What About The 13?

Apple's new 13-inch MacBook Pro received the biggest upgrade of the lot. Last year Apple opted against moving the 13-inch model to Arrandale and instead gave it a beefy GPU and a mildly evolved Core 2 Duo CPU. The presumed public reasoning was Apple didn't like Arrandale's GPU performance and needed a two chip solution to maintain the platform's size hence the NVIDIA GT 330M + Intel Core 2 Duo setup. Internally I'm wondering if there was a small amount of corporate politics being played there. Apple used to get a discount on Intel CPUs in exchange for exclusivity, that agreement expired with Nehalem. When Nehalem hit, Apple had to pay the same price as everyone else for CPUs. Now does the 2010 Core 2 based 13-inch MacBook Pro make more sense? Keeping Intel's flagship CPU out of Apple's highest volume MacBook Pro had to hurt. I wonder if Apple got discounted pricing on Sandy Bridge as a result...

Evolution of the 13-inch MacBook Pro Early 2011 Mid 2010 Late 2009
CPU Intel Core i5 2.3GHz (DC) Intel Core 2 Duo 2.40GHz (DC) Intel Core 2 Duo 2.26GHz (DC)
Memory 4GB DDR3-1333 4GB DDR3-1066 2GB DDR3-1066
HDD 320GB 5400RPM 250GB 5400RPM 160GB 5400RPM
Video Intel HD 3000 (integrated) NVIDIA GeForce 320M (integrated) NVIDIA GeForce 9400M (integrated)
Optical Drive 8X Slot Load DL DVD +/-R 8X Slot Load DL DVD +/-R 8X Slot Load DL DVD +/-R
Screen Resolution 1280 x 800 1280 x 800 1280 x 800
USB 2 2 2
SD Card Reader Yes Yes Yes
FireWire 800 1 1 1
ExpressCard/34 No No No
Battery 63.5Wh 63.5Wh 60Wh
Dimensions (W x D x H) 12.78" x 8.94" x 0.95" 12.78" x 8.94" x 0.95" 12.78" x 8.94" x 0.95"
Weight 4.5 lbs 4.5 lbs 4.5 lbs
Price $1199 $1199 $1199

While the 15-inch MacBook Pro is quad-core only, the new 13 is strictly dual-core. You get two options: a 2.3GHz or 2.7GHz dual-core Core i5 or Core i7. In Intel speak it's the Core i5-2410M or the Core i7-2620M (it's no wonder Apple doesn't list model numbers for these things).


The 2011 13-inch MacBook Pro Motherboard

Apple 13-inch 2011 MacBook Pro CPU Comparison
2.3GHz dual-core 2.7GHz dual-core
Intel Model Core i5-2410M Core i7-2620M
Base Clock Speed 2.3GHz 2.7GHz
Max SC Turbo 2.9GHz 3.4GHz
Max DC Turbo 2.6GHz 3.2GHz
GPU Base Clock Speed 650MHz 650MHz
GPU Max Turbo 1.2GHz 1.3GHz
L3 Cache 3MB 4MB
AES-NI No Yes
VT-x Yes Yes
VT-d No Yes
TDP 35W 35W

The primary differences between these two parts are clock speed, L3 cache size and AES-NI support once again. The 2.3GHz Core i5 lacks AES-NI, has a 3MB L3 cache and can only turbo up to 2.9GHz. The 2.7GHz Core i5 has AES-NI, a 4MB L3 cache and can turbo up as high as 3.4GHz.

I verified turbo frequencies on the 2.7GHz 13-inch. The highest I saw single core turbo hit was 3.4GHz, and dual core turbo was good for 3.2GHz. There's absolutely no funny business going on here, the dual-core 2.7 is allowed to hit its maximum frequencies.

You'll notice that the 2.7GHz DC chip has the same max single core turbo as the 2.3GHz QC chip from the upgraded 15-inch MacBook Pro. In practice this means that for light workloads the upgraded 15 won't feel any faster than the 13 (or that the 13 will feel as fast as the 15 depending on how you look at it). I'm talking about things like web page load times and application launch/install times. There may even be a slight performance advantage for the 13-inch setup as it's able to turbo up to higher frequencies easier than the quad-core 15. Crank up the threads and you've got a different story entirely of course. There's no replacement for more cores on highly threaded workloads.

Turbo and the 15-inch MacBook Pro Mostly No QuickSync
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  • Pandamonium - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    I own a 15" 2010 MBP and like the author(s) of "The Big Picture" section, I like using separate peripherals at home. I don't want to come off like I'm giving a sales pitch, but after a long wait, I bought a Henge Dock for my MBP. It's a $70 plastic mold whose only purpose is to hold your cables in place so you can easily/quickly "dock" a MBP.

    For security concerns, I made an encrypted volume with OS X's disk utility and keep my frequently accessed sensitive stuff there. Everything else sits on my NAS.

    I control heat and noise with SMC Fan Control. I've got a profile to keep "docked" fan speeds just a notch faster than default (the fan speed ramping up and down irritates me more than the absolute noise of the fan), and another profile for "lap use" to keep the machine at a comfortable temperature.

    I too think that Thunderbolt is a big step towards an Apple docking station, but for now, the Hengedock, a NAS, and SMC Fan Control give me a solution that while not as elegant, is 95% of the way there.
    Reply
  • Pandamonium - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    I should add that I use a Synology DS 209. If I could do it all over again, I'd go with QNAP. See my comments on Ganesh's Synology review for my reasoning. Cliffnotes are that I believe that regular SMART tests (to detect bit rot) should be part of a NAS's software stack and Synology's PR begs to differ. I'd love for Anand to offer clear advice one way or the other. Reply
  • dagamer34 - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    Does high amounts of heat ever mess up the screen or affect the dissipation of heat? I'd get worried if I were running a render or playing a game that caused my MBP to hit higher than the 80C it does now and the laptop just shuts itself down because it's too hot. Reply
  • dagamer34 - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    Based on this review and using a 17" MacBook Pro (2011), here's my advice:

    13" MacBook Pro - the changes from the 2010->2011 are good if you do CPU tasks, but mediocre to lame for GPU tasks. If you want to game, I'd wait until Ivy Bridge with a better GPU. Hopefully, we'll also see something more radical with ditching the optical drive allowing for a larger battery and dedicated GPU, but we'll see how that turns out.

    Base 15" MacBook Pro - very good if you have CPU driven tasks, and what I'd recommend for most people. The only offsetting thing I see is that the next step up has a CPU, GPU, and VRAM bump, which may be very enticing for gamers.

    High-end 15" MacBook Pro - for gamers, with the most optimal CPU, GPU, and VRAM configuration there is while still being very portable.

    17" MacBook Pro - you love high-resolution screens for your work but still need to be portable. Very ideal because of the ability to have a full 1080p picture on the screen untouched for editing websites and such. Also good for photoshop. Likely for people that feel having an additional monitor is too much work, or their second monitor should be comparable in screen resolution to their main one.

    I do hope the 2012 MacBook Pros cut away a lot of the fat: optical drive, FireWire port, USB port, ExpressCard slot and just have most of that functionality replicated with ThunderBolt. I feel like they could have gotten away with it this time, but there were no peripheral style docks ready, which is rather disappointing.
    Reply
  • Ushio01 - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    Optical drives are still essential for those of us in the majority of the world who's internet is useless not to mention you never know if throttling or low data caps will be introduced in area's with currently good internet access subsequently making the loss of an optical drive a drawback.

    Also interesting phrase cutting the fat or in other word's continue paying for a premium product but get even less for your money, yay.
    Reply
  • dagamer34 - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    That's what the $79 External SuperDrive is for. Reply
  • Ushio01 - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    Yay pay $1200+ for a laptop then pay $80 for the ability to use anything on it. Reply
  • khimera2000 - Friday, March 11, 2011 - link

    Its apple your paying out of the @$$ any how. If you where going for a budget, or "price VS performance" you would not be considering an apple. I think people looking at these will have 80 bucks to spare... at least be able to scrounge up 80 bucks when the need arives. Reply
  • mianmian - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    Yeh. Apple should have the upgrade option to replace optic drive to
    1. a 2.5" drive slot
    2. an extened battery.
    Reply
  • gstrickler - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    I doubt you'll see either from Apple, however:

    For #1, an OptiBay from MCE (MCEtech.com), or a DataDoubler from OWC (macsales.com). The MCE offers an external USB case for the removed SuperDrive so you still have the use of the SuperDrive, and it's USB powered so it's still portable.

    For #2, HyperMac (hypershop.com) sells external portable batteries for the MB/MBP.
    Reply

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