Life, Technology, and Meteorology

Month: March 2006

MacBook Pro Sound

Diego commented on my last blog posting about the sound issues some users have noticed with the MacBook Pro’s. I think it’s best to post about this separately instead of in the comments, so here goes. Diego asks…

I was wondering whether you’ve noticed any problems with the right speaker? I’ve seen some comments from others where there seems to be some distortion/vibrations coming from the right speaker. Just curious. Some of these comments were on the Apple discussion forums.

Let me qualify myself before answering this question. I am a bit of an amateur audiophile…I know what good music sounds like, and I’ve listened to music on speakers costing upwards of $10k/pair. These high-end brands like B&W, Klipsch, and even a few Mirage and PSB systems sound a lot better than your average JBL or Polk setup (though JBLs pro series are excellent in large areas such as for concerts). Sony speakers aren’t even close to this league. I have an M&K home theater system here, and really enjoy kicking back and listening to some music (2 channel, not surround) with my eyes closed. However, with all this said, I’m not an audiophile in the sense that I’ll spend tens of thousands of dollars on a setup. Many audiophiles probably wouldn’t even consider me to be one.

So to answer the question, my right and left speakers do not sound uniform. This is one of the first things I tested when the MacBook Pro arrived. The right speaker doesn’t sound distorted as much as it sounds like there is a lack of bass. Chris Liscio has documented this over on his blog complete with acoustic measurements, and his observations match what I am hearing.

Oddly enough, when the balance is set in the center, the sound combines pretty well. The speakers aren’t far enough apart to give good stereo separation, so really it’s close to just being monaural. I would have never known there was a problem if others hadn’t mentioned it and I hadn’t tried adjusting the balance all the way to the right and left myself. They sound like laptop speakers. 🙂

I’m sure Apple will respond to this issue since I believe it probably effects most, if not all, the MacBook Pros that have shipped. Like Chris, I hope it is a software problem. If they don’t respond to this, then I’m not going to worry about it. 99% of the time the deficiency won’t even be noticeable.

MacBook Pro Arrived

Well, my MacBook Pro finally came in yesterday, and it’s great so far. It has a great new computer smell to it. The speed completely blows away my old Powerbook and gives my G5 a run for it’s money. Disk accessing is noticeably slower because of the laptop 5400 rpm drive, but that’s expected. As far as processing speed is concerned, it’s comparable. You might remember from a few weeks back I posted benchmarks with compiling subversion. Well, I’ve run this benchmark on my MacBook Pro, and here’s how it compares…

MacBook Pro 1.83Ghz Core Duo, 1.5Gb of RAM: make -j8 2:11.41

Dual 2.5Ghz G5: make -j8 2:34.94 with 179% CPU usage

Athlon64 3200+: make -j8 2:58.68

This is a 15-20% speed increase over the G5 while compiling, even with a slower disk! I know computers continually get faster, but the fact that Apple’s laptops are now faster than many of the PowerMacs is pretty amazing. The only model they can’t really touch is the Quad G5… I can’t wait to see the performance of new Pro Macs on 64 bit Intel chips later this year.

I like other features of the MacBook Pro as well. The LEDs under the keyboard that light up when the room gets dark are pretty sweet. I also like being able to scroll a window by using 2 fingers on the trackpad. Both of these features were on past Powerbooks, but neither of them were on my old TiBook. The screen is very bright. I can’t see a noticeable difference in brightness between this LCD and my 20″ Cinema Display.

The computer is very quiet… I can’t hear it at all while using it in my office with other machines running, even when the disk is accessing. While in a quiet room, it does make some noise, but it’s definitely an acceptable level for meetings and conferences. I haven’t even heard the fans turn on yet, which is a huge relief from my TiBook. Whenever the TiBook’s fan turned on it sounded like a hairdryer, very loud and obnoxious. This would be fine if the fan didn’t turn on too often, but all it took was 100% CPU for about a minute to kick the fan into high gear… Not all TiBooks behaved like this (Katrina’s is much quieter), but my particular model was pushing processor speed back in the day, so it got a lot hotter. The MacBook Pro DVD drive also makes less noise while accessing a disc.

I was concerned about battery life when I ordered it, since Apple didn’t mention how long a charge would last. I am happy to find out that it will last about 2.5-3 hours with my normal usage. I usually keep the LCD brightness all the way up, and don’t turn on any power saving features. I’ve heard other users can get 3.5-4 hours when they dim the display or do other stuff to conserve battery life. I’m sure I’ll use some of these methods while at a conference all day, but generally 3 hours is about as much time as I will spend away from a power outlet.

All in all, these are great machines, and I would certainly recommend a MacBook Pro to anyone looking to buy a new Mac laptop. It will be interesting to see when 12″ and 17″ models will be transitions. My bet is at WWDC this summer.

Update: Added some pictures on Flickr…


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