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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  • runebinder - Saturday, June 26, 2010 - link

    Hi there, just waded through a few pages of comments to see if anyone had already posted it, gave up in the end as more of it was PC Vs Mac then anything else, so apologies if this has already been reported.

    Got an i7 15" MacBook Pro and installed a 120GB Vertex 2E today, checked System Profiler to see if Apple were limiting SATA speeds as they have previously have and noticed mine has TRIM Support: No listed as well. Just thought I'd mention it as the article states that this is limited to the 13" only. If it's old news then just ignore.
  • tno - Wednesday, December 29, 2010 - link

    This was reported on, and all signs do point to an eventual adoption of TRIM in OS X; as well as a more aggressive use of the GPGPU. Maybe Lion? Maybe Liono?
  • tno - Wednesday, December 29, 2010 - link

    A user commented:
    "I know this wont mean anything to anyone who already has their mind made up. But I have a ridiculous desktop for running games and any intense windows apps. However I also have a 13" macbook pro that is awesome. It stays charged for a very long time even running a virtual machine (vmware fusion is great) for when i need to do something in windows xp or 7. I have it partitioned with windows 7 which I can either boot into if I really need the extra performance for something or I can load it in vmware to get any files I may need. It has some useful terminal commands built in and the trackpad is hands down the best I have ever used. Using any other laptop feels gimmicky compared to the multitouch and all the stupid hand swipe gestures that surprisingly increase productivity! It does cost more, but it isnt plastic and I really feel that people complain about the glossy screen just to find something to complain about. I would never buy an apple desktop but I feel that the 13" mbp is a great computer. "

    This is exactly what the usage scenario of which Apple is taking advantage. What's the best way to play video games? On a console or on a Windows PC. Would Apple like a piece of that pie? Sure and they're working on it but that's never going to be a driving influence behind a Mac purchase. But let's move "play" then into the category of "consumption," that is the user of a consumption device is consuming a media, in this case a game. Apple designs their laptops and desktops for "production," they want their machines to be devices you work on. And this has always been so.

    So, will the gamer find their Starcraft 2 or Call of Duty performance inadequate? You bet. But that's why they make gaming laptops. Apple doesn't sell those.

    To everyone else, and that includes casual gamers that make up the vast majority of computer users, getting work done on a Macintosh is great. Is it better than on a Windows machine? Windows 7 has come along way but I still find the windows management aspects of OS X vastly superior and that makes it worth it for me. Consumption is not the primary aim of Apple computers. That's the purview of . . . their consumption products. Want to listen to music? iPod/iPhone. Want to watch a movie? Apple TV. Want to read a book? iPad. Want to play a game? iOS. Two divisions of Apple, two different missions.

    I belabor this point because I think it's important to keep in mind when discussing these products. Losing perspective is, to paraphrase an idiom, like discussing the citrus characteristics of an apple.

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