The Core 2 Duo MacBook Pros are here, and even if you’re a Windows user, these machines deserve a look. See Create Digital Music for the full once-over, but here’s my short list for why the MacBook Pro has appeal for the VJ/visualist/live visuals person, particularly for the intensive requirements of running live visuals in performance:
- Backlit keys: This one is a huge lifesaver when you’re in the dark, and it isn’t available on most PCs, or on Apple’s cheaper MacBook. Sure, you could plug in one of those USB lights, but do you really want that thing in your face and taking up a free USB slot?
- It runs Windows: I love the Mac, but Windows has a performance edge when running Java (read: Processing) and for live video input (thanks to DirectX), for Flash (for reasons unknown, it runs faster on PC even with the Intel Macs, and you have better developer tools), as well as running fantastic Windows-only live visual software like vvvv and Resolume. Spend your daily life in Mac OS, then boot up a cleaned-out, stripped-down performance-only rig in Windows.
- It runs Mac: The Mac has some nice features of its own, especially if you’re using tools like Max/MSP/Jitter. Max runs really well on Windows, but on Mac it has a very nice bonus: you can build custom image filters using Core Image and Quartz Composer. Driver support for audio and MIDI is far better on the Mac, too. You know the rest of the reasons why you like Mac OS. Isn’t it nice to be able to run both everywhere you go? Thanks, Apple. (See also: Linux on Intel.)
- FireWire 800: This is great for audio, but it’s even more awesome for video. One MacBook Pro, one external RAID array with all your video clips. Need I say more? (Hint: do not try this trick even
- RAM and storage: When you’re comparison shopping Macs with PCs, note that Apple has finally put sensible 1GB / 2GB standard RAM and 120GB / 160GB standard storage specs on these models. ‘Bout time. Most PC makers aren’t. Most PCs also aren’t expandable to a full 3GB RAM, and the MacBook Pro is.
- ATI X1600: For visualists, this is the other key spec difference between MacBook and MacBook Pro. The ATI X1600 isn’t the most powerful video card on the market (see Alienware’s incredible dual-SLI NVidia 7900 systems, which are surprisingly price-competitive with the Apples), but for most custom live visuals, this is the difference between a truly usable GPU and one that’s bare-bones (like the integrated video on the MacBook and most cheaper PCs). Odds are your custom visuals aren’t putting out the massive polygon counts needed for games, so the X1600 should be just right. If you really want to do crazy simulated fluid models, I’d suggest getting a small form factor PC, anyway, rather than a laptop, so you can upgrade visuals. The truth is, most of the software we use still relies heavily on the CPU, so the Core 2 Duo ultimately becomes more important than having the absolute top-of-the-line video card — and don’t forget, the X1600 can blaze through Unreal Tournament 2004 at around 60 fps, so it’s no slouch. (Try that with your PowerBook G4, or even MacBook. Actually — don’t.)
If you only need to run Windows, I don’t think the MacBook Pro makes much sense. But for those wanting the perfect mobile Mac, or a machine that can run Mac and Windows (for whatever reason), the MBP looks better. And if you were waiting for a speed bump, this is it. I’m guessing Apple will keep the current high-end / low-end configurations of their laptops for the near future.