After almost 10 months of waiting, Apple announced the latest upgrades to their MacBook Pro line of computers. And while many seem disappointed with Apple’s latest product release, I’m thinking that this may represent the new standard for photographers and other media professionals.
For those who haven’t been following the release closely, the latest generation of 15″ and 17″ MacBook Pro models have been upgraded to use Intel’s latest Core i5 and i7 processors. (For those curious, the 13″ line of MacBook Pros has stayed with the Intel Core 2 Duo line of processors, but did see a speed bump as well as more RAM standard.)
In addition to the upgraded processors, the other hot news is the change in graphics cards. All 15″ models now come with a discrete graphics card – an NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M. Models are available with either 256MB of graphics memory or, for the higher end model, 512MB.
So what does all of this mean to photographers?
Pure processing power has always been on the list of necessary features for a photographer’s laptop choice. Converting RAW images, running programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom or Apple Aperture and storing / cataloging the hundreds of images taken every day is simply a processor intensive task. And while the previous MacBook Pro machines were indeed powerful, over the course of the last 10 months, a lot of upgrades have come about in mobile processors.
In an effort to stay competitive, Apple made a smart decision to include the latest Core i5 and i7 processors in this generation of MacBook Pros. Early benchmarks of these Intel processors has shown very favorable results and these should prove to provide an even better user experience to anyone doing complex computing. While there have been many complaining about the lack of a quad core option, Apple has always been conservative with their laptop specs. I guess, in this case, I’d rather have a rock solid laptop with slightly slower processor than the latest and greatest processor at the sacrifice of stability and build quality. However, I’m sure many would not agree.
While the upgraded processor is a huge draw for running Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom, the other huge news is the ability to add a higher resolution screen to the 15″ product line. For me, this alone makes these a huge step above the previous generation MacBook Pro for any sort of photographic tasks. And while the 17″ does have an even higher resolution, many mobile professionals can’t justify the additional bulk. In fact, most professional photographers I’ve conversed with feel that the 15″ is the best option with regards to bulk and horsepower.
While some may argue that there is really very little gain from the new higher resolution screen, let’s do some quick math. The 13″ screen has a standard (non-upgradable) resolution of 1280×800 or 1,024,000 pixels. The standard 15″ resolution of 1440×900 pixels equals a total pixel count of 1,296,000 (for those doing the math, that’s only a 26.5% increase over the 13″). And while this does indeed make a difference, if you’re anything like me, the more pixels the better — especially for a program like Adobe Lightroom. Enter the new upgrade option from Apple. For only $100 more (for glossy, $150 for a matte option), the latest 15″ can be ordered with a 1680×1050 pixel resolution for a total pixel count of 1,764,000. This is a 36% increase over the standard 15″ configuration and a whopping 72% increase over the 13″ model! That’s huge! I’m sure we’ll see many people upgrading for that feature alone.
The NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M has received its fair share of criticism in the last week. However, since this chip was manufactured exclusively for Apple, and has only been released for a week, I really feel it’s too early to pass a harsh judgment. In fact, early reports show it being more than adequate for most users. Also, according to many (including the above Engadget review), the latest version of Photoshop (CS5) will take full advantage of the upgraded GPU. I can only hope that Lightroom 3 (when released) will also follow suit as rendering a couple GB of images can currently take a noticeable amount of time. Only time will tell how well this graphics option will perform.
Personally, one of the biggest reasons I’ve stuck with my 3+ year old MacBook was the fact that the MacBook Pro line simply didn’t offer enough incentive to upgrade for my uses. And when Apple announced the new 13″ Pro models, I thought I’d finally found my next laptop. However, with the discrete graphics option now standard on the entry level 15″ models, and the option to add a higher resolution screen, I really feel that the 15″ MacBook Pro is the perfect portable photographic companion!
The new MacBook Pro arrived and my Initial Impressions are posted (as well as unboxing photos).