- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009

Eight hours. Repeat it to yourself, slowly and carefully if you like. Eight hours. That’s the battery life claimed for, and apparently delivered by, the $2,799 17-inch MacBook Pro recently shipped by Apple Inc.

Not having surveyed every last portable computer in the retail channel today, I won’t swear to it, but I believe this is the longest notebook battery life out there, at least in terms of a “standard” battery that fits inside the notebook itself. Some “extended life” batteries can be attached to portable computers, creating a bulge (or a carrying handle of a sort). But in terms of self-contained batteries, the MacBook Pro likely takes the cake.

I did not run the battery down to zero, watching each minute tick off. But in test after unplugged test, the time remaining registered pretty darned close to eight hours and almost always more than seven. Compare that to the previous-generation 17-inch MacBook Pro that I use daily; fully charged, I can get about three hours out of the battery.

The new computer is also unique in terms of the battery itself: You can’t swap it out for another battery. Apple has sealed the battery in the computer and claims it will last through five years of recharges. The company will replace the battery if need be, but this also marks a first, I believe, for the portable Mac line. By doing this, however, the firm is able to make the notebook thinner than previous models, while still clocking in at 6.6 pounds. No one would mistake this for the interoffice-envelope-friendly MacBook Air, but it’s ergonomics are impressive.

Even with the battery life, however, many might wonder who would need a $2,799 notebook computer. I know of several folks who really do. The kinds of users who need and appreciate this kind of computer are involved in video or sound editing, photography, publishing, design, Internet work, that sort of thing — and we need to have this kind of power in a portable package. Things don’t just happen in offices anymore, and I have a colleague who’s as likely to edit high-definition video in the Amazon jungles of Brazil as in his editing bay in Silver Spring.

For these people — and perhaps for a few more — the new MacBook Pro represents a stunning achievement of design, engineering and performance. It is the kind of computer you can depend on when work beckons, and it’ll probably deliver a fair load of fun, too.

On the work side, my test unit came with a 320 gigabyte hard disc drive and 4GB of RAM, both of which are more than enough for most needs. Video-heads may want to upgrade the hard drive independent of Apple, and a high-speed 500GB hard drive is due from Seagate later this month. But the “standard issue” hard drive and memory are double what roughly the same amount of moolah bought two years ago, so that’s certainly progress.

The keyboard is also different from my workday MBPro: it’s the “Chiclet” style now popular on Mac portables, and that’s not difficult to type on. Some large portables include a separate numeric keypad, but this one doesn’t. Apple says the aesthetics are better this way, and I can’t argue. If you need to crunch numbers, separate keypads can be found.

Also nice here is the touchpad, which is “clickable” in place of mouse-buttons. You can also use various finger movements to “swipe” through Web pages and other applications. It’s well done.

Graphics hounds will appreciate the two separate graphics processors. The standard graphics chip, from NVIDIA (STET), is the default processor and helps the unit deliver that close-to-eight-hour battery life. When you need to amp things up, a “discrete” NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT processor can kick in to help performance. That’s more for my friend Dan Weber the video editor than it would be for me, and its use trims battery life by about three hours. But I have the feeling Dan would appreciate a five-hour graphics powerhouse nonetheless.

Overall, this is an excellent, if “niche” machine — it’s not for every kid going back to school. It’s my hope that many of the high-end features here will migrate to other Mac portables at lower prices.