Design and build: impeccable finish
The design and excellent finish are almost identical to those on the 15 inch. There are however certain things that you may tolerate on the 15 inch but which stick in the throat when it comes to the 17 inch.
Take the keyboard for example, with separate keys. It is exactly the same size as the keyboard used on the 13.3 inch machine. With all that available acreage on the sides, you'd think Apple would have at least added a number pad, usually standard on a model this size.
The keys nevertheless offer supple and extremely quiet keying. Their positioning makes for instinctive typing.
Nor is the touchpad any bigger here than on the 13.3 inch model. Is this a problem? Not really, as it's 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 is very similar to that on the 15 inch. 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, three USB 2.0 ports (compared to two on the 15 inch), 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 and 15 inch versions. 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's pretty audible. On the other hand, temperatures remain under 42°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 Pro 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, It seems to be effective on all 17 inch models.
MacBook Pro 17-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 (x3), ExpressCard port, mic and headphones out
Processor power: excellent performance
The MacBook Pro 17 inch does as well as the 15 inch version. This is logical as they both use the same processor, an Intel Core i7-2720QM. The four physical cores are really nice to have in 3D modeling 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, performance is 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's 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 28 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. With some titles that are very demanding in 3D resources you may want to restrict options to medium or low (Crysis, Metro 2033, or Colin McRae: DIRT 2).
Audio: very good
We're starting to get used to the fact that the sound on the MacBook Pros is excellent. We feel as if they could have done even better however in the space available on this 17-inch machine. Come on Steve, make an effort! Apart from that, it's still top of the pile when it comes to laptop audio.
Battery life: a very good scoreWhile the 15 inch disappointed us a little when it comes to battery life (4h50), the 17 inch does better. The biggest model in the 2011 range lasted 5h35 (video playback, headphones plugged in, screen at 100 cd/m², wi-fi and Bluetooth deactivated). The 13.3 inch (without a discreet graphics card) 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 pretty much any other 17-inch machine and better than some netbooks.
This laptop is of course too big to carry around all that much. 3 Kg may well be reasonable for a laptop this size, but you'd definitely feel it in your bag.