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Apple Watch: New 15-inch Haswell MacBook Pro

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Looking exactly the same as the mid 2012 MacBook Pro, the latest in the 15-inch range, as expected, gained the new Haswell CPU from Intel. But there were other changes. The two stock options are firstly, for NZ$3049, a quad-core 2.0GHz Core i7 CPU and a quad-core 2.3GHz Core i7 in the NZ$3999 model. The low-end model ships with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of PCIe-connected flash storage while the high-end doubles both RAM and storage. Of course, you can option them up further - see those on Apple's site after you click the blue Select button under a model.

The 15-inch's two Thunderbolt ports have been upgraded to Thunderbolt 2, backwards compatible with Thunderbolt - you'll need Thunderbolt 2 devices to appreciate any increase in data throughput.

The other connections are the same: two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, an SDXC card slot, headphone jack and the MagSafe 2 power connector. Wireless is the new and faster 802.11ac Wi-Fi - once again, if your network is below this standard, it will step back to the top speed of whatever is served - and it has Bluetooth 4.0.

But perhaps the greatest change is that this new range is the first in the 15-inch size that Apple has produced without a discrete video card, since the lower-priced only has integrated Intel Iris Pro Graphics with 1GB of VRAM; the other has that plus an NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M with 2GB GDDR5 memory. In the latter's case, it switches between the cards depending on what you are doing, and favours the less demanding integrated graphics while on battery.

I got to test a version of the new 15-inch with Integrated-only graphics. The Maxon Cinebench results were 27.43 fps for OpenGL and a figure of 564 for the CPU. The Haswell-equipped iMac I tested a couple of weeks ago showed 81.46fps OpenGL for its NVIDIA GeForce 775m video card, and CPU at 520. My own 2012 MacBook Pro, with its 1GB NVIDIA GeForce GT, resulted 48.09 fps OpenGL, so even this is well ahead of the built-in graphics capabilities of the new 15-inch with Integrated-only graphics.

To me, an integrated graphics-only 15-inch MacBook Pro goes against the grain. You used to buy a Mac with the 'Pro' designation because you had serious computing intent - once Apple dropped the white, general-use MacBooks, the 13-inch MacBook Pro became the go-to Apple laptop for consumers until the MacBook Air improved. Apple could conceivably have let the Air entirely full the non-pro Apple laptop space, but instead started putting integrated graphics only into the 13-inch MacBook Pro in 2011, while leaving the 'Pro' designation on it.

I've long fretted about where Apple is drawing the line between professional and consumer machines, with the iMacs becoming super-powerful and the Mac Pro tower being ignored for so long. At least we will get the all-new Mac Pro this December.

Meanwhile, iPads simply muddied the waters. I started to wonder a couple of years ago whether Apple was angling iPads at its non-pro computer users, with the Air as an interim step up to the MacBook Pro. But now I'm not so sure. And the iPad Air is considerably faster, by 40 to 70 per cent, than the model it replaces (and on sale here November 5th).

Despite any worries about the graphics, the display is beautiful and clear as it's the Retina 220ppi resolution, at 2880 by 1800 pixels. But anything that relies heavily on graphics is going to disappoint - games, for example. In Macworld's review, the Iris Pro graphics of this MacBook Pro were 33 per cent faster than the Iris graphics in the 13-inch MacBook Pro, but the discrete graphics in the high-end 15-inch MacBook Pro (which I haven't looked at) posted frame rates as much as twice that of the new low-end's Iris Pro.

But what's also interesting is the i7 version of the Haswell. Out of the box, they're running at lower speeds than we're used to. The stock 2.0GHz and 2.3GHz replace the 2.4GHz and 2.7GHz quad-core Ivy Bridge processors, respectively, that powered the systems that launched earlier this year. I mean, at least they're i7. These CPUs run four cores and 'HyperThread' up to eight virtual cores. My year-old MacBook Pro also has an i7, but the Ivy Bridge version running at 2.6GHz. This has Turbo Boost (2.0) which increases the speed of the active cores to improve performance 'when needed' up to 3.6GHz for this 2012 model; just over a 38 per cent boost. The new 2GHz model TurboBoosts up to 3.2GHz - that's a 60 per cent boost, which shows quite a capability change for this Haswell chip over the Ivy Bridge i7. The more expensive model 2.3GHz TurboBoosts up to 3.5GHz (52 per cent).

I guess it means the next revision of the 15-inch MacBook Pros, in six months or so if things run as usual, will boost the basic CPU speeds for the same price. This is a common Apple move over the lifetime of a series. It also means that general running, at the now-available lower frequencies, might be less taxing on battery life.

The Geekbench 3 scores were, overall, 3132 for single core and 12,297 for multicore, contrasting to 3363 and 13,010 for my year-old machine. So the 2.6GHz speed of my older CPU still kicks it, but you can see where this is going to go with Haswell's improvements to TurboBoost.

Out of interest, that i5 iMac from two weeks ago was 3641 and 11,651.

Macworld's tests (they have a full lab for this stuff) puts battery life at over nine hours for this new 15-inch - much better than my 2012 job, which runs out after six or seven, depending what I'm doing. By the way, there have been reports that merely upgrading MacBook Airs to OS 10.9 Mavericks has given some users another hour or two of battery life - has anyone noticed this?

Anyway, to sum up, these new integrated graphics are a definite step up, and the rest of the machine is high-spec ... but just who is this model aimed at?

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