Tools Of The Trade: The Apple MacBook Pro

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The Independent Online

Apple Computer has always ploughed its own furrow. Rather than make industry-standard hardware, it developed its own Macintosh com- puters and operating systems.

But last year Apple's founder, Steve Jobs, announced a fundamental shift. Instead of relying on the Power- PC chips that had powered Macs since the mid-1990s, it would switch to the industry-standard Intel processors.

Perhaps the most eagerly awaited upgrade is to its laptop range, where Intel chips promise a significant performance boost.

The new MacBook Pro is a 15in wide-screen laptop built around Intel's Core Duo processor. The model tested here ran at 2GHz, against 1.67GHz for the latest PowerPC-based portable.

But the MacBook Pro has two processor cores, and Apple claims that for some intensive tasks, such as rendering graphics or video footage, it is four times faster than a PowerBook.

To make the most of this processing power, Mac users need to update their applications to ones written for Intel chips. Apple has already produced Universal versions (running on both Intel- and PowerPC-based Macs) of its iLife and iWork applications, and these are included with the MacBook Pro.

Among third-party software firms, Quark appears closest to releasing an Intel-compatible version of its Xpress page-layout program. Adobe is converting its software to Universal, and Microsoft is committed to producing a Universal version of Office.

In the meantime, most existing Mac applications will run well enough on the MacBook Pro, using a technology called Rosetta. This will not, though, deliver the full power of the Intel chip.

Apple's professional applications are not, however, compatible with Rosetta and just one Universal version - the audio production program Logic - has been released so far. The company expects to launch updates for Final Cut Pro and DVD Studio Pro in the next couple of weeks.

It is these applications that stand to gain the most from the new Intel chips, as professional users need all the power they can find. If the upcoming Universal versions live up to the results from Apple's early tests, it will be easy to justify investing in a MacBook Pro.

For general office or graphics work, though, the lack of Universal applications means there is no rush to upgrade.