The PowerBook G5 that we waited and waited for never came. Instead we got the MacBook Pro, which at first glance looks suspiciously like a 15-inch aluminum PowerBook G4. However, on the inside, it’s a completely different beast. Intel’s Core Duo processor gives the MacBook Pro a sweet combination of energy efficiency and speed that was never possible from the PowerPC. While this computer is an all around amazing machine, if you are involved in music or video production, it’s likely to be just what you’ve been waiting for.
Studio, broadcast, post production, video
Intel Core Duo 2.16 GHz CPU; 17-inch widescreen display; 667 MHz front side bus and main memorty; PCI Express architecture; FireWire 400, FireWire 800 and USB 2.0 ports; optical digital and analog audio I/O (up to 96 kHz); illuminated keyboard; MagSafe Power Adapter; optional 7,200-rpm hard drive
Apple | 800-692-7753
The MacBook Pro is built around the Intel Core Duo, which packs the power of two processors into a single chip. It provides 2MB of Smart Cache, L2 cache that can be shared between both cores as needed. The MacBook Pro has a front side bus and memory that, at 667 MHz, runs faster than any previous Mac notebook. It’s the first Mac notebook with PCI Express, a Serial ATA hard drive (up to 120 GB), the ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 with up to 256 MB memory on 16-lane PCI Express, ExpressCard/34 slot, dual-link DVI, VGA adapter, FireWire 400, FireWire 800 (17-inch only), and USB 2.0 ports, optical digital and analog audio I/O, built-in microphone and stereo speakers, slot-loading SuperDrive, illuminated keyboard, built-in AirPort Extreme (802.11g), Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, Gigabit Ethernet, and Mac OS X Tiger with iLife ’06.
The 2.16GHz dual-core Intel engine provides up to five times the speed and eight times the graphics bandwidth of the PowerBook G4. The built-in iSight is perfect for instant video conferencing on the move or simply for staying in touch with the kids from the road. It includes Front Row and the Apple Remote, making it possible to play your latest mix version or video edit from anywhere in the room.
Although it looks almost like a PowerBook from a distance, there are several new physical changes to the MacBook Pro that make it attractive; the first is the built-in iSight camera. Although it is barely noticeable, there is an iSight camera built into the thin bezel just above the display, making it possible to have an engineer/producer or producer/record label conference during the day and a chat with the kids at night. iChat AV lets up to four people video chat simultaneously. The camera has surprisingly good video quality, even in low light.
The MacBook Pro now has an optional glossy screen surface that makes blacks blacker and colors richer. There’s been some moaning and groaning about the potential for reflections and glare but in most instances users vastly prefer these screens. The computer’s track pad allows you to scroll by dragging two fingers, not one, across the track pad. This increases work speed, especially when scrolling through web pages and it quickly becomes second nature. Another great feature is that if you touch the pad with two fingers and then press the track pad’s button, you produce what, on a Windows machine, would be a right-click of the mouse.
The ultra-cool MagSafe Power Adapter features a magnetic DC plug that ensures a tight connection and enables a clean break from the power port when there is undue tension. This prevents the computer from being pulled off of a desk when the cord is accidentally tripped over. It also protects the power cord from wear and tear.
Applications that have been updated to run natively on Intel Macs and will also run on PowerPC-based Macs are called Universal Binaries. Thousands of applications are already available in this format, including most of the popular music applications – Logic Pro 7.2, Final Cut Pro, Ableton Live 5, Soundtrack Pro, BIAS Peak Pro 5.2 and Peak LE 5.2, MOTU Digital Performer, Native Instruments Kore and many more. Some companies like Digidesign have decided to code their software natively for Intel Macs rather than creating a Universal Binary version.
For the applications that have not been updated to Universal, Mac OS X 10.4.4 and later versions contain a technology known as Rosetta. You don’t see it and it requires no configuration. It works in the background letting most non-Universal applications run on Intel Macs. It does this by translating older code on the fly, so the applications running under Rosetta run slower. Depending on the application, this may be 20% slower or it may be 200% slower. Forgetting that my version of Reason 3.0 wasn’t Universal Binary I loaded it and assumed that everything was fine but I wasn’t able to play even the simplest song without the application giving me an error. When I realized the Reason was running under Rosetta I downloaded and installed the Universal Binary version and it performed flawlessly.
The computer I tested was the 17-inch MacBook Pro Core Dual/2.16 GHz laptop, the fastest portable Mac ever manufactured. The machine has an optional 7,200-rpm hard drive and a FireWire 800 port that makes it perfectly suited for audio and video production without the use of an external hard drive. Upgrading to a 2.16 GHz Core Duo processor adds $300 to the computer’s cost and adding the 7,200-rpm drive adds another $100 to the price tag.
I spent several days getting used to the feel of the MacBook Pro. I have to say it is truly the finest and most elegant computer I’ve ever used. Even though I use a Mac in the studio every day I’ve found myself using a Windows laptop for a lot of my computing because there were a few Windows-only applications that I couldn’t live without. Frankly, it’s amazing how much better the Mac feels in everyday situations. One of many examples is the way the MacBook Pro is instantly powered up and ready to go when its lid is opened. The 40-second wake-up sequence that is part of life with a PC is nonexistent. Of course the freedom from the constant spyware and virus worries is nonexistent as well.
I loaded several music applications onto the MacBook Pro including Logic Pro 7.2, Pro Tools M-Powered, Soundtrack Pro and Reason 3.0. They all performed amazingly well and, in every instance, exceeded the performance I had encountered previously on a laptop. The optical digital input and output assures that the computer will easily interface with other gear and the backlit keyboard makes working in dark rooms a piece of cake (no more of those annoying USB lights protruding from the USP port).
I was truly impressed with the new version of Logic Pro (version 7.2). This application gives you the ability to take full advantage of the next generation of Mac computers. It also provides integrated support for the Apogee Ensemble FireWire interface (allowing the control of multiple parameters including headphone level, metering source, output levels, and microphone input gain, which can be manipulated from a control panel within Logic Pro), project compatibility with GarageBand 3, as well as a complement of feature enhancements and improvements.
The upgrade from Logic Pro 7 or 7.1 to Logic Pro 7.2 is only $49. Logic Pro 7.2 provides support for stereo Rewire objects and now it clearly labels the incoming Rewire streams to reflect the source application (a nice new feature!). In addition, you can create Rewire objects directly from the Create Multiple option in the Arrange window.
Logic Pro 7.2’s Arrange window provides a visual indication of which tracks are currently active on the control surface. This is useful when using a control surface that doesn’t provide LCD or other feedback information. Logic Pro now has increased output capacity of up to 32 mono channels (a Godsend for users of multichannel Audio Units instrument applications). The application also allows AAC and Apple Lossless files to be played directly with no need for conversion. This feature ensures session compatibility with GarageBand 3 and offers great sonic quality with the convenience of smaller file sizes.
Although most of the best music production applications have always supported the Mac platform, there have always been a few such as Sony Acid and Steinberg Wavelab that are PC-only; Boot Camp to the rescue. I spent a couple of hours using Boot Camp to install Windows XP Pro on the MacBook Pro (print out the Boot Camp Beta Installation & Setup Guide – it makes it simple) and then I was up and running. You need to have a licensed copy of Microsoft Windows XP, Service Pack 2, Home or Professional Edition. I felt a bit like I was cheating on someone but there I was, actually running full-blown XP Pro on a Mac. If you are running Windows then of course you have to install Windows drivers. I had been using the M-Audio FireWire 410 for some time in OS X, but I had to download the Windows driver for it to work in that OS. I installed the Windows versions of Wavelab 5, Acid Pro 5 and Nuendo 3 and they all ran amazingly well.
Unfortunately, the built-in modem isn’t an option with the new MacBook Pro. I realize that connecting to the Web with a dial-up line is less and less common these days but I still frequently find myself in a hotel where there is no high-speed connection, so to going on-line with a MacBook Pro will require hauling around the $49 external USB modem which, although small, is still something else that you have to remember to lug around.
The machine runs hot, too. Intel has obviously made the MacBook Pro the fastest portable Mac ever, but they should still dedicate a little R&D towards finding a way to cool it down a bit. When doing intensive processing it is quickly too hot to comfortably have on your lap. The battery life is impressive, though. It seems to vary based on the application, but I watched the movie Ghost World from beginning to end and still had enough power to run Pro Tools M-Powered (while powering the M-Audio FireWire 410 interface from the FireWire port) for 30 minutes.
Whether you need a machine for word processing, email and a few song demos on the side, or you are in need of a fully portable audio or video production system, the MacBook Pro is worth consideration. With its release, the day has finally come where I can’t think of a single reason why anyone would have to (or want to, for that matter) own a Windows machine. To a Mac user, upgrading to the MacBook Pro seems like a normal step in the evolution of laptop computers, but if you are coming from the world of Windows, you’ll be stunned by the elegance, power and beauty of the MacBook Pro.
Russ Long has done 5.1 DVD mixes for Allison Moorer and Mercy Me and is an in demand engineer for live sound and studio recordings.