A softly rounded, one inch thick, Apple-logoed rectangle sits on the desks and laps of hundreds of thousands of people at this very moment: the Macbook Pro is the visual and functional successor to the long-running line of Powerbooks from the Cupertino company; the only way to tell the two apart is the slightly wider and thinner shape of the Macbook Pro, the iSight above the display, and the round IR window next to the recessed latch.
Introduced ahead of schedule on January 10, 2006, the first Macbook Pros arrived on a positive note as pre-orderers found their computers higher specced than originally announced-- bumped from 1.67GHz and 1.83GHz to 1.83GHz and 2.0GHz, respectively. After a few weeks, as is all too common with first revision Apple hardware, some problems began to emerge: misapplied thermal compound, battery swelling, screen whining, and problems with the new power connector design. These problems were mostly fixed after the first two months, and Apple has extended the warranty on Macintosh batteries to two years. The 12" and 17" Powerbooks were given a final send-off on April 24, 2006, with the 17" Macbook Pro being the only survivor. Apple's Macbook Air was rumoured to be a 13" Macbook Pro, but it turned out to be a very lightweight Macbook— the smallest "Pro" model was the 15" until mid 2009, when a 13" model with discrete graphics was released.
Changes between the Powerbook G4 and the Macbook Pro:
October 24, 2006 brought the 64-bit Core 2 Duo processors to the Macbook Pro, doubling the L2 cache and boosting speeds by upping the clock and adding SSSE3. This revision brought back dual-layer DVD burning support and Firewire 800 to the 15" model, added support for the new 802.11n wifi standard (requires a $2 software update), and fixes almost all of the problems that plagued the original Core Duo models.
The next revision came on June 5, 2007, bringing Intel's Santa Rosa chipset to the board, complete with power savings and a faster bus (800MHz), as well as an upgrade to an LED backlight for the 15" model, bringing more power savings, better colour accuracy, and reducing weight (5.6lbs to 5.4lbs). The 17" model now has the option of a 1920x1200 display, and both models have 802.11n enabled from the factory (no $2 update needed!).
On February 26, 2008, Apple updated their Macbook Pro lineup again, most notably by putting Intel's new 45nm Penryn processors in it, closing up the gap between the $1999 and $2499 models with speeds of 2.4GHz and 2.5GHz, respectively, with a 2.6GHz option on the more expensive model being a $250 extra. The 17" Macbook Pro is 2.5 GHz by default, with the same 2.6GHz option, but now the 1920x1200 display option includes an LED backlight; the default backlight on the 17" model is still CCFL. More minor changed include bumping the default hard drive size, adding advanced multitouch features to the trackpad, and doubling VRAM.
On October 14, 2008, new Macbooks and Macbook Pros were released, this time with rather substantial changes. They're carved out of a 2.5lb block of solid aluminium, resulting in an even more sturdy, modern, and environmentally conscious computer. It weighs slightly more and is slightly larger than the old model (5.5lbs, 9.82"x14.35"x.95"), and is more expensive on the educational store, but somehow feels even nicer than the old models. The keyboard is replaced with the black backlit keyboard from the Macbook Air, the speaker grille openings are smaller and speakers improved, the ambient light sensor lives next to the webcam, the screen is now covered with glass and has a black border, a-la iMac, the battery level indicator is on the left side (with all of the ports), the optical drive is on the right side, the hard drive is now accessible through the battery bay (which houses a smaller capacity battery), the RAM is now DDR3, there is an option for a 128GB SSD, there is only a Firewire 800 port, the DVI port is now a mini-DisplayPort and the trackpad is now made of frosted glass and has no separate button—the entire trackpad clicks down. The motherboard now houses two GPUs, the GeForce 9400M and 9600M, and they can be switched on-the-fly (after logging in and out). Because the screen is covered in glass, there was no longer an option for the matte display (nooo!).
The saga continued at WWDC 2009, June 8 to be specific: a classic case of the second generation of a new Apple product being significantly improved, the new Macbook Pros are cheaper, faster, and have a (non user-replacable) battery that is supposedly good for up to 7 (8 on the 17" model) hours of runtime and lasts 1000 charge/discharge cycles. The line now includes 13", 15" and 17" laptops, all with the same basic design. All now come with LED backlit displays: the 13" and 15" are still 1280x800 and 1440x900, but with 60% greater colour gamut than before, and the 17" comes with a 1920x1200 display standard, and a matte display is an option on new 17" and 15" models. SD card slots are standard on the 13" and 15" models, replacing the Expresscard slot on the latter. Firewire (800 only) is once again present on the 13" model. Processor speeds have been bumped across the range, and all are now officially compatible with 8GB of DDR3-1033.