First Hour with MacBook Pro

Maybe I was seduced by the eerie presence of of the Intel commercials that Apple ran, but something told me to get a MacBook Pro. I chose the higher-end stock model running at 2.0GHz with 1GB of RAM and 256MB video card. My point of reference for all comparisons here is the early 2005 15" PowerBook, which I bought nine months ago.

In the Beginning

First, I think it's worth pointing out that Apple has continued to refine the experience of actually purchasing and opening a Mac. It's a bit of a turnoff to spend a couple thousand dollars and then fight with the packaging to get to the thing. The MacBook Pro box is not just smaller, it's leaner. There's less stuff to wade through inside.

Just like the iPods and current-generation Apple products, there's a very compact, non-intimidating manual that stands a chance of actually being read by the average owner. One of the first pages of the manual says:

Your MacBook Pro is designed so that you can set it up quickly and start using it right away.

Seems rather obvious, doesn't it? It's funny how often this extremely basic concept is missed in the consumer experience. It takes something more than a hardware company to put all the pieces together. Even the Apple Store itself is part of the Mac experience.

Anyway, moving on.

Design and Display

Compared to the early 2005 PowerBook, this machine is both less deep and thinner. It's simply nicer to hold. The keyboard is just slightly softer and looser. The clasp mechanism is smoother when being closed. The MagSafe power is something that's just nice to have. For a person who tends to be around dogs a lot, it's just a little bit of reassurance.

The display is unquestionably brighter than my PowerBook, but it's not a complete replacement for a high-quality desktop display. The viewing angle doesn't seem as good as a Cinema Display and the top of the screen is (for me) noticeably darker than the bottom.

Either the combination of these two things or a separate issue makes the screen not ideal for reading or color composition. I'm not sure what word characterizes the effect I have in mind, but it's almost as if the colors are a bit "shiny" or simply unbalanced. This isn't unique to the MacBook Pro, by the way. My midrange ViewSonic VG710b has the same attributes.

Don't take this the wrong way. I'm really, really picky about displays. I spent more time looking at displays at Fry's than any sane person would, and really couldn't find anything I liked for $400. I simply settled on the ViewSonic because I had to choose.

In other words, this is a very good display for a laptop, and above and beyond what my PowerBook has. It's very bright and crisp. It's just not a Cinema Display.

Two tweaks made it better for me, though. First, I think the full brightness setting is too high for most purposes. It's like staring at a light bulb. Four steps down from the max feels comfortable. Second, I highly recommend color calibrating the display. The default one is washed out and a little too warm.

I also found it helps a bit to tilt the display slightly more upright than I did with the PowerBook. This seems to leave the brightness more balanced.

The Whining Sound

Now the big question. What about the whining sound? This sound is very real on this particular unit. I'm told my hearing is more sensitive than most people, so it might be that some could sit in front of the same machine and not be bothered by it. Unchecked, though, this sound would make it impossible for me to work. The quieter the environment, the more noticeable it is.

I look forward to Apple coming up with an OS or firmware-level fix, but in the meantime, there are a few observations and workarounds that I think are worth mentioning. I think that topic deserves its own space though, so take a look at the Notes on MacBook Pro Whining Sound post.

There's one workaround there that I haven't seen anyone else mention, and running Photo Booth in the background is another technique for instant relief. There's no excuse for a $2500 Mac laptop to be so noisy, so Apple needs to jump on this.


I haven't done in-depth benchmarking or anything of that nature. There are people that get positively giddy over the idea of running such tests and there are some good posts about that already, so I'll defer to them for now:

Rich Siegel: MacBook Timings One
Rich Siegel: MacBook Timings Two
Wolfman on Interesting Time

One interesting tidbit is that applications open crazy fast in some cases. At times it's hard to tell if an application was already running when I launch it.

Bottom Line

It's a bit hard to give an overall review on this machine until the whining sound is silenced. Not only is it possibly a deal breaker for some, but it's hard to focus on the experience of the machine for evaluatin purposes while under audio assault.

My preliminary feeling is that other than the one issue, this is a very solid dual processor machine, much faster than the PowerBooks and lighter and brighter than the early 2005 PowerBook that I already own. I'll have to give a more complete look later.
Design Element
First Hour with MacBook Pro
Posted Mar 23, 2006 — 16 comments below


Byron Schlemmer — Mar 24, 06 955

Cool! I got my Macbook Pro, same spec, on the 23 March as well. :-) I'm down in South Africa and we obviously must have gotten different batches as my LCD (unless my eyes just aren't sensitive enough) seems fine. I have it set to the default 5 steps down. And as far as the whining noise goes, nothing, I hope it stays that way.

Anyway, enjoy the new machine. I am.

MJ — Mar 24, 06 957

Mine is being picked up in a couple of days for complete replacement. The "wake from sleep" bug was unbearable.

Otherwise --- is this not the best Mac Apple has ever made?

I'm convinced.

Kenneth Ballenegger — Mar 24, 06 958

Hey, Byron Schlemmer, where in SA do you live? Just asking because i don't know any other mac user then me and in live in SA as well (Durban).

I have a PB titanium and i am very satisfied with it, i think this is the best mac ever produced!

Jon H — Mar 24, 06 960

I find the buzz when the screen is dimmed below maximum to be more annoying than the CPU buzz. Also, I guess I like the full brightness.

bitweever — Mar 24, 06 964

Just wanted to drop you a note and say that I like your site. Where'd the nifty knight illustrations come from, if I may be so bold to ask? I'm looking for something similar for a project.


Patrick Haney — Mar 24, 06 965

I've had my MacBook (the same model you have) for over 2 weeks and I absolutely love it. Then again, I never owned a Powerbook, so I don't have anything to compare it to.

The whining noise is extremely annoying and I, like everyone else, am waiting for an explanation and a fix. It isn't constant either, as sometimes it just doesn't happen. I've found the Photo Booth trick to work though, and I usually just minimize it in the meantime, but that's no way to deal with a $2,500 laptop.

Scott Stevenson — Mar 24, 06 967 Scotty the Leopard

Jon H: I find the buzz when the screen is dimmed below maximum

Fortunately, I haven't heard this one.

bitweever: Where'd the nifty knight illustrations come from, if I may be so bold to ask?

Some clip art collection. I think the term for this sort of thing is wood carving, so that might help your search.

Scott Stevenson — Mar 24, 06 968 Scotty the Leopard

like everyone else, am waiting for an explanation and a fix.

I mentioned this at the other post, but a solution that doesn't require any CPU overhead is to plugin a USB 2.0 device of some sort. Of course, I don't know if all devices would do the trick, but it worked with my video iPod and with a $20 camera card reader.

It would be nice to know why this works, but my total amateurish explanation is that it somehow changes a electrical field... or something. Did I mention I'm a software guy?

John — Mar 24, 06 969

I'm curious about how to calibrate the colors on the display. Mine looks great..I agree with your analogy of staring at lightbulbs.

sahas — Mar 24, 06 970

here is review i did. i am having a lot of problems as well (mainly sound, but a few others)

Scott Stevenson — Mar 24, 06 971 Scotty the Leopard

I'm curious about how to calibrate the colors on the display

The built-in way to do it is:

System Preferences > Displays > Color > Calibrate...

I seem to get better results by activating the "expert" mode in Calibration Assistant.

Leslie — Mar 25, 06 976

ive had mine almost a month now, and i have finally made my decision. The Macbook Pro is amazing. I do not have the whinig sound so i guess im lucky. i would have liked to wait for the second generation to come out but school was starting and my PB was so sluggish i thought it may just stop.

Kariim — Mar 28, 06 992

Hi I just ordered a 1.83 MBP and was wondering if the whining was present in this model as well as the higher models everyone else is talking about.

Scott Stevenson — Mar 28, 06 993 Scotty the Leopard

It doesn't seem specific to a particular model.

Rick Russie — Apr 07, 06 1065

Oh how I wish I had one. My powerbook is feeling slow compared to these machines.

Amy Hoy — Apr 07, 06 1068

Remember, it's not a dual processor machine. It's a dual core machine. One processor, with two cores in the single chip. It's not at all the same as having dual processors.


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