• Price: 1695 . 3095

  • Company: Apple

As noted earlier, there are several ways to trick out the MacBook Pro. In addition to opting for the faster processor and doubling the RAM -- 4GB should be fine for most users, by the way, so you can save $1,200 right there -- you can also choose a solid-state disk drive.

I've been a big fan of SSDs ever since I got one in my second-generation MacBook Air last fall. They're fast, use less energy, run dead silent and, since there are no moving platters, are less susceptible to damage should you jolt the laptop suddenly or drop it. They're also expensive, and you actually get less storage space than with a traditional hard drive for the same money.

The 17-inch MacBook Pro comes standard with a 320GB hard drive spinning at 5,400 rpm. If you opt for the 128GB SSD, you'll pay £210/$300 extra. And the 256GB SSD -- the largest one yet offered by Apple -- costs £520/$750 more than the base configuration. That makes the gigabyte-per-dollar equation dicey at best, at least for now. But what an SSD lacks in price, it makes up in speed.

Boot-up time, for instance, is just 25 seconds from start-up chime to desktop -- the same as on my MacBook Air, which has the 128GB SSD. (That's about half the time needed to start up my old 2007 MacBook Pro.) Applications launch in a fraction of the time it normally takes, and Mac OS X always feels snappy. The speed boost shows up in benchmarking tests, too.

On the Xbench

I usually run Xbench when I get a new laptop. It's not an infallible test tool, but it does give you an overall idea of how any particular model compares to Apple laptops present and past. Xbench taxes the drive, RAM and graphics processor to determine an overall score.

The score for this particular MacBook Pro topped out at 189. Fast. Very fast. (By way of comparison, my Air returned an Xbench score of 141. That 2007 MacBook Pro with a 2.4-GHz Core 2 Duo processor -- the top-of-the-line model two years ago -- got a score of 118.)

It's always difficult to compare different tasks on different computers, but I wanted to see how the top-end MacBook Pro compares to the top-of-the-line MacBook Air. So I opened iMovie, selected a minute-long digital video clip and exported it as a 960-x-540-pixel movie. Doing that on the MacBook Pro took two minutes and seven seconds, with the processor cores at about 75 per cent to 80 per cent utilization. On the Air, which has a 1.86GHz chip, the video export took almost exactly twice as long: four minutes and 16 seconds.

The same differential shows up when launching apps. Firing up Photoshop Elements 6 on the MacBook Pro took just under 4 seconds; on the Air, no slouch in the app-launching department because of its SSD, it took 8 seconds. And in earlier testing, launching the same software on the 2007 MacBook Pro took 16 seconds.

Saving a few seconds here and there may not sound like much, but if you use your computer to do a variety of tasks and can save a few seconds with each task, those seconds and minutes add up over time. And time really is money.

Final thoughts

An Apple official described the company's goal in creating the latest MacBook Pro as follows: "It's designed for performance users... [who] crave high-performance technologies." By that benchmark, the MacBook Pro clearly hits the target. There's not much more you could ask for -- especially with the build-to-order options -- so the question becomes: Would you be happy with less?

Apple's lineup runs the gamut from trendy, hip portable for road warriors (the MacBook Air), to mainstream laptops for the masses (the MacBooks), to upscale for professionals (the MacBook Pros). Assuming you want or need the biggest screen available, the question then centers around storage and processor.

For most would-be owners, even the stock configuration will exceed their needs by orders of magnitude. Apple's newest laptop should handle anything thrown at it. If you've managed to avoid the belt-tightening that comes with a recession -- in other words, you've got the money and need to shave a few seconds off routine tasks -- go with the SSD, order the faster processor and double the RAM (though you can get the same amount of RAM for about $750 from third-party resellers).

Your wallet will be noticeably lighter, but at least for the near term, you'll have one of the fastest, best-built, most-eye-pleasing laptops on the planet. And there's value in that, too.