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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  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    I'm completely aware of the fact that Apple has a business and a boutique mentality. That doesn't mean I have to support that idea, though, and it's one of the things that makes me despise Macs. Call it what you will, but the facts are Apple overcharges compared to the vast majority of Windows PCs. (Sony also fits that description in my book.) Yes, quality costs extra, but they're milking it pretty hard.

    The MacBook 2009 model was virtually the same as the current model. The only real change is the chipset/IGP, which was really trivial in my book. Yes, the 320M does a lot for graphics performance, but on the R&D side Apple didn't have to do anything really. Then they took the profits and didn't pass them on, and it's working fine based on sales so who can really fault them? At the same time, I'm not going to praise them for their actions -- just like I don't praise Microsoft for charging an arm and a leg for Office, which hasn't radically improved in over a decade. (Yes, I could easily do 99% of what I need with Office '97.)

    So congrats to Apple for making money. I only wish the competition would step up to the plate a bit and compete on quality, features, price, etc. rather than just giving the high end and higher margins away. ASUS keeps trying to get a piece of the pie, but they keep missing on the LCD and build quality while easily winning the performance and other features. Give me the N82Jv with a better chassis, LCD, and larger battery for under $1200 and I'd never even consider a MacBook Pro.
  • podpi - Thursday, October 14, 2010 - link

    answers all my questions, was no effort to read and all your recommendations seem spot on the money too! Reply
  • dexpert - Thursday, October 14, 2010 - link

    I'd like to point out a small error. You stated that the 13" MacBook Pro has a slightly faster CPU than the white MacBook, 2.4GHz vs. 2.26. Actually, the white MB currently has the same 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo as the low-end MBP.

    I've also seen several recent articles stating that the white MacBook has a bad display. While that was certainly true for the pre-unibody models, the newer plastic unibody MacBooks have much better displays. The viewing angles are much better (for TN panels anyway), it's much brighter and the contrast has been improved a lot as well. I'd say the unibody white MacBook's display is basically a 13" MacBook Pro's display with somewhat less contrast.
  • VivekGowri - Thursday, October 14, 2010 - link

    Oops, my bad. I'll fix that. But putting them side by side, you can pretty clearly see that the MBP is pretty far superior to the unibody plastic MacBook. Reply
  • dexpert - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    Oh yeah, I definitely agree that the 13" MBP is definitely the better value of the two. Reply
  • EclipsedAurora - Thursday, October 14, 2010 - link

    >>>The aluminum unibody construction, faster CPU (2.4GHz vs 2.26), RAM upgrade (4GB vs 2GB), backlit keyboard, and SD card reader are just bonuses. It’s thinner, lighter, and has more features, along with a far better display.

    Such an aluminum design was originally used by Sony in her original 2003 VAIO Z. Japanese notebook leader like Toshiba, Fujitsu and Sony have long dumped aluminium design in favour carbon fiber chasis to further reduce weight. Of course most of these high end models are not available world wide.

    Macbook Pro 13" has a nearly 2kg weight, which is too heavy in today's standard. In comparation, latest 13" VAIO Z weights at 1.39kg only even with similar 6 cells battery, dedicated GPU, TPM and fingerprint security hardware! Furthermore, a 600g reduction can let you bring another iPaq or VAIO X on the street!
  • disappointed1 - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    As per your often repeated advice (as recently as in
    "As we’ve mentioned before we’re not huge fans of synthetic tests like 3DMark since they encourage non-useful driver optimizations for the benchmark instead of real games..."

    3DMark is a pure synthetic and offers no useful information on actual relevant performance - and worse, its purchase is now required (Vantage) in order to be run at home by readers looking to compare. 3DMarks are meaningless, arbitrary numbers.

    Performance across product generations isn't really any different than performance across major product categories within the same generation, and could just as easily be measured with a scalable real-world application, should you choose to maintain one in your benchmark suite. I think Far Cry 2 would be a prime candidate in this respect. Give us something useful, like frames-per-second in an actual game.
  • Sufo - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    mm, while i agree with you to an extent, i think "3DMarks are meaningless, arbitrary numbers." is something of an overstatement - and i'm sure you yourself were aware of perhaps a little exaggeration creeping in here.

    Look at something like IMDB (even more wildly subjective). If you were to guage whether you were going to enjoy a film purely on the back of the score listed there, you would most likely be a fool - however were you to take that number as merely one factor while reading other reviews and so on, you'd most likely find that contextually it is somewhat indicative of certain features (for example, one might conclude that from a high IMDB score, and some low reiewer scores that the film, while perhaps of weak script and acting, is nonetheless entertaining for various reasons).

    Despite the verbosity of the aforediscussed comparison, the same does hold for PC benchmarks too. They are just one part of a whole, complete, testing suite. They are the equivalent of a game - and suggesting that we include FC2, while a perfectly sound suggestion, is not really that much better than suggesting the addition of another benchmark. All one would find out would be how some specifc hardware performs in some specific game. Which in all its subjectivity is fine, it's as it should be - it's what we want.

    Finally, i suppose if it is not obvious, i should express my opinion on the matter of whetehr we shoudl keep said benches or not - well of course yes, adding the results of a known quantity like a 3DMark bench can only help to enrich the assesment of the hardware - however similarly, i'd suggest keeping things current, and unless testing netbooks or the like, omitting the 03 and 05 flavours is probably a good shout.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    That's one yes, and one no. Unfortunately, that doesn't give us much input. LOL. Most likely we'll drop 03/05 shortly (outside of netbooks that still can't run 06 well, and Vantage not at all). Reply
  • hybrid2d4x4 - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    Put me down as another in favor of dropping them. I know that when I read the reviews, I skip over the synthetic charts entirely (unless real-world tests are altogether missing- not so much a concern on this site). Reply

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