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Revamped MacBook Pro line delivers top-notch display quality - Continued
Other notes and observations

17 inch glossy vs antiglare For this article, we've looked at only the antiglare version of the MacBook Pro 17 inch. We've separately set up and profiled a handful of glossy units too, though never in a situation that permitted careful comparing with an antiglare counterpart. A seat-of-the-pants assessment is the glossy version has the same colour characteristics as the antiglare, minus the glossiness, but it's possible there are other differences that become apparent only in a side-by-side analysis. As far as our eyeballs could tell, however, the LCD panel was the same in each.

A conversation with an Apple spokesman familiar with the MacBook Pro line supports this (we're complying with Apple press policy by not identifying the spokesman by name).  He says the standard glossy and optional antiglare versions of the MacBook Pro 17 inch do in fact use the same LCD panel, share the same LED backlight technology, the same colour filtering, the same resolution and other attributes that define a laptop's screen. They differ, he says, only in the panel's outer surface, which has either a glossy or matte finish. And as the article's photos of the MacBook Pro 17 inch reveal, the antiglare version features a silvery display bezel rather than a full glass front.

The model information, as shown in the metadata for the default Color LCD profile for each display type, is not the same. That's only because, says the Apple spokesman, the company uses two different models of the same panel in the MacBook Pro 17 inch: one that's glossy and one that's not. The spokesman further notes that the colour characteristics of each are so similar that Apple was able to use the same colour data in the default Color LCD profile for both.

For the record, the display make and model information for the MacBook Pro 17 inch glossy versions we've set up have been 610/9C99, whereas all MacBook Pro 17 inch antiglare versions have been 610/9CAC, including the unit tested for this article. The MacBook Pro 13 inch tested for this article: 610/9CBD. The MacBook Pro 15 inch tested for this article: 610/9CA4.

Profiled: A screenshot showing the MacBook Pro 17 inch antiglare display's make and model metadata

SD slot The MacBook Pro 13 and 15 inch models are the first from Apple to incorporate a dedicated memory card slot (in the latter model it replaces an ExpressCard 34 slot). The new slot accepts SD/SDHC and variants such as MMC.

While we would have preferred a CompactFlash slot, Apple deserves credit for both adding this photographer-friendly feature and for incorporating specific support for SanDisk's 30MB/s SDHC card models. This support, says Apple's spokesman, is not accidental: while the SD slot was designed to be compatible with any SD/SDHC card that conforms to the SD 1.x or SD 2.x specifications, the computer will also recognize if a SanDisk Extreme III 30MB/s Edition or Extreme SDHC card is inserted. It will then utilize the proprietary data transfer mode unique to these two SanDisk card lines to give roughly a 50% bump in card-to-computer throughput.

Fast Company: A SanDisk Extreme III 30MB/s Edition 8GB SDHC card inserted into a MacBook Pro 13 inch, plus Extreme SDHC cards. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

Using the same benchmarking method as for the CF/SD Performance Database, faster SD and SDHC cards from Lexar, Kingston and others allow data transfer rates of between about 17-21MB/s. With a SanDisk Extreme 16GB SDHC inserted, this jumps to almost 31MB/sec in our testing. (The 4GB and 8GB Extreme, and 4GB and 8GB Extreme III 30MB/s Edition, test out to be similarly speedy.) When used with these particular SanDisk SDHC, the card slot found in the MacBook Pro 13 and 15 inch is in fact speedier at offloading pictures to the computer than SanDisk's own ImageMate Multi-Card USB 2.0 Reader.

13 inch vs 15 inch Conventional wisdom has it that a laptop in the 15 inch range will usually offer photographers the ideal mix of features and size. Apple's press release for the new MacBook Pros backs this up, saying the 15 inch model offers the "perfect balance of performance and portability...."

The MacBook Pro 13 inch, however, might beg to differ. In its mid-2009 form, the 13 inch unibody laptop from Apple offers the key elements of the 15 inch, including a colour accurate display, FireWire 800 and more, only in a smaller, lighter and less expensive package. As we've used each model in the past 10 days, the one we've kept gravitating towards is the MacBook Pro 13 inch. This could well be the more enticing option of the two for Mac-based photographers wanting to pay less and carry less.

If the thought of toting around a smaller laptop appeals to you too, here's what you give up in bypassing the MacBook Pro 15 inch for its 13 inch sibling:
  • A larger screen The 15 inch's display measures 15.4 inches diagonally and has a resolution of 1440 x 900 pixels. The 13 inch's display is 13.3 inches diagonally and is 1280 x 800 pixels.

  • Dedicated audio line in The 13 inch combines audio in/out into a single jack, whereas the 15 inch has two separate jacks for this.

  • The option of faster graphics circuitry The 15 inch can be ordered with a combo of the embedded NVIDIA GeForce 9400M and the discrete NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT, whereas the 13 inch is available with the NVIDIA GeForce 9400M only. Apple Aperture becomes more sprightly with a faster graphics card, and when comparing how responsive the program is when layering RAW adjustments such as Highlights & Shadows on a Nikon D3 photo that has also been corrected to straighten a horizon, the GeForce 9600M GT definitely makes Aperture feel snappy and responsive. But, the GeForce 9400M is no slouch in this department; Aperture's interface does drag slightly by comparison, but the difference is less pronounced than we were expecting.

    In addition, the GeForce 9400M can play Canon EOS 5D Mark II 1080p video full screen on an external 1920 x 1200 pixel monitor, without stuttering or hesitation. This camera's unedited video tends to cause lesser video cards to collapse during playback, but is no problem for the MacBook Pro 13 inch.

    Without question, the GeForce 9600M GT is the more powerful graphics option, but the GeForce 9400M is none to shabby and seems more than adequate for various photo and video tasks.

  • The option of a faster processor The 15 inch can be ordered with up to a 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, whereas the 13 inch tops out at 2.53GHz.

  • The option of a faster hard drive Only the 15 inch can be ordered from Apple with a 7200rpm drive, the 13 inch is restricted to 5400rpm ones (plus SSDs).
That's a list of differences that, for us, don't add up in favour of the MacBook Pro 15 inch. Particularly when you look at how much more you have to spend to get some of the optional benefits above, and the fact the computer is heavier and bigger. Looking at our own needs, the MacBook Pro 13 inch, with a matte display courtesy of TechRestore, is poised to be a killer road machine.

Mini DisplayPort and DDC When we tested the previous-generation unibody MacBook Pro 15 inch earlier this year, it wasn't possible then for some and perhaps all DDC-aware calibration and profiling packages to remotely adjust the internal settings of a display connected via Apple's Mini DisplayPort to DVI adapter.

Since then, something has changed. It's unknown what that something is, in as much as we're getting conflicting information from Apple and one of the makers of a DDC-capable calibration and profiling program. Whatever the reason, we're now able to use Integrated Color's ColorEyes Display Pro to calibrate an HP LP2475w desktop display, complete with direct software-to-monitor communication that allows calibration to be done without user intervention. When we last tried doing the same thing with a Mini DisplayPort-equipped Mac laptop several months ago, this wasn't possible.

With certain desktop displays, including this midrange HP model, DDC is the only way to achieve a decent calibration. It's also more convenient, since it means no fussing with the monitor's on screen controls. Using ColorEyes Display Pro 1.5.2r26, we were able to properly calibrate and profile the LP2475w when it was connected to any of the three current MacBook Pros.

Adaptable: The Apple Mini DisplayPort to DVI adapter in action. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

If Apple's take on this is correct, ColorEyes Display Pro should also work just fine with earlier Apple laptops with Mini DisplayPorts, but we don't have access to an earlier machine to try this out. Also, other DDC-capable calibration and profiling packages should by extension also function correctly on any Mini DisplayPort-equipped Mac laptop, but as of this writing we've only tried ColorEyes Display Pro in recent times, and only with the newest MacBook Pros.

Testing notes

For a laptop display to show colour as accurately as it can, a good profile must be created and loaded into the system. We've never seen a default profile that has come close to wringing out a display's full colour capabilities, and the newest MacBook Pros are no exception.

In addition, while monitor calibration and profiling packages have definitely gotten better over time, in 2009 there is still a variation in the quality of measuring instruments and software. While that's a topic for another time, please keep in mind for now that you won't necessarily experience the same degree of colour accuracy we've crowed about here unless you're using a profiling package that is of equal quality to what we describe below.

Measure Up: The X-Rite Eye-One Pro spectrophotometer and MacBook Pro 17 inch with antiglare display. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

Profilers These are the sensor + software combinations we used to profile the MacBook Pro 13, 15 and 17 inch (white point, gamma and white luminance is in parentheses):
  • X-Rite DTP-94 colorimeter and ColorEyes Display Pro (6000K, L*, 120cd/m2, both 16 bit and matrix profiles)

  • X-Rite Eye-One Pro spectrophotometer and ColorEyes Display Pro (6000K, L*, 120cd/m2, both 16 bit and matrix profiles)

  • X-Rite Eye-One Pro spectrophotometer and Eye-One Match (6000K, 2.2, max. luminance and 120cd/m2, Laptop mode)
And for the ThinkPad W700:
  • Built-in calibrator with included hueyPro (6500K, 2.2, max. luminance, luminance subsequently lowered for an approximate visual match to 120cd/m2)
And for the Eizo ColorEdge CE240W:
  • X-Rite Eye-One Pro spectrophotometer and Eizo ColorNavigator (6000K, 2.2 and 115cd/m2)
Gamuts Three dimensional gamuts for each display are below. Roll your cursor over a gamut rendering to see a comparison with the sRGB colour space. What you'll notice is that the display in all three MacBook Pro models is very close in gamut volume to sRGB. This is in line with Apple's promise of a 60% increase in gamut relative to previous models.
Volumizer: Three-dimensional gamut renderings for the four notebook displays discussed in this article. Roll your cursor over each one to see a comparison with sRGB

Final word You'll want to avoid putting too much emphasis on how the hurdler picture looks in the photos of the laptop displays in this article. You won't be able to match up our comments about the display characteristics with what you see in the photos, because shooting angles, lighting and the vagaries of trying to make a picture of a picture on a computer screen all prevent that.

The real photo is below, so you can see what the colours in it actually look like. As long as you have a good monitor, good monitor profile and a colour-managed web browser, that is.

The Real Thing: Canon EOS-1D Mark II + EF 16-35mm f/2.8L (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

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