Apple has announced an update for its MacBook Pro line that makes it up to 39% faster than the previous MacBook and seven trillion times faster than our sorry PowerBook G4s.

Wait — scratch that last line. I think they said “seven.” But having tested the first MacBook Pro, suffice to say that the Pro was already a huge leap forward from the G4 machines. I have a 1.5G G4 PowerBook, and it routinely crumples under the load of serious music software. The MacBook Pro is more in the realm of my dual-AMD PC and dual-G5 Mac. (See previous benchmark coverage.) The MacBook Pro is a terrific machine for Logic Pro, of course, meaning you can now use CPU-hungry plug-ins like Sculpture and Space Designer on the road or onstage. And it’s looking better than ever for tools like Ableton Live, particularly with Live 6′s significant new dual-core optimizations.

Admittedly, over the last months the Mac Book Pro’s price edge has been waning as PC makers engage in laptop price wars. The inclusion of the Core 2 Duo should help that a lot; combine the excellent design of the MacBook Pro with its ability to run both Windows and Mac, and it’s pretty hard to justify buying someone else’s machine. I’ve been specing out PC laptops for the heck of it, and while they’re cheap, I often find the specs make no sense (like having to choose between absurdly heavy machines with giant screens, or underpowered lighter machines) and the designs are hideous. But another reason to go “Pro” instead of “MacBook” is FireWire 800. There are a number of great external RAID drive products that offer high performance and capacity, ideal for toting large files (especially if you’re a Create Digital Motion type). People were rightfully disappointed to see FW800 disappear from the first-gen MacBook Pro; I’m guessing that motherboard availability was to blame (PC makers aren’t as interested in the faster bus). Now that it’s back, you can connect some serious mobile storage into your Pro.

The main question to me is choosing between the MacBook and the MacBook Pro. Here’s the announcement I wanted to see today: Apple lowering the price tag on its black MacBook, which seems to be the only model immune to the near-immediate plastic discloration on the white machines, or upgrading the video subsystem from integrated graphics to low-end ATI. Sadly, that’s not to be, so you have to choose: bigger screen, extra connectivity, and better graphics on the Pro, or more portability and lower price on the MacBook?

In any event, Apple’s laptop line is looking as aggressive as ever, and I think it means great things for people using laptops onstage for live music and/or visuals. With the last of the Intel-native upgrades rolling in through the end of this year or in January, the timing is good. Aren’t you glad you didn’t leap for that MBP in January 06?

  • thesimplicity

    Uh… is it just me or is the 7200 RPM option gone on the 15" model? Or was it never there to begin with?

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    There was a 7200 rpm option on the 15" (only as an option, I think), unless I'm mistaken. That would be lame.

    I still prefer an external drive, though, for recording, and they've gotten really cheap (especially if you just buy the housing and throw in your own drives).

  • http://www.offnominal.com Logickal

    I still Love my White Macbook – No discoloration, and (after having my first one replaced due to faulty RAM slots on the board) no Random Shutdown Symptoms. Not to say I wouldn't love to have a Core 2 Duo machine, but the value in these "consumer" boxes is VERY high for the digital musician – Logic Pro and Live are fantastic, especially with my aftermarket 7200rpm drive and 2gigs of RAM.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Hey, Logickal — I agree, and honestly, since I have a SFF PC as my "heavy iron" portable machine, the MacBook has lots of appeal. Which aftermarket drive did you use? And any idea whether the white discoloration issue was finally solved? All the machines at the local Apple Store have it, but it sounds as though it may still have been an issue earlier in the production run.

    MB or Pro, I'm always a fan of adding the upgrades later rather than going with the manufacturer upgrades, since the latter are universally more expensive.

  • http://www.myspace.com/digitalemotion Bryan tewell

    Hey Peter, I got a MacBook this past August, and I've had absolutely no problems with the discoloration. Its a problem of old MacBooks that they have fixed quite a while ago. Additionally, my friend Chad ordered a Macbook in June, had the problem, and he sent it back to get it fixed because they consider the discoloration a design flaw and fix it for free under warranty. I upgraded my Macbook to be slightly better than a black one I think (1GB RAM, 80GB hard drive), got 3 years apple care, and i believe it was $80 cheaper than a black one.

  • bliss

    The higher the RPM of the drive the more heat and noise it will produce, so if you go with the slower drive you also get a cooler and quieter machine. Since Apple has re-introduced Firewire 800 that makes it a whole lot easier for mobile audio and video producers to work for longer stretches of time without stressing the internal hardware of the laptops with heat. Very nice that Apple has provided the solution to the heat problems experienced by some users while also increasing the options.

  • bliss

    "Very nice that Apple has provided the solution to the heat problems experienced by some users while also increasing the options." Very nice that Apple has provided some relief to the heat problems experienced by some users while also increasing the options.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    7200 rpm does seem to be gone. But you'd get a better deal by going with a third party anyway, even if you did really want it. 5400 rpm drives are also peppier than they used to be. I mostly think if you're doing heavy hard disk duty (lots of simultaneous tracks for recording, lots of sample playback — be that an orchestral library or just lots of Ableton Live loops), an external drive is the way to go.

    As for white vs. black, here's the best option I've seen yet:
    http://www.tuaw.com/2006/10/24/flickr-find-two-to

    I'm increasingly leaning towards saving my pennies and going MacBook. And, no, black still ain't worth it. (I've done black Macs before, thank you, PowerBook G3. So glad to hear the discoloration has been addressed.)

  • Adrian Anders

    Typical Mac users, you guys get a huge spec bump and what most of you guys want to talk about is the (dis)coloration of the case. ;-)

    Who cares about the color, when it's what's under the hood that counts?

    Not dissing the MacBooks, just that when I'm buying a laptop the LAST thing I think about is the color of the case. Shoot, the thing could turn shades of pink, purple, and brown, as long as it blazes through tasks fast and efficiently, that's all that matters.

    ATA

    - The words of a typical (non-gamer)* PC user.

    * The vanity of "Extreme" PC Gamers is perhaps greater than that of the typical Mac user. I find their rigs have more in common with rice burners than a proper PC workstation.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    ATA, I'm the last person to care about aesthetics over other factors, and you know I'm also a PC user, but the damned MacBook looks like it has armpit stains after a matter of days. That ain't cool. If you'd seen it, you'd be with me. It's not a minor thing. I was totally opposed to black and the price hike that went with it, but at least it saved these ugly stains. But sounds like the whole issue is fixed now, so it's a non-issue. Custom-paint if you must. I do like the two-tone custom model above. Now, woodgrain could be next (as with the Axiom keyboard). ;)

    Under the hood — yes, matters a lot. Core2Duo is a nice speed improvement; FireWire 800 is actually bigger news because it means you can change the storage configurations you use with this. But otherwise, spec for spec, the Macs do look nice. And I have to say on build quality alone, I'd pick the MacBook above the MBP and well above most PC laptops I've seen, which tend to be built very flimsy (unlike PC desktops). This is a non-cosmetic issue, how the design will hold up over time.

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  • frank line

    ok, so i'm gonna plunk down the cash and order one of these today. but i still don't know exactly what screen type i should buy. i don't want to rehash the old debate of glossy vs matte, what i am looking for is real life >>gig

  • Adrian Anders

    Peter, you KNOW that the aimpit stain model MacBook is going to be worth $$$ in a few years.

    I can imagine the ad on ebay now: Limited brown stain edition MacBook Pro, only $5000!!!!

    ;-)

    I meant all of what I said in jest, I hope you guys realize.

    ATA

  • http://www.paulsop.com Paul Sop

    I bought one of these with 2 gigs today (15" version), with the 256MB graphics RAM and a 30" LCD.

    Looks like a bunch of fun.

    Everyone, be smart: Don't get the Glossy Screen. It's hella bad with reflections.

    I wonder what to do with my 12" powerbook now. I swear, if they had a 12" core duo, that's what I'd buy. I'm kinda depressed re: 15", but the other features are quite nice.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    I've come around on the glossy screen, I have to admit. It depends entirely on what kind of light you tend to work in. In the dark, of course, it looks great — more saturation. Glare tends to be an issue with *indirect* lighting (like overheads in an office); if you do work in that kind of environment, I'd avoid it, but if not it should be fine. I've talked to a lot of new MacBook owners and seen how it performs under different situations and I've been surprised.

  • http://myspace.com/tricil tricil

    i can imagine the glossy would be bad on stage, my PC has a glossy screen and in some instances with bad lighting i couldn't see WTF was going on, had to bend the screen down all weird in a spot where i wasn't using both hands on the controller.

  • bliss

    Hey Paul, did you buy an Apple 30" LCD? Can ATI's graphics chip in the laptops drive one of those?

  • http://myspace.com/tricil tricil

    i meant to say "back lighting" and i was talking about being onstage

  • http://www.rolandreinke.com roland

    Now what about iMacs compared to the new Mac Book Pros? Would they be similarly fast or is there a big difference?

  • logicat2001

    bliss,

    All MacBook Pros will drive an Apple 30" LCD. They are equipped with a dual-link DVI connector.

    Some PowerBook G4's also can drive a 30" ACD, i.e.

    PowerBook G4 (15-inch Double-Layer SD)

    PowerBook G4 (17-inch Double-Layer SD)

    PowerBook G4 (15-inch 1.67/1.5GHz)

    PowerBook G4 (17-inch 1.67GHz)

  • http://www.myspace.com/digitalemotion Bryan tewell

    glossy screen i was extremely not happy about getting at first, but the glare has proved to not be too bad of a problem. i'm not saying you cant notice it sometimes, but it has never been to the point where i cant see what i'm doing.

  • Marc

    I have seen that FireWire 800 is back in the 15". So would we see any gain in using a FW800 audio interface or would it be overkill to record 1-3 instruments/voices simultaneously?

  • http://www.offnominal.com Logickal

    Peter, when I sent my first machine back, they were going to replace the case and bezel for the discoloration issue, even though it hadn't had the problems. I ended up talking Apple into replacing the machine because of repair delays, and around the same time they issued a tech note that advised users to send their MacBooks back if they started to discolor – I'm thinking that there was some material defect in the first production batches.

    As far as the drive is concerned, I went with the Hitachi Travelstar 7200 100Gb. I don't notice too much heat, no noise to speak of and performance has been great.

  • http://www.paulsop.com Paul Sop

    Bliss,

    Ya, I got the apple 30". It arrived today, but the laptop is not here today. I plugged the 30" into another DVI port (hoping it would work, albiet at lower resolution), but it does not.

    The latest power book's all have a dual-link DVI that can drive the 30".

    Others: re: Glossy Screen

    I wonder if people who were first bothered by glossy screen glare have just gotten used to it. Like we get used to a room smell, or background noise.

  • http://www.rolandreinke.com roland

    Marc,

    you could record 3 tracks with ease even on the internal drive.

    I've recorded 4 instruments on my ancient 867 Mhz – internal drive.

  • http://myspace.com/tricil tricil

    glossy screens suck in the sunlight when you're computing outdoors

  • http://www.rolandreinke.com roland

    Paul Sop,

    have been able to test the machine? What are your impressions?