Living with the MacBook Pro

It's now been a couple of weeks since I bought a MacBook Pro and handed my MacBook down to my youngest daughter. In that time I've used the MBP quite a bit and overall I'm quite happy with the upgrade. The only issue that I've had with it has been the heat it generates, though to a large degree I haven't really noticed it any longer. Either my left wrist has adjusted to being slightly warmer than my right wrist or the Fan Control I installed has helped keep the machine running a little cooler. I actually believe it's a bit of both.

I've now used the MBP sitting on my lap and worked with it comfortably for about 2 hours and I didn't even need to use the Belkin Cooling Pad I bought, though I do still use that every once in a while.

The overall performance of the machine has been excellent and—as I mentioned earlier—I love the display. The battery life from the machine has been very good for me and after a couple of hours on battery with moderate use I'm down to about 45% of my battery charge remaining.

One of the things I didn't appreciate until the last couple of days is the way the display adjusts to the ambient light. When you combine that with the backlighting on the keyboard the MBP is a completely useable machine in very low light conditions. 

The quality of sound from the MBP is also a big improvement over my MacBook or any of the HP or Dell laptops I've had recently. If I have a video or piece of music that I want to share with the family then everyone can hear it quite easily.

ExpressCard 34
About the only thing I didn't quite understand on my MBP was the purpose of the ExpressCard slot on the side of my machine. It's a slick looking little slot with a door that pushes in and smoothly rounded edges. I figured it must be a Mac thing so I did a little research on it.

Turns out the ExpressCard slot is the 34mm version of the PCMCIA card that PCs have had forever. The more traditional format—54mm—is what you tend to see in larger PC based laptops. If you're interested in reading about what this stuff is all about Extreme Tech covered the announcement of this new standard. Five years ago. Still, it's a worthwhile read if you want to understand what this is about.

So what exactly can you plug into this? With USB 2.0 and Firewire 800 there's not a lot you really need out of ExpressCard that isn't more easily handled with a simple external connector. The most popular devices that I found from NewEgg appear to be external SATAII interfaces that provide full 3.0Gps rates.

I can see that a memory card reader—something I wish Apple had just included on the machine—is an option, the Compact Flash format my Canon DSLRs use are too large to fit in the slot. There is a CF reader from Verbatim that fits into the ExpressCard/34 slot but it sticks out a bit. On the bright side it claims to be up to 5x faster than a USB based device. When I transfer photos from a nearly full 4GB CF card that may come in handy.

If you know of a killer ExpressCard use or have experience with it compared to comparable USB based devices (like CF card readers) please comment about it! I would be really interested in finding out if people are getting considerable performance gains using this technology.


Pedro said…
I have been using the Griffin ExpressCard|34 5-in-1 for about a year for SD and Sony Memory Stick. It is very handy to not have to worry about carrying the two different cables for the cameras and it sticks out less than 1 mm. The only problem so far is that it didn't like one of my old cheapo SD cards.
Dean said…
I use a CF card reader in my ExpressCard slot. I shoot motorsports and can easily have four 4 GB cards to transfer to my Mac at the end of a day of endurance racing. That takes way too long with a USB connection (nearly 2 hours IIRC). With the ExpressCard reader I can transfer each CF card in about 5 minutes.
Anonymous said…
jpp_zoso: i've been using a lexar 16gb ssd in the expresscard slot. great for backups of important files and software disk images. not quite as fast as i thought it would be though...not really much faster than a flash drive. once mounted, it is flush w/ the case. the only drawback has been os x does not treat it like an internal/permanent hard drive, which is what i was hoping for. so when i use a virtual machine, if i need access to contents on the ssd, i have to unmount in os x, then switch to the vm, and then re-insert the ssd to have the vm recognize it.
Anonymous said…
I use my expresscard slot for a Verizon EVDO 3G modem. You can get a usb dongle version, but this only sticks out an inch or so from the machine. The USB modems make me feel like my laptop has a tail.
FaTtBaZtArD said…
I purchased my first macbook pro 4 years ago and never looked back. I now own an Intel based model and can tell you that it is a huge improvement over the previous one, which was an awesome notebook.

I've been using a PCI Express Sprint Broadband card for 2 years and that is the only device I've used the PCI express slot for.

I manage a global network of Windows machines all from my MBP. It was great to get rid of my last windows machine two years ago.
Anonymous said…
Harry you couldn't buy your MacBook 4 years ago, It's impossible, 2 and a half well should be possible.
Unknown said…
I use a 2-port eSATA card for access for fast disk drives (about 2.5 time faster than FW800) for audio use.

And I want a UA Xpander, a DSP device for running audio plugins, previously only available as DSP cards for tower-format computers, but not you can use them on laptops with Expresscard slots.

Also for audio use, you could use a FW expresscard to give you a separate independent FW buss, so you could run your audio interface / hard drive on one FW buss (the inbuilt FW on the MBP), and a FW DSP solution such as the Liquid Mix or SSL Duende on the other FW buss - you couldn't run all these devices on one FW buss to thei full potential, so the second buss is really useful.

So - lots of uses for the Expresscard, at least in my audio field...

For general use, most people aren't going to care about the Expresscard, but for "Pro" uses, it has lots of applications.
Anonymous said…
Dave, as I recall the only time the MB really overheated was during the migration of your data from your previous computer. Perhaps the left wrist rest is where the hard drive was working overtime for you. Just an thought. Thanks for the blog.
Anonymous said…
You can change the ambient light settings by going to AppleMenu > System Preferences > Displays > Display > and uncheck "Automatically adjust brightness as ambient light changes."

Anonymous said…
The link you posted for the Verbatim card shows a review that claims there are problems with the MacBook Pro due to the card going in too far. Have you has any problems? I have been looking to buy one of these for my MBP, but the review scared me off.

Thanks for the blog,
Anonymous said…
Just as Ben said for audio use, the ExpressCard slot is extremely valuable for using the MBP as a video editing machine.

You can use a FireWire ExpressCard to give you a second FireWire bus, so that you can use one bus for drives to load footage and the other bus for attaching the FireWire camera for loading and video display so that you can use both buses at their maximum throughput.

An even better solution is to not use FireWire drives for capture but rather faster eSATA drives by using an eSATA ExpressCard.

This makes the MBP a great editing machine. Better, for example, than using an iMac where there is no way possible to get a secondary bus to separate external drives from the FireWire camera/display.
David Alison said…
@Walt: I haven't had any experience with that particular device - just one I happened to find on Newegg when I was researching this. Delkin has one as well. Dean - any recommendations on brand?
Anonymous said…
Is there a difference in speed between a USB modem and an expresscard slot modem?
Anonymous said…
Sorry, I meant is there a difference in performance. If not, I think I would rather have one for the slot instead of the USB. I wouldn't want my MAC to have a tail.
Anonymous said…
In Dec. 2006 I helped my brother make the transition from a PC to a MacBook Pro. He did not want to use his local cable internet service so we found a Sprint Broadband ExpressCard modem that worked for him. (And as a fireman, he got a great service deal.)

At that time you had to activate it using a PC before it would be recognized on a Mac. (I hope they have that software glitch fixed by now.) He's had no problems getting online wherever cell phone reception is available and is not limited to finding free WiFi hotspots when traveling.

On a side note, I really enjoy reading about your PC to Mac transition. As a long-time Mac user (1987), I am still discovering new 'cool' stuff to do with my machine. Your helpful tips and insightful comments underscore just how much there is to appreciate about OS X. And I've learned a more than few things here as well.

Your blog is a great addition to the online 'Mac community' and I look forward to seeing what you discover next.

John R
dougplummer said…
I used an Express Slot CF card reader in the beginning, but I kept having error messages and dropped connection. I use a Lexar Firewire reader now that is fast and reliable. I'm a pro photographer, so this is a mission critical capability for me. The screen display is what sold me on the MBP--the LED display is the best of any notebook out there, it profiles beautifully, and I can actually do high end editing on the road. Despite turning off all the display options, the screen brightness still keeps changing on me for no apparent reason, which is a continuing annoyance.
Dean said…
@David Allison "Delkin has one as well. Dean - any recommendations on brand?"

I'm using the Delkin. It has worked like a champ for me. The only downside is it doesn't come with a case. I store it in a plastic bag that goes in my camera bag.
Unknown said…
Re: second firewire bus comments for audio / video / photo editing.
The second firewire 800 socket is backwardly compatible so all you need is a $7 9pin to 6pin or a 9pin to 4pin adaptor lead. That works great for me with pro audio mixing, I can run a drive and a firewire audio interface, something that doesn't work at all when daisy-chained.
(i still want to get something for the slot though)
chrishawn said…
i was wondering the same thing and ended up buying a
Sonnet File Mover Multimedia Memory Card Reader & Writer - ExpressCard/34

Memory Stick, Memory Stick Duo, Memory Stick PRO, Memory Stick PRO Duo, Memory Stick Micro (M2), Memory Stick Pro-HG (M2), MMC (Multimedia Card), RS-MMC DV, RS-MMC, MMCplus, MMCmobile, MMCmicro, SD (Secure Digital), miniSD, microSD, SDHC, miniSDHC, TransFlash, xD-Picture Card, xD-Picture Card Type M, xD-Picture Card Type H
Anonymous said…
On the high-end, companies that make
professional audio gear that attached to
PCI bus cards on Mac Pros also offer
ExpressCard variants to support MacBook Pros.
For example, from Apogee:

Symphony Mobile.

The main advantage is that is frees the full
bandwidth of the Firewire port for an external
disk for the audio data.
D said…
thanks for posting this topic David and the reply's guys as I've had my MBP for nearly 10 months now and have never known what I would ever do with that port... It looked like the old in my old laptop but I'd never seen anything to put in it so I thought it was a complete waste of space... like FireWire 800 XD So useless for the average user like me, I've never even owned/used anything that uses FireWire 800 before... I wish they'd give me another USB Port instead :D

Actually I do have one use for it, to put my finger in there while I'm bored and have nothing to do and play with the door flap... :D Although I do like the look of a card reader... that could be very very useful...
Anonymous said…
I've been using the Delkin ExpressCard CF reader with a Canon Rebel XTi and SanDisk cards for some time now and been VERY happy with the performance and the size. I chose it based on this review:

Also, somewhere I read something about the ExpressCard standard which said it was explicitly designed to have the devices sit outside of the slot rather than flush in. Don't remember where I read that though.

Unknown said…
Re: second firewire bus comments for audio / video / photo editing.

Angus wrote:
The second firewire 800 socket is backwardly compatible so all you need is a $7 9pin to 6pin or a 9pin to 4pin adaptor lead.


Yes, you can use the FW800 and FW400 ports at the same time, but it's still only one bus, and will still only work at FW400 speeds. and still has the overall bandwidth of one bus.

The point of adding another FW buss via the Expresscard is to give you twice the FW bandwidth, even more if you can just use FW800 devices on the internal FW buss, and thus run at 800 speeds.
Anonymous said…
I think Terry White has some great posts at And if you do a search on "express"you get some great posts on performance gains he's done.

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