Hands-on: The 17-in. MacBook Pro gets the Core 2 Duo treatment

An already solid laptop just got better -- and faster

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In other words, you can put 4GB in, but you're only going to effectively get 3GB, so why spend money you don't have to? And to get that 3GB, you will spend money. Apple charges $575 for a 2GB stick of RAM -- surprisingly beating the third-party RAM supplier I usually buy from by $30. So if you're working with large files, use Photoshop Final Cut Pro or just want bragging rights, go ahead and buy the RAM from Apple.

Having said that, 2GB is plenty for now, and if six or 12 months down the road you want to boost the RAM, prices will almost certainly be better.

Expectant buyers have wondered on various discussion boards and forums whether the Rev. B MBP C2D exhibits any of the teething pains of the first generation -- excessive heat, high-pitched squeals and "mooing" hard drives. I never had any of those problems, but enough people complained about them online to make some buyers nervous. Again, no one has had these Rev. B laptops in their hands or on their laps for very long. But I haven't seen any issues. My particular MBP is dead quiet, cooler than the first version and doesn't moo, bark, whine or squeal. Startup times from Mac chime to desktop is longer than the earlier models -- 53 seconds versus 35 seconds or so -- and my left shift key seems to stick once in a while. But other than that, so far, so good.

I have, however, seen some online discussion about wireless networking issues. Some owners of the new C2D models -- many more of them 15-in. models, which have been out longer -- have complained of lost wireless connections. Either they can't connect to their usual wireless routers, or the connection comes and goes or drops altogether. I did notice that I was getting one less bar of signal strength when I first got my MBP and found my connection would drop and strengthen randomly. Finally, two days before Thanksgiving, I couldn't connect at all. Then again, neither could my parter using his Sony Vaio. Nor could I connect using my own Vaio. As it turned out, my 2-year-old Airport Extreme base station had died.

Wireless and 02.11n?

This time, rather than replace it with a new one, I bought a wireless router from Linksys. I have nothing against Airport Extreme base stations, but something about the Linksys router caught my eye: compliance with the 802.11n wireless networking draft standard. Others more expert in wireless networking than I had found -- by using Windows Vista in Boot Camp and rooting around looking for drivers -- that the wireless card used in the C2D iMac and the C2D laptops is supposed to be 802.11n-compliant. In other words, when this faster wireless standard is ratified, these machines may already be equipped to take advantage of it after a firmware or software update. (Apple did something along these lines a few years back when 802.11g was emerging as the successor to 802.11b wireless networking. I'm hopeful.)

I asked Apple officials about this 802.11n capability. As always, they politely declined to discuss what might be coming down the pike. But given the possibility that the wireless card in my MBP C2D might indeed be ready for 802.11n networking, why not get a router that is also theoretically ready for the same thing? The Linksys WRT-300N is a little more complicated to set up than Apple's wireless routers, but it took only a few minutes to do so. Once the Linksys router was up and running, my MBP connected, and I've had nary a wireless problem since. My signal is at full strength, the connection hasn't dropped once, and I can sit back and see what happens with 802.11n.

I noted earlier that the new C2D models run cooler than their predecessors. Using the little app CoreDuo Temp, I have found that my MBP chugs along at about 108 degrees Fahrenheit when doing some word processing, light surfing and playing streaming radio with iTunes in the background. Crank up the iTunes visualizer, launch Windows using Parallels virtualization software, and I can send that temperature to 165 degrees. That's still cooler than my first MBP, and while the top of the aluminum case gets slightly warmer, I've yet to hear the fans kick in loudly enough to notice. No doubt the revamped air intake in the rear of the MBP beneath the LCD screen helps. When it comes to heat, Rev. B wins over Rev. A.

Wider slots for venting below the LCD screen help keep the MacBook Pro running cooler than its predecessor.

Wider slots for venting below the LCD screen help keep the MacBook Pro running cooler than its predecessor.

Said Nishimura: "With the Core 2 Duo (models), we have made incremental improvements to the fan speeds and venting scheme so we do offer a cooler experience for customers."

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