Apple MacBook Pro 17, how does it really compare to other big laptops?

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This article appeared in the July, 2010 issue of CRN magazine.

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Apple MacBook Pro 17, how does it really compare to other big laptops?

Sitting among this month's monsters, Apple's MacBook Pro looks sleek, graceful and... small. It certainly doesn't look its 17 inches, and the compact keyboard and almost complete lack of external features only accentuate that illusion. Don't be fooled; this $3000-plus wallet-buster has plenty to offer.

The biggest draw is that glorious 17in screen. Its 1920 x 1200 resolution is the right fit, and the rich tones make photos come alive. Colour accuracy is excellent and the backlight is even. If the speakers were of equally high quality you'd have a great all-purpose laptop, but they're weak and tinny.

The MacBook Pro 17 is just 23mm thick and weighs 2.7kg, yet build quality is without compare. There's no flex in the base and the firm aluminium lid afforded only the slightest contact with the LCD under pressure. The backlit keyboard won't be to everyone's taste, with a feathery feel to the key travel, but its sensible layout compensates.

But, this being an Apple product, it's difficult to see where the remainder of that price has been spent. A Core i5 is also an option, if you don't need the big guns of a Core i7, and it will save you around $150; this model's i7-720M and 4GB of DDR3 RAM produced an uninspiring benchmark score of 1.45. The last-generation Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT graphics managed just 29fps at Medium settings in Crysis, but the battery gave us 4hrs 39mins of light use, second only to the Lenovo. Admittedly, our benchmarks are in Windows; Mac OS longevity will be better.

The touchpad and its integrated buttons are a real opinion-splitter, and while we appreciate most will happily stick with Mac OS X, in Windows 7 the responsiveness is erratic and right-clicking is a pain. The mini-DisplayPort output requires adapters for other connections, and a mere two USB ports is restrictive.

You know what you're getting with a MacBook, and for many the design and quality is enough to justify the premium. But when you compare the specification, it just doesn't look a viable purchase for those without bottomless wallets.

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