment and time has not made me think otherwise.

Detailed look

No benchmarks or other hardware porn here, sorry. There was no in-depth look at my 2006 laptop either. I am listing my impressions and they are not necessarily empirically proven. Like the c2d model, the i5 is very polished. However, in comparison while the 2006 design had its weaknesses and the engineering had its flaws, the design on the 2010 machine has been simplified and perfected - the latch is gone, ports have moved to one side, the front is clean, magsafe looks better and I do use the SD card reader regularly. Having said this, cost-related compromises in the engineering are still evident.

The OS

The operating system remains a wonder of the same magnitude. On the c2d laptop it was OS X Tiger, followed by Leopard. Snow Leopard may have had a bumpy history, but it has finally managed to abstract itself away from the user and herein lies the biggest difference between Mac OS and Windows. OS X seems to lurk beneath your digital life and mind its own business. In comparison, Windows becomes part of your digital experience - in that world the computer takes care of things, not the user. OS X does not present the user with the things it takes care of. I have even less use for Windows now and haven't bothered installing anything related to that OS.

I am not going to install Lion yet. It is tempting but I cannot see a reason to ditch a Good Enough configuration in favour of Cutting Edge. I may be growing old..

Build

With regards to build, the unibody construction makes you regard the machine as a solid object and that is evident in the way I've seen so many macbook pro-s being handled with a care-free attitude. My 2006 keyboard was worn out by the end, the 2010 one looks like a step in the right direction, with a lot of detail such as the ergonomic shape of the keys, inset letters, and no coating. The 2006 trackpad was always awkward to use. The 2010 one feels different to begin with, and there's no button to start feeling crunchy or mushy with time.

Display

The biggest difference so far seems to be the display - my old laptop had a CFL backlight, which has a very noticeable yellow/pink tint nowadays. The quality of the 2006 display deteriorated, and its graphics card was failing, but to its credit, it did survive a few very hot, humid, and dusty, summers, and stayed with me till the very end. In fact it is still with me and is often used for exotic tasks. Then again, the 2010 display feels slightly bluish, and from what I'm seeing, the 133dpi resolution is awkward and somewhere in the middle between pixels being too small for 15.4" and pixels being too big for 2x resolution on OS X Lion. But then there's no going back to 1440x900.

Graphics

I retired my 2006 laptop largely due to a failing graphics card, which had a manufacturing defect in ATI's X1600 graphics subsystem. The new machine has two graphics cards, which at the time of launch I thought was overkill. It also led to problems on the software side. Ultimately Apple seem to have thrown away Nvidia in favour of ATI (now AMD) again, but here I am stuck with Intel HD-3000 graphics and an Nvidia-something discrete chip I don't even know the name of. I can't manage fullscreen Flash video playback on the built-in graphics card, no matter what everyone says. The Nvidia is too hot and kills my battery life. Not necessarily a weakness, but I sometimes have to micro-manage graphics, which on a Mac is annoying as I don't think Macs have ever been about micromanagement (esp. compared to PCs)

Firewire

That may be the epic fail of this machine. An otherwise cool and silent laptop immediately switches on and into thermal hyperdrive as soon as Firewire is plugged in, raising CPU temperature by upwards of 10C without any load. Maybe it's an old engineering design. Maybe it's a cheap chipset. Either way I don't care, as the thing gets hot, noisy, and starts burning the palms of my hands, like the old one did. With the Expresscard slot gone, Firewire being crap, USB being silly by design, and no Thunderbolt on this generation Macbook Pro, I am practically without good options for external hardware audio. Then again, my Audiofire4 seems to have been losing popularity because there is literally nothing to complain about with the built-in audio interface (except of course it being two-channel only).

Getting along well

The heat on this one is bearable. The old one did harm to my hands, the sweat of which did damage to the palmrests. One year in this laptop seems to be holding well. I do run many USB devices, but also make sure that the machine is cooled properly once ambient temperatures go upwards of 25ÂșC. In the UK that is rare. Btw it is silly of Apple and an oversight on their part. However, things seem to be fine, and I've had the machine running for days, with a varied load, trouble-free. I did have a number of software problems at the beginning, but the OS hadn't matured then. Lately it's been a smooth sail.

Things I don't need

My 2006 laptop had an optical drive. Back then it made sense. My 2010 laptop has an optical drive. It makes no sense. Apple still rush software updates and I've had to go through some pretty weird stuff (like rolling back graphics drivers... on a Mac!), but I've learnt enough for the past 5 years. I don't install updates until they are 6+ months old.

Overall

Let me quote what I said originally, a while back:

So three and a half years in, how do I feel? A year ago I said I'd become attached. Two years ago I said I depended on it. 3 years 8 months - not bad for a laptop, considering I normally switch computers every 2 years. It still works. It's still up-to-date. It makes the latest and greatest feel underwhelming. It aged so well I'm almost proud. A great, Windows-free, lightweight machine, simple to operate by just opening/closing the lid. I still trust it with my old files. But it was time for it to get some well deserved rest.

The 2010 model is an evolution. 4 logical cores, better everything, lighter, and very self-deprecating. People obsess over the anti-glare screen (maybe it's a status symbol I didn't know about?). It earned back its cost pretty much straight away. Snow Leopard seems to have settled down. It does not crash more often or more rarely, but it recovers well on more occasions. The last time I said "It's bleeding edge but gets on my nerves every so often (Snow Leopard!!)". That was a year ago. There is something truly special about a settled-down system that you know you can really trust. A year later, things seem to have arrived precisely here.