Review of 17″ Core i7 MacBook Pro (mid-2010)

My last Macintosh purchase was about four or so years ago with the first Intel-based 17″ MacBook Pro. With 1GB RAM, 100GB 7200-RPM hard drive and the almost-instantly-obseleted 32-bit Core Duo running at 2.13GHz, it is a machine that remains viable and functional. I have never had any issues with the system whatsoever. It has been a rocksteady, stalwart friend and convinced me I never need to buy a desktop system ever again. It traveled the world with me, dutifully performing its duties as dual-boot game machine, design machine, and primary development machine.

Alas, it has recently begun to show its age in the screen, making it difficult for my already-terrible eyes to focus on its dulling, yellowing image. Hooked up to my TV or an external monitor, it yet has much life in it, but for my daily on-the-go needs I’m afraid its day has come. So, he gets turned into a media center for the TV, hooked up to the QNAP NAS drive and the PS3, and I splurged on my next laptop, the just announced 17″ Core i7 MacBook Pro.

  • 2.66GHz Core i7 (displays as a 4-core processor in Activity Monitor)
  • 500GH 7200-RPM hard drive (solid state still just a wee too expensive)
  • 1920×1200, 17″ anti-glare screen
  • Stock 4GB RAM

I’ve had it for about a month now, and my first impressions are that the keyboard is a marked improvement over the previous one. A nice solid, poundable feel and I especially like how the keys don’t appear to be so easy to pop off. I never had the problem on the old system, but I’ve certainly experienced it on similar keyboards.

The build quality is phenomenal, and I can’t go back to the lid latch of my prior system now. The magnetic closure is solid, especially with the fit and finish of the aluminum case. Some complain about the sharp edges of the unit cutting into their palms, but the 17″ has a nice spacious wrist rest and I don’t find that to be a problem.

I have a very difficult time looking back at the screen on the previous laptop as well, and not even for the dim, yellow reasons. The pixel density is much higher on this new unit and everything just seems too big and chunky on the old screen. Menu options are huge, and I feel cramped using it. When I have multiple windows open in Xcode, I truly enjoy the utility of freedom in having those panes open simultaneously without needing to scroll and jump between them. And have I mentioned how BRIGHT the new display is? Almost blinding with full brightness turned on in the dark. Have we entered a time when things can be TOO bright?

I’m still feeling a little mixed on the trackpad, if only because I’m not convinced it works properly. Or maybe it is a software issue? I don’t know, but something is definitely wonky here. At times it seems not to register my trackpad clicks, requiring multiple clicks where I swear I only need to click one time. I have definitely seen it not close a window when I click the red “close window” button, even after multiple clicks.

However, the red button does visually register the click. In fact, that is typical. Clicks that do not perform the expected action (a menu choice, a window close, etc.) do VISUALLY seem to register the click, yet nothing happens. Multiple clicks on the close button do nothing, but then mouse to the minimize button and it works as expected with the very first click. Thereafter, clicking behaves as expected.

Even now I’m experiencing strange behavior with the system beyond the trackpad. My brightness and sound volume buttons aren’t working, but the Expose and Dashboard buttons do. If I go to the Apple menu and choose “About This Mac…” nothing happens. Why would that stop working, of all things? When did it stop working? The volume keys were working not ten minutes prior to writing this review, and yet here we are. I will say, though, that inertial scrolling is something I can never give up again.

The other day, the trackpad was acting SO bizarrely I thought I would need to take the unit into the Apple Store for repair. It continually acted as though two fingers were on the trackpad, unless I hit the Escape key a number of times, then the trackpad behaved normally for about 10 seconds before returning to normalcy.

Windows 7 64-Bit Professional with Aero in Bootcamp is quite nice and I dare say I may even LIKE it. I was never too smitten with Windows after XP (and XP itself kind of drove me crazy), but Windows 7 Professional is something I can get behind, though coming from XP there is a bit of a learning curve and the visual display of glassy “windows” may be taking the metaphor a bit to an extreme? That said, the OS feels solid, look good, and honestly makes a good pairing with the MacBook Pro (please enable inertial scrolling in Bootcamp, Apple!).

The speed of the laptop is difficult to gauge, because I honestly don’t push a system very hard. Build times on file_wrangler_2 are definitely faster than my previous system, but when we’re talking about a difference of 5-10 seconds, it is hard to say, “Oh my God, this system screams!” That said, Half Life 2, Episode 2 in Windows 7 runs at 1280×720 with all graphics options set to high, plays silky smooth, and revealed graphic details I had never seen before (the contorted faces of headcrab victims, for example) on my previous system. If Oblivion didn’t make me physically nauseous when playing, I’d love to see how it fairs.

So, all in all I would rate the system at a 8.5 out of 10. Given the advances since my previous system, I expected more of a “Holy cow, the differences are like night and day!” But I’m not feeling that; rather I feel more like, “This is a good, solid system. If the issues I’m experiencing get ironed out, I will definitely enjoy using this system for years to come.” Oddly enough, I feel the difference in performance more on the Windows side than in the Mac, which may just be a testament to OS X and its ability to run well on older hardware (both systems run 10.6.3).

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