It was late June 2009 when I opened that box. My first Intel Mac, a 15-inch MacBook Pro, with a 2.66 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 4 GB of RAM, 256 MB of graphics memory, and a 320 GB hard drive. Considering that up until then my main machine had been a 12-inch PowerBook G4, with a 1 GHz processor, 1.25 GB of RAM, 32 MB of graphics memory, and a 40 GB hard drive, you can imagine how noticeable the improvement in performance and user experience was for me.
My line of work doesn’t require frequent equipment upgrades, thankfully, so I usually change my main Mac only when absolutely necessary. The downside is that when the time to upgrade comes, I have to choose a new model wisely, because it has to last for a few years, and that means choosing a machine with a certain degree of upgradability. In this regard, I must say that this MacBook Pro has turned out to be a great choice.
With hindsight, 2009 was a good vintage for MacBook Pros. This Mac is certainly better manufactured than the aluminium PowerBook G4s and MacBook Pros of the 2003-2007 era. The ‘precision aluminium unibody’ case is a remarkable improvement over the previous assembly design. Simply consider the fact that, to replace the internal hard drive, on my 12-inch PowerBook G4 I had to remove more than 40 tiny screws, while the count goes down to 14 on this MacBook Pro. But the unibody assembly is also a marvellous improvement because the MacBook Pro, after almost four years of intense use, basically still looks like new.
It took a while to get used to the keyboard (I still love the feel of the keyboard of the aluminium PowerBooks), but again, I had to recognise that the keyboard in the unibody MacBooks is simply better designed. For one, it’s easier to clean, and there’s virtually no place where dirt can accumulate. In this regard, a terrible spot in the previous aluminium PowerBooks and MacBook Pros was the space along the bottom row of keys, just above the trackpad/palm rest area.
Four years after: what’s bad
Somehow it doesn’t seem fair to include the hard drive among the weaknesses of this MacBook Pro. Considering that in almost four years I’ve actually turned off the MacBook Pro probably less than 10 times; and considering that for the most part the MacBook Pro has been working 16-18 hours a day on average, I’d say it’s rather amazing that the stock hard drive has lasted this long.
Instead, the one truly disappointing element of this machine has to be the optical drive. At first it was just noisy (even noisier than the tray-loading CD/DVD drive of my clamshell iBooks), then, maybe after a year of light-to-moderate use, it became erratic and unreliable: sometimes it would refuse to read a CD-RW or DVD-R disc I had burnt a few days before; sometimes it managed to burn a DVD on the second or third attempt. After a month of not using it, one day it just stopped working. What a piece of crap, indeed.
…And what’s good
Practically everything else. I don’t use the MacBook Pro for particularly CPU-intensive, demanding applications, but nonetheless I still use it for a bunch of different tasks, and I have at least a dozen applications open at all times. After four years (and unlike previous Macs) it doesn’t feel old or slow or sluggish. Sure, it helps to have upgraded the internal RAM to 8 GB (the maximum allowed by this machine); and of course the latest MacBook Pros and Airs are and feel faster, but my MacBook Pro still holds its ground when I return to it. When I decided to upgrade from my 12-inch PowerBook G4 after five years of continued use, one of the reasons was that Apple had left PowerPC Macs behind, but most of all it was because of the general performance — sadly, that poor PowerBook was showing its age. (Mind you, it’s still in use as a lightweight second option, and it’s still a great machine for Web browsing, email, light photo retouching and similar tasks, and it’s undoubtedly useful in case of emergency).
However, one truly outstanding feature of this MacBook Pro is the battery. On a full charge, it still lasts almost four hours, with medium screen brightness, and wireless (Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) turned on. After four years, it’s really amazing, especially when I think of the generally mediocre battery performance of most of the PowerBooks I used before (all fine and dandy during the first year or so, then operating time and reliability rapidly decreasing).
I’m quite satisfied with this 15-inch mid-2009 MacBook Pro. It’s still a responsive machine, well manufactured, resilient and great looking. It still has a healthy battery performing surprisingly well and, apart from the mediocre quality of the optical drive, there’s really nothing to complain about this machine. I predict a few more years of use, since I intend to do one more upgrade to further extend its useful life: a dual SSD-HD internal configuration, with the SSD as the main unit, and the current 500 GB hard drive as secondary unit, replacing the useless optical drive (with the help of adapters such as this one). And whatever Mac I’ll purchase when it’s time to upgrade again, I’m positive this MacBook Pro will still be a fantastic second machine to have around.