MacBook Pro

Audio, relying primarily on the CPU, can do fine on the non-pro MacBook: a fast CPU and FireWire 400 can be all you need. But for visualists, the GPU has become more and more vital. The integrated Intel GPU on the MacBooks is surprisingly capable, and certainly gets through basic video mixing. But throw enough shaders at it (even just processing video, without any 3D modeling or gaming), and it can’t keep up. That’s the reason Apple requires the MacBook Pro for Final Cut Studio; with Motion, at least, they’re absolutely right.

You’d be wise to postpone a MacBook Pro purchase over recent months, though, with Intel’s new Santa Rosa architecture coming and NVIDIA working on taking their 8000-series GPUs mobile. Apple today announced they’ve got the new machines with both — and better displays, too.

MacBook Pro [Apple]

For more on the music and CPU side of this, see our sister site, Create Digital Music:
MacBook Pro Revision: Big Santa Rosa Performance Boost, 4GB RAM Option, More

The short version: better displays, finally a 1920px option, the latest-and-greatest NVIDIA GPU for faster performance in Motion and OpenGL goodness for geeks, faster CPUs, more RAM — just generally fewer ways your wallet can avoid buying one of these silver surfers. I got some additional performance details from Apple, and hope to follow up with my own benchmarks.

I got to talk to Apple’s product team today to learn more about the model. They’ve been running benchmarks on Final Cut Studio 2, and the results sound very good. Using a DV encoding test with Final Cut Pro 6, they say the new machine runs 52% faster than the original fastest MacBook Pro, the first-generation 2.16GHz Core Duo. (The 52% improvement effectively incorporates the new front-side bus and other enhancements in Santa Rosa, as well as all the goodness of the Core 2 Duo over Core Duo.) They reported similar boosts in their other pro apps, like Aperture. I’ll be curious to see how the new Adobe suite performs, but I would expect something similar.

GeForceGPU Geekery: That’s the CPU side. What about the GPU? The new machines use NVIDIA’s GeForce 8600m GT, which is only just starting to show up even on the PC side. On Windows, the big story of the 8600m is support for DirectX 10, and the 8000 series outperforms high-end ATI and NVIDIA cards of the last generation even with DirectX 9. On the Mac, though, we care exclusively about OpenGL (which is also generally more important to visualists in general, from Jitter to 3D apps to animation, even on Windows). The 8000 series is also much faster with OpenGL, and boasts more eye candy, as well, with features like 128-bit rendering and better anti-aliasing.

In fact, you don’t even need DirectX 10 to take advantage of the architectures in the GPU. NVIDIA has ported DX10’s banner features, like geometry shaders, to OpenGL via their shader extensions. And the card supports OpenGL 2.1, as well, which is already supported by Java and JOGL (on Mac and Windows and Linux, naturally), and will get official support in OS X Leopard. You can code directly for this stuff in Java directly, or in Processing, as well as via the Mac tools.

Faster Motion, faster visual apps: If you’re an end user, not a programmer, you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits in apps. Apple says its tests of Final Cut Studio’s Motion run some 37% faster on the new MacBook Pro, largely a function of the new NVIDIA card over the MBP’s previous ATI X1600. (And the X1600, in turn, is still a great card, so this is nice to hear. If you’re upgrading from a plain MacBook to a GPU-heavy machine, you should be really happy.) Pump more 3D at once, as you do in games, and the difference is even more noticeable: 57% faster Quake 4, 30% faster Doom 3, according to Apple. That makes the MacBook Pro a pretty awesome game development / live visual machine, I think.

Better Displays: As covered in the CDMusic story, the new LED-backlit displays are more eco-friendly (no mercury), better-looking (and reach full brightness when you turn them on instead of warming up), and now offer a 1920×1200 option on the 17″ model for $100 more, allowing you to view and edit 1080p on the go. (All of them support external resolutions up to the 30″ Cinema Display, so you can project 1080p from any of them.)

I don’t mean to bash the PC here, but having looked at some PC options for visualists, I’ve tended to find this: poor product designs and cases, things that weigh 8-10 lbs. (or more!), poorer displays, and, oh, yeah, only one OS (Windows) instead of two (Windows / Mac) out of the box. They’re cheaper, definitely, but it’s tempting to spend a little extra to get Mac OS X to me, especially if I don’t have to give up Windows or Linux.

I look forward to testing the finished product and doing some benchmarks. I’ll definitely have to get one. End of line.