Replacing a MacBook with a MacBook Pro

On Saturday I pulled the trigger on my MacBook Pro purchase, going with the base model 15" MacBook Pro directly from my local Apple store. Here are the specs:

200GB 5,400 RPM hard drive
Glossy display

My youngest daughter is quite pleased because this frees up my little MacBook for her. I've been steadily working through getting things transferred and installed on the MacBook Pro and every hour or so my daughter pops in and asks if she can take the MacBook yet.

Soon, honey. Soon.

I'm actually a little reluctant to part with the MacBook now. It is after all a wonderful little machine and to a large degree I appreciate it a bit more with the new MacBook Pro getting all of my attention. I even set about comparing them side by side, taking a few pictures along the way.

From a size standpoint the 15" MacBook Pro is still a pretty small machine. Actually a tiny bit thinner than a MacBook it feels quite sleek and the aluminum case feels very solid and durable compared to the shiny plastic case on the MacBook. Though the MacBook Pro weighs in at 5.4 pounds compared to the MacBook's 5.0 pounds that nearly half pound difference feels like a lot more. Finally the width and depth are about an inch larger on each edge for the Pro.

The display on the MacBook Pro is excellent and for me the main reason for the upgrade. At 1440 x 900 I get 26% more screen real estate than on the MacBook, which is actually pretty substantial for such a nominal increase in the size of the machine. The display is a bit brighter on the MacBook Pro too.

Before doing too much I ended up swapping the after-market memory I had placed in the MacBook (4GB) with what was in the MacBook Pro (2GB). That swap was very simple; 3 tiny philips #0 screws on each machine and about 3 minutes of work and each machine was being powered back up without any issues.

My initial impression of the MacBook Pro was not too good though. After firing it up and letting it charge up I started the process of installing my applications on it. At first I tried the Migration Assistant but decided that I really didn't want everything transfered over from my MacBook to the new MB Pro. Since the MacBook was my first Mac I had a lot of "software experiments" on it and I figured I'd just be selective.

One of the first things I installed was iStat menu so that I could monitor the machine as I put it through it's paces. It was a good thing I did because the temperature gauge came in handy.

The MacBook is One Hot Computer
While busily copying files over to the MB Pro I noticed that the case was getting pretty warm, especially under my left palm. After a little while it became more than just warm and was flat out hot, with heated air blasting out of the left speaker grill like a mini-furnace.

I went online and did some research and found hundreds of complaints about the heat that is generated by a MB Pro. I read many cases of people going to Apple to complain about the heat generated by the machines and being told that it was within specification. My little MacBook would get warm when I pushed it hard for an extended period of time but that wasn't too often. In addition the heat was always routed out the rear edge of the case, right at the base of the display. The front area where I rested my palms was never an issue on the MacBook.

I also found more than one instance of Apple personnel telling people that the MacBook Pro is not considered a laptop computer; it's a notebook. What's the difference? A laptop can rest on your lap and be used, a notebook apparently requires a desk under it. Given the heat that the MB Pro was generating for me the only way this thing was going to get parked on my legs was if I was suffering from hypothermia.

Though I don't do it often, I do occasionally like to take my MacBook off the desk and plant it on my lap while watching TV with my wife. The heat that it generated was just not acceptable for the way I wanted to use the machine.

I ended up doing a little father's day shopping and found the Belkin Laptop Cooling Pad at my local Costco for $20. It not only allows you to comfortably rest the MacBook Pro on your legs without sautéing your skin it also has a little USB powered fan the pushes cool air up at the bottom of the machine, helping it stay considerably cooler according to iStat menu. At least now I had a decent solution to my little heating problem.

I used the Belkin cooling pad for several hours yesterday and it does work quite well. The only challenge is that a lot of the spontaneity of simply grabbing the machine off the desk is lost when I also have to reach for the cooling pad at the same time. For people that work for many hours with their notebook computer on their lap this is a great little device though.

Now that I've been running the machine for a little over 24 hours I've noticed that the heat has dissipated to a large degree. The machine still gets warm mind you, especially on the left side, but nowhere near the mini kiln that it felt like initially.

If the machine is running quietly for a while with minimum CPU usage I am seeing the core CPU temperature hover at about 51° Celsius. If I let it run at about 15% CPU utilization for a couple of minutes the CPU temperature pops up into the 63° Celsius range and the keyboard gets a little warm but not uncomfortably so. I'll be monitoring this very closely over the next couple of days.

Keyboard / Trackpad Differences
The two machines have the same basic keyboard layout, the only difference being that the MacBook Pro has two additional dedicated function keys for Dimming and Brightening the backlit keyboard (F5 & F6). Since I had been using F5 as my Spaces key I had to find another shortcut for that. The backlit keyboard function is pretty handy, illuminating the entire keyboard when the lighting conditions warrant it. I imagine this would be very handy while trying to use the machine at night on an aircraft, assuming you have the seat room to really use the machine effectively.

The other difference is that the keys themselves are more like a traditional laptop or desktop keyboard; both my MacBook and aluminum keyboard on my Mac Pro have the same "chicklet" style layout with smaller flat buttons that have a slight separation between each key. Since the physical arrangement is identical there is no real adjustment, though using the countered keys on the MacBook Pro is actually quite nice.

Finally the trackpad on the MacBook Pro has a few more options than my MacBook did. While the MacBook's trackpad supported two finger scrolling and right click emulation, the MacBook Pro adds pinch and expand, rotate, swipe and additional tapping support.

Looking Ahead
When I asked the Apple store folks whether I could replace the hard drive myself and still keep the warranty valid the answer was no. If I wanted to swap out the hard drive I would need to use an Apple authorized service center; the store in Tysons Corner, VA does not offer that service. They told me that if I did have the hard drive replaced properly then everything would be covered under warranty except the new hard drive.

I'm going to see how well the 200GB drive I have holds up for now. I've still got a lot of free space left right now and as long as I keep my video footage over on the Mac Pro and limit myself to a subset of my music and digital photo collections I should be perfectly fine.

When the 320GB / 7200RPM drives become available I'll see what it would cost to get an authorized dealer to install one. If it's not too bad then I may go that route. I'm also adopting a wait and see attitude on the heat issue. I'm not sure if this is just something you live with on MacBook Pros or if my machine has an issue that I'll need a Genius to take a look at.


Unknown said…
There's a freeware preference pane called Fan Control ( that allows you to adjust the fan settings to increase cooling. It lets you trade off fan noise for heat dissipation.
David Alison said…
@Charles: Very helpful, thanks much. I wouldn't mind the slightly louder fan noise if it means keeping this machine a bit cooler. I can't hear it as it is anyway.
Anonymous said…

I use my MAC Pro on my lap all the time and have not noticed any heat issue. I find that interesting and please keep ups posted if it happens again. I use Fusion and at times can hear the fan kick in when using my XP VM but have not noticed any heat issue. Also since you are near the Tyson Corner Apple store you are near Micro Center off of Nutley and 66. Micro Center is an authorized repair facility for Apple. I will call or stop by if I get a chance and see how much to replace a MAC Pro hard drive and let you know. I want to replace my 5400 rpm hard drive with my 7200 rpm hard drive. Thanks for the info.

I also know what you mean about the difference between the MAC Book and MAC Book Pro. I see advantages with each one. What I did not like about the MAC Book was the plastic seemed to scratch easy.

Take care and enjoy.
Unknown said…
My MBP is amazingly cool under normal conditions comapred to my old Powerbook.

Remember that when you start a new machine, all the Spotlight indexers kick in to index your fresh new drive, so for the first hour or two, the machine is actually working quite hard - and thus, getting fairly hot.

Once the indexing is done, it should go back down to regular normal use temperatures - mine idles between 46-52 under regular use, although for things that require processor grunt, like audio or video, obviously the temperatures will increase.

If you want a cool laptop (in generl, I prefer a cool machine), use smcFanControl. I generally use the deault speed of my fans from 2000rpm to 2500rpm - you still don't notice the fans running, but the machine stays a few degrees cooler, and if it's getting too warn, you can always temporarily up the fan spped if you wish from the menu bar.

In short, I'm *very* happy with the heat performance of my MBP (same specs as yours, but with a 250gig drive) and can easily use it on my lap.
Anonymous said…
The 200GB drive is OK, but Apple prioritizes power efficiency over speed.

My advice (and what I did) - go buy a Western Digital 320GB My Passport Essential on sale at your favorite big box. Unlike the smaller capacity WD portable drives, the 320GB drive has a full 8MB of cache. Opening the external drive case is very easy - and you would then have a 200GB portable, bus-powered scratch drive. Not only is the 5400rpm as fast as other 7200rpm drives (due to the higher areal density), but the discounted external drive is usually cheaper than the bare drive.

There was a noticeable speed-up on my MBP 2.4 (previous gen).
Anonymous said…
Here's a link with other Mac users who made the same swap:
Unknown said…
David: In 2006, I made the jump back to the Mac after having been on Windows since 1995. My first machine was an Intel Mini, my second and main machine was the first 17" MacBook Pro. This month, I decided I needed to replace my notebook while resale value was still good. I now use a 24" 2.8 iMac as my main machine. I have syncing between the two nailed, so I decided I could go with a lighter, smaller notebook than the 17". Last week I got a black MacBook 2.4/250 and upgraded to 4GB.

My thoughts (nits) between the two are:

- MacBooks run cooler (especially compared with the 1st generation MacBook Pros).
- Going from 1680x1050 to 1280x800 is a big jump.
- I'll miss the Express/34 -- I kept an SDHC reader in it.
- I like the magnetic closure of the lid on the MacBook better than the MacBook Pro latch.
- Battery life on the MacBook is good.
- Having only two USB plugs and both on one side, makes you think about what your USB devices.
- FireWire 800 is useful when you really need to move data on/off - FireWire 400 is surprisingly slow.
- Audio is much better on the 17" (probably the 15 too).
- The light up keyboard is nice, but not key for me.
- I'm so glad to have 4GB now (old MBP 17" max out at 2GB).

I know you'll enjoy your MacBook Pro and will be interested in reading more about your experience.

Josso said…
Hey David. :)

Is it possible to get another (higher?) resolution than 1440x900 ?
I'm going to buy a Macbook Pro 15" too, and would love to have a bit bigger resolution. (It'll be my primary computer)

And funny enough, I heard the opposite on a Danish Macforum: That Macbook gets warmer than the MB Pro... :p
I'm just hoping mine don't get hot. :)

- Johan
Anonymous said…
Gee, I only have a 160 gig drive in my Macbook, and it spends most of it's time on a desk, even out and about.

My wife has a little padded lap desk she like to use while lounging on the couch with her Macbook.

Both of them get a little warm for straight lap usage, but the venting is good and the plastic cases are a tad more insulating than the aluminum one of the MBP.

The storage question is mostly one of management. Any videos (which are arguably the most bloated of the Things That Take Up Space) that have been watched and won't therefore be needed when out and about go onto either the firewire or USB external drives I have sitting here. I can always drag over a movie or TV show if I'm expecting to be out in the World and will need to be entertained while waiting for something (haircut, doctors office, dentist, you know all those professional places where the main thing you do is wait.) Then it's to the Trash to free up space while a copy of it is still on the external drive.

Kids today, and their EXTREEEEEEMME storage requirements! ;)

- walkerj from the Mac Forums
Anonymous said…
FanControl-like utilities have previously fried a number of fans (and subsequently some CPUs) at my company. I would not recommend those.

During first week of using MacBook Pro (which was over a year ago, switch from Dell Latitude D800, which I'm not all that thrilled with), I've purchased a Lapinator ( Without it, this little heater would be unusable without a desk nearbuy, more so when running Parallels.

It's a tradeoff for being trendy, I guess ...
Anonymous said…

In regards to the Tyson Corner store not offering the service of changing out your hard drive, the store in the Pentagon City Mall may be an option.

wcarr3 from MacForums
Joel Esler said…
The mbp gets hot on the bottom left because that is the location of the harddrive. The battery will also get a bit warm when it's completely dead and you plug it in and it recharges all the way.

As for the harddrive getting warm, it will get a bit warm if you push it hard, but it shouldn't stay that way.
Hendrik said…
A lot of the posts you will find about heat issues probably refer to the first generation MBP. Which were getting crazy hot. Apple really improved the cooling system for the next generations. It still gets warm, but with low CPU load not uncomfortably so.
Anonymous said…
A glossy display? Ouch.
MacTrader said…
There are actually a few external fans that you can purchase for the pro that are very effective. Good luck with the new computer!
David Alison said…
@All: With Charles advice in hand I tried out Fan Control and set my minimum fan speed to 3100 RPM. At idle my CPU temp is down to 40°C from about 51°C before switching the fan speed.

I can't really hear a difference in the fan's noise with it running a little faster.

@Ast: I compared the glossy and matte displays side by side and the glossy seemed much clearer and it was what I was used to on the MacBook. I haven't really had any glare problems at all though now that you've brought it up I'm probably hexed.

Thanks ;-)
Anonymous said…
Thanks for writing about this David. I was wondering if my 17" MacBook Pro was running hot sometimes. It sounds like it is in line with yours. I've noticed it get up to 62 or 63 degrees Celsius at times. It usually happens when I'm running Fusion or exporting a slide show in PulpMotion. Mine has the same config as yours except I have a 160 Gb hard drive. I bought mine last September. I'm leery of messing with the fans. I'm afraind of it causing some problems like one of the anonymous people posted about. I've thought about putting a faster drive in it but I'm leery about the potential heat increase. Other than the heat issue, I love my MacBook Pro.


Anonymous said…

I to have the first 17" MB Pro. Was interested in your selling story. Were you able to buy both those computers from the sale?

Send me an email to let me know. Thanks.

ryanromkema AT gmail DOT com
D said…
ahh yes... the evil heat problem with MBP's... it's a pain but I don't find it too bad if your just doing 'normal' stuff in anything but summer heat... in summer heat it does become quite a bit problem but the fans deal with it pretty well... i use Fan Control (as charles stated :D) to control the fans on my MBP and make sure they are running fast enough to keep my MBP cool although it does get noisy and you run the danger of killing your fans at a young age, but I'd rather my motherboard and hands/legs last longer than a couple of $30 fans :D Admittedly I never use my MBP on my lap though...
Anonymous said…
It's a shame you didn't use migration assistant. It's beautiful, the kind of thing that Windows users only dream of. Migration Assistant moves over all user data, settings, and applications while leaving behind the old system, and any of its problems.

Anyway, if you ever do end up wanting to clean out the system, an Archive and Install is painless. It does the equivalent of a Windows reformat and reinstall while keeping the user's data, settings, and applications intact.

Mac users rarely have to recreate their machines from scratch, even when they're extremely experimental.
Unknown said…
I have a case from Speck for my 17 in MacBook Pro. It adds some protection from dents, and insulates your lap from the heat. Its vents align with the MacBook and does not appear to impede air flow.
David Alison said…
@Josso: 1440x900 is the max resolution for the MBP on it's internal screen. If this will be your primary machine however and you'll do the bulk of your work with it on a desk you can get an external monitor that will support much higher resolutions. It can be run either as an additional desktop or as a clone of your existing machine so you can close the lid and use an external mouse, keyboard and display when it's parked on your desk.

Lots of options there, heavily dependent on how mobile you need to be (the 17" MBP is quite large compared to the 15"), your budget and the amount of disk space you'll have to work with.
Anonymous said…
I have a 15" PowerBook from way before the glossy display was an option. When Apple introduced the MacBook and MacBook Pro, a friend of mine bought a MacBook following my recommendation (his first Macintosh).

He brought it over so I could help him set it up and show him the ropes of Mac OS. This was the first time I saw a glossy screen in the flesh, as it were.

Immediately, I took notice of two things: (a) the MacBook's display was so much brighter, and (b) I'd never ever get a portable with a glossy display. True, the picture did look sharper, but I also noticed some, how shall I put this, grain. The impression was similar to the one you get watching old movies shot on low-grade film stock. As for the glare itself, it was definitely a problem. I kept getting distracted by not just the glare itself, but by the reflection. Don't get me wrong, I do love to see my face from time to time, but only when I want to.

That said, I've always enjoyed matte photographs and preferred them over glossy pictures.

Now have I made you hexed even more? :-P
Jim Hamm said…
David, I've got the first gen MBP, 15" (14 months old) and generally use it on my desk sitting on a Raindesign iLap aluminum stand. The aluminum stand seems to help dissipate the heat, which, fortunately, hasn't been a problem for me. Right now the CPU temp is 124℉. Very infrequently the temp will rise and the fans kick on, but rarely.

When I do want to use the MBP (or my MacBook Air—which is used when I travel) on my lap, I cut to size a piece of particle board—the kind that has holes in it and is used normally to hang tools on in the garage. I glued two rubber tips on one end to give it a bit of elevation, and I find this also works great to set the MBP or MBA on whether on one's lap or on a desk.

As a side note, 14 months ago we were a "Windows family", with four PCs. I then bought the MBP, and now we are an "OS X family" with four Macs. We made the switch and never looked back.

I think you will definitely enjoy the MBP, and I'll keep reading your blog, and reader comments, to see how things develop. An enjoyable blog. Thanks for doing it.... SlimJim
Anonymous said…

Well I stopped at Miro Center today and they said to replace the hard drive it would be $60 bucks and take about 2 hours. I am looking at doing this so I can get my 7200 rpm installed and keep it covered under the warrantee.
David Alison said…
@MaxPug: Thanks - that's helpful. Someone pointed out that Hitachi will be releasing a 320GB 7200 RPM drive soon. I may end up just sticking with the 200GB drive though; it's plenty fast and with most of my stuff loaded I still have 133GB free. I'll probably put about 10GB of my favorite music on it and get a cut of the photo library in here too. Even then, that will leave a lot of room to spare.
Eytan said…
@josso - the 17" comes in two different display resolutions. The 15" only in one...

@David - I replaced the hard drive in my MacBook Pro, and in my PowerBooks for years before that. Apple will always absolve itself of responsibility, but has never failed to service my computer unless the issue was HD related (makes sense – the HD that is under warranty is no longer in there).

What I have done is purchased one of the OWC FireWire on the go drives (these days I buy the ones with FW 400+800+USB 2.0). They come in a nice carrying case, power supply (rarely needed) etc - I use Carbon Copy Cloner or Disk Utility restore to copy the internal to the external, then using a site like (they have a great walk through for the MacBook Pro to replace the drive) I replace one drive with the other and go – all the while retaining a complete backup of the internal drive in case anything happens. A couple of weeks later when I am sure everything is alright, I erase that drive and use it as bus powered, external, portable storage. I now have 4 of those drives.... (an old 30 IDE, a 60 IDE, a 120 S-ATA and a 160 S-ATA).
Although the instructions may look a little intimidating, the whole operation (the swaps - NOT the cloning) will take under 30 minutes and is really not that bad...
Enjoy your new MBP!
Anonymous said…
David - thanks for the belkin suggestion. i'm on my way to get one...
Anonymous said…
david -

it's a pure myth that installing "anything" into your mac will void the warranty. fact is, you can take apart any mac down to the very last screw and the warranty remains valid... the only caveat is that if you "break something" along the way... then yes, the warranty could come into play.

the specific clause in the warranty is this:

This warranty does not apply: (b) to damage caused by service (including upgrades and expansions) performed by anyone who is not an Apple Authorized Service Provider;

yes, geniuses and service providers will tell you otherwise just to make an extra buck, (or they simply don't know), but legally, you can install a hard drive or anything into your mac and your warranty remains intact.

installing a HD in a MacBook Pro is fairly straight forward, go to ifixit where they have excellent photos outlining each step for each model:

and lastly, there is now a 500GB drive for the MacBook Pro's - google for: Spinpoint M6 500GB

David Alison said…
@OS11: This is very helpful - thanks! Here I am asking people all around to clarify what voids the warranty but I didn't think to just look at the actual warranty! Doh!
Anonymous said…
David -

Yes, you'll notice the current warranty says "post1997" and that's because when Steve returned the draconian warranty was replaced with a more lenient one.

The reason was that Woz among others wanted to still work on their machines, but not lose their warranty. So the joke was within AppleCare was that you could take any Mac apart, down to the last screw, and as long as no damage occurred during that process (or putting it back together) the warranty would not be affected.

For "customer safety more than anything" is the corporate "line" is taking it apart will void the warranty, but in reality, the "legal wording" allows for it, just that no "damage" can occur.

Pre-1997 Apple used colored glue on some components to ensure nobody but themselves worked on the equipment, but the use of glue is long gone, so feel free to add a hard drive, or "whatever", just don't break it :)


lap desk said…
Fast forward to 2011, and we've got the Macbook Air 2, which is basically a powerful laptop that's thinner and lighter and would not require as much space.
Nancy said…
Thank you so much for the review! This is very informative. I am planning to buy a new Macbook this week.

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