I'm convinced that there's no perfect mobile form factor. You can make arguments in favor of and against everything from the smartphone and tablet to 17" desktop replacement notebooks. There's simply a time and a place for everything.

Sometimes you don't need to do a lot but want to be able to couch around and browse the web on a tablet. Other times you need to do actual work but don't need a ton of CPU horsepower; that puts you into 13-inch notebook territory.

For even more productive beings there are larger 15 and 16-inch systems. And given how thin the system is, it's also not hard to make an argument for Apple's 17-inch MacBook Pro. You get a desktop-like screen resolution and mainstream desktop performance.

It's like having a set of screwdrivers. You may use some more often than others but having the entire set helps. Unfortunately having a set of notebooks and mobile devices isn't really an option for most. Inevitably you have to choose. And for portability, that choice often leads you to something a bit larger than a netbook for performance, but small enough to comfortably carry around.

For Apple users this portable sweetspot is the 13-inch MacBook Pro.


Apple's 2010 13-inch (left) vs. 15-inch MacBook Pro (right)

I've praised the 2010 15-inch MacBook Pro as being the one to get thanks to its combination of performance and battery life. When Apple made its 2010 upgrade public however, the 13-inch model was somewhat neglected. It got a faster GPU and bigger battery, but only a mild CPU bump. Priced at $1199 you get a 4.5 lbs aluminum unibody chassis, a 13.3" display and a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo CPU. Keeping up with recent tradition, a NVIDIA GeForce 320M chipset is also under the hoo..err, keyboard. While the rest of the MacBook Pro lineup got shiny new Core i5 and i7 processors (dual core + Hyper Threading), the new 13-inch is stuck with an older Core 2 Duo.

On the bright side, Apple finally outfitted the 13-inch MacBook Pro with a sufficient amount of memory: 4GB. It's still spread out over two DIMMs (making upgrading more expensive than it should be), but it's enough to get you going. I'd say that given the usage model for most notebooks, 4GB should be plenty with OS X 10.6.


The 13-inch MBP comes with all the ports the 15-inch model has, minus dedicated line in/out. You get GigE, FireWire 800, mini DisplayPort, 2 x USB 2.0, a SD card readerand a shared line in/out port. Click to Enlarge

Apple's 2009 Lineup 13-inch MacBook Pro (Early 2010) 13-inch MacBook Pro (Late 2009)
CPU Intel Core 2 Duo 2.40GHz Intel Core 2 Duo 2.26GHz
Memory 4GB DDR3-1066 2GB DDR3-1066
HDD 250GB 5400RPM 160GB 5400RPM
Video NVIDIA GeForce 320M (integrated) NVIDIA GeForce 9400M (integrated)
Optical Drive 8X Slot Load DL DVD +/-R 8X Slot Load DL DVD +/-R
Screen Resolution 1280 x 800 1280 x 800
USB 2 2
SD Card Reader Yes Yes
FireWire 800 1 1
ExpressCard/34 No No
Battery 63.5Whr 60Whr
Dimensions (W x D x H) 12.78" x 8.94" x 0.95" 12.78" x 8.94" x 0.95"
Weight 4.5 lbs 4.5 lbs
Price $1199 $1199

Today we're going to find out if the sweetspot got any less sweet as a result of the unusual upgrade. If you're unfamiliar with Apple's unibody MacBook Pro and integrated battery design I'd recommend reading our older articles on the topic.

Not Arrandale, but Better Graphics
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  • Johnmcl7 - Thursday, June 10, 2010 - link

    "Care to mention a model number? I can only find the 13-inch Vaio VPCZ1190X on Sony's website, which comes with NONE of those features, except for a disclaimed 7.5-hour battery life. If you halved pretty much all of those specs and got rid of the GT330m, that matches the Vaio VPC1190X.
    "

    The model in the UK is the VPCZ11Z9E/B (probably a different number in the US) and has the spec I mentioned above:

    Core i7-620m @ 2.66Ghz (3.33Ghz maximum)
    6GB ram
    256GB quad SSD (4 x 64GB)
    DVD+-RW (BD-R/RW drive optional)
    13.1in 1920x1080 screen
    Nvidia GT 330M + Intel integrated graphics
    Onboard WWAN
    1.4kg carbon fibre chassis

    Having read through the article I can't see what innovations this Macbook brings at all, in fact it inherits many of its features from older Vaio machines (although people tend to falsely credit Apple as Sony simply don't market their innovations well enough). The Vaio Z11 on the other has a specification which exceeds even the 17in Macbooks yet remarkably it's smaller and a kilo lighter than the 13in Macbook which has a signficantly lower spec. To be able to produce such a small and lightweight machine in itself is impressive but to be able to pack in features such as discrete graphics cards and quad SSDs is extremely innovative particularly when you compare it to the competition.

    John
    Reply
  • Tros - Thursday, June 10, 2010 - link

    That model is quite different, and far more impressive. To be fair though, Sony UK either has to loan this machine to AT, or AT pays some 2,400 British Pounds (~3,500 USD) out of their own pockets.

    And yeah, both this article and Sony's UK site doesn't pronounce a lot of the neat things that make either laptop more usable. I think those kinds of reviews come with something completely different though (IE, aluminum unibody, or OS-upgrade), or absurdly better specs compared to everything on the market. They don't fit for a casual review. I mean, Ars Technica covered the changes from OS X 10.5 to 10.6, and that took some 23 pages. And I think that was the "primer" version.

    Anyway, that laptop is a beast of a 13-inch machine, but I think it's in a direction Apple's not interested in. IE: A 1080p screen might be too much DPI for some, and the OS would have to implement resolution independence to appease all users (No OS and set of popular applications does so yet). The reduced battery (58 WHR) is also a direction they can't go (the lunatics throw tantrums when a spec goes down in number). I'd also bet the reason for avoiding the strongest processors, is because x86 is not the right architecture to do heavily threaded tasks on. At least, not the kind you'd want a laptop to do (non-server).

    I will still hold though that machine is doing something wrong though, because of the diminishing returns after one good SSD. Having four tells me that you have four mediocre ones, and need to compensate with brute force. It kind of defeats the gained battery life by having 1 SSD over a mechanical HDD if you instead use 4x the power. That machine deserves a dissection over a review to see what's so awesome about it.
    Reply
  • JPForums - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Another rather irrelevant review of an outdated, expensive, fruit-themed, fanboi toy that still cannot convince me to try it over an ASUS or CLEVO notebook.


    I'm no fan of MACs, but I would say this crosses the line from negative comment to not useful.
    1) If this review is irrelevant, then how can you use it to come to the conclusion that ASUS or CLEVO is a better option.
    2) I'll agree that the notebook in question is underpowered in some respects, but the model is new and similar models are still being sold be ASUS. I wouldn't call that outdated, but rather aging.
    3) Expensive, ..., I've got to agree with you there, but it is apparently worth it to many people.
    4) "Fruit-themed", "fanboi toy" I don't know about everyone else, but when I hear labels like "Fruit-themed", I get the feeling I'm listening to a PC "fanboi".

    This review is relevant for the very reason you think its irrelevant. Comparing reviews of Apples offerings to similar offerings from ASUS and CLEVO tells you exactly why you should get one versus the other. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to get a MAC. However, they don't apply to me. You have to concede that some people value form over function. For these people, MACs are hard to beat. Another example is the professional video industry. For instance, despite the latest and greatest features of Adobe's Master Collection coming to PC first, MAC has the established ecosystem and they have the features that matter. It's the same kind of legacy following that x86 in general has.

    What I do get frustrated about is when people buy into the MACs just work mantra. I've seen quite a few problems with MACs (screens with gradients, low quality motherboard builds, etc.) and in some cases the customer service won't even admit there is a problem to fix. However, exempting critical hardware issues, I can say fairly confidently that the biggest difference between a system "that works" and one that doesn't is the end user, not the OS. The end user has to make the decision on the quality and performance of the hardware hardware purchased, what type of software to use, browsing habits, ect. Apple just seems to want to make more and more of those decisions for you. Note what happens when they make the wrong decision.

    To be fair, many of Apple's problems exist for some of the largest PC manufacturers as well, however, they don't have massive ad campaigns trying to tell people otherwise.
    Reply
  • JesperL - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    I've been a reader af Anandtech for many years now. Ive been coming here since shortly after it started, from what i can quickly figure out it must be more than 10 years. Probably closer to 11.

    I have never signed up to say anything here, but just now i did.

    But im about to leave. If Anand wants to just spend his time on Macs, there is not much reason for me to be here. The guy writes some of the best tech articles around, but the subject does matter. Fact is, this used to be PC, its now turning into Mac. No hard feelings, but i feel obliged to post a note saying this.

    Some people dont mind this turn, im sure, but i do.
    Reply
  • Ratman6161 - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    For example if you go to the mobile area ( http://www.anandtech.com/tag/mobile ) you have to go a long way down the page to find an article on an Apple product. Lots of stuff on Acer, Asus, HP, gateway, nVidia, Intel etc. before you get to the first Apple article.

    Personally I can't stand Apple or Mr. Jobs for a variety of reasons I won't go into here. But I don't think it's fair to accuse AnandTech of some kind of pro Apple bias.

    Note that even in the Macbook pro article he points out that the machine gets 50% better framerates in games in Windows than it does in OSX.
    Reply
  • Ratman6161 - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Here is another example: http://www.anandtech.com/show/3759/mac-os-x-steam-...

    It's a whole article on how gaming is slower under OSX than under Windows. Does that seem like a pro-Apple bias to you? The Apple fanboys are probably screaming that it's an anti-apple bias. There is just no way to win with the angry finger pointers on either side of the issue.
    Reply
  • bji - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    I've been reading Anandtech for a long time too.

    I don't own and never have owned a Macintosh computer but I enjoy reading about a variety of technologies so I would have the opposite opinion as JesperL.

    Please keep reviewing different technologies regardless of their company of origin.
    Reply
  • Tros - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    I for one am grateful for Anand's review, for taking a PC-like scrutiny to something that wasn't quite a PC six years ago. And for Anandtech, for taking that extra step, beyond comparing numbers from synthetic benchmarks, to pay attention to how the machines interface with people. That last step is really why I can't visit TH, with all their ad-crap and mal-scripts, and only visit AT now. Reply
  • Ninjahedge - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Agreed.

    PC World is just Fanboi Flamebait Central (on both sides) and rarely has an article that is more than press release or opinion on what is happening in the world of fruits and transistors.

    TH lost my vote when they trimmed/amputated the "other" section where tech diehards like myself used to wander freely into the depths of depraved 1st and 2nd generation tech hounds that were tired of reading the same RTFM questions and ill-informed rantings.

    As JPF listed, I think the main problem with Apple is not necessarily the product, or even the price they sell it at, but their denial of any problems in their ads (sometimes quite insulting, "I'm an Apple"......)

    I think it is good that Apple is starting to use some higher end graphics on its machines as most of us will not be transcripting video, doing large scale PS'ing or complex Finite Element Analysis on a smaller laptop anyway. Laptops this size are meant for general workload, multitasking, and entertainment. The needed attriobutes for that are memory, resolution, battery life and GPU.

    Do I think that this makes these Apples into Pie? Nope, but it looks like they are starting to try to merge a bit more into the fold as their sales in this sector move(d) ahead of its compeditors.

    Aside: You think that, just maybe, Dell could come out with a line of machines called "Orange"?

    I think it would be funny as hell if we could compare Apples to Oranges.
    Reply
  • hybrid2d4x4 - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    RE: "for taking a PC-like scrutiny"
    For the most part, I'd agree with you, but I got the impression that he treated the mac with kid gloves in the gaming section. If you look at a typical laptop review by Jarred, Vivek, et al, they usually include the results for the panel's native res (unless the lower 8x6 result is abysmal). I thought this was seriously lacking in the WoW benchmark. If I got a good framerate at 800x600, I`d step the res up to native and if it wasn`t playable, I'd turn down the shader quality,etc. This is especially true when you're talking about running a res with a different aspect ratio than the display, causing nasty stretch-induced loss of image quality.

    Unless the system was too weak to handle it, I'd always run the native res, so I was baffled as to why not a single one of the gaming charts uses 1280x800. Sure, they are still useful to illustrate how it compares to the previous gen and the GT330 in the 15", but I don`t see why the tests weren't ran at the native res. That would seem to be the most practical/relevant demonstration of gaming ability on this laptop.
    Reply

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