Apple's Redesigned MacBook and MacBook Pro: Thoroughly Reviewedby Anand Lal Shimpi on October 22, 2008 12:00 AM EST
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My Biggest Gripe: No Standard SSDs
A few months back Apple announced that the profit margins on its notebooks would be reduced as a result of increased materials and production costs. The result of these lower margins would make Apple's notebooks tougher to compete with. Given that Apple uses off the shelf PC components for its notebooks I figured the areas for innovation were limited to design or spending more on the individual components. Apple has historically outspent the competition when it comes to design, and it's one area where most PC OEMs have failed to follow in its footsteps. Logically, it would make sense for Apple to spend more here to widen the gap between itself and encroaching PC OEMs.
Spending more on components is a losing race for Apple. Companies like Dell and HP ship many more systems than Apple and could just as easily match any spending Apple does on additional components. Putting more money into design however requires that you have a team capable of creating visionary, leading designs. While the Dells of the world have made significant strides in closing the style gap, Apple continues to lead here.
Despite what makes sense, what I was honestly hoping for was for Apple to make the transition to SSDs on its notebooks. Apple has been inching closer with each new notebook launch; the MacBook Air was its first notebook to ship with a SSD option and both the new MacBook and MacBook Pro offer optional SSDs (although it's unclear what drives they're using; at $600 for 128GB I'm guessing it's a MLC drive, but I have no idea what controller).
I've been using a SuperTalent JMicron based MLC SSD in my Mac Pro as a boot/application drive for the past few months, and while there are definite issues with this drive (pausing and serious performance problems as you near full capacity, something I'll be talking about in my next article or two) the areas where it does improve performance completely change the way my machine feels. Applications launch in half the time of a normal hard disk and running a bunch of disk intensive applications at the same time doesn't bring the system to a crawl.
Economically there's no way Apple could ship a SSD standard in a $1299 MacBook, at least not at any reasonable capacity. But I assure you this: more than any upgrade Apple has put into the new machines, an SSD is very important if you want to have a machine that feels fast.
Let me put it this way. Normally whenever I snag a new Mac to review, the thing feels fast. It's got a clean install, nothing loaded, a fast processor, and using it feels very much like I'm watching a Jobs keynote. Everything is just so very snappy. For the first time ever, using these two new notebooks actually felt slow. Not because they are slow, but because I'm so used to an SSD on my main machine. I've already begun switching over my testbeds to SSDs as well.
My biggest gripe with these notebooks is that they don't ship with an SSD standard. I would bet that within a year that will change, at least at the high end. If anyone has an idea of what SSD Apple is shipping with the MacBook/MacBook Pro, I'd like to know; I would assume that Apple would have done its due diligence and offer something better than a JMicron MLC drive but at $600 for 128GB it's tough to tell what else it could be....