MacBook Pro: The Switch to Intel

Posted on Saturday 4 March 2006

I recently sold my 15” 1.67 GHz G4 PowerBook to my friend for her daughter to use, and then I went out and purchased a MacBook Pro. Yes, I know… I keep warning people about purchasing Rev. A hardware, but I am generally bad at taking much of my own advice. Photoshop, running under Rosetta is significantly slower on my MacBook Pro than it was on the PowerBook. The MacBook Pro is fully loaded, with 2GB of RAM and a 2 GHz Intel Duo processor, so the fact that Photoshop is slow is very telling. These are my current thoughts on Apple’s switch to Intel-based computers.

Right after I received my MacBook Pro, I received a couple of e-mails about what Mac notebook to get from two friends, both photographers. One wanted to know what to get his wife; the other wanted to know what his girlfriend should tell her company to buy her. Well, my reply to both of them was to get a G4-based PowerBook, not a MacBook Pro.

My reasoning for the recommendation, even though the MacBook Pro has a newer and faster dual-core processor, is that there are several very significant applications that they might need that have not yet made the transition to Universal Binaries. The most important of these is of course Adobe’s Creative Suite. Since both women do a fair amount of work with photographs, the fact that Adobe will not be releasing a Universal Binary version of Photoshop for upwards of six months under current estimates, would significantly impact their ability to work quickly. Right now, I’m using my 12” PowerBook 1.33 GHz for Photoshop and dropping the finished files on to a network drive for me to use on the MacBook Pro.

Another reason I recommended the G4-based PowerBooks, is I don’t see the software companies dropping support for the older PPC-based machines anytime soon. There is just too much of an existing user base out there for them to do that. The XCode software development environment, released by Apple, makes it quite simple to develop Universal Binary applications, so dropping PPC-code support is unlikely until more of the customer base has moved to the Intel CPUs. This will take at least three-to-five years as I see it.

There are other reasons to avoid the MacBook Pro. Some large corporations and government agencies do not allow cameras on their premises, and the MacBook Pro has a built-in iSight camera. The older PowerBooks have a built-in modem, FireWire 800, composite video-out and a CardBus PCMCIA slot, which are lacking on the MacBook Pro, which only has FireWire 400; an external, optional USB modem; composite video out via an optional external adaptor; and a new PCI Express 34 slot, which doesn’t have any peripherals available for it yet.

Another reason to avoid the MacBook Pro at the moment is the lack of Universal Binary plugins for Safari. While Safari has gone Universal Binary, many of the plugins that are needed for various websites have not made the leap yet. A good example of this is Macromedia’s Flash and Shockwave viewer plugins. They work fine in Firefox, but do not work in Safari. Firefox has a Universal Binary build in alpha, but the current version is still a PPC application, and the plugin, which is also PPC code works in it just fine—both run under Rosetta. However, there is a work-around for this. The new OS X 10.4.5 allows you to open any Universal Binary app, including Safari, under Rosetta. If you do this, the PPC coded plugins work just fine, although you take a performance hit.

Overall, I can’t complain about the switch Apple has made with the Intel-based CPUs. The MacBook Pro looks like a Mac, feels like a Mac, and works like a Mac. The fact that it isn’t running on a PPC shouldn’t make a difference to most users. Rosetta’s performance for most applications is acceptable. I’ve tried several graphically intense games, like Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Command and Conquer: Generals, and they seem to run at least as fast as I was able to run them on the 15” PowerBook.

With three models of computers switched to Intel, it looks like Apple is on schedule to switch to the Intel processors. I’d expect to see the 17” PowerBook, and possibly the 12” PowerBook, replaced by Intel-based MacBook Pros at the developers conference in April. New MacBooks should also be coming out shortly, to replace the aging iBook lineup with an Intel Solo-based machine. The very last machines to make the jump to Intel will be the PowerMacs and xServes, as Apple is waiting for a 64-bit version of the Intel Core Duo processor to come out in September or October.

For the average user, the Mac mini, iMac and MacBook Pro are excellent machines. The iLife ’06 suite is without peer on the Windows platform. Front Row and the remote make the new Intel-based Macs into killer multimedia machines, which are easily controlled from across the room. I can see the newly announced Intel-based Mac mini becoming a killer home theater personal computer (HTPC). The only thing it lacks to be an out-of-the-box killer HTPC is s-video out, but that is available via an optional adapter.

What advantages have I seen with the MacBook Pro?

Much brighter screen and keyboard, in fact the keyboard may be too bright for some.

The built-in iSight is nice as it reduces the amount of stuff I have to carry in my bag.

The MacBook Pro has a much wider touch pad than the older 15” PowerBook. It is proportioned more like the screen than on the PowerBook.

The MagSafe power connector is a nice touch, and I can see that it should help prevent MacBooks from flying off the table when someone catches the cord. The cord is heavier and more robust than the cord on the older power adapters.

The MacBook Pro has a new design for the Airport Extreme antenna, and gets much better reception than the older PowerBooks.

The Intel Core Duo processors also allow a MacBook Pro to host a four-way iChat video conference, which wasn’t possible on the PowerBooks. Being able to watch HD quality video is a nice bonus.

The 256MB video card and dual-link output are nice. I just wish someone would come up with a DVI splitter so I could drive two external monitors with it, as I don’t see myself getting a 30″ Cinema Display anytime soon.

Front Row and the new Apple Remote make listening to iTunes or watching movies on the MacBook Pro very simple and enjoyable, even from across the room.

What are the disadvantages to the MacBook Pro?

The MacBook Pro is a tiny bit thinner, and a tiny bit wider than the older 15” PowerBook. This is a bit annoying, as it is just enough wider to make fitting it into the older 15” PowerBook sleeves a problem.

Waiting for applications to be ported over to Universal Binaries is no fun. Some major applications have not made the jump. They included Adobe’s Creative Suite, Macromedia’s Studio suite, Microsoft’s Office suite, and Quark XPress. I see this as a problem for Apple’s new machines. All of them are very critical for many Mac users. While all of them should run via Rosetta, the performance hit is not always acceptable.

The new MagSafe power cord has a much larger power brick than the older PowerBook A/C adapters—about the size of an Airport Express. The new connector doesn’t work with the older PowerBooks, and the new MacBook Pro doesn’t work with the older A/C adapters… so I have to buy another A/C adapter to have a spare in my bag.

The missing FireWire 800 means that editing HD-quality video has become more difficult on a MacBook Pro. The Panasonic HD cameras and decks use FireWire 800 as part of their system. Also, Final Cut Pro and the other Pro apps haven’t been released as Universal Binaries, but should be out later this month. I can’t wait to see Aperture’s performance under the 2 GHz Core Duo processor.

The brighter screen is slightly smaller in terms of available pixels, as the built-in iSight eliminated 60 rows of pixels. For me, the utility of the built-in iSight trumps the 60 rows of pixels. The slower and less capable SuperDrive is an issue for some. I never had the dual-layer version of the SuperDrive, so it’s a wash for me. Battery life, the size of the computer and the design are pretty much a wash.

Word of warning: When using the Migration Assistant to move your files and setting over from an older PPC-based Mac, you will find that some PPC printers are migrated and can cause problems on the Intel-based Macs. There are a few other small glitches with the Migration Assistant and moving from an older Mac, but nothing too serious.

More on the Apple’s Switch to Intel later…

1 Comment for 'MacBook Pro: The Switch to Intel'

    May 17, 2006 | 3:30 pm

    Your site as they say in the street; is “The Bomb” 🙂
    Like a one stop shopping place. I get the 411 on Sailing, Photography, and Mac, also some feedback on the real deal with Baby Bush and the Crew 🙂

    I was looking for some real life feedback on the new Mac’s. I have been of fan and user since the early days, when 1meg of Ram and a 40 megs HD was “it”.

    As a Designer, Artist, Photographer, Musician I use my Mac A LOT!!
    I will not be swiching over to the new intels any time soon. I am still using my G3 and will upgrade to newer G4 base laptop soon. Now that the prices are dropping on the used version with folks trading up to the lastest and greatest. For me, it is like buying a new car, no way, give me one that is tested already and the bugs are known.

    Thanks for putting your site out there.

    Zen from the Left Coast

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