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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  • Setsunayaki - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    While I am not a fan of Apple by any means in any sector, I like their consistency within battery life. They offer laptops that at least wont discharge rapidly. I don't like the 1280x800 resolution simply because I do more things, and if the resolution was so low...

    then I rather opt for something much cooler...

    Rather than spend money on this and everything needed to get started, I prefer spending that money to build my own desktop PC to have at home and buy a netbook as well. The combination of the two would be far more valuable for the money, considering in my own usage..

    I don't play many 3D games on the road, or do many heavy things on a laptop...unless I am working off-site with a team of course.
    Reply
  • intelpatriot - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Is there that meaningful a difference between a core 2 and an i5 (even an i7), anyway?

    I'm guessing it's going to be nothing like the performance gain stepping up a GPU price bracket/generation.
    Reply
  • Calin - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    The performance gain for stepping up a GPU price bracket and/or generation might be zero if you don't even use Aero and the most difficult graphic activity on your laptop are sliding menus.
    Games are a totally different thing, and some people don't use games (or other applications) that benefit from high performance graphics.
    As for Core2Duo (E6550) versus Core i7 920:
    http://www.anandtech.com/bench/Product/47?vs=61
    Over 10% faster in worst case (Fallout 3 1680x1050 medium quality), and triple the speed in a couple of benchmarks (Sorenson Squeeze pro5, Cinebench R10 multithreaded). The E6550 is similar (slightly better) to one of the first "high performance" Core2Duo that appeared, and I think the price at launch was somewhat similar.
    Reply
  • Howierr - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Has anyone tried using a X-25M G2 (80gb or 160gb) in the early 2010 MacBook Pro 13", and installing Windows 7 through Bootcamp? I tried this with 2 different brand new X-25M SSDs, and the MacBook has a hard time detecting the SSD consistently on boot up. When installing Windows 7, sometimes no disks are detected, and it takes many reboots to get the SSD to be detected. But after a successful installation, whenever I reboot the MacBook Pro, there is a very good chance that the question mark icon shows up, meaning that it cannot detect any bootable devices.

    I installed one of the X-25M into a mid-2009 MacBook Pro 13", bootcamp Winodws 7 and it works flawlessly reboot after reboot.

    Could this be an isolated incident, or do all early-2010 MacBook Pro 13s dislike the Intel X-25M G2?
    Reply
  • Zok - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Not quite to your question, but I installed a 160 GB G2 into my 2010 i5 15" MBP and have had no issues whatsoever. There have been reports that the NVIDIA chipset's SATA implementation is somewhat subpar compared to Intel's, as is in the new 2010 15" MBPs. Reply
  • Jamor - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Would it be possible to get WoW results in OSX at similar settings?
    That'd give something to compare Portal/Half Life results to.

    My gut feeling is, the OSX/Win performance difference is more in the drivers and the way OS handles 3D, less in the porting.
    Reply
  • Meaker10 - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    How can a 2 chip platform (core i series) not fit when a 3 chip platform (core 2) already does? Reply
  • BlendMe - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Well the Core i platform in itself is a 2 chip solution, but only if you stick with Intel's graphics. If you want something more powerfull you have to go with a discrete GPU which makes it a 3 chip solution (like on the 2010 15" & 17").

    The C2D platform in the 13" is a 2 chip solution, because you have the CPU and a Nvidia chipset with integrated GPU, which is much more powerfull than Intel's on-chip graphics.

    I am disappointed about the missing Core i in the 13", but then I kinda understand Apple's decision.
    Reply
  • gcor - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Last June I reluctantly bought a 13" MacBook Pro for university as it seemed the only 8+ hr machine with big enough screen and performance to get me through the day.

    Having been a Windows person since 3.11 (I used to be a sys admin & software engineer), I was not looking forward to the learning curve of OS-X and becoming savvy enough to fix problems.

    I got to say though, the laptop has meet all my needs admirably, with a tiny learning curve. Also, maybe I was just unlucky with the ~15 PC's I had beforehand, but the machine seems rock solid stable in comparison. It's definitely saved me a ton of time in terms of; no BSOD's, no driver compatibility issues, no anti-virus machine hogging, no bloatware, no OS patches killing the machine, etc.

    Basically, when I want to use it, I just lift the lid and I'm away. I never turn it off & have re-booted no more than a handful of times in a year.

    About the only trouble I've had is the occasional Office crashes (I wonder if the manufacturer has done this intentionally?)

    Anyway, after a one year experiment, I feel the additional price has been well worth it. It's an absolute work horse that is always ready to let me get the job done. Other than games, there is nothing I miss from Windows that would convince me to swap back.

    To all the die hard Windows folks out there (like I was), if you want a machine to get your job done without needing to mess about with the machine itself, I strongly recommend giving one a go. Keep a PC around for gaming and you'll be fine.
    Reply
  • killerclick - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    I've been trying to convince all my moron friends who can't handle Windows to give Mac a try. "It's so simple, an idiot could use it!" I keep saying but to no avail, most of them insist on struggling with an operating system which is clearly too taxing on their mental abilities. I wish we could simply force all Windows users to use a Mac for a day, that would do the trick! Reply

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