Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Who wants a trouble free Laptop?

Buying an AppleCare Protection Plan for my Macbook Pro was probably the first good decision on my part, thanks to Karan's advice. Ever since I bought my Macbook Pro, it has been niggling me with some problem or the other. Not that there were any "major issues", but since I had got myself an APP I had decided not to compromise with any minor problem. Every snag I faced, no matter how petit, I took it to the Apple Support Centre and the part was replaced, no questions asked. This is why I loved the Apple Service. At the same time I can vouch for Apple not stocking good spares, at least here in India. There have been at least 2-3 times when the replacement part either did not work at all, or had some defect for which it had to be returned. But there was one problem that would recur very frequently. My Superdrive would not write DVD-R or CD-R. Please get this right. It had no problems in writing re-writable disks, or in fact reading disks. Leopard would report an error saying that "The Device could not calibrate enough laser power to write on the media". Probably RWs are written with lower laser powers. I got the Superdrive replaced at least 4 times. On one of these occasions faulty replacement parts were sent twice, and it worked only after a superdrive was called in for the third time. What surprises me is that Apple claims to give "New Spares" in its replacement, which is surely not the case with Superdrives. New Superdrives come with no region set. But in my case when I had got my Superdrive replaced for the first time, no region code was not set on the replacement part and I had the entire quota of 5 region changes remaining. All other times the region code was already set on the replacement drives. In one of the cases it was actually set twice beforehand, so I had only 3 region changes left. Thanks to DVD Info X that reports these figures. When my superdrive failed for the fourth time, I took the case to a higher level ie to the Customer Relationship Department. The concerned representative checked out my case, and insisted me to go for the replacement one final time. Thanks to my humble (:P) attitude, I accepted. This was probably the second good decision I made, cause I was pretty sure that the replacement drive would fail yet again. And so it did- in the month of May during my final examinations. I decided to return to Delhi, before I give a call to AppleCare - which is probably the third good decision I took. When I returned to Delhi, I called up AppleCare. My case was referred to Customer Relations once again on 1st June, and the representative immediately offered me to replace my unit. I could "sense" it, and thus I wasn't surprised. Also, I was aware that Apple replaces with the current models, which I confirmed with the representative. I was offered a Macbook Pro 15-inch with 2.4Ghz Intel Processor, 2GB RAM, 250GB HDD and Nvidia 9400M + Nvidia 9600M GT with 256MB VRAM. I was elated. It was like a b'day gift from Apple.

The bad part was the the entire process of the replacement. The older unit would be picked up from my residence and the replacement process would take up to 10 working days from the day they receive my older unit at their Bangalore warehouse. And once the replacement product is despatched it would still take time to reach me due to customs clearance and other technicalities. Such a process also meant that I needed to backup my entire machine. DELL probably gives a better service in this regard by sending the replacement unit first and then collecting the older unit. I had to get a new external disk to back up my entire laptop. My older unit was picked up on June 3rd, and it was the beginning of two weeks of "miserable & laptop-deprived" life. It reached the Bangalore warehouse on June 5th and my replacement process started. Meanwhile at home, I had a big trouble starting my desktop. It was left unused for about the last two years and I had to disconnect and reconnect loads of cables and devices to get it working. For the entire two weeks I had to leave the Cabinet open due to frequent inexplicable issues.


The Desktop at Home


Unexpectedly, all of a sudden WWDC took place on June 8th. For me WWDC took place unexpectedly for the first time, ever since I had been introduced to Apple products. Probably it was because I was too bored and isolated from the internet without my laptop. It was only on June 9th when I logged onto Facebook that I noticed WWDC Keynote Address had taken place.. and wait a minute... the entire Macbook Pro line was upgraded. Ouch!! I quickly called up AppleCare once again, and asked if I would be receiving the same 2.4GHz model. I was told that the 2.4Ghz model was now out of stock and I'd be receiving the newer 15-inch 2.53Ghz Macbook Pro- Which means a faster Processor, Double the RAM (4GB), same hard disk... but hey NO Nvidia 9600M GT and NO dedicated video ram. I complained about the same. My older unit had an ATI Radeon X1600 with 128MB VRAM. Also this model was priced at $300 lesser than mine. But somehow the Customer Relationship guy kept insisting that Nvidia 9400M is a much faster processor than X1600. That was bad. After talking over this for a long time he simply asked if it would be fine if I get the same model as my older one. With the amount of harassment I had faced with the Apple Spares of that model and the kind of upgrades I was otherwise offered, the older model was certainly out-of-question. So I had to accept the 2.53Ghz one. I am unhappy that the Customer Relationship Officers are not given a right knowledge about the products, since the new laptop has performed poorly as compared to the older one in the XBench OpenGL test. But anyways.. the two miserable weeks ended on June 19th when I received this new Macbook Pro... And probably I would be among the first in India to own this new model. Here is a short review of the product and comparison with the older one (ie Macbook Pro 15-inch 2.16Ghz, 1GB RAM, 120GB HDD and ATI Radeon x1600 with 128MB VRAM)

Packaging
The first thing you would notice about it (at least I did) is the considerably smaller packaging. Yes, Apple has been claiming that they're doing it for environmental issues, but hey, its just a different way of saying "We're saving a lot of money on packaging and shipping". Ever since I have owned Apple products, it has always gone on to cut manufacturing and packaging costs. And only some portion of the savings have been passed on the the consumers. Look at the trend... My iPod photo... came in a beautiful box, containing the iPod, headphones, a firewire cable, usb cable, charging adaptor, dock, carrying case, AV cable and software disk. I know that before this they even included the iPod Remote. Since then they started off with discontinuing firewire support (which IMHO is much better than usb), and now they just give the iPod, headphones and usb. Thats just it. They don't even include a software disk. You may say that one CD doesn't cost a lot, but I think it is quite a saving as it reduces package size. Although, I still love the Apple packaging (small size - no probs with me), but the fact that they have stopped giving video adaptor and Apple remote with the Macbook Pros is real stingy. All throughout my college these two things have helped me BIG time during those countless presentations. Thankfully I was not required to return my Apple remote, so I can use that. But I will need to buy the MiniDisplayPort adaptor.






Comparing Package Size



Outer Design
The second thing to notice about this laptop is that it has a much sleeker look as compared to the older one. The display is much thinner and it opens up much beyond the older one. It has a sturdy unibody design, which is also claimed by Apple to be lighter, but is is as heavy as the previous one. This is probably because of the bigger battery. Also, it is not user replaceable. There is no mechanical lock for the screen (which is good as once I had a little problem with the mechanical lock in the older machine), instead it is now magnetic.






Ports/Superdrive
The ports have changed quite a lot, and so has the position of the Superdrive. My older model had a front loading design, but in this one the drive slot is on the right side. This is an excellent change. Front loading was at times uncomfortable. There are some changes in the IO ports. No firewire 400. Probably its too old now. SD card slot is also a welcome change (The only time I had used the ExpressCard slot was when I put in a SD card adaptor.), but unfortunately I have a Sony Cybershot, and this slot wont work with MemoryStick. Another not-so-good decision was keep both the USB ports next to each other, in fact a little too close to each other.

Keyboard
Once you open the screen, the unibody design will impress you immediately. Yes, it looks elegant. The entire keyboard, is basically, individual keys sticking out of square cavities in the aluminum. It also means that the size of the Keys is slightly smaller than the one in the older one. Even the keys have actually changed. The Enter key next to the right command key is missing and is replaced by an option key. No Num lock. The Function keys have now become similar to a multimedia keyboard. So you have a Play/Pause, Forward and Rewind button. Volume up, down and mute. Screen brightness up and down. Keyboard backlight brightness up and down (no key to switch it off). And finally two new ones: Exposé and Dashboard. There is one more thing that I like about the keyboard. The arrow keys are much more spacious. And last, but not the least, the Keyboard Backlight looks amazing!!




Track Pad
Yes its is Multi-touch. Yes it is large. Yes it has no visible button. Yes it works. No you actually can not click ANYWHERE!! The entire trackpad is the button and this entire thing depresses when you push it, except for the farthest edge of the track pad. Basically as you move from the closest edge to the farthest edge, clicking requires more and more pressure, and when you are close to the farthest edge it does not click at all. Multi touch gestures are fun to use. You'll have to get used to it to take advantage of the same. One good thing is that you can choose the bottom right or left corner to act as a right click. The bad thing is that System Preferences does not allow you to modify the 3 finger or 4 finger gestures. I am sure its a software limitation which to me is incomprehensible.

Display
When I saw the display of my older Macbook Pro, I was impressed. This LED display has really blown me. They did announce in WWDC that there were improvements in the display, but hey I never expected such gorgeous. Unfortunately, there is no matte option. The reflections on the glossy display is certainly annoying. But the fact that these LED displays are very bright and thus it certainly negates some of the reflection. But under usual conditions you'll just love the display. The colors are extremely vivid, distinct and saturated. It turns on instantly, no warmup time (or probably negligible). Since it is an LED display, wont notice any waves when you touch the screen, but you'll definitely leave behind fingerprints on the glass surface. I agree they there is a polishing cloth included, but its not feasible to always have it with you. In the end, I must say that LED display simply rocks and these ones are really "to-die-for" quality.

I clicked a few pictures which can elaborate on the reflection problem of the Glossy screen:

Reflection of Keyboard with Display turned off



Display in Low Brightness



Display in Highest Brightness


Thus the Screen Brightness does negate a lot of reflection. Of course if the background is dark, it would not. Here are a few pictures with the laptop in front of a bright light source.


Reflection with Display turned off.



Display in Highest Brightness


Battery
The battery performance is excellent. Definitely it gives 7 hours backup. In fact it can give you much more. Most of the reviews that I have read about these machines, the battery have lasted more than 8 hours with wifi turned on. One thing they have not mentioned, but I find is that it charges much faster than my older one. Also note that I got only a 60W charger. The other 15-inch model (even my older one) come with 85W chargers.

Other Notable things
The iSight camera is actually camouflaged in the top edge of the display - not as prominent as the older machine. Also there is just a single fan in my model. Its a lot quieter as compared to the older one which had two. Even other current 15-inch models have two fans.

Performance
No need to crib. 2.53Ghz performs the way it is expected to. The graphics is good as well (although I give much of the credit to the LED-display). I have not played any games yet, thats when I'll be able to judge better. This one has a Hitachi hard-disk, which according to XBench is faster than my previous Fujitsu one. The Superdrive is faster and can write DVDs at 8x(as against 6x). Finally the 4GB RAM is simply a lot of RAM. Even though my graphics shares 256MBs out of it, I am always running with 1.5GBs free.


Look at the free RAM, I have Safari, iTunes,
iPhoto, Excel and few other apps running


While I was recovering my applications from my backup, there was a time when I had selected around 20 applications to copy, and by mistake double clicked on them. I was surprised to see this laptop launch all of them simultaneously with ease. Certainly when you peek in a little deeper, you would realize that it has only 3MB L2 Cache (as against 4MB L2 Cache), but a much faster 1066MHz FSB (as against 667MHz FSB) and uses a DDR3(1066MHz) RAM (as against DDR2 - 667MHz). I noted the boot time to be just a fraction under 30 seconds till the login screen, whereas the logoff+shutdown time was fractionally under 8 seconds.

Pros: LED-Display, Large Multitouch trackpad, battery backup and fast charging
Cons: No matte Display, USB ports too close to each other, No dedicated VRAM.


xBench benchmarks, the one on the right is of the newer machine.