Apple's new 17-inch MacBook Pro rocks

Upgrades can push the price past $5k, though, so choose wisely

The biggest of Apple's laptop line compared to the smallest, a second-generation MacBook Air (right).

The biggest of Apple's laptop line compared to the smallest, a second-generation MacBook Air (right).

It took Apple a while to finally get around to updating the 17-inch MacBook Pro, but the wait was more than worth it.

Apple started rolling out its carved-from-solid-aluminum laptops a year ago, with the incredibly thin MacBook Air. Then, in October, it revamped its MacBooks and the 15-inch MacBook Pro, moving them to the "unibody" manufacturing process (and moving the MacBooks decidedly upscale).

Now, finally, comes the Big Daddy of all Apple laptops, the top-of-the-line 17-incher that has been made truly drool-worthy for professionals who need every bit of computing power and speed while on the go. Of course, speed, size and innovation don't come cheap.

The already well-equipped base model (although I'm loath to call anything this gorgeous and well-built a "base model") starts with a 2.66-GHz Core 2 Duo processor from Intel, 4GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, two Nvidia graphics processors and a simply stunning high-resolution, 1920-by-1200-pixel screen. Price: US$2,799.

As with the rest of Apple's laptops, the MacBook Pro 17's chassis is now carved out of a solid chunk of aluminum that eliminates any flex, does away with seams along the edges, and helps make this the lightest, thinnest 17-inch laptop now on the market. It's just 0.98 inches thick with the lid closed, and weighs in at a svelte 6.6 pounds -- 0.3 pounds less than its predecessor.

The glossy screen is surrounded by a piano-black bezel, an echo of the aluminum-and-black look that debuted in 2007 with the iPhone. The multitouch trackpad has a glass veneer and integrated clicker button. There's a lighted keyboard (the keys are now black), the usual retinue of ports -- including the recently introduced Mini DisplayPort for external monitors -- and a built-in iSight webcam. (Note: Video adapters are no longer included in the box, so if you plan to hook up a monitor, you'll have to buy the correct adapter separately.)

Oh, and there's the new built-in, nonreplaceable battery that Apple swears will last up to eight hours. Yes, eight hours. More about my own experiences with battery life in a bit.

If that's not enough for you, the 17-inch MacBook Pro can be optioned in ways that should please even the most demanding user.

You say a dual-core 2.66-GHz chip isn't enough? Fair enough. Hand over $300 and you can bump the processor to 2.93 GHz.

The 5,400-rpm hard drive is too slow? Give Apple another US$750 for a 256GB solid-state disk drive (SSD).

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