How the MacBook Pro Works

customer, MacBook Pro
A customer looks at the new 17 inch MacBook Pro in an Apple store in 2009.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Apple first announced the MacBook Pro in early 2006, and Apple enthusiasts have been drooling over each new model ever since.

This was Apple's first Intel-based notebook, meaning that instead of using IBM, Motorola, and Apple's PowerPC chip, they replaced the processor with the Intel Core-Duo [source: Snell]. This was a big leap, since incorporating a new processor meant Apple had to ensure that their operating systems and software would still work on the Intel Macs. Their solution was a program called Rosetta, which would essentially "translate" software written for PowerPC into language that the new Intel chip could process.


So why would Apple switch processors? It's all about speed. The first MacBook Pros gave users a huge speed boost over their predecessor, the PowerBook G4. Intel's core-duo processor was essentially two processors in one, which meant a jump in speed without a big drain on battery life. Of course, users responded well to the boost in speed, and while some users complained about small issues like compatibility with some older software, reviews of the new MacBook Pro were generally very positive [source: Snell].

Apple geared these new Macs towards existing PowerBook users and hardcore users, like designers, who needed fast speeds and a decent amount of storage. It's no accident that the first MacBook Pros looked and felt just like the PowerBook G4s that they replaced, but don't let looks fool you. The MacBook Pro is very different on the inside.

In the five years since its launch, the MacBook Pro has gotten faster and added more screen size options, and Apple has released software and hardware updates to address some user complaints from the early MacBook Pros. For example, early MacBook Pros' FireWire could only transfer 400 Mb of data per second, but Apple soon upgraded to FireWire 800, which can transfer twice as much data in the same amount of time [source: Knight]. The newest MacBook Pros use Thunderbolt to transfer data, which we'll talk more about later.

So what are the specs for the MacBook Pro? Find out on the next page!

MacBook Pro Specs

Starting at $1,199 for the 13-inch base model, the MacBook Pro's price point can vary quite a bit depending on your needs [source: Apple]. There are three screen sizes available: 13 inches (33 centimeters), 15 inches (38 centimeters), and 17 inches (43 centimeters), and when you upgrade the screen size, Apple upgrades some of the hardware as well. For very basic users, the 13-inch model might be just fine, but power users who want to run bigger programs like Final Cut Pro or Photoshop probably need to upgrade to the 15-inch or even the 17-inch version.

The MacBook Pro uses an Intel-based processor, and it can vary depending on the model that you buy. The 13-inch version comes with the dual-core which can't be upgraded to the quad-core, but the mid-range and high-end versions have the Intel quad-core processor standard. Without getting too in-depth into computer chip technology, speed is the big variable between these two processors. The quad-core has twice as many processors per chip, making it the equivalent of 4 CPUs in one chip and much faster than the dual core. While it seems like twice the CPUs would mean twice the speed, the bump in speed actually quite a bit less than that [source: Apple]. Heavy users, like video editors, would notice the difference much more than someone looking to write e-mails and search the web.


Memory is one of the few features on the MacBook Pro that doesn't vary when you up the screen size. They all come with a base 4GB of memory, upgradable to 8GB.

The MacBook Pro touts seven hours of battery life, but battery life for any machine can vary quite a bit depending on what you're doing. If you're just surfing the web, seven hours might be realistic, but if you're editing music or playing graphics-intensive video games, your battery life is always going to take a hit.

The innovation that many Apple fans are talking about is a new port available on the newest MacBook Pro models: Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt is replacing FireWire 800 and can transfer 10GB of data per second [source: Intel]. Speed aside, what makes Thunderbolt even more exciting is that it's compatible with a number of connections, like USB, FireWire and computer monitors.

Now that we know what hardware comes with the MacBook Pro, let's take a look at the software that comes standard with this machine.

MacBook Pro Software

The MacBook Pro comes with a software bundle that includes OS X Lion, their newest operating system, and a suite of software for organizing, socializing, creating and editing media, and browsing the web.

Since Apple released its new Lion operating system earlier this year, all of the new MacBook Pros come with it. Lion has received mixed reviews. Critics complain that the software didn't make enough improvements over its predecessor, Snow Leopard, and some even compare it to Windows Vista, Microsoft's notoriously buggy OS. While others are saying that Lion doesn't offer as many big improvements as Apple's normally includes with upgraded operating systems, Lion is still worth the upgrade [source: Siracusa].


All new MacBook Pros come with Mail and iCal to help keep your emails and schedule organized. Mail is built-in email software -- sort of similar to Microsoft Outlook -- that lets you download and organize emails. Apple's iCal is a calendar program where you can keep track of appointments. Users that have other Apple devices, like the iPad and iPhone can synch iCal with the phone or the tablet to keep appointment information handy on the go. You can also synch iCal with Google calendar, if you prefer using that to keep track of events.

The MacBook Pro also comes with the iLife suite of software, so media buffs can create music in GarageBand, do some simple video editing in iMovie, and organize and edit photos using iPhoto. With iTunes you can organize your music library and download music and podcasts easily.

The new MacBook Pro also includes FaceTime, a video chat software, that works with the built-in FaceTime HD Camera (more on the camera on the next page). You can use FaceTime to video chat with friends, family, and co-workers, provided they are also on a MacBook, iPhone, or iPad. Some users complain that this is a drawback to the software, since it limits who you can chat with [source: Perez].

Of course, other software is available for sale. For instance, iWork, Mac's suite of office software, is available. MacBook Pro's Time Machine, which helps back up your computer automatically, is also available. You can also use Time Machine with the Apple Time Capsule, which is a router with a hard drive built into it. Either way, Time Machine saves your old files and remembers what your computer's setup was in the past. That means that if something starts to act buggy, you can restore your machine to the settings it had before it started acting up [source: Apple].

Up next, we'll take a look at the accessories Apple offers to deck out the new MacBook Pros.

MacBook Pro Accessories

Apple offers a number of accessories to go along with the MacBook Pro. A few come bundled with the computer. You can purchase others as upgrades from the Apple website or store, or other online outlets like Amazon.

Bundled Accessories


You can purchase an external mouse for the MacBook Pro, but the machine comes equipped with a trackpad. Users control the cursor with "gestures" for intuitive scrolling and tapping instead of clicking. For example, instead of using the arrow keys or clicking and dragging to scroll, you can move your first two fingers up or down the trackpad to scroll through a screen.

Another handy accessory that comes with all MacBook Pros is the MagSafe power connector. Instead of plugging the power cord into a port on your MacBook Pro, it attaches via a magnetic connection. This might not seem like a big deal, but if you've ever tripped over your power cord, knocking your laptop onto the floor, you can understand why the MagSafe was a great innovation. The gentle magnetic connection easily pulls away when you jostle the power cord.

Probably the most exciting accessory that comes with new MacBook Pros is the built in FaceTime HD camera. The camera is built right into the machine, and the pinhole-sized lens is located right above the screen. The high-resolution camera lets you take HD video and to FaceTime chat with other MacBook Pro users and with iPhone 4 and iPad2 users [source: Patterson].

Apple Accessories

Like most computers on the market, Apple offers a number of cables and adapters for the MacBook Pro, but there are a few Apple accessories that stand out.

If the 17-inch (43 centimeter) screen is still too small for your taste, you can upgrade to the 27-inch (69 centimeters) Thunderbolt Display for $999 [source: Apple]. This external monitor also has a built-in FaceTime HD camera, so there's no need to go back to your laptop to video chat. Like the name implies, this display uses Thunderbolt technology to transfer data faster, which is especially handy if you use multiple monitors together [source: Vatto].

Need more storage space? The External Thunderbolt Storage is basically an external hard drive, but it uses Thunderbolt to transfer your data much more quickly than with a USB or FireWire external drive. You can use this external drive with the Time Machine software to back up your computer or just to add space if you max out the memory on your MacBook Pro [source: Apple].

Lots More Information

Related Articles

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