And The Story Begins

Traditionally the notebooks with the largest screens are the least attractive, have the worst battery life and are heavy. They're also usually cheaper than their smaller brethren to give people a reason to buy them.

Take a look at what Dell and HP offer with a 17-inch screensize:

17.3-inch Notebooks Dell Studio 17 HP Pavillion dv7t Quad Edition
CPU Intel Core i7 720QM (1.6GHz, up to 2.8GHz Turbo) Intel Core i7 720QM (1.6GHz, up to 2.8GHz Turbo)
Memory 4GB DDR3-1066 4GB DDR3-1066
HDD 250GB 7200RPM 320GB 7200RPM
Video ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4650 1GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 230M 1GB
Optical Drive 8X Slot Load DL DVD +/-R 8X Slot Load DL DVD +/-R
Screen Resolution 1600 x 900 1600 x 900
Battery 9-cell 85Whr 8-cell ??WHr
Dimensions (W x D x H) 16.28" x 11.04" x 1.1" - 1.54" 16.2" x 10.9" x 1.37" - 1.70"
Weight 7.08 lbs (6-cell battery) 7.74 lbs
Price $1099 $1069.99


In both cases you're looking at over 1" thick at the thinnest point, and in the case of the HP system it goes up to 1.7" thick. Both machines start at 7 lbs and don't offer higher than 1080p resolutions. In fact, all the larger screen is useful for is reducing DPI as you can get the same resolution screen in 15-inch and 16" models. The hardware is usually fast and affordable, both machines cost less than $1000.

The 17-inch MacBook Pro is a bit different.

At 0.98" thick, it's only 0.03" thicker than the 13-inch or 15-inch MacBook Pro. And that's a constant thickness from front to back. The impact on how it feels is tremendous. It's the first 17-inch notebook I've used that doesn't make me want to laugh at first sight. It honestly just looks and feels like a slightly bigger 15-inch machine.

17.3-inch Notebooks Apple 17-inch MacBook Pro HP Pavillion dv7t Quad Edition
CPU Intel Core 2 Duo 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 720QM (1.6GHz, up to 2.8GHz Turbo)
Memory 4GB DDR3-1066 4GB DDR3-1066
HDD 500GB 5400RPM 320GB 7200RPM
Video NVIDIA GeForce 9400M (integrated) + NVIDIA GeForce 9600M 512MB (discrete) NVIDIA GeForce GT 230M 1GB
Optical Drive 8X Slot Load DL DVD +/-R 8X Slot Load DL DVD +/-R
Screen Resolution 1920 x 1200 1600 x 900
Battery 95Whr 8-cell ??WHr
Dimensions (W x D x H) 15.47" x 10.51" x 0.98" 16.2" x 10.9" x 1.37" - 1.70"
Weight 6.6 lbs 7.74 lbs
Price $2499 $1069.99


It’s also Apple’s most expensive notebook. Starting at $2499, it’s more expensive than the 27” iMac and doesn’t even come with a quad-core processor. You’re paying for the screen size, as you can get the same hardware in the 15” MacBook Pro.

The added size is used for one purpose: a higher screen resolution. Apple offers a single display option with the 17-inch machine: a native 1920 x 1200 panel. It's a 16:10 aspect ratio panel, measuring 17-inch on the diagonal, resulting in a pixel density of 133.2 pixels per inch (PPI).

17.3-inch Notebooks Pixels per Inch
Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro 113.5
Apple 15-inch MacBook Pro 101.6
Apple 17-inch MacBook Pro 133.2
Apple 27-inch iMac 108.8
Apple 30-inch Cinema Display 101.6
15-inch 1080p Panel 141.2


That’s more than a 30” display. That's more than the 27" iMac. That's more than any other 17-inch notebook on the market today. Only the 15-inch 1080p panels offer a higher pixel density at 141.2 PPI. It's sharp.

Apple makes the 17-inch MacBook Pro very work-focused, you get a ton of desktop space in a package that's honestly not bulky. I can't stress how pleasant it is to carry around; at a constant thickness of less than 1" it really feels a lot smaller than it is. It's the only 17-inch notebook I'd be willing to take with me.

From left to right: 13-inch, 15-inch, 17-inch MacBook Pro. Note the constant height.

The 17-inch MacBook Pro was the first to use Apple's integrated batteries out of necessity. Apple wanted to build a slim, attractive 17-inch MacBook Pro, and cutting down on battery volume enabled that. A side effect was that the 17-inch model has impressive battery life.

Paired with a 95Whr battery, Apple promised up to 8 hours of battery life - a realistically attainable figure as you'll soon see.

From a hardware perspective the 17” isn’t that much different from the rest of the lineup. The system starts with a NVIDIA GeForce 9400M chipset, adds a separate GeForce 9600M for GPU intensive workloads (3D games, OpenCL apps, etc...) and gives you the option of either a 2.8GHz or 3.06GHz 45nm Core 2 Duo with a 6MB L2 cache. The vast majority of users will find the 9400M is sufficient for their needs. And paired with Snow Leopard, the 9600M in the off state doesn’t sap as much battery power as it did under Leopard.

The machine starts with 4GB of memory, expandable up to 8, and comes with a 500GB 5400RPM SATA drive. SSDs are still only optional from Apple.

The 17” system doesn’t come with an integrated SD card reader but it is the only MacBook Pro to ship with an ExpressCard/34 slot.

From left to right: Power input, Ethernet, FireWire 800, 3 USB, Mini DisplayPort, Line In, Headphone Out, ExpressCard/34

Mini DisplayPort is the only way to connect to an external display, and unfortunately Apple cheeps out and doesn't supply any adapters with the machine. With a 17-inch 1920 x 1200 panel, you'll probably be fine without one though.

About the only thing that the machine is missing is Nehalem, but that won't come until next year.

From left to right: 13-inch, 15-inch and 17-inch MacBook Pro

The 17” MacBook Pro started a new trend within Apple. Integrate the battery, offer longer battery life and no one will complain. The technology soon waterfalled down to the 15” and 13” models.

Index Swap the Pro Out for Some Flavor


View All Comments

  • marraco - Sunday, November 15, 2009 - link

    Each mac is obsolete, offer lots less functionality, are MUCH slower, have the worst screens, sound, video, processor. have problems or plain incompatibility with most hardware, and 99% of useful software don't run on macs (no, once you run them on virtualized windows, you have all, and each problem of windows, -wich need too buy for extra money)-, and runs too much slower.

    also, macs are much harder to use, once you try to do something not basic, or find a problem (and macs are crammed with problems), the only way to solve it, is to open a text screen, and hand write LOTS of cryptycal commands.

    you go to support, and they start forcing you to sign a contract agreeing to pay to apple U$S 100 or support, EVEN UNDER FIRST DAY GUARANTEE.
    Then you find that those "genius bar dudes" are completely clueless...
  • robco - Wednesday, November 11, 2009 - link

    I just upgraded to the midrange 2.66GHz 15" model. I agree that it is the sweet spot for portability and usability. I had gotten used to the 13" display on my MacBook, but the added screen real estate is nice and the weight increase is minor. The brightness provided by the LED backlight is great. The battery life is incredible, especially when using the 9400M. The build quality so far has been excellent. I can see why Apple hasn't "upgraded" the GPU yet, the 260M seems like little more than a rebranded 9600M. But it works for the few games I play on my computer these days. It does get awfully hot when using the 9600M under load.

    I considered switching back to a Windows machine, but couldn't find anything that was as thin and light as the MBP, or match the build quality. Those that came close tended to be higher end machines and the cost savings dropped considerably. Having brought my MacBook in to the Apple Store for service, I can say that the service is quite good.

    I tried to wait for Arrandale, but couldn't hold out. I may not have the fastest notebook available, but it's fast enough for my needs.
  • SteveMinne - Wednesday, November 11, 2009 - link

    First release of Snow Leopard nicked battery life about 40% off Leopard. Instand huge downgrade. Rounds and rounds of Apple and third party updates now have that down below 20% heading toward 15%.
    Your 10% testing is solid. It's just still too optimistic for this social media driven world.
    The apps I have on all the time are TweetDeck (Adobe Air), Entourage, and Firefox (and by extension Flash). I run 10-15 add'l apps on and off through each day. It's these main three that hit the cpu much harder at times than when on Leopard. I have no time to isolate testing as you have but have watched them in Activity Monitor.
    Should also mention I switched to 32 bit Safari months ago. So I'm reporting increased power consumption based on third party apps sitting on Snow Leopard.
    Finally, I am also finally coming around to liking Snow Leopard. I've advised dozens of folks to wait and most have. Your real world experience and mine have saved a lot of folks early adoption pain.
    Keep up the good work.
  • GeorgeH - Tuesday, November 10, 2009 - link

    "I used IE8 and Windows Media Player 11 in Windows 7 while I used Safari/iTunes in OS X. The results I got were both expected and quite revealing."

    Absolutely expected, but thanks for redoing the test with IE and WMP anyway.
  • sigmatau - Wednesday, November 11, 2009 - link

    Ya, very biased test. Run Windows 7 on a Mac to get benchmarks instead of running it on a PC. Good one! Reply
  • GeorgeH - Wednesday, November 11, 2009 - link

    My comment was in reference to an earlier article where Windows battery life was measured using Safari+iTunes, nothing more.

    For the record, there was absolutely nothing biased about this test - a Mac IS a PC, just one with a different BIOS.
  • sigmatau - Wednesday, November 11, 2009 - link

    Um yes it was biased. Running anything Windows on a Mac and taking benchmarks for that and comparing it to native Apple software is biased. Windows runs slower on a Mac. Apple does everything within its power to make MS products look bad. Just look at their iTunes for Windows, complete crap compared to the version that runs on Macs. Reply
  • darwinosx - Tuesday, November 10, 2009 - link

    Really good article but I'm surprised be a few of the comments. Mostly about Flash. It's well known that Flash for the Mac sucks. But thats an Adobe issue not an Apple issue. If Flash is acting up for you then uninstall it first using Adobes uninstaller. then reinstall. Don't install over the exiting version. Not all hardware is the same as your generic PC. The motherboard isn't. It is designed by Apple and IBM engineers. Same with the battery and its controller. For generic PC parts Apple has much higher and more stringent quality control standards than Dell or HP etc. So you are much less likely to get a bad part or own that does not perform to spec. If you do have an issue then Apples support is head and shoulders above everyone else. No one else is even close in customer satisfaction. Regarding SSD's it snot like some PC's don't have issues with various makes. I'm using a Crucial 256MB SSD in my 15-inch MBP, 2.8ghz, 512MB 9600GT. Runs very well. I've had just about everything at one time or another during my 20 years in IT and this laptop is way above the pack in every category. A lot of companies these days are offering the option of Macs and every IT Architect I know of has jumped at the chance. We value quality, performance, support and stability as well as the great multi-tasking and efficient use of proc and large amounts of ram that only OS X and Linux/Unix provide. Not like that warmed over version of Windows with all the same old issues. The trackpad is incredibly useful. PC companies are starting to put larger trackpads on their laptops but nothing like what Apple has. As far as prices go you don't have to pay retail. I have a work issued MBP and my own as well. I saved about $400 buying mine over the internet instead of in a store. I had to laugh seeing prices comparison with a Dell 1555. What a cheap hunk of plastic junk. I can't tell you how many work issued Dell's have died on me over the years. About 5 or 6 years ago I had three brand new Dell laptops, top of the line business models, die on me in a single year. 3 brand new laptops croaked in one year. No wonder I have seen so many companies dump Dell and buy HP business laptops. I do like the HP W series laptops and Thinkpads are decent although not as well made with the same material quality as they once were. But I don't see anything keeping me from sticking with macs for a long time to come. The quad cores should be out soon. With 8 GB of ram and quad core you will be able to run multiple VM's as well as OS X making MBP's the most versatile laptop you can buy today. Reply
  • marraco - Sunday, November 15, 2009 - link

    ...and the sound of those macs are awful. really crap hardware.

    you play am mp3, and half of the instruments don't sound. those cheap speakers cannot reproduce half the frequencies.
  • Griswold - Wednesday, November 11, 2009 - link

    Thats alot of bullshit in this wall of text. Dont they teach you apple fanboys how to structure a post?

    Especially the QA part on the off-the-shelf PC parts. If their QA was so great, how come they didnt avoid that shitstorm with nvidia IGPs? And thats not the only example.

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