As I mentioned earlier, Apple has announced significant upgrades to their laptop line. Mac laptops are a favorite of photographers and graphic design professionals, and I highly recommend them. In this post, I want to briefly outline the features of the three Mac laptop models and give you my recommendations for a photographer’s laptop.
The MacBook is Apple’s entry-level laptop. Before today, all MacBooks were built using a plastic (polycarbonate) case giving it a cheap feel along with components that didn’t perform highly enough for most serious photographers. A big change today was the announcement of aluminum casings for most MacBooks.
Of special interest is the construction process for these new aluminum bodies. They are machined out a solid piece of aluminum supposedly making them thinner, lighter, stronger, and more environmentally friendly. (This same machining process is used on the new MacBook Pro 15″ model…to be mentioned shortly.)
In order to break the sub-$1000 laptop barrier, Apple did keep the “White 13-inch MacBook” in it’s consumer line. This plastic laptop with a 2.1 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 1GB of DDR2 RAM, 120 GB 5400 RPM hard drive, and an Intel GMA X3100 graphics card ships for $999. I imagine that this model will draw many thousands of current PC users to Macs, though it offers little in the way of performance as far as photographers are concerned. Basically, the processor is too slow, we need faster RAM, and a 5400 RPM hard drive is less than ideal for our needs.
The “new 13-inch MacBook,” with the “precision aluminum unibody enclosure,” is available with a 2.0 to 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, up to 4GB of DDR3 RAM, and up to a 320 GB hard drive (sadly, limited to 5400 RPM). This model shares features with the higher-end 15-inch MacBook Pro, such as a Multi-Touch glass trackpad, changed screen with glossy finish and black border (looks like an iMac), rounded outer casing, and environmentally friendly features such as a mercury-free LED-backlit display. The base configurations are priced at $1,299 and $1,599.
One of the greatest limitations of this model, in my opinion, is the elimination of FireWire ports. The older MacBooks had a FireWire 400 port, but these models sport only two USB 2.0 ports. No FireWire 400, no FireWire 800, no ExpressCard. As our digital camera files get larger and larger (not to mention the video capabilities being added in coming DSLR models), we need the high-speed connectivity of FireWire 800 and eSATA. That, in itself, is enough to knock this machine out of the running for a full-time photography laptop. It is small and would make a nice presentation machine for photographers showing images to clients on the road, but, if you’re looking for a great travel machine with a wow-factor for clients, I recommend the MacBook Air.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to hold one of these in your hands, go visit your nearest Apple store and give it a go. It’s thin (barely over 3/4″ thick)…and light (3 pounds)…no joke. A very impressive little machine.
Let me say right out, however, that this model isn’t going to work as a full-time photography laptop. If you work primarily in a studio or office with a desktop (the ideal computer situation, by the way), then you might enjoy a MacBook Air for connectivity on the road or showing images to a client. It travels very well and, even a number of months after its initial release, has quite an impressive look for clients.
The new model is available in a 1.6 or 1.86 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Processor, 2 GB of DDR3 RAM, and either a slow (4200 RPM) 120 GB traditional hard drive or a 128 GB solid-state drive. I guess if I were getting a MacBook Air, I’d pony up the extra dough ($700!) and jump from the 1.6 GHz/traditional hard drive model to the 1.86 GHz/solid-state drive. The true performance advantage (if you can call it that) of the solid-state drive over a traditional “spinning platter-o-death” hard drive is questionable, at best. Where one wins out in quick write speeds, it lags behind in prolonged reads, or vice-versa. Apple has decided to add this 128 GB solid-state drive as an option for all of its new laptops (except the white MacBook).
The MacBook Pro is the photographer’s laptop. With it’s robust aluminum unibody frame, fast processor, new graphics cards, and extras such as FireWire 800 connectivity, the MacBook Pro is definitely the machine to go for if you’re looking for a laptop for photography.
The MacBook Pro comes in one of two base models. There is a 2.4 GHz/250 GB machine for $1,999 or a 2.53 GHz/320 GB version for $2,499. Both of these options come with two graphics cards (NVIDIA GeForce 9400M and 9600M GT), the former with 256MB of GDDR3 memory and the latter with 512MB of GDDR3 memory (in the graphics card). The machines hold from 2-4 GB of DDR3 RAM. The 2.53 GHz model is available with a 2.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor for only $300 more. I definitely recommend that upgrade. The other upgrade that I feel you would be foolish to pass up is the optional 7200 RPM 320 GB hard drive for only an additional $50. The speed and performance increase you’d see with the 7200 RPM drive (as opposed to the stock 5400 RPM drive) is well worth the fifty bucks.
So, once again, I recommend the 15-inch MacBook Pro with the 2.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and the 320 GB 7200 RPM hard drive.
Here’s what I don’t like. With the 15-inch MacBook Pro, you’re now forced to go for the glossy screen. I’ve always been a fan of the anti-glare matte screen. I do too much working on the road, in a plane, and in the field to deal with the obnoxious glare that comes with these glass, glossy screens. It’s not enough to keep me away from the machine, though. I would just look for an aftermarket anti-glare screen covering.
Apple still has the 17-inch MacBook Pro available, although it didn’t see the same kind of upgrades the 15-inch models did. Because of the lack of upgrades to the processor, RAM, and video card, however, I cannot recommend this machine. It would basically be like paying a similar price as you would for the 15-inch, but for 18-month old technology. Definitely not a wise investment in a new laptop. Let’s hope this machine is updated soon. To be honest, though, I am not a fan of the 17-inch model anyway. It’s a bit too heavy for my taste. When I need a big screen, I just work on an external monitor.
Speaking of external monitors…
Apple LED Cinema Display
Apple’s monitors (Cinema Displays) have always been a bit overpriced, albeit gorgeous. But I think the Apple LED Cinema Display is just what we need.
This monitor, designed specifically for use with the new laptops (MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro) and their redesigned Mini DisplayPort (Oh, great! We gotta buy another adaptor!), is a 24-inch widescreen monitor with a number of little features to make it the perfect companion for your new laptop. First, it looks great. And everyone knows, especially with a Mac, it’s all about looking good! Just kidding…sort of.
Three cables elegantly snake from the display to connect to your laptop. The video cable obviously sends the picture to the display, but there is also a USB cable to allow you to connect multiple devices by way of the ports on the back of the display, and a power cable to charge/power your laptop while it’s connected to the monitor. It also has a built-in iSight video camera, microphone, and speakers for a desktop-like (iMac-like) experience. It looks just like an iMac, by the way.
In summation, I must admit, I was looking for a bit more. I thought, for sure, there would be the possibility of 6 or 8 GB of RAM in my new MacBook Pro. And, I thought…just maybe…that we could see quad-core processors in these machines…a reach, I know. But, I am pleased, overall. The new MacBook Pro is just what Photoshop CS4 needs.
In case you’re buying, here’s what I want in my new laptop:
- 15-inch MacBook Pro
- 2.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Processor
- 320 GB Serial ATA 7200 RPM Hard Drive
- Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter
- AppleCare Protection Plan for MacBook Pro
Price: $3,297. The good news…free shipping. Check it out at the Apple Online Store today.
Questions? Opinions? Insights? Complaints? “Steve Jobs is an idiot” rant? Feel free to leave a comment.
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