It’s Called a What-Book? (Steve, WTF?)
Here’s what the experts are saying about the new “MacBook Pro.”
A MacBook by Any Other Name Would Sound Much Better
The name sucks, and performance is a big unknown as of right now (because of the universal binary problem). As John Gruber writes:
MacBook Pros (which name is terrible — I mean just horrible, like some crappy Mac accounting software from 1987) are being sold alongside the PowerPC models, not replacing them. Not yet, of course. My guess is that this means Rosetta is fairly slow, and that anyone who still depends on non-universal-binary apps is going to want a PowerPC machine for the time being. We’ll find out soon enough what real-world Rosetta performance is like.
This means that if the applications you use every day (for design professionals these would be apps such as MS Office, Adobe CS, Macromedia Studio) do not yet ship in universal binary form (they don’t) then your new MacBook would have to rely on Rosetta (the translation software) to run them; even if the MacBook is faster on paper, it could be much, much slower in reality (at least until Adobe, Microsoft and Macrodobia release universal binaries—I don’t know when this will happen or whether it will cost the user money when it does). From Tom Yager:
Issues I have with the Intel move, including the dearth of Intel-native OS X applications, remain.
Steve Jobs demonstrated the PowerPC-based Photoshop running the only way it can on an Intel-based iMac, slow as hell under Apple’s PowerPC emulator, Rosetta. As it happens, the emulator is also the only way to run Microsoft Office for Mac, which Microsoft is wisely discounting by 50 percent for new Mac customers because its performance in PowerPC emulation will fall by at least that much.
Addendum (Jan. 14)
Neil Duffin’s six-month-old comment on Jeff Schewe’s post to PhotoshopNews.com is worth consideration in terms of the performance question. (I should mention that I’m not worried about the long-run implications of the Intel move, simply the ramifications for design professionals faced with the question of purchasing now.)
Also (and I know I’m going to get flamed for this but stay with me) Intel chips are faster. No, I’m not saying Windows PCs are faster – they 2.7GHz dual Power PC seems to be faster than the high-end PC running Windows. However, Windows is not a very efficient OS. I’ve run BeOS and Linux on a PC box and it’s *MUCH* faster then Windows on the same machine. OS X is a much more efficient OS. I suspect that translating it to an Intel chip will give a significant performance increase, perhaps enough to overcome most if not all of the performance lost from emulation. Particularly if only 10% of the time for most applications will be under emulation.
But… the benchmarking on which the claim of “4x faster” is based is biased and unreliable: the reasons are that (1) the MacBook has a twin-core processor (called the “Core Duo”, another naming disaster) and the comparison units were single-core PowerPCs; and (2) the benchmarks used in Apple’s test are designed specifically for multi-processor computers—they issue tons of instructions that any single-core processor would have trouble with because they cannot multi-thread with the same efficacy (under these conditions, two slower cores might easily perform better than a single faster one—so even if the faster single-core computer “felt” like the fastest machine it would still be likely to lose the test). I got all this from Tom Yager again (via John Gruber):
Well, yeah. A dual-core anything outperforms a single-core anything else by a factor of 2 to 5 in benchmark tests that make use of multiple threads or processes, tests crafted specifically for the purpose of stressing SMP-based systems. It’s murky marketing, and the sad part is that Apple didn’t have to resort to it to make Apple’s PowerPC-to-Intel switch look like a smart one.
Apple currently provides no information about battery performance on the new MacBook, which may mean nothing, or may mean it’s really bad; what we do know is that the power supply is rated higher for the new machine (85W versus 65W) and the the battery technology is newer (lithium-polymer versus lithium-ion); and we know that Apple has had trouble with new batteries in the past. From Paul Thurrott (via John Gruber):
Apple’s new MacBook Pro looks great, but raises some serious questions. The most obvious is battery life: Though PC makers using the Intel Core Duo chip were quick to point out how much better both performance and battery life are with the new chip, Apple declined to provide any batter life information on its Web site. This is most curious.
Who Should Buy?
There seems to be only one compelling reason for most users to get this machine right now, and that’s if those users want to develop the new Intel-native software on it. Tom Yager:
MacBook Pro is due out in February and I’m sure it’s meant to co-exist with PowerBook for a while to come. But I’ll suffer with slow Office for one reason: I want to use and develop for the architecture that Apple is taking into the future, not the architecture that will be dead by the end of 2006. I want to use this venue and others to pressure ISVs (independent software vendors) to ship Universal Binaries of their apps and to provide users with inexpensive, preferably free, upgrades from PowerPC to Universal editions of their software.
Good, Bad or Neutral?
- MacBook Pro is slightly slimmer and wider than the 15″ PowerBook
- it has a built-in iSight camera in the top-side bezel (with no physical cover)
- it’s native screen resolution is ever so slightly lower (1440 x 900 versus 1440 x 960 pixels) than the 15″ PB, despite it’s screen being half an inch bigger on the diagonal (15.4″ versus 15″)—this may mean a better viewing experience on the new one since the pixels must be larger and therefore a bit easier on the eyes
- in the promo photos it looks like a darker shade of “brushed metal”
So there you have it. I wouldn’t rush out and get one right away unless you’re quite sanguine about the performance issues, and willing to take your chances on the battery.
I have to admit that although I didn’t get too heated about the switch-to-Intel debate, I felt a twinge or two of regret seeing that logo on the Apple web site. Silliness, perhaps. It will probably matter a lot less once good information about performance begins to circulate, and once the developer community catches up and starts leveraging the power of the new instruction set architecture.
Hammer it Home
One final thing: the new Intel ad blows the big one. I think that the genius behind the Eminem iPod commercial could have been brought in to consult on this one, but it looks like they’ve gone back to that horrible big brother hammer-throwing æsthetic from 1984 to squeeze as much out of the old Mac/PC rivalry thing as they can. How droll.