Apple MacBook Pro 13—Introduction

Anand has already given the latest Apple MacBook Pro 13 a comprehensive review, but I wanted to give a different take on it: I wanted to evaluate it as a Windows laptop. Oh yeah. Basically, I wanted to take the vaunted MBP and put it in an apples-to-apples comparison with our favorite thin and lights from the PC world. Now, since Anand has already reviewed it, I’m going to gloss over the hardware—if you want an in-depth analysis of the notebook and its features, I point you towards his review.

Here’s my one major problem with the MacBook Pro 13, at least on paper: it’s still running a Core 2 Duo processor. The C2D P8600 debuted as part of the Penryn-3M lineup on June 13, 2008. They’re selling a notebook with a 2 year-old processor for $1199. And that’s just the low end model; the high-end MBP13 SKU costs $1499. Only Apple can get away with pulling a stunt like that; I don’t think the other manufacturers would even dare to try it. By the time Apple updates the MBP line to Sandy Bridge, the P8600 will be nearly three years old.

But other than that wrinkle, I basically love the MacBook Pro. The industrial design is absolutely peerless (except for maybe the original Dell Adamo). The overall aesthetic just seems so cohesive, so well thought out. There’s nary an extraneous button or design element in sight, giving way to a clean, sleek, and elegant notebook that could only come out of Cupertino. The build quality is excellent, definitely one of the most solid notebooks this side of a ThinkPad. The keyboard is one of the best chiclet keyboards out there, and the glass trackpad with two finger scroll is awesome. None of this is new for the MacBook Pro, but it’s still striking to think that this chassis debuted two years ago and there still isn’t a PC notebook that is designed or built on the same level as this. (Yes, we know about the HP Envy and we're still working to get a review unit, but while similar the Envy line still isn't like a MacBook Pro.)

So what is new then, if the processor is from the Stone Ages and the chassis is basically unchanged from before? A faster IGP, a bigger battery, and 4GB of RAM standard (finally!). Let’s start with the new IGP, NVIDIA’s 320M. As Anand detailed in his review, it’s got 48 CUDA cores versus the 16 CUDA cores in the old 9400M, and as such should offer far better performance. In fact, it outdoes the G 310M by a significant amount, but we’ll get to that later. The battery has now been increased in capacity to a sealed-in, 63.5 Wh lithium polymer unit that claims 10 hours of battery life under OS X. We’ve noted that OS X gets better battery life than Windows, so we expect less out of the MBP as a PC, but it should still be pretty competitive. Just how competitive is what we're here to find out.

Apple MacBook Pro 13 - Some Quirks as a PC
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  • MrDiSante - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    Regardless, Apple is notorious for shoddy Windows drivers (and shoddy Windows software in general - iTunes, Safari, QuickTime, need I go on?)
  • tipoo - Thursday, October 14, 2010 - link

    The 13'er doesn't have a dGPU. Must be something else.
  • dagamer34 - Thursday, October 14, 2010 - link

    Charging $1200-1500 for what is essentially a 2 year old laptop is one reason why I can only buy a MacBook Pro every 2-3 years where the "Apple tax" really rears it's head when it comes to performance per dollar across all lines of notebooks.
  • solipsism - Thursday, October 14, 2010 - link

    “If ASUS can manage to fit a Core 2010 processor, the chipset, and a dedicated graphics card into a system with similar dimensions to the MBP13 and a 33% larger battery, then Apple could have too. Simple as that.”

    How is it as simple as that? I’ve seen the Asus to which you refer and it’s significantly thicker over most of the chassis. That means more vertical space for cooling and more room for heat sinks fan or whatever for placing a dGPU. It also means more vertical space for the battery so even if it’s 33% larger it could have a lower footprint thus allowing the Asus MoBo be larger for that dGPU.

    If you considered this and now for a fact that the MoBo isn’t larger then please post some images or links to images disproving this possible reason.

    "Apple products aren’t reknowned for their value for money quotient, but even by Apple standards, this is pretty bad.”

    If you are going to define “value” as the cost of a computer based on the type of processor used or it’s rating in a speed bench then you should denote that is exactly what you mean, because there is a lot of value that can be had from a system that focuses on a complete package and has a resale “value” much higher than other vendor’s systems. By what I assume must be your definition of “value” any notebook is crap because a desktop can be had at a cheaper price with a faster processor.

    Finally, you seem to be basing your price of the entire product on the performance of the CPU. How does this make any sense? Personally, I’d rather have a C2D with a better GPU than the i3 with IntelHD. I’m also willing to pay more for a better chassis, better display, better trackpad and those little things that this article triumphed and then latter pooh-poohed as being irrelevant to the cost of the entire system.

    if you need/want the fastest the processor that’s fine, but for many the CPU is already fast enough, it’s the other things that are lacking in most vendor’s machines. Same goes for the display resolution. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people determine which is “best” by only looking at the resolution and aspect ratio.

    Honestly, I wish more PC and CE companies would focus on details that aren’t easy to market on a spec sheet.
  • VivekGowri - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    What about the Sony VAIO Z? That's smaller, and has the Core i5, a dGPU, plus space for two solid state drives (yes, I know it's significantly more expensive). The Asus was just an example, there's plenty of other 13" notebooks to choose from that have Core 2010 and a dedicated graphics card.

    See, the MBP13 and 13" Aluminum MacBook were a decent value right until most of the world moved to Core i3/5/7. A $1200 notebook with a two year old processor is not a good value, regardless of how you try to spin it.
  • GeorgeH - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    Smaller? The Z is ~120% of a 13" MBP.
  • VivekGowri - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    Wait, what? The VAIO Z weighs 3.04lbs...that's 50% less than an MBP13. Same thickness as the MBP (don't believe the specsheet; the body is an inch across, but the rubber grips in the back raise it up higher), smaller footprint, etc.
  • GeorgeH - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    Aluminum is heavier (denser) than plastic. You're right about the footprint, and I acknowledge the Vaio has the little foot, but I'd bet my lunch money the Z displaces more volume.

    Maybe you can get Apple and Sony to agree to a liquid submersion test? ;)
  • VivekGowri - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    Click the Specifications tab here.

    Do the math. If it's got a smaller footprint and is nearly the same thickness, how would it displace more volume?

    And for the record, the Z is carbon fibre, not plastic.
  • doobydoo - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    We have both the 13 inch macbook pro and the Sony Vaio Z, and the Sony Vaio Z is significantly lighter, smaller, and faster (we have one of the RAID SSD Models). It also looks more stylish, has at least as good build quality, and all the other features you might look for such as an illuminated keyboard.

    We have a case specifically for the Macbook pro which fits snugly, but when we put the Vaio in there there are inches of room all around the case, so I am very confident that the Vaio is significantly smaller in terms of volume, as well as the already proven weight and footprint.

    It's a better all round laptop, extremely long battery life, every good feature you would need, stays extremely cool (whilst running Windows 7), lightning fast even in Stamina mode (6-8 hours battery), smaller, much lighter, amazing screen, and excellent build quality.

    I'd recommend the Vaio every day of the week.

    To respond to another comment, where the guy said that Apples are partially more expensive due to the development costs of OS X, are you completely forgetting that every laptop comes with an OS, which adds to their cost too? And a better OS, at that.

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