We all knew when mobile Nehalem processors were coming out. I kept referencing Q1 2010 as when you're going to want to replace your MacBook Pro. As far as I was concerned, there was nothing Apple could do to make me recommend anything but wait.

Then this happened:

From the outside it looks like the same unibody MacBook Pro Apple launched at the end of 2008. Look a little closer and you'll realize it's actually a little worse:

The original unibody MacBook Pro

The original unibody MacBook Pro had an easily accessible hard drive bay, a first for Apple's aluminum notebook line. I feel bad for the engineers that worked to make that bay both functional and sleek, because in the updated unibody MacBook Pro it's gone. A brand new feature only sticking around for one generation, that’s gotta hurt. Replacing a hard drive now requires removing no less than 16 screws (10 on the chassis, 2 holding the drive in place and 4 on the drive itself). In the original unibody MacBook Pro it only took five.

The mid 2009 unibody MacBook Pro

The easily accessible HDD bay was a side effect, the point of the sleek removable panel on the elder unibody was to house the replaceable battery. Something that also vanished from the new MacBook Pro.

The new integrated battery (lower right)

Apple did something that no mainstream notebook vendor had dared to do before: kill the removable battery. The rationale was simple: new battery technology allowed batteries to take virtually any shape, and making them fit into user replaceable containers proved to waste a lot of space. Wasted space amounted to larger and heavier notebooks.

It all started with the 17-inch MacBook Pro.

And The Story Begins


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  • ltcommanderdata - Tuesday, November 10, 2009 - link

    I believe Anand did comment on screen resolution on page 4 where he found the 15" resolution just right for the screen between space and not being an eyestrain. Personally, I agree that 1440x900 on a 15" screen is about right. I've found 1680x1050 on a 15" screen to be a bit too dense. Although that just brings up Apple's lack of progress on resolution independence which has been in development since Tiger.

    On the topic of screens, I wonder what are the chances that Apple will move to 16:9 screens as on the iMac and as other notebook manufacturers are doing. I hope not as 16:10 is wide enough and it's not like watching movies is the only thing people do on their laptops. Besides, for the creative industry users working on 16:9 content, 16:10 screens should make sense to leave room for toolbars and such for editing.
  • secretanchitman - Tuesday, November 10, 2009 - link

    agreed. 1680x1050 on the 15" would be absolutely perfect. i would rather have 16:10 rather than 16:9.

    i would also love to see core i5/core i7 (doubtful on core i7 though), a much faster gpu (next gen nvidia/ati), and the expresscard slot to make a return as an option. also, most of all, PLEASE make sure the matte screen and silver bezel return!
  • darwinosx - Tuesday, November 10, 2009 - link

    I like the current resolution. Anything higher would be too high for me. Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Tuesday, November 10, 2009 - link

    I don't know exactly how it works, but I've read before that 64-bit Safari is able to use a 32-bit Flash plugin through InterProcess Communications (IPC). Presumably, this causes more overhead and the 32-bit Flash plugin wasn't designed/optimized for this in mind, so that could explain why battery life is so poor under 64-bit Safari with Flash.

    In terms of Macs, I have to agree that qualities like battery life, weight, look, and feel are things that can be worth paying extra for even if they are harder to definitively measure and compare.

    I wonder what Apple is going to do about the IGP situation when they move to Arrandale? It definitely seems strange that nVidia's CEO picks now of all times to advertise his love for Macs after ATI pushed nVidia out for discrete GPUs for the iMacs and on the eve of Arrandale's IGP and DMI link. Presumably Apple could consider using switchable graphics between Arrandale's IGP and discrete GPUs even for low-end models. The effort put into Intel IGP drivers in Snow Leopard bringing the GMA X3100 up from OpenGL 1.2 support in Leopard to OpenGL 2.0 support seems to indicate a readiness of Intel IGPs. It will of course force the introduction of another chip on the motherboard, which is a concern for the space constrained 13" MacBook Pro.

    If Intel won't license DMI to nVidia, I wonder if Intel would license it to their good buddy Apple. Apple could then license nVidia graphics technology to serve as the IGP for their own custom chipset. Apple used to design their own chipsets in the PowerPC days and certainly have the resources to do so now with the P.A. Semi team. Besides a better IGP, a custom chipset would also allow Apple to integrate functionality currently done by external chips like Firewire controllers and the multi touch touchpad controller as well as adopt new technologies like USB 3.0 and Lightpeak without waiting on Intel. I believe Jobs did say in a previous conference call their intention to differentiate themselves by offering technology that no one else has and this is certainly one way to do it.

    This article seems to mention Arrandale a lot as the future processor of the MacBook Pro, but hopefully Clarksfield will also be available on the 17" and high-end 15" models. Clarksfield clock speeds are disappointing though (1.6GHz - 2GHz) so it'll be interesting to see how Apple plays it.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, November 10, 2009 - link

    Clarksfield is a power hog, and there's no getting around that. I've got an i7-720QM based laptop and if I use absolutely minimal performance settings (CPU at 0%, HDD turn off at 1 minute, DVD and webcam turned off when on battery) I barely get 90 minutes of battery life with a 55Wh battery.

    I can't imagine Apple will ever use Clarksfield in a laptop, because they are targeting mobile battery life far more than mobile performance. Frankly, even the top-end 17" MacBook Pro is pretty weak in many of the performance areas we'd look at on Windows. A 9600M GPU is nothing to write home about -- 32 SPs is what we had back in the days of the GeForce 8600. OS X seems more dependent on CPU, though.

    I'm also curious about which CPUs Apple is using; previously they used the SL9000 and SP9000 I'm pretty sure, but now it looks like they're using standard P8000, P9000 and even T9000 parts (though only on the 15" and 17" for the T9000 I'm sure). Maybe Anand can say which specific CPUs are in the Macs now.
  • ltcommanderdata - Tuesday, November 10, 2009 - link

    I didn't know Clarksfield battery life was so bad at idle/light usage. I thought that peak power consumption would be higher, but idle/light power would be comparable or better then high-end mobile Core 2 Duos due to the Power Control Unit. I guess Clarksfield could serve as the real test of Apple's power management abilities. Although with Anand finding that a MacBook Pro gets 78% better battery life in OS X than Windows 7, and a 17" MacBook Pro having a 95Wh battery compared to your 55Wh battery, if you get 90 minutes with the i7-720QM, Apple could get around 4.6hrs in OS X on a 17" MacBook Pro with that processor which is okay. Although Clarksfield would probably be limited to BTO only to avoid confusion.

    And I agree that Apple's GPU choices are generally questionable, especially seeing OS X's heavy reliance on the GPU starting with Quartz Extreme acceleration in Jaguar in 2002, Core Image in Tiger in 2005, and now OpenCL in Snow Leopard. I guess the only small consolation is that Apple always uses at least GDDR3 with their GPUs, even low end ones like the HD2400XT in the iMac, and doesn't resort to advertising high VRAM capacities and then sneaking in low clock speed DDR2. Hopefully, Apple's notebook refresh jumps directly to DX11 GPUs, presumably ATI since they seem to be first out of the gate. Preferably, they will go with a high mid-range GPU, although I guess heat and power and always Apple's concerns in a 1" case.
  • darwinosx - Tuesday, November 10, 2009 - link

    OS X is not "dependent" on cpu but it can use the cpu for things other than standard vid card work. Reply
  • dagamer34 - Tuesday, November 10, 2009 - link

    Clarksfield is a 45W CPU, which Apple will never use due to heat concerns.

    I'm really hoping that Apple changes the screen to a 16:9 ratio, which would be perfect for watching HD content. Something like: 1366x768 for the 13", 1680x950 for the 15" and 1920x1080 for the 17" would be a great improvement.
  • kapute - Wednesday, November 11, 2009 - link

    16:9 screen ratio is terrible idea for laptops. Ok for watching movies but not when using a word-processor as all the tool bars etc diminish vertical space leaving a tiny letter box to type in. Better to have black bars top and bottom when watching a movie and more vertical space for everything else. Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Tuesday, November 10, 2009 - link

    Well, I'm pretty sure Apple's top end CPUs like the 2.8GHz Core 2 Duo and 3GHz BTO in the high-end 15" and 17" MacBook Pros are 35W TDP processors. The PM55 northbridge has a 7W TDP. It's hard to isolate a comparison to the 9400M chipset since it has both northbridge and southbridge integrated. Still, 35W CPU + ~7W for a northbridge compared to 45W for an integrated CPU + NB in Clarksfield doesn't seem unreasonable, from a heat dissipation perspective. Reply

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