As you’ve no doubt heard by now, Apple has new laptops as of today, including even a refresh for the Air. Look past the industrial design and gestural trackpad, and some of the significant under the hood changes to Apple’s laptop line are graphics-related. There’s a new graphics connector, which adds the nice feature of dual-link DVI support, refreshed GPUs, and possibly most importantly, an easier transition to the low-end. While it’s too soon to know for sure, my hope is that means a US$1299 MacBook could now be capable of running software like Final Cut Studio and Resolume 3 might now run on non-Pro machines.

The bad news: when Apple giveth, it also taketh away. FireWire is gone on the non-Pro model. And the Pro is down one FireWire port. And there’s no HDMI or Blu-Ray, if that matters to you. And something went wrong and the 17″ model is still the old 17″ model (though that may not be a deal breaker, if Apple will reduce the price).

It’s the FireWire thing that bothers me — especially strange, given it’s a format Apple helped advocate, and given that Apple has pushed HD video for consumers with iMovie. It’s an absolute about-face. It means that while Apple may have just given you a way to run Final Cut, they may have also taken away the ability to capture footage, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Studio still doesn’t run on their low-end machines. (This despite the fact that, on the audio side, people do pretty heavy-duty audio work in Logic Studio on even a Mac mini.)

GPUs

The MacBook line now uses the NVIDIA GeForce 9400M. It’s an integrated chip, but benchmarks suggest it should behave more like an entry-level, current-generation dedicated GPU. Now, watching Apple’s presentation, you might think this is some revolutionary new design, but it has appeared in PC laptops, too, from makers like ASUS. And while the engineering feat is really significant, and an order of magnitude better than the awful Intel integrated graphics, you’ll still squeeze more GPU performance out of, say, any used $1500 MacBook Pro than a brand-new $1500 MacBook.

Anyway, my sense is that this could bridge the software divide that has separated Pro and non-Pro users. If you have a plastic MacBook, you can’t run Final Cut Studio (Motion, in particular, relies too heavily on the GPU), and you can’t run great upcoming software like Resolume 3. (I do run VDMX successfully on my MacBook, but some fancier effects and extra layers don’t work as well as they do on a dedicated GPU.) We’ll have to see how the NVIDIA drivers work out, but I’m hopeful that this could make the Mac entry level for visualists a lot lower. It’s a pretty big bummer to have to start at US$1999 just to get a GPU fully capable of running live visuals.

On the Pro is the NVIDIA 9600M GT with up to 512MB of VRAM on the $2499 Pro.

Graphics, FireWire Connectors (or lack thereof)

There’s also a new display connector, the Mini DisplayPort. In fact, the Mini DisplayPort and 9400M are even on the MacBook Air. The DisplayPort is a new, emerging standard, and, for what it’s worth, has gotten standards approval from VESA. Short term: it’s a pain there’s no HDMI, but you could see DisplayPort showing up other places, and it’s clear Apple’s trying to push it over HDMI and DVI. Apple theoretically could have supported both but evidently chose not to for political reasons; DisplayPort has pass-through HDMI compatibility.

Now the bad news: there’s no more FireWire connector on the non-Pro MacBook. That means you can’t connect a DV camera, which to me is a pretty huge deal. Even on my non-Pro MacBook, I can plug in my camera and edit in Adobe Premiere pretty successfully (or, via Boot Camp, in Sony Vegas). There’s no SATA, either, which is the emerging drive standard — even on the Pro. And you can only remedy that situation on the Pro with its ExpressCard slot, which the standard MacBook still lacks.

At least, if you want a second laptop to run visuals on and don’t want to use integrated Intel graphics, you have a reasonably affordable Mac option now.

Bottom line: I don’t think this is anywhere close to a game changer. If you’ve been waiting to upgrade and you were planning to go Mac, it’s all good news, so long as you had your eye on the Pro models. But anyone hoping for a real change in the Mac value equation will be sorely disappointed. Sure, the Mac is wildly popular among visualists, but I have to say, you do have a choice. I think a Windows laptop remains a strong option value-wise. And, hey, competition is good.

MacBook Specs
MacBook Pro Specs

Create Digital Music on FireWire Changes:

No FireWire on MacBooks? Only one FW800 jack on Pros, when you might want a fast bus for an audio interface and another one for storage? Here’s what I think on the audio side of the equation:

What the New Apple Laptop Port Changes Mean for Audio

Updated: It’s time to talk to Apple, say fellow Mac users. Eugenia of Eugenia’s Rants and Thoughts is encouraging unhappy Mac users to tell Apple they want FireWire back on the MacBook:

No firewire on new Macbooks
Apple – MacBook – Feedback

  • http://www.resolume.com Bart

    I,m excited about the new MacBook, it should run Resolume 3 just fine, we're glad to see the back of the Intel ntegrated graphics chip!

    BTW: The dual-link DVI does not allow you to connect two external monitors, just one with a higher resolution (2560×1600).

  • http://createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Oops, sorry. That was just wishful thinking.

  • http://createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Actually, that said, the more powerful the GPU theoretically the better off you should be with things like the Matrox multi-output solutions…

    Now I'm going to go eat my belated lunch before I say anything else stupid. Damn you, Apple and Pacific Time!

  • http://stretta.com Matthew Davidson

    Apparently FW400 devices are backwards compatible with FW800 via a special cable. So, MBPs can still have access to firewire audio interfaces.

  • http://www.adriangoya.com videogink

    there's also no FW400 on the pro model. only 1 FW800.

  • http://createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Right, having just one FW800 jack on a so-called Pro model is most definitely not a selling point. PCs are shipping with tons of USB *and* FireWire *and* eSATA in a lot of cases.
    http://createdigitalmusic.com/2008/10/14/what-the

    I expect to a lot of Apple's markets, this doesn't matter, but it sure matters for audio.

    And losing FireWire entirely on the MacBook to me is just sad. Imagine you buy your college student an HDV cam and a MacBook, only to find out you can't even edit in iMovie?

  • http://www.adriangoya.com videogink

    ok. let me complete my last comment.

    Even if it's backwards compatible… it is still less connectivity. you are now forced to use more hubs for the same functionality, which adds up to the bill.

  • http://createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, right. It's not going to be an issue for everyone (aside from another annoying dongle), but Apple is supposed to cater to high-end users and music and visual production. This is clearly the opposite of that.

  • http://www.newmusicmonday.com Tim

    New macbook for me = initial excitement… slowly dwindled away to disappointment. Reminds me of my prius with no way to hook in an ipod… sweet car, but adding a 30 cent audio jack would make it so much sweeter. Pros won't want the new macbook because its lacking some key ingredients… consumers may not want it because it of the additional cost over the other macbooks. Unless they just have extra money lying around. I am really interested in trying out the new trackpad though.

  • Bor

    I'm disappointed. So much money for what, just beautiful design? Be serious Apple.
    I can't see the point of making MacBooks graphic chip more powerful. It can't be used by pro-users (lack of firewire) and as a gaming machine it's overpriced and most unattractive gaming platform. Oh, yeah, we can use this extra resources by OpenCL. But for what? DNA calculations? Photoshop filters acceleration? There are 'bigger' machines for that. Maybe at the moment I'm too pissed-off to think rationally…

  • http://createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Bor: the GPU gets used for video decoding, 2D image processing/filters, 2D rendering, 3D rendering, 3D image processing, mapping applications, etc., etc. And what's happening is, it's getting cheaper to include GPU chips, they're getting more closely tied to the motherboard … it's *always* cheaper to use the latest and greatest because production ramps up on new models, but here you also have GPUs getting built right into the CPU die.

    OpenCL — well, no one knows what people will do with that yet, because it's a long distance from being ready for primetime. But traditional GPU applications already have their uses.

  • http://allanwhite.net Allan W.

    Quick thoughts:

    - I'm stoked with the new design. About time! 15" is perfect (used both).
    - I'm ok with one FW port. Lame that they dropped it on the MB, though.
    - Now people will need to find a 800-to-400 MINI FW jack, for video capture. Would it have killed them to include it?

    Looks pretty awesome apart from that.

    Don't forget: the expressCard slot could have an eSATA or additional FW port – lots of potential there.

    I can see that no FW on the lower end MB makes sense, even for video editing – consumer HDV cams have USB capture. I think it's going to be less of an issue for consumer users.

    I think FCP Studio will run ok on these new MBs, with their updated GPUs.

  • http://allanwhite.net Allan W.

    Another big design win: the HD is easily user-upgradeable (sounds like not even screws are involved!). This offsets the price point a bit for me, as I'd buy stock and max out the RAM and add a faster HD after the fact.

  • http://createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Allan, they may include the adapter. They've done that in the past.

    But I agree on the strong points… I guess my main criticism is that this doesn't change much. Apple's sub-$2000 price points are crippled. That's not true on the PC. And by the time you get above $2000 on the PC, you start to see some really interesting options for I/O. I'm not speaking for the general market here, just our enthusiast market; this might not convince you to switch to PC but there's still a gap there.

    Mostly, I want to find out if we really did lose analog TV output. That'd break my heart. Those adapters and such require pretty specific support from drivers.

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  • http://www.heart2beat.com vjwunderkind

    Question for me is: Can you export video from HDV cams to say e.g. iMovie via USB?

  • http://- eranhill

    the thing i hoped for the most was better resolutions on the 15 MBP, i find working in animation with 1440×900 compared to 1920 is just a different world.
    ive seen dell 15 inch notebook and hp 16 inch both with 1920, atleast as an option.

  • http://www.heart2beat.com vjwunderkind

    You do get 1920×1200 on external monitors and the 17" already came with this resolution as an option.

  • http://- eranhill

    i would like 1920 on 15 inch MBP or atleast 1680.
    you can call me greedy… but that would be a mobile studio.

  • Bor

    the GPU gets used for video decoding, 2D image processing/filters, 2D rendering, 3D rendering, 3D image processing, mapping applications..

    Yes Peter, I agree. But I just can't see people using current MacBooks, switching to the new ones, if they can't use – for instance – their Firewire Audio Interface's. I know few pro musicians & dj's and they never looked-up for Pro model. MacBook is smaller and used to had everything that my audio-friends (and me;)), would be looking for.
    I'm much involved in graphics and animation, and I know this extra graphic power can be extremely useful. But Peter, how I gonna get my stuff from my firewire disk? 'Downgrading' to USB is not a solution that I would expect from Apple.
    Those new MacBook's are really impressive pieces of technology. I just expect more for such high price and with so many well equiped PC's in the market.

    Regards

  • http://www.heart2beat.com vjwunderkind

    You can simply buy a dongle for 5 € to connect to your firewire 400 hdd. Can please tell me somebody whether it's possible to connect modern camcorders via usb or not?

  • http://www.jaymis.com Jaymis

    @vjwunderind: You can't export DV or HDV via USB. I'm guessing that some of the hard-drive based AVCHD cameras will work with USB, but I don't think you can use cameras as external video devices via USB.

    No Firewire is a deal killer for me, and for a lot of video professionals. Just a single firewire port is also very annoying. Doubly so because this is quite obviously an aesthetic move.

    Computers are still tools, right?

  • pietro

    The lack of firewire reminds me the first ibooks without audio in… They put it back on the next rev. because the users were angry. I hope it will happen again but it's not the same era and I'm not sure apple care about their users anymore.
    I was a huge supporter of apple because of the pro quality of their computers and the brilliant OS. But for some times now I'm not impressed anymore (included the OS). I bought a macbook pro recently mainly because I'm used to OS X and I can't afford to start learning windows from scratch but I'm glad I can install it because I really don't know if my next computer will have an apple on it if they continue that way. People raved about apple selling more and more computer over microsoft. It's just plain stupid : ok now apple is mainstream (ok not really…) but what we get ? Mainstream computer and OS ! Fine…
    BTW I'm not the kind of guy that think yesterday is better than today : I remember OS 7 sucks great times but I think that apple lost something around the time they goes intel, iphone…
    And I'm sorry for the weird english too ;)

  • http://createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Bor: Nope, I agree. I don't want to have to choose between adding a connector that half my gear relies on, and adding a critical graphics component that doesn't suck.

    @Jaymis: I should have noted that, while the MBP previously had two FireWire ports, they were actually both on the same bus. So there was no performance advantage, just convenience.

    @vjwunderkind: Right, MacBook Pro, no big deal — add an adapter. But that's why people are calling it the "$700 FireWire connector," because the non-Pro MacBooks now having nothing.

    I actually do wonder if one of these USB-to-FireWire cables really works, but I've never seen it in practice. I certainly wouldn't invest in a USB-only machine until I'd tried it.

    So, here's the deal:
    Flash memory camcorders – fine.
    AVCHD cameras – fine.
    Most hard disk cameras in general – not a problem.

    The issue is DV and HDV (including many pro and prosumer cameras). I haven't seen a single one of these that works with USB. The ones that do simply transfer lower-resolution video from their flash card.

    The thing is, whatever the current sales of those devices is, I imagine the installed base is enormous, even among "consumer" users.

    And, yeah, fine … pros are supposed to buy MacBook Pros. Except that makes even less sense. Almost all the pros I know edit on their Mac Pro towers, which they've invested a significant amount of cash in. When they go on the road, they want something smaller and lighter. The video crew now working with CDM was just thinking of buying MacBook Airs, before I pointed out that they'll refuse to run Final Cut and lack a port for connecting their cameras (because, as pros, they need FireWire).

    In fact, both iMovie and Final Cut Express are targeted at these "consumer" machines, too.

    So, yeah, no way to justify this. And the point is, you can buy any one of a zillion fine 13" PCs and edit on Vegas. Software: as little as $100. Laptop: easily below $1000. Or, you can part with $2000 to buy a laptop from Apple you can't open in coach class, plus $1300 in software. The fact is, a lot of people will *still do that*, which is an enormous compliment to the quality of Apple's products and, most importantly, their OS.

    But it's not a selling point, certainly. Yikes.

  • http://allanwhite.net Allan W.

    I was gonna be all snarky and say, "hey, expresscard FW cards are cheap, just slap it in, done" – until I realized the MB has no ExpressCard port. Bah!

    Would it have killed them to include a mini-4-pin FW port? Is it that crowded in there?

    @pietro: There is exactly zero chance Apple would change this case design to add a FW port, regardless of the outcry.

    Guys, it's simple: if we want firewire, it's $500 more for the MBP. It's what we should be running anyway for the kind of work we do. Personally, I could work around it – unless I'm in the field, the capture happens via clips or a deck back at the farm. Copy 'em over via ethernet, and I'm good to go. Yes, I'm talking ProRes HD. The workflow can work fine.

  • http://www.heart2beat.com vjwunderkind

    Are there capture devices for ethernet connection?
    Just btw: at the mo, the white "old" macbook which has firewire ports is still available…

  • Graham T

    I'm repeating myself a it here but i'm going to say it anyway…

    For £1500+ why should you have to buy extra dongles/converters or express cards to make something work?

    For a Pro machine not to be able to easily connect to a DV camera, external HD or whatever is ridiculous.

    If everything came in the box it would save you a good £200 on extra's, such as express FW400 or SATA card's.

  • http://www.heart2beat.com vjwunderkind

    You can connect to a DV cam in the pro models, all you need is a different cable. The ones that come with camcorders usually don't fit to macs anyways, cause they're usually mini plugs on both sides…

  • http://www.jaymis.com Jaymis

    @vjwunderkind: I haven't purchased a lot of DV cameras, but all of mine so far have come with 6-4 pin plugs. So I don't know how accurate that is.
    Also, 6-4 pin cables are still the defacto standard.. I see very few Firewire 800 cables in my travels around the country's tech stores.

  • http://www.heart2beat.com vjwunderkind

    Hmm I just happened to come across a bunch of 4-4 pins. But anyways: Here's a the dongle you need:
    http://www.sonnettech.com/product/fw_adapter.html

  • http://www.heart2beat.com vjwunderkind
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