As you no doubt heard, Apple today refreshed their MacBook lineup with across-the-board adjustments to pricing. I’ll let other sites comment on the news more generally, as this is a music site, not a notebook site. But the big news for audio in terms of I/O, just so you don’t miss that:

  • FireWire on more models: Finally, you can again get a 13” MacBook (now called MacBook Pro) with onboard FireWire – a FW800 connector. That’ll restore the use of audio interfaces and certain high-speed storage, and means the MacBook is again a good choice as an audio machine at the US$1199 base price point.
  • ExpressCard on fewer models: Oddly, the addition of a lowly SD card slot (nice for photography and mobile recorders) has supplanted the ExpressCard slot on the 15” MacBook Pro. If you want ExpressCard, you have to buy the 17” – which, in turn, loses the SD card slot.

Now, generally the news here is pretty good. For music, you probably aren’t too concerned about the GPU, so the 15” MacBook Pro at US$1699 is looking like a nice deal. But PC users are no doubt puzzled, given that all of these connections are standard equipment on the vast majority of PC notebooks, including ones that cost less than a grand. And there still aren’t as many USB ports as you’d like – you get two ports on all but the 17” model, which has three, and very often only one of those may actually be usable because of power issues.

MacBook Pro [Apple]

The battery life is also greatly improved, but unfortunately is no longer user-upgradeable. See further comments on CDMotion.

  • Bah, still no anti glare option on the 15". Still only 2 USB ports and now not even an ExpressCard slot to add some low latency USB ports. Bummer. Ah well, this way I have more incentive to stick around another year. By then we will have 1TB SSD's and USB3.

  • Slee

    Hmmm, expand my computer with lots of processing power for plug-ins (like with Universal Audio's coming UAD2 SOLO LAPTOP). Or be able to drop in a SD to transfer pictures when pluging the camera straight into the computer works and is easier. I guess there are a lot more amateur photographers buying macs than mobile musicians.

    As someone in my office said, they should call this new line the Macbook Semi-Pro as they keep removing power user features.

  • Well, yeah, ExpressCard hasn't exactly taken the world by storm, so I understand the decision… but you do have to note, the PC makers aren't forcing you to make these kinds of choices. I'm loving my 4-USB-port Asus machine and wouldn't give it up for anything. 😉

  • Slee

    I know there isn't much going on in terms of ExpressCard offerings and i know that the ones (pro audio ones anyway) being developed are running into problems because the current Macbook Pro ExpressCard slots are buggy. Since not many people are using them and developers are complaining that they dont work right in the 1st place, this makes business sense for Apple to cut them loose.

    Still i think it's lame. The point is that if you really want a SD reader, you could buy a $30 adapter for the ExpressCard slot, and still have the option to do SO MUCH MORE with that slot.

  • michiel

    Well, to me this is simply great news. Had been postponing buying a new laptop for ages (still on a G4 12"). I'm working with a firewire audio interface and surely was not going to replace it for a USB one, nor tempted to drag a big laptop around. Small form factor + firewire back = buy. Thanks Apple for listening to all our complaints 🙂 !!

  • @Mateo: Right. Of course, if it's *your* grand… 😉

    This begs the question of why the recent Microsoft ads looked like they had been put together by Apple. "Wow, so here's the Mac. Yeah, it looks a lot better than the PCs. Everything about it is really better. But I'm really happy – look, I've found this clearly sub-standard PC alternative! I'll buy this! Yay!"

    … as opposed to comparing the PCs that actually *are* a damned good buy and worth saving the cash. But, obviously, this is why I'm not Microsoft's ad agency, because I think this way…

  • hell yes! i just ordered myself a 13" to replace my first generation white plastic macbook. can't wait.
    special thanks to apple for coming to their senses about the firewire issue.

  • @Slee: Right, exactly. Also, whatever has been going on with ExpressCard and audio, there have been some amazing, very successful solutions with video. You also have to figure this is a format that’s fairly widely used and is standard on all of these other machines. Apple is doing a lot of things really well, but the matter of just putting ports on their machines I wouldn’t rank very high at the moment.

  • Right, that’s why my take was a *little* different on Motion than Music — on Motion, you might be a little disappointed with the NVIDIA 9400M. It works, but it’s underpowered for some live visual tasks. On Music, that’s really a non-issue (and incidentally, you won’t be using the GPU for audio tasks any time soon, even with OpenCL, especially if it’s a lightweight GPU like the 9400)

  • moon man

    The uni body aluminum is a great idea, the look and toughness. havent seen this in pc machines.

    the 6pin fw is great for bus powered soundcards, you cant get this in pc machines.

    and osx is great (I use both osx and xp)

    I still think the apple is overpriced. IMO

  • Well, yeah, you can imagine what would happen if Apple ran a restaurant. "Excuse me, waiter; can we get a bottle of Cabarnet?"

    "Of course, sir. Right away. First, I'll need your steak back. Thanks."

  • But PC users are no doubt puzzled, given that all of these connections are standard equipment on the vast majority of PC notebooks, including ones that cost less than a grand.

    We’ve been through this before: the paucity of ports has everything to with the case design, and nothing to do with price or anything else. Although I find the lack of expresscard on the 15″ model a bit surprising, apple clearly know their target markets, and probably figure that the SD slot would be more useful for the types that buy that model.

  • bliss

    ExpressCard should at least be a selectable option on the 15-inch for those who need it, and the smaller laptop form factor. Really strange that Apple would consider the 17-inch to be generally desirable among truly mobile users.

  • Claude Ravel

    Can Apple ever just upgrade a line, and not take something away????? I would have bought a 15″ with an express card.

    I currently hate all computer makers, just some more than others.

  • Jaime Munarriz

    Wow! There's a new card that you'll love:

    Echo Indigo IOX Express Card

    At last an card for the new slot, for all the people who had and loved the Indigo series!

    mac are nice – but – expensive
    you can buy a pc for 400 or 500€
    and a really powerful one for less than 1000€

    but we all like this beautiful machines, so please keep buying them!

  • dead_red_eyes

    I find it absolutely ridiculous that they removed a pro feature on the 15″ MPB. WTF?! I was considering buying another 15″ here soon because of my 2007 MBPs 3GB RAM limitation. I use an eSata card with the ExpressCard/34 slot so I can record audio to my external drives. Now if I want to do the same, I have to spend another $500+ dollars just do get the damn ExpressCard/34 slot. Guess I’m just going to buy the 13″ model since it’s $1,200 and has the FireWire 800 port.

    Goddamnit Apple, quit removing the fucking features on these laptops!!! Argh!!!!

  • Damon

    Nice of Apple to apprehend the obvious. And I recently heard Honda plant to install kick stands on their bikes.

  • Anthony

    Lame Apple. You remove the ExpressCard only to add an SD card slot? Why dont you just make an SD card slot reader accessory that plugs into ExpressCard slot? Duh!

    At least they're not done killing firewire yet because once they do, that's it.

  • I don't want to start a mac vs pc debate. But I do find that you people throw the words "cheaper laptop" around like its a testament to the freedom of choice.

    With Apple, you know where you're getting screwed.
    With PC's, you either educate yourself or get ripped.

    For example, I have this (impatient) mate who bought an Acer Aspire 6530 laptop.
    Some of you are probably already making a facepalm. I know I made one..

    On paper, its a powerful laptop that is nicely specced. In reality its a piece of crap that can't even handle one of the 3 soundcards we tried on it. It came pre-installed with vista, I believe we actually voided the warranty by trying XP.

    Basically, my mate got screwed. His only fault is that he didn't consult other musicians before he went out and bought a laptop. Because we already learned what works and what doesn't.
    He also doesn't have any internet, so he stood no chance..

    With Macs, there's always something wrong too. Though I can't name a single current model that has any problems with my soundcards.
    I have to mention that the built-in audio on my mac mini just vanished though. Like, the computer says it isn't there anymore and I can't use it.
    Same thing happens to my bluetooth, but that one pops back every now and then.
    When I finally take this thing in for repairs, I'll have a small laundry list of bugs and errors that can't be corrected by software or opening it up myself.
    But its still running and allowing me to work..

  • Damon

    I guess you either have to buy a mac or a pc or not buy a mac or a pc and purchase or not purchase something obscure. But this is only 1 option.

  • GriotSpeak

    @ Bjorn
    "With Macs, there’s always something wrong too. Though I can’t name a single current model that has any problems with my soundcards."

    I actually agree with your argument, but i need to point out that agere chipsets would like to have a talk with you.

  • RayFlower

    Great to have a fw800 port on the 13" definitely a step in the right direction in my opinion, i could care less for what gpu it uses as long as It's not a intel gma.

    But i do understand why people are a bit disappointed with it since its a "PRO" so i guess most of us would at least expect it to have a good gpu but taking their target group/audience ito consideration..
    It's the lesser evil of the potential compromises they could've made.

    Having firewire is more important to me and i asume the most of you sice there are some damn good audio interfaces out there.

    I've had a 15" san rosa MBP for two years now and i can honestly say i have never had any desire to use the express port though i guess it could be useful if you want e-sata.

    But to be completely honest, why do they have to remove things?
    It's not like the 15" and 17" has gotten any cheaper(relatively) since 2006.

  • @GriotSpeak

    I can't speak about good/bad experiences with agere chips. The only firewire issue I ever had ultimately turned out to be because of the cable.
    Griffin Technologies actually managed to make a cable that performed worse than usb 1.0.
    Their sound products as disposables (imic anybody?), but you would have thought they'd at least get a cable right. Funny thing is, they discontinued that firewave and probably didn't even realize the cable they shipped it with was the problem.

    We'll see what RME says. They're usually the ones to ring the alarm bells if needed. Hell, they made a usb soundcard as a response..

  • Maybe it's a marketing technique?

    When a company like IBM or Toshiba changes a model we hear very little about it except from sites specialising in laptop news. When Apple pulls a move like this there is lots of talk about it, often with free links to their site and online store. If any publicity is good publicity then they might be acting like this on purpose to get attention, like a Indian beggar piercing his own hand hoping for more attention and hence more money.


  • @ Peter Kirn: I'm just about to get an Asus F6VE-3P046C with a 250Gb/7200RPM HD. Out of curiosity, which model do you own?

  • @Woody: I have an M51Sn. I just happened to get a deal on the M51, and I liked the idea of owning at least one PC machine with dedicated VGA + DVI + S-Video(!) outs for live visuals.

    The F6 series looks really nice, and Asus is doing more with 13" laptops than just about anyone I know (even putting some serious GPUs into them).

  • @Bjorn: I think you can run a very reasonable music system NOW with Vista. Don't ask about what the first year of Vista was like. Augh. But I think it's now okay to move on from XP. And I find for both audio and video, I've gotten some really terrific performance results out of the PC.

    And I absolutely agree; the PC thing takes some research. That's why I've said positive things about someone like Rain Recording here before. It's not just about price with Apple; I think some of this complaint is about *choice*. So considering a little premium on the PC side, too, may be worth it, if it means you get a choice you like.

    I'm certainly not trying to start PC vs Mac wars and it's nice to see no one else is, either. I think what matters to everyone here is that whichever choice *they* make works out for them — and it's not a Mac vs PC choice; it's usually a lot more specific than that, even on the Mac. (Do you buy a previous-model open box 15" MacBook Pro to get ExpressCard and a removable battery? What's the best audio interface to buy for a Windows laptop for low-latency performance that will also work on Linux if you dual-boot?)

    If anyone has suggestions for how we can share that information with each other in an organized way, I'm all ears. It's definitely one of our goals for noisepages. I'm generally allergic to wikis, but we could build some smaller wiki-style pages into the content system here.

  • Overall I think it's a move in the right direction. The express card … I've only heard about the UA products so I don't see the super-widespread use for it.

    On the other hand the SD card is a little redundant … what's wrong with… would've definitely liked to see an extra USB port.

    In any case, I'm quite happy with my White macbook for some time.

    Sidenote: Greeters to Woody and Kassen

  • Soo…..luckily I got mine two generations ago. Lets see, I have a camera that uses memory stick, an audio recorder that uses SD, and a synthesizer that uses Compact flash. Right now, I have an express card reader that can read everything but the compact flash, and a different one for that.

    SD is soon becoming standard, but right now, there are still some good competing alternatives to SD that I'm surprised Apple just chose that one. I feel people who use the Express Card slot wouldn't feel so miffed if it was replaced with at least a multi card reader – and a choice to have one or the other – WITHOUT having to have the monstrosity of a 17inch laptop.


  • Greg

    What's this urge to upgrade to a new mac? If you don't like the new ones, stick to your present one. Think retrospective fellaz! It's a miracle we can create music with computers. We have zillions of softwares and applications, from the free, open source DAWs to plugins, excellent hardwares, affordable and great synths, ect. We are very spoilt and for me the whole argument about the new macs is ridiculous. Frankly, don't upgrade. You don't have to.

  • @ Greg: Exactly. I fully agree. I used to make albums on a Sansui 6-track to cassette with a TR-707, a guitar, a bass, a mic and some pedals. Then I thought having a Esi-32 and a sequencer was a limitless setup. Now, the possibilities are ridiculous.

  • graham

    i am so pissed! i am stuck with a 13" without the firewire. i bought it as my last computer i'd be able to get with student loans before i graduate.

    the sd card slot would be nice also! anyone have any ideas on how i can make my computer malfunction or something and get it replaced with one of the new ones?

  • jonnyfive


    The buyers guide is a great great thing, tracks all the revision cycles for you, plus you can read about the upcoming hardware changes before they happen. When I was in your position I was holding out for a Penryn chip, but decided Intel Tiger was more worth it…

    As it is now, I'm not buying another laptop till it has 4 cores, my current MBP is pretty comparable until then…

    That said now that Apple went to the nvidia chipset and come to its sense re FW, the 13" is a great buy, imo and I will buy one when they put a quad core in it.

    Also hi-five for everyone not turning this into some sort of ridiculous loyalist flame war. Making music on a PC? You win! Making music on a Mac? You win too! On linux? EVERYBODY WINS!

    What always gets lost in those silly hyperbolic "discussions" is software (yes hardware is important too, but really only if a lack of it is prohibitive to something, hence the SD card discussion here and the previous gen FW discussion). But most people who use computers creatively use them for the applications, not the OS's that run them. And often there's alot of time money investment there….

    Anyway, more of a thank you than anything to really "add".


  • @Peter

    Yeah. Some sort of up to date buyers guide would be nice.
    That whole experience of installing windows 7 and XP over vista really burned me again on PC's in general.
    On paper, what is not to like?
    In reality, why do I have to change to boot order in BIOS to start an OS CD?
    Why do I literally need to reinstall a dozen drivers, just to get the laptop working again?
    And hell, why doesn't the XP install disc see SATA drives, requiring me to learn how to hack that in BIOS?

    Maybe I've gotten too spoiled as a mac user.
    There was a time where I was no stranger to assembling a PC from the motherboard up.
    Now I'm literally willing to let issues like built-in audio vanishing slide, until I got a new Mac. Because I know this little mini will just keep on going like my old dual G5 and dual G4 that is still spinning day and night in some studio somewhere.
    And I'm also fairly sure that once I bring it in for repairs, I'll get it back better than new or an all new model all together. It happened with an Imac I once had. Didn't even come from an apple store.

    I'm intrigued by current developments on PC's. But windows still isn't going to sway me. If 3 bog standard audiocards don't work on any of the 3 main OS's.. Just because its a "home laptop".. Well they aren't earning any points there.

    I'd love to see an actual maintained PC buyers guide. And I'm not talking about a simple thread where everybody just randomly states "my laptop works". There are hundreds of those, all outdated and probably hosting the odd flame war.
    I want to see an actual guide by musicians and bloggers like yourself. An unbiased voice of authority and facts to back it up.

    And I'd love to see some comparisons on how quickly you can get going out of the box.
    What I mean by that is, when I unbox a mac, install the audio drivers and Live. I'm good to go. Lots of settings I can play with, but I don't have to. Its plug and play.

    Obviously from my story with the Acer 6530, this was not the case on PC. Will this be so for every laptop? Is it a difference between chips? OS? I genuinely want to know these things, because I really don't understand the differences. A lot of laptops look the same on paper like a macbook. Most look even better.

  • autoy

    "I want to see an actual guide by musicians and bloggers like yourself. An unbiased voice of authority and facts to back it up."

    Sounds reasonable but it's impossible. PCs are not Macs. There are so many variables -not only due to hardware combinations but also user software combinations, unreliable set of drivers etc.- that it is nearly impossible to take particular experiences as "facts". You don't deal with those kind of things on a Mac and it's something a lot of PC users don't understand -the so-pomposly-called Mac experience- until they own one.

  • @autoy: Well, I'd say *computers* are giant bundles of variables, Macs included. Talk to someone doing Mac support. 😉

    @Bjorn: I do think that's a good idea. The closest I've seen is the guide Cakewalk did, but it's just tough to keep up with the sheer quantity of PC laptops out there. What might make sense is some kind of knowledge base about chipsets, etc. And frankly, that could benefit even the Mac side, because Macs *are PCs* in terms of internal hardware — especially these days, when people are running Linux, too, and it's not just about the OS. (I could go on about that — look at the amount Apple is promising to do on the GPU, too, using OpenCL… you've got a lot of hardware and code that's identical regardless of OS)

    That really does sound like a horror story. I've been lucky not to go there. There's no debating the variability of the experience is broader on the PC — sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a scary way.

    By the way, yes, sometimes the Mac has an advantage because of fewer hardware choices. But I'd also say there are cases in which Apple does things better with the *same* choices as, say, Windows. That should be a point scored for the Mac side, so I'm a bit puzzled way Mac advocates lately have bought the Apple corporate arguments that say it's just about their level of control.

  • I definitely appreciate that it is a huge challenge to keep track of all the PC's out there. But that is not really the point, I'm only interested in those that work, which already disqualifies a lot of models when it comes to audio production.

    In the end, we all use computers. Every single last one of us. While you can debate about different models forever, you can't argue with benchmark results.
    The only references of PC's that work I have in mind would be Kraftwerk using the Vaio's and macbooks running windows.

    The computer is pretty much the most important tool you need to create digital music..

  • VAIOs… no, thanks. So case in point.

    But Bjorn, there are definitely more machines out there. A lot of musicians are indeed now using the Rain Recording machines. Also worth checking out: Asus, MSI. I've seen machines from each of those guys that work really well. I think it's not coincidental that Asustek and MSI are also two of the biggest mainboard manufacturers. Quanta, the biggest, is the company that makes the Apple MacBook. But MSI and Asus actually have their own brand and support and do a good job of it.

    Anyway, if I can find a way to do this scientifically, I will. And that goes for Apple, too, because a lot of that is also heresay.

    But if you've heard the only working PCs come from Apple and Sony(!), you've definitely heard wrong. That's something we can work on. 😉

  • Cool. Well one of these new macbooks is definitely next on my list. But I will also need a Pc eventually since I'm getting more into audio development.
    I'll check out the Asus, MSI stuff. But that just brings me back to square one, because now I gotta study the differences and try to determine which specific parts make for a good laptop.

    Thanks for the comments. I can't remember the time I could have this type of conversation on the web without a flag jacket.

  • Ryadh

    Well, nobody seems to have noticed, but the microphone input is lacking in the macbook pro 13", and this sucks.

  • @Bjorn:

    For audio development, you can do it all with a Macbook Pro running Bootcamp (for native user experience) or a virtual machine like VMWare Fusion.

    Plus, Macs really do run Windows faster, although, I suspect this is due to lower-quality parts found in affordable notebooks.

  • Genjutsushi

    Lamest of the lame features – on the 13Inch version the headphone socket also doubles as the line in!!! No more simple recording setup, no more headset with Skype and so on and so on. Dreadful decision!

    Also, non changeable battery and no user upgradeable hard drive!!!! Awful!

  • Oli

    Even the $330 Lenovo Ideapad S10 Netbook has an ExpressCard slot. I'm sure it even runs OS X.

  • Cheers Nick. I wasn't sure if a Macbook pro would do the trick for both platforms. Still have to try it out with my apps. But I have good faith in it.

    @ Oli

    Yeah I keep hearing that a lot. But why are there special websites with instructions for this? Why can't you just use the install disc?
    And can you keep it up to date? Do you need to do anything special to update it?

    And what about the core level Mac functions?
    If my mac has a software issue, I can usually fix it with another Mac in firewire mode. Is this possible with a PC running OSX?