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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  • disappointed1 - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    I don't think your comparison holds. Movies can only ever be compared with reviews & scores on a star-based system, whether from newspaper critics or laypeople on IMDB, unless perhaps you are suggesting that you read the script beforehand to identify a weak script or watch clips to identify weak acting. If not, then the star system is still inherently subjective, whether you're looking at one reviewer or the aggregate reviews of millions.

    When I say 3DMarks are meaningless, arbitrary numbers, I mean that I can't go out and play 3DMark at 8,710 3DMarks. I can, however, play FC2 at a standardized resolution at 60fps, and as you imply, I'd even prefer that be just one factor in the review. There are tons of other games that include built-in, standardized benchmarks that report in meaningful frames-per-second, and more of these games should be substituted for the meaningless 3DMark numbers.
  • Sufo - Monday, October 18, 2010 - link

    I think the comparison holds insofar as it makes my point that even subjective information - when presented as part of a larger body of information - can still hold value. Apart from that the two have next to nothing in common :)

    Personally I don't think it can hurt to have 2 extra (I say extra, they're already there) bars in a review - they're certainly not so ostentatious that they might preclude one's ability to ignore them, and at the same time there may be people that want em. If a review was *entirely* based around benchmarks then i'd understand the resulting frustration.

    Incidentally, my gpu tends to do better in 3dmark than cards it's better than, and worse than cards it's not. This may be a lucky coincidence, but for me at least it provides a quick, albeit *somewhat* dubious reference point, as most new hardware will def get a 3dmark run, whereas it may not have been run against games i've benched.
  • beginner99 - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    Are there any test around with battery live in linux? Is the better battery live a general linux/unix advantage or did apple tweak OSx on their own so much?

    Anyway makes you cry as a windows user...
    (I recently installed Jolicloud on my eeepc. As far as I know it runs as a Virtual machine next to windows (dual boot). But it is still much faster and more responsive. pretty weird especially the responsiveness.)
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    I looked at this a while back with a couple laptops:

    At the time, Win7 bested WinXP bested Vista, with Ubuntu generally far behind. It may have improved since then, but drivers and power optimizations are critical to get the most out of your hardware in terms of battery life, and Apple has obviously spent some time in OS X on this stuff. Win7 is good, but the wide compatibility isn't helping it keep up with OS X.
  • kawatwo - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    I bought a 13 inch MBP just to get some Mac experience and it is a beautiful screen. It makes a great coffee table laptop with the perfectly lighted keyboard as well. I am curious how much the faster 2.66 CPU would have helped on the benches, but that does lower the value equation a bit probably too. It handles every game I own so far at 1200x800 though not all at highest quality settings of course. Just as an aside after several months using OS X it still boots to the desktop in about 40 seconds with zero fine tuning with the stock HD which I find amazing. Reply
  • yyrkoon - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    Not enough to spend the extra ~$40 USD. Or, in your case ~$259 USD to replace the CPU with a newer one. The P8600 is actually a very good CPU.

    As an example. I have an E6550( 2.33Ghz stock ) C2D overclocked to 2.8Ghz, and barely notice a difference. Mainly, I just did it because I could, and to run the "FSB" 1:1 with my memory. Even overclocked on up to around 3.8Ghz, there is barely a noticeable difference. Unless you start benchmarking games, and comparing FPS. But playing the games, either stock, or overclocked. The difference is barely, if even conceivable.
  • seanleeforever - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 - link

    i really think your booting speed has more to do with what you install, than the h/w spec or the OS.
    my netbook with 1.6G atom processor still boot up in 40 seconds after 2 years of use. so?
  • plewis00 - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    Is the battery life thing anything to do with BIOS in regular PCs vs. EFI in Mac machines? In a previous article it had been mentioned that Windows 7 'could' run on Moorestown (Intel's new Atom) but due to the constant bus-polling, etc. that is built into Windows it could never achieve low-wattage idles and the bus-polling is part of the antiquated BIOS architecture PCs use - this is just a theory, but also having read UEFI-based PCs could boot in seconds, I imagine Mac OS X's speed and efficiency is down to having semi-custom hardware with many unnecessary and legacy processes not running. I could be wrong and if I am and someone knows please explain where. Reply
  • fokka - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    i must say when i saw the article i was really looking forward to reading it, because it's exactly what i am doing right now - trying out win7 on the latest 13" mbp.

    but in the end it seemed a little too positive, at least to me.

    while i agree, that the the 13 incher is a great little machine, especially on windows its not without it flaws.

    the first thing that comes to my mind is the long booting time. i think it has to do with the bios-emulation, but that really shouldn't last that long.

    second there is the choppy and much too fast scrolling, which i yet have to find out how to slow it down.

    the third point is not a windows-one, but never the less i have to mention it: the display is not that good. sure, on paper and even in real life it looks fine with high contrast, brighness and color gamut, but it still is a tn-panel and so the viewing-angles are only "good enough".

    there are other shortcomings as a win-notebook, too, like the keyboard-layout and, of course, battery life.

    so all in all it's a great machine, but it sure as hell isn't designed for windows.
  • mrsmegz - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    I had a Macbook 13 aluminum w/ the 9400 for a year. I really liked the notebook for all the reasons mentioned above, the touchpad, the screen keyboard etc. However I had more than a few hangups running Windows 7 on the laptop. 1), Bootcamp wouldn't support 64 bit windows 2) Sound would only come out of one speaker/headphone at about 20pct volume while the other was at 100pct 3) it got so damn hot sitting in your lap, the aluminum just didn't vent the laptop enough. Everything else on Windows though, worked much as the article explained, If they fix those problems, I will consider getting another next cycle. Reply

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