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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  • efeman - Thursday, October 14, 2010 - link

    My question is, why wasn't this test done using a 15" MBP? It seems like the biggest gripe is the lack of a proper processor, so wouldn't it make sense to use a model with more recent specs?
  • Zink - Thursday, October 14, 2010 - link

    I like your giant lens flare in the last picture.
    While MacBooks are extremely nice laptops they cost too much money for me. If I ever drop my backpack or someone accidentally steps on it there goes two months of pay. I have resigned myself to using an EOL IBM X40 with a 4GB compact flash SSD that I got for a total of $240 dollars of ebay. It runs Chrome, Office and Starcraft fine so it does everything I need and has an awsome keyboard and 4h of battery life. The best part is that besides being made of magnesium, it is so cheap that I don't have to worry about dinting it or scratching it which makes it much more functional.
  • Spazweasel - Thursday, October 14, 2010 - link

    People comment on how much more a Mac costs than something comparable in the PC world. Well, as pointed out, there's good reason.

    1. Higher quality hardware. Yes, MacBooks ARE higher-quality, factually. Better display, better rigidity, well-chosen components. None of that is free. You pay for that case and display and custom motherboard and magnetic power connector; they're not options. Ferrari is not obligated to offer the 596 with a 2-liter 4-cylinder engine. Apple is not in the business of hardware subsidy or entry-level products.

    When you buy a Mac, you're not in the bargain-basement nor should you expect to be.

    2. Integration and testing. Apple is obsessive-compulsive about choosing what components go in into its products (perhaps excessively so) and how they are integrated together. None of that process is free.

    When you buy a Mac, you buy your amortized portion of the hardware development costs.

    3. OSX. Development of operating system software is not free. Apple spends hundreds of millions... perhaps billions.. of dollars on OSX development.

    When you buy a Mac, you buy your amortized portion of the software development costs, and if you choose to not take advantage of that with OSX, that's not Apple's problem. Nor are they in any way obligated to make it optional; since they are the manufacturer of both the software and the hardware they have no requirement to sell them separately. When you buy a Mac, you know you're buying OSX with it.

    It all comes down to this: Apple spends a lot of money developing its products. They're not about to write that off and just price solely based on cost-of-goods... not on Macs, not on iPhones, not on iPods, not on iPads. R&D is amortized among the buyers, and that's how it should be. This isn't hardware welfare; Apple spends lots of money on development so you get to spend lots of money on product. You do get something for the extra money, but if that extra something isn't worth it to you, or you can't afford it, no MacBook for you. You have hundreds of other choices available. Go pick one.

    I did. I don't own any Macs. I own several PCs, an iPhone, an AppleTV and an iPad, but no Macs. And somehow... I don't resent Apple for it. Must be something wrong with me.
  • VivekGowri - Thursday, October 14, 2010 - link

    That's basically the point I was trying to get across in the conclusion - the MBP is a great notebook regardless of what OS you prefer, but if you're not planning to run OS X, there's not really much reason to pay a whole lot more for it.
  • yyrkoon - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    1. In the PC market, components which are equal or better than "apple grade" hardware can be had for far less. Then with equivalent hardware, laptops are also 30%-50% less in cost. This is a fact. Perhaps these laptops do not have an aluminum chassis . . .but who cares ? Its a laptop, not a football. Treat it as such.

    2. Perhaps, but the result is less hardware options. You have the "freedom" to chose from limited hardware, and software. Limited expandability for multiple reasons is well known in their desktops. Laptops matter less to an extent.

    3 OSX is based on BSD. In case that does not register. That means Apple makes money, by taking a free operating system, and adding additional features. Do they in return help the BSD Open source community ? You know, I really do not know. But I bet they do not.

    Apple, and OSX are not "better". They are only different. They offer more secure features out of the box as compared to Windows. One could also say that OSX is very stable, at the cost of hardware support. But any computer, with any operating system can be rock solid stable if you pick your hardware carefully. OSX also "just works" at the additional cost of money.

    Either way, Apple is not about freedom. Perhaps if you wanted, you can run Windows, or even Linux on any Apple system. But then the question would be "why?". It is a system, with no other operating system drivers, and more often than not. Dated / limited hardware. In a lot of respects. It is about as proprietary as an X86 based system cane be.

    Now, with all the above said. Does that make Apple a bad product ? Not necessarily. People who do not have the time or inclination to learn how to build / use their given "PCs", with plenty of money can be served well by just about anything. Apple does use good hardware, usually has good out of the box security( so long as you use OSX ). So for those who do not have the time, or inclination to build, or learn how to use a "PC". It is not a bad option. Basically though, its market segment is " a computer system for dummies".

    For those of us who do have the time, and know how to use many operating systems ( or even just Windows ). It makes far less sense. Windows can be every bit as stable, and secure. *If* you know what you're doing. Especially if you're careful about picking the best cost effective hardware you can get. Not to mention. If you're a gamer. Windows is pretty much the only option where computers are concerned. Microsoft also is not about "freedom". However, at least I am not obligated to use Microsoft hardware to use Windows. Or even to use Windows period.
  • Penti - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    OS X is based on a Carnegie Mellon Mach/BSD hybrid kernel and was BSD before 386BSD or any free version of BSD was released, it always used a GNU building environment. Actually some of the Mach kernel features where later implemented in BSD and FreeBSD. OS X today however do include a lot of free and open source software, like SAMBA, Python, Perl, Dtrace, GCC, LLVM, KHTML/Webkit, Xorg (alternatively), a Unix userland with Bash etc. It's based on Nextstep however. But that it upgraded it's BSD4.3 bits from *BSDs to 4.4 doesn't make it a FreeBSD derivative, it also don't use the ELF binary format but the Mach-O binary format, the format that had fat binaries (in production/deployed) in 1994 i.e. universal binaries across 4 architectures. It also has it's own driver infrastructure, and so on. It's actually a predecessor to the *BSD's. It is it's own kernel. Plus the OO runtime and framework Cocoa is based on Nextstep/Openstep environment. Without it, it would just have been another failure to write/use a new kernel architecture for the mac. It's where Taligent etc failed.
  • johnspierce - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    What, Windows 7 development was free?

    I don't buy the argument Macs should cost more because of OSX. I use OSX and there are many things to like about it, but Win7 is very nice too. There are plenty of annoying things about OSX to keep me from saying it's worth a *premium* price over a Windows laptop simply because of the OS. Besides, you can buy OSX outright for $100, so how does that justify a $1400 laptop with an ancient CPU?

    The new 15" i5 MBP is expensive, but worth the money because the build quality is excellent, it has a fantastic screen and GPU, plus it's speedy. And MBP's have the best keyboards and touchpads regardless of platform.

    The 13" MBP at $300 cheaper for the 2.66 C2D processor is just simply overpriced. It would be interesting to see a wholesale cost breakdown on the 13" and 15"; I'm betting profit margin on those 13" MBP's is quite a bit larger.

    I would love to buy a 13" MBP because I love the size, but I won't buy it until Apple puts a current gen CPU in it.

    Here's hoping they add at least an i3 13" next week in the "Back to the Mac" announcements.

    OH and please Apple do something about the frigging FINDER! That damn thing is just ancient and needs to be rewritten. That's one place where Windows7 just spanks OSX. I used Pathfinder on OSX for a Finder replacement, but I shouldn't have to pay $40 to get a decent file explorer for an OS many people say is supposedly "the best".
  • Spazweasel - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    "What, Windows 7 development was free?"

    No, but its cost of development is amortized over many more users than OSX. When you buy Windows, your slice of the development costs pie is smaller.

    "Besides, you can buy OSX outright for $100"

    Yes, you can buy OSX outright for $100. You cannot legally run it on non-Apple hardware. Some of us take that kind of thing seriously. I also don't pirate software, music, or video; I'm 100% licensed. Does that make me better than people who aren't 100% licensed? Well, yeah. It does.

    I do agree about the Finder.

    As for folks who say that OSX is just FreeBSD... no. The kernel is Mach, many of the command line utils come from FreeBSD, some of the internal services are also from FreeBSD, but the things that make OSX special do NOT come from FreeBSD. The user interface and non-command-line utilities are Apple. It's important what goes on under the hood, but for a consumer-facing product, the UI is every bit as important.

    And for other folks who think that "easy to use" means "only dummies use it" ... where do I start with just how wrong that is on so many levels?
  • johnspierce - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    I was not suggesting Pirating OSX, I was making the point that the cost of the OS from Apple is only $100, so obviously the OS itself is not really a factor in why MBP's are expensive.

    The majority of the expense is in higher quality components and build, but my point is that the 15" i5 MBP is only $300 higher than the 2.6 ghz Core 2 Duo MBP 13" and the i5 is between 50% and 100% faster depending on the task.

    Even at the retail level C2D CPU's are about 1/3 the cost of i5's, so I will say it again, the MBP 13" is overpriced especially when you compare the value received with Apple's own 15" MBP.

    I for one was extremely disappointed when Apple announced their refresh and the MBP 13 had a very minor upgrade in my opinion. Most people won't even notice the difference between the NVidia 320 and the old 9400, a faster CPU would be more usable by most people in a small laptop.

    When that happened I knew I would have to wait at minimum another 6 months to a year before Apple would make the replacement laptop I want and need.

  • softdrinkviking - Saturday, October 16, 2010 - link

    There hasn't been an adequate court ruling on the legality of runnig something like OSX on a non Mac yet.
    I don't believe it will ever hold up in court. I'm not saying I care, actually I can't imagine anyone who was prying at the alter of jobs not buying a Mac,
    But saying that you take that particular legality seriously is clearly fanatical.

    However, I do agree about the OSX costs. Obviously, Mac is charging to do system integration, and also to pay for their frivolous devices, like ATV.
    "Only dummies?" that's not true, but I definintly think that OSX is designed for people who are less computer savvy. Mac has always prided itself on the easy user interface and the human interactive element. It just is what it is. I think some folks who dislike OSX feel a kind of resentment that it creates too big of a rift between the hardware and the user, and all of the implications therein.

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