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Geek Chic: Apple MacBook Pro

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Apple MacBook Pro The switch to Intel's Core Duo from IBM's PowerPC chip lets the Apple MacBook Pro leap a generation beyond PowerBooks while, through emulation, still support most existing software applications even as programmers update them.

Apple's benchmark testing shows a four- to fivefold speed jump for certain operations, including rendering, on the new MacBooks. In my own testing, it was no surprise that the MacBook's performance blew away my two-and-a-half-year-old PowerBook G4.

Part of the speed improvements, as well as the lighter weight and thinner form factor, are due to Intel's Core Duo processor, which packs two separate computing cores into a single chip without a dramatic increase in power or heat. Apple also redesigned the system around a 667-MHz system bus and PCI Express.

Apple includes Rosetta, a PowerPC emulator that ships with all systems running the Intel version of Mac OS X, with the new MacBook Pro. Some software won't run under Rosetta, such as Apple's professional video and audio programs, though these are due to be released in compatible versions this month. Apple also has abandoned Classic emulation, a method of running pre-Unix Mac OS 9 applications within Mac OS X 10.0 and later. Companies like Adobe and Microsoft may charge full-version upgrade fees when they release universal versions of their suites.

This laptop is the first to come with Front Row, Apple's cut at turning the Mac into a home entertainment console. With the included infrared remote control, and using the notebook's 15.1-inch LCD or an external monitor, you can browse music, movies and photographs, and play DVDs. Front Row works well enough, using large, easy-to-read menus and graphics, though menu navigation is a bit counterintuitive.

Apple cut a few corners over its previous PowerBook model: It removed the dial-up modem, now a $50 USB-connected extra; there's no built-in S-Video port, though a $19 adapter is available; and FireWire 800 was dropped. There's no PC Card slot. And the SuperDrive (DVD/CD burner) writes DVD-Rs at 4x instead of 8x. But it also added a few goodies, like a built-in iSight camera for videoconferencing over iChat AV and recording video; dual-link DVI support for 30-inch LCDs; and better range for its Wi-Fi connections. The Wi-Fi adapter is designed to connect to 802.11a (5 GHz) networks as well as 802.11b/g (2.4 GHz).

The MacBook Pro is clearly poised for the next generation of laptop use, and a worthwhile upgrade for users with older PowerBooks. More recent PowerBook purchasers, or those considering a purchase, should evaluate their current software use to make sure universal binaries exist before committing to the next great thing.

Starts at $1,999 for 1.87-GHz Intel Core Duo, 512 MB of RAM, 128 MB of video RAM, 80-GB drive. Apple Computer