Apple MacBook Pro 15 2006
Best retro purpose
This laptop is best suited for comparisons between the PowerPC and Core Duo comparisons, albeit it is far from being equal products. The Intel CPU can also run Windows using BootCamp, which brings other interesting comparisons between the classic PC and Mac environments. The platform does not offer any additional benefits but is much easier to find and maintain, as it has some better design decisions. OSX support is good, as it covers the early 10.4 systems upto 10.6, with a reasonably powerful, for its time, CPU and GPU confoguration. This model is interesting as it was a somewhat classical Apple laptop that also had a glossy screen option, while being the last generation to use classic CFL lamps as display light source, offering a very pleasant colour gamut.
Durability and Repair-ability
Considering that it is a cooler running laptop, survivability prospects are very good as components are less stressed. However, not the same good fortunes may be found on the battery. While bulging batteries were a potential problem on Powerbook laptops, the newer MacBook lineup had a serious design issue that amplified the risk of severe damage. As the battery was placed exactly below the trackpad, any issue that manifested in a deformation of the battery could damage and even break the trackpoint.
The durability of the laptop is very good, mostly due to the resistant aluminum case. Of course, the theoretical durability of the outer chassis and internal frame is slightly hindered by the odd internal design which still does not have structural reinforcements. The harddrive is not accessible from the exterior, despite the PRO designation of the laptop, even if harddrive failures were not uncommon in the past. However, compared with the old PowerBook lineup, only some screws had to be unmounted and the case carefully pried apart, there are no risks for the keyboard. The circuitry survivability was good as the laptop ran significantly cooler than late PowerBook G4 laptops, and the fan was mostly turned off.
Greatest features & flaws
|Great MacOSX 10.5 performance||Worn batteries can damage trackpad|
|Good software compatibility, DVD Drive||Only 2GB of maximum RAM can be installed|
|Durable, comfortable keyboard and trackpad||Easy to damage parts during complex disassembly|
|Cool running laptop, great screen on glossy models||No easy access to internal harddrive|
A business laptop, released in 2006, but that had only some of the typical business laptop features. The chassis is slightly improved from the previous PowerBook models, featuring a larger and better responsive trackpad, a webcam and better keyboard. This laptop had a very competitive configuration for its time, featuring a dual processor and DDR2 memory. The harddrive is a SATA type, offering improved performance and a rare chance of experiencing very modern performance if replaced with a SSD. The only major downside of the laptop is that it supports only 2GB of RAM, despite what the DDR2 standard was capable of. The graphic chipset is also an improvement over the previous generation Radeon 9700 Mobility chipset.
No evaluation would be complete without a PowerPC vs Core comparison. However, the expectations are entirely wrong. A better comparison is the impossible PowerPC vs Pentium M, as both processors were released in the same time frame and did not offer multiprocessing capability on laptops. Of course, no Pentium M Apple laptop was ever released, but OSX could run on the X86 platform, as it was highly versatile. Under these circumstances, with an unsupported clone and hacks to run on a typical laptop, the Pentium M is better performing integer operations and memory access, while PowerPC is more powerful in floating point operations. It is understandable that no specific optimizations were considered as both processors had very different capabilities and only running unmodified software was considered to maintain a fair comparison. In the end, Pentium M was more energy efficient, being evolved from previous successful laptop CPUs.
The LCD TFT screen build quality was very good, using a modern technology that offers good contrast and response times. This laptop generation also has the distinction of being the last Apple products to have fluorescent backlight. Of course, lamp durability is not as good as on later models but colour reproduction is simply excellent, especially on glossy screens that highlight the vivid and crisp image of the LCD screen. The graphics chipset is good, even if Apple laptops were never used in demanding games and typical applications of that time included light browsing, office use and photo editing as well as occasional video editing. In most situations, the dual processor and optimizations offer tremendously improved performance compared with the previous PowerBook lineup.
The keyboard is very comfortable to type on, the painted keycaps being more durable than you may expect on other laptops. The keyboard is not as easy to clean as on older Ibook models but it can be vacuumed. This laptop has another distinction for the last true keyboard, with profile caps, long enough travel and pleasant key feedback. Later models had a flat keyboard that is still fine but far from the feel of classic Apple laptops. Of course, Apple is to blame also for starting the unpleasant trend of flashy but less comfortable keyboards. The wireless performance is slightly improved compared with previous PowerBook laptops. On the other side, the included Ethernet port offers very good performance and reliability, being a good networking choice. The laptop also included a slightly better Bluetooth implementation.
The chassis was slim, light, comfortable due to rounded corners and a slight improvement over previous generation PowerBook laptops. The laptop's metal case is highly durable, but must be very carefully disassembled, when required. This is somewhat annoying. Unfortunately, parts of the chassis are especially vulnerable to rough handling and the aluminum frame is not supported by a rigid underframe, meaning that bends and dents are quite common. The lid closing latch is very well designed and durable. The display hinges are very well engineered even if they may not look to be anything special. The integrated speakers are average, having decent performance.
The rechargeable battery can be easily removed or replaced but the timekeeping battery is placed inside the rechargeable battery pack that is almost surely not working after so many years. Luckily, however, Apple systems are very good at keeping good BIOS settings without any battery. The standard HDDs are fast enough for Mac OSX. Replacing the hard-drive is somewhat difficult but the system accepts even last generation SATA 3 drives, including SSDs, for massive speed improvements. Software support is good as the system can run PowerPC applications, albeit at slower performance, in the Rosetta emulation environment.
Apple was interested in having much improved PowerPC processors but the alliance with IBM and Motorola did not show great prospects. The pc market was quite small and a more balanced situation against Intel/AMD pcs was never materialized. Having quite low sales and not being attractive enough for professional user needs, especially in the video production environment, meant that Apple was desperate to release much better performing computers. Major efforts were done to release dual PowerPC G5 workstations, but any implementation attempted on laptops was even worse in terms of dissipation and energy consumption and Apple had to accept poorer performing laptops when the laptop market had the most promising sale increase.
As the OSX platform was agnostic to any CPU architecture, attempts to test Intel CPU performance were underway for many years. Recent stagnation in the PowerPC platform pushed Apple to attempt negotiations with Intel but Intel did not seem interested so Apple invested further in the last attempt at releasing faster PowerPC products. However, as soon as an agreement came, Apple switched the entire lineup to Intel in less than 2 years. Despite all previous marketing showdowns, Apple knew very well the strengths and weaknesses of the PowerPC. While PowerPC architecture shined on floating point performance, the Intel one did the same but for multiprocessing, memory access and energy efficiency. Switching to the new platform required emulation and some operating system tweaks but Apple focused mostly on ensuring good enough compatibility. The code emulation for PowerPC was not very fast but ensured a quicker, smoother transition for users.
In the end, the transition to Intel CPUs offered many performance benefits to users and ensured Apple many years of product upgrade cycles that pleased market expectations. However, just as the near monopoly of PowerPC, Intel din not made enough architectural improvements, forgot about the near-disaster of the Pentium 4 and Itanium CPUs, slowly losing the performance per watt competition that Apple was very keen on keeping. This will lead to Apple's transition to in-house developed CPU and GPU designs, in the late 2010s.