Design and build: impeccable finishNo surprises here, the 2011 generation MacBook Pro 15 inch model is based on the same design as previous generations. The finish is excellent, mainly in aluminium. The design is very similar to that on the 13.3 inch.
The keyboard with separated keys is the same as the one used for the 13.3 inch. Apple hasn't used the additional space for a number pad but has put the speakers there instead. As things stand, the keyboard nevertheless offers supple and extremely quiet keying. Their positioning makes for instinctive typing that's still a pleasure for word processing.
Nor is the touchpad any bigger here than on the 13.3 inch model. Is this a problem? Not really, as it is still bigger than on many laptops. Multi-touch (zoom, rotation, scrolling with several fingers and so on), wide and clickable, it has a very fluid, comfortable and precise glide. Activating the 'tap to click' option in 'system preferences' means you don't have to push the touchpad in to click and this makes the action quieter and slightly faster.
The webcam (1280 x 720 pixels) gives a good quality picture. Exposure is fine and it captures movement very well. The image is detailed in light areas but you do lose a certain amount of detail in darker areas, as you do on many models. It is however perfectly okay for everyday use.
The connectivity has changed slightly. The right hand side of the machine is reserved for the slot-in disk player/rewriter. The rest is on the left, namely the power supply, the RJ45, a Firewire 800 port, two USB 2.0 ports, an SD card reader, the audio connectivity (headphones socket and mic) and finally a Thunderbolt port.
Remember, Thunderbolt is the name of the new high-speed connection Apple are now using. An Intel technology, it mixes the DisplayPort connector with Light Peak technology. Along the lines of FireWire, this all-in-one connection can link up up to 6 peripherals of any type, including those dedicated to video. Backwards compatibility with DisplayPort is assured, as long as the screen is the last link in the chain. As we didn't have any compatible peripherals in editorial, we haven't yet been able to test performance speeds and display but we'll be getting to this as soon as possible.
The fan also behaves similarly to the one on the 13.3 inch version. That's to say silently on start-up and noisily as soon as you launch 3D modeling and other heavy applications. Even against background noise, it is pretty audible. On the other hand, temperatures remain under 45°C. Although not a problem, some gamer models remain under 38°C. For information, air is expelled from the top and not the side and the hottest area is therefore between the screen and the keyboard.
On some MacBook units, this hot air can be a problem, to the point of causing the machine to bug. The laptop blocks and you have to restart it. Apple has reacted by publishing an update to correct the problem, however it doesn't yet seem to be fully effective on all affected machines.
MacBook Pro 15.4-inch temperature readings when you push the components hardReadings taken using a Fluke Ti25 (Distrame) camera
Underneath, with the panel off
Power supply, RJ45, FireWire port, Thunderbolt port, USB 2.0 (x2), card reader, mic and headphones out
Processor power: high-end performance
We didn't receive the basic version but rather the Intel Core-i7-2720QM (Sandy Bridge) version while the least expensive configuration has an Intel Core i7-2630QM processor. The results on the basic model will be slightly down on those in this test.
With the test configuration, the MacBook Pro 15.4 inch hardly does any better than the 13.3 inch machine equipped with an Intel Core-i7-2620M (2 cores). The two additional physical cores don't therefore have much of an impact except in 3D modelling where the 8 virtual cores (4 physical cores x 2 thanks to hyperthreading) are fully used. When it comes to retouching images, audio/video encoding and file compression, the gain in time is minimal. Performance levels are nevertheless excellent. The Core i7-2720QM has a processor index of 135. It can handle all applications and processing times are short.
HD 1080p video playback (Blu-ray equivalent) is a walk in the park for such a machine. Although the processor can easily handle this task itself, it is preferable to let the integrated graphics chipset handle it. It does so very well and consumes less power than the graphics card or the processor. How do you do this? Don't touch anything, Mac OS X and QuickTime will handle it automatically.
Mac OS X 64-bit takes 27 seconds to boot. It turns off in under five seconds. Once again, this is very good as you generally have to wait twice as long: the sign of a responsive machine.
Gaming: good capacityThe mid-range graphics card (AMD HD 6750) isn't as high performance as the processor. It can however run most games titles in native definition. When it comes to quality settings, it depends on the game. Most you can run at high settings (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Black OPS, Resident Evil 5, Half Life, Counter Strike, Left 4 Dead, and so on). For the more demanding titles such as Crysis, Metro 2033, or Colin McRae: DIRT 2, you'll have to settle for medium settings.
Audio: same again
There's been very little change on the audio for the MacBook Pros, which are still amongst the best. The speakers are well integrated on either side of the keyboard, with good sound and pretty powerful (for a laptop). The ins and outs are clean, no complaints!
Battery life: 4H50 for video playbackAlthough Apple is announcing 7h battery life on its MacBook Pro 2011 range, the 15-inch version doesn't seem to have been told. Our test model only lasted 4h50 (video playback, headphones plugged in, screen at 100 cd/m², wi-fi and bluetooth deactivated). The 13.3 inch lasted 8 hours under the same conditions. Note, while you don't quite get the 7 hours promised by Apple, a 5h battery life is better than many 15-inch machines and better than some netbooks.
In terms of size and weight, you won't want to transport this model everywhere with you. 2.5 Kg may well be reasonable for a laptop this size, but you'll definitely feel it in your bag.