Unseen Improvements Make New MacBooks Shine

Between packing up to move apartments and keeping an eye on Twitter's Chirp conference, I've been playing around with a new 15-inch MacBook Pro, one of the many new laptops introduced by Apple (AAPL) on Apr. 13. On the surface, they don't look much different from their predecessors. The real change in these new laptops is under the hood.

The 15-inch notebooks, which use Intel's i5 and i7 processors, and the 13-inch MacBook Pro, which uses the Intel Core 2 Duo chip, look virtually no different than they did before. They have the same styling screen size, weight, and number of ports. The only visible change is in the design of the MagSafe power connector, now clearly inspired by the MacBook Air's charger.

The stuff you can't see is what makes these computers shine. It starts with the integrated Intel graphics processing and discrete graphics chips (Nvidia's GeForce 330M GT), which can be found in both the 15- and 17-inch machines. The 13-inch MacBook Pros use NVidia's 320M chip.

Apple has made switching between two graphics modes automatic, depending on the task at hand. For instance, a simple application, such as Mail or Safari, uses the integrated graphics engine by default, while more graphics-intensive applications, such as Adobe Systems' Premiere or Apple's Aperture, automatically switch to the more muscular graphics chips.

Energy Efficient, Too

That yields smoother performance and better battery life, especially with the 13-inch MacBook Pros. While the previous generation of MacBook Pros used Nvidia's 9400M integrated graphics engine, the new lineup uses the new Nvidia 320M. The old chip had 16 cores, while the new 320M has 48. And yet the 320M, despite being more muscular (it provides an 80% performance gain over the 9400M), is 40% more energy efficient. That boosts the battery life of the laptops as much as three hours, which means Apple is offering total battery life of 8 to 10 hours on the new MacBook Pros.

I'm pretty sure Apple made more tweaks to yield those 8 to 10 hours, but graphic chip optimization has to be right up there when it comes to squeezing more from the batteries. Apple's design of both the Mac's hardware and software is key.

Vinod Khosla, Sun Microsystems co-founder and venture capital investor, who'll be speaking at our Green:Net conference on Apr. 29, recently said that by innovating around the internal combustion engine, we can substantially improve automobile mileage. Similarly, by writing more efficient, smarter software, more life can be squeezed from the current generation of battery technology. Apple is certainly proving that.

My new MacBook Pro is much faster than my old one, which has an SSD drive and 8 GB of memory. Apps start in a blink of an eye, and even iTunes works as if it were suddenly Barry Bonds. If you have more specific questions, go ahead and ask me. Ill do my best to answer.

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