Review: Apple MacBook Pro 15'' (2010)

 
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Published: July 1, 2010 11:00 PM
By Fabien Pionneau

The MacBook Pro 15-inch that we tested comes with the best processor available from Apple, namely an Intel Core i7 at 2.66 GHz. The price of this model? A snip at £1638. The other models use a Core i5 processor, which is already very good and doesn't affect the final rating, in spite of a slight impact on performance. The lowest prices in our table are for the Core i5 2.4 GHz version.
 



The MacBook Pro 15-inch is one of the computers with most visibility at the moment. After some significant changes last year, it has changed again for its 2010 version. The Intel Core i processors have made their appearance and are accompanied by an NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M graphics card. Enough to ensure continued high performance without especially modifying the rest.
 

Handling, design and build: finish, solidity and high-end ease of use!

Physically identical to the previous version, the new MacBook Pro 15-inch 2010 retains excellent quality manufacturing as well as a very nice finish. Its simple, honed down style appeals straight off. The "unibody" aluminium shell offers solidity and is great to the touch.
The screen is covered with a glass plate that also covers the sides of the screen. A very nice aesthetic but one that does cause refelections (see inset). Those who don't like glossy screens can go for the "antiglare" (matte) option at an extra £40 (£120 altogether as you also have to go for the hi-res). There is still a magnetic closure system and this keeps the machine nicely shut.

Apple MacBook Pro 15 pouces 2010

The keyboard is perfectly centred in the shell, which means no number pad. This aesthetic and design choice won't be problematic unless you're a real number cruncher. That said, ease-of-use is excellent thanks to correctly sized, supple and quiet buttons (15x15 mm).
The backlighting is still there and its intensity adapts to the brightness of your environment (as does the screen brightness). You can also manually set it on one of the 16 intensity settings.

The touchpad is the best currently available on the market. Multitouch (zoom, rotation, use of several fingers, etc.), wide, clickable over more than half of the surface area (lower), it gives a very fluid, comfortable and precise glide. The sound of the click could however be quieter. You may find yourself opting to click by touch when you're in a public place. New on this version, scrolling is now softer, with a little inertia, like on the iPhone or iPad. It slows and stops progressively. Simple and nice to use.

Apple MacBook Pro 15 pouces 2010 webcamThe webcam is very good. The image is very precise, colours respected, contrast good and fluid. Even in a dark room, it is clear enough, although the white balance struggles a little with artificial light.

MacBooks are reputed for being quiet. This new version is no exception and is discreet under all circumstances. In spite of its slimness combined with the high-performance configuration, it doesn't get too hot and fan noise is low. The hot air is expelled from around the screen hinge - very appreciable when you're using it on your knees as you don't get too hot. The aluminium shell dissipates heat very effectively.

Victim of the honed down design policy connectivity is still the poor relation when it comes to the MacBook Pro, which costs it a star in this section: just 2 USB 2.0 ports, one RJ45 (Ethernet Gigabit), one FireWire 800, one headphones (with S/PDIF) and one microphone socket, as well as an SD memory card reader. The mini DisplayPort video out requires an adaptor (that you have to pay for!) that also transits audio. All these ports are along the left hand side of the machine, beside the magnetic power supply socket (still very practical). Unfortunately there's no ExpressCard port, which limits possibilities going forward. We would also have liked to see an e-SATA and USB 3.0. On the right, you only have the antitheft connector and slot-in DVD burner. It is very well designed but unfortunately makes a lot of noise when a disc is loaded and during software installation. You can also hear it on start-up, which contrasts with the overall quietness of the machine.

A consequence of the "unibody" shell, there's no way of opening the machine, including for the battery which can't be moved. It is however possible to remove the lower part by removing 8 small screws (the guys at ifixit have taken it completely apart). You then have access to the RAM and hard drive fairly easily. For the rest, you need a bit more nous.

Apple MacBook Pro 15 pouces 2010  Apple MacBook Pro 15 pouces 2010
Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch
 
Antitheft, DVD burner
 
Apple MacBook Pro 15 pouces 2010 touchpad  Apple MacBook Pro 15 pouces 2010 
Touchpad

Power supply, RJ45, FireWire, Mini DisplayPort, 2 USB 2.0s, SD card reader, microphone and headphones

Processing: up to 50% increase in performance

No great surprise, the MacBook Pro 15-inch equipped with an Intel Core i7-620M processor (2.66 GHz) does better than the old high-end, which used a Core 2 Duo. In comparison to the highest performance MacBook Pro that we have tested (the Apple MacBook Pro 17-inch 2009), this new MacBook offers up to 50% better performance on some tests (photo lightroom processing and x264 video encoding). The results in Photoshop and iTunes show less of a difference; around 5% better.

These good levels of performance mean we can recommend this MacBook Pro for all usage: photo, video, office docs and so on. Nothing frightens it!

HD 1080p (Blu-Ray equivalent) video playback can be handled by the processor on its own if you're using software that doesn't support graphics acceleration. With the right software however, the MacBook Pro 15-inch 2010 uses its dedicated NVIDIA GPU for this task. This has the advantage of freeing up the processor.

Gaming: gaming on Macs is becoming more popular

Thanks to its NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M graphics card, the new MacBook Pro 15-inch can run the most recent games at native resolution (1440 x 900 pixels here), as long as you're reasonable when it comes to the graphics settings. The Mac games library is still limited but you can use the Steam platform without any problem. Most games run at medium, or even high, graphics settings. An opportunity to discover the excellent Portal.
Apple has reserved a page on its "Apple Store" to list the games that are available for your Mac.

Audio: the best available on laptop?

If MacBooks are appreciated by those with sensitive ears, it's no accident. The sound you get from the small speakers (placed around the keyboard) on this MacBook Pro are very well-made for a laptop. Sure, you can't expect any true bass or depth of sound but the sound is uniform, detailed and nice to listen to. Using the headphones out is still preferable in as much as you can, especially as it's fairly clean and gives good results. Music and cinema enthusiasts will no doubt use a dedicated speaker kit. The MacBook Pro has a digital optical out that will transit a signal in 5.1.

Mobility, battery life: almost 5 hours battery life on a 15-inch model!

1h30 more than the old version. The new model gives 4h48 video playback (screen at 100 cd/m², headphones plugged in and Wi-fi disactivated)! This is exceptional for a laptop with a 15.4-inch screen. For once the size of the machine is not to the detriment of battery life.
This performance is down to the very large capacity battery (77.5 Wh) and the Mac operating system that is perfectly optimised for the MacBook Pro. The graphics solution also plays a role. Indeed the new MacBook Pro uses both an NVIDIA GPU and an integrated Intel graphics chipset. When the software used doesn't require graphics resources, the NVIDIA GPU is deactivated and the MacBook Pro functions using the Intel graphics part. This is what happens with SD video playback, which explains the extraordinary battery life. Moving from one graphics card to another is transparent for the user, thanks to a piece of technology developed by Apple and which strongly resembles NVIDIA's Optimus.

The unibody aluminium shell gives record slimness and weight: just 2.54 Kg and a thickness of 24 mm. Note however a slight increase in weight on the previous generations. The difference is only one of a few grams however and you don't really notice it. The charger is very practical and fits easily in your bag.

5/5 Apple MacBook Pro 15'' (2010) DigitalVersus 2010-07-02 00:00:00

Pros

  • High level performance
  • Record battery life for such a high performance 15-inch model
  • Good quality screen
  • Nice finish, design and comfort of use
  • Quiet and compact

Cons

  • Shiny panel too reflective
  • Lacks connectivity

Conclusion

The MacBook Pro 15-inch 2010 is based on the qualities of its predecessor and improves performance levels and what was already very long battery life. A machine to recommend for all usage, as long as your budget extends to the price tag Apple have posted.

OUR SCORE 5/5
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