Intel’s latest Core series CPUs feature an integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics chip. This isn’t up to more than the most casual gaming, but it does cater for GPU-accelerated video encoding and decoding (with compatible software) and has a low power draw, helping the MacBook Pros achieve their clamed 7-hour battery life. The 13in MacBook Pro is limited to just integrated graphics, but stepping up to the 15in Pro adds a dedicated AMD Radeon HD 6490 with 256MB of GDDR3 memory. As our Xbench results show, Apple isn't kidding when it says these combine to give the new MacBook Pro a notable performance advantage over its predecessor.
The MacBook Pro is able to switch between its Radeon and the Intel graphics on the fly, giving both power saving and performance when each is needed. A further upgrade to the 15in MacBook Pro upgrades the dedicated chip to an AMD HD Radeon 6750, packing a generous 1GB of GDDR3 RAM; the same chip that is standard in the 17in MacBook Pro. Our test system was configured with the latter GPU, which proved perfectly capable of handling modern games, giving good, steady frame rates in games such as Star Craft 2 and Eve Online, with sensible graphics options configured. Considering how loud the fans get when running a game, however, we’d not want to use the MacBook Pro for this task very often.
An area where the MacBook Pro arguably lags behind its competition is the display, which is almost a required upgrade option. The standard 1,440 x 900 pixel resolution is fine but certainly not class leading, and we'd be inclined to stump up the £80 needed to get a 1,680 x 1,050 pixel resolution upgrade. The other potentialy major problem is the glossy coating, which proved very annoying – touch typists will find themselves staring into their own eyes a lot. This can also be rectified via an upgrade but this time it'll set you back a massive £120 for the 1,680 x 1,050 anti-glare display. When it comes to colours and viewing angles, the standard 1,440 model holds up well with a bright, punchy and easy to view display.
On the plus side, the screen is the only aspect of the MacBook Pro you might feel the need to upgrade. Even the starter 15in model is very well equipped and should serve you fine. We happen to have reviewed the 2.2GHz version, which holds less appeal due to its higher starting price but it certainly packs a lot in. The Core i7 processor is coupled with 4GB of RAM and either a 750GB 5400rpm hard drive (500GB in the 2.0GHz model). There’s a zero cost option to switch this for a 500GB 7200rpm drive, if performance is more important to you than capacity, and a range of SSD options is available if you’re feeling particularly flush. Maintaining its reputation for extortionate upgrades, Apple charges £160 for 8GB of RAM and a massive £200 to swap out the standard 2.2GHz CPU for a 2.3GHz unit; unsurprisingly we’d advise against considering the latter at all, and recommend you perform RAM upgrades yourself.
If you can afford the admittedly high asking price, the MacBook Pro has a lot to offer. In terms of hardware, it's on par with any equivalent PC based laptop and adds in its own unique feature in the shape of ThunderBolt. The key point, though, is that still nothing else comes close to its beautifully designed and constructed chassis.