From the outside, little has changed for the 15in MacBook Pro. But a collection of small refinements to the innards make it a lot more appealing
In Apple’s 2008 laptop updates – when everything went all aluminium unibody – there was one model that didn't quite match up to the other citrus stars of Cupertino. Most were real returns to form: the 17in Pro was the mobile design studio with the big number crunching core, the 13in 'Book an incredible thin and light that brooked no rival in terms of elegance, price and performance.
And then there was the awkward middle one. The 15in MacBook Pro was there because it had to be, to fill a gap. But it felt like it did so with resentment, having neither the presence nor panache of siblings, and resolutely refusing to be anything like value for money too. It was good, but it didn't have the same star quality as the others.
Back and better
The contents of this summer's refresh for the 15in MacBook don't sound like much when taken individually, but they add up to a machine that makes much more sense. For a start, it's faster: the CPU choices start at a healthy 2.53GHz and go right up to a Gatso-baiting 3.06GHz, backed up by a healthy 4GB of DDR3 RAM.
The screen is higher resolution too, and while at 1440x900 it's still not the sharpest for its dimensions, at least it feels better suited to a machine of this price and calibre. The ExpressCard slot has also gone in favour of a more universally appreciated SD card reader.
Graphics card hassle
Some things haven't changed, though. There are still only two USB ports and changing between the low-power, battery-saving GeForce 9400M graphics card to the higher performance 9600M still means restarting the system. It's a lot of hassle considering Sony seems to be able to do the same thing under Windows at the flick of a switch.
That may change with the launch of the Snow Leopard revision to OSX later in the year, which promises to increase the amount of processing offloaded to the beefed up graphics chip.
The best news is that there's been a price cut, and the lowest specced model now comes in at a very reasonable £1,300. You don't get the high performance graphics, but it does live up to Apple's claim of a seven-hour battery life, which is extraordinary in a notebook of this size and almost alone makes it worth the money by itself.
The top-tier models, though, aren't quite as compelling. Once you start adding in the higher performance graphics card they become much more expensive than a similarly kitted out Windows machine like the Sony Vaio FW31.
The very highest specced off-the-shelf model – the one we tested – is only £150 cheaper than the 17in version with its high resolution screen, which if you have the money is a far more compelling option.
Apple MacBook Pro 15in 2009 review
Unless you really need the extra power for gaming go for the good-value base spec, which offers Apple style at a reasonable price