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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  • jasperjones - Wednesday, June 9, 2010 - link

    I find it highly inconsistent that AT doesn't test MBPs like any other laptops. Why do the charts compare the MBP to other MBPs instead of comparing it to laptops from Acer, ASUS, Lenovo, etc. that have been tested on this site?
  • synaesthetic - Wednesday, June 9, 2010 - link

    I assume because those laptops cannot (legally or for drivers/compatibility reasons) run OSX.
  • DaveninCali - Wednesday, June 9, 2010 - link

    Back on May 20th, I commented that the reason why we don't have discrete graphics for the 13" MB and MBP was because of space constraints. In response, I got this from Jarred Walton,

    "The "motherboard space" argument is absolute garbage."


    How can an Anandtech staff member tell me my argument is complete garbage just 2 weeks before the editor-in-chief reviews the MBP saying that the reason we don't have discrete graphics is motherboard space? That doesn't make sense to me. Don't you guys talk to each other.

    Of course, you can say that Apple can completely redesign everything but that doesn't make the reason why there is no discrete graphics because of space constraints any less valid. That's the reason given the current design.

    So what will you give up if you redesign the motherboard for more space to accommodate discrete graphics? Smaller battery and therefore less battery life? 1.8" vs. 2.5" HDD therefore less disk space? Etc.

    What say you Mr. Walton?
  • synaesthetic - Wednesday, June 9, 2010 - link

    I enjoyed reading this review, Anand. Too often Apple product reviews are fanboy drool-fests that do little to point out the product's shortcomings. I, too, am very disappointed in Apple for making this new 13" MBP such an incremental upgrade.

    Yeah, the new IGP is "nice," but I've heard from people who have it that the 320M (also used in some HP laptops) is bunk and the Windows drivers are even *more* bunk. Lots of crashes, games refusing to run properly, etc. It's nice to see that in OSX, it runs quite well.

    I'm a longtime PC user, and while I've been meaning to pick up an older 13" MacBook so I can learn OSX for professional reasons, I am hardly a fanboy of either. I do not like Steve Jobs, his attitude or his company, and I *do* think that Apple products are generally *a bad deal.*

    I was pleasantly surprised with the massive upgrade they gave the iPhone 4 over the 3GS; I figured, due to the iPad's existence, that they would make the iPhone 4 a weak incremental upgrade. But instead they virtually invalidated the iPad's existence by tossing an A4 SoC and forward-facing camera into the new iPhone! (Here's hoping we get an iPod Touch 4, too, but I'm not holding my breath.)

    What irritates me about Apple is that they are not cost-effective. You pay so much for so little computer. It makes me sad.
  • KoolAidMan1 - Thursday, June 10, 2010 - link

    It depends on the machine. The majority of the 27" iMac's price is in the display. The same 27" display is $1100 from Dell, it'll be around $1500 from NEC. The 27" iMac starts at $1700. Given the performance, display quality, and all-in-one design, I'd hardly call it a bad deal.

    Similar thing with the notebooks given their extremely light weight without compromising battery life and performance. Then you have the best trackpad on the market with multitouch gestures (some of which even work in Windows via Boot Camp), the best keyboard outside of a Lenovo, the best international power adapter and airline seat adapters out there, and you can see why some people would want to drop a few extra dollars on them (or not even spend much more if we're comparing with a Sony or a business class Dell or HP).
  • osideplayer - Wednesday, June 9, 2010 - link

    I am actually an avid PC user who was considering getting a MAC because of the new GPU's recently installed. I loaded a SSD with Ubuntu instead, but it's good to know I would have made a good decision. Considering I am graphics oriented and nobodies probably reading this anymore, so I guess im gonna go fart.
  • vicbdn - Wednesday, June 9, 2010 - link

    If Sony and Alienware can fit an i5/i7 and discrete graphics in the vaio Z and m11x, what is stopping Apple from doing that in the 13 in macbook? Sounds like B.S. to me.
  • vicbdn - Wednesday, June 9, 2010 - link

    Forgot m11x doesn't have a dvdrom drive...so nvm about that.
  • overzealot - Wednesday, June 9, 2010 - link

    You say that memory is entirely responsible for the faster load times/app performance.
    I think the increase in disk density (and, therefore sequential transfer rate) probably makes a decent impact as well.
  • evilpaul666 - Thursday, June 10, 2010 - link

    Apple's strangely, poorly threaded iTunes is going to use OpenCL to transcode video in a future update.

    Wild speculation on my part, yes, but that's what its OpenCL everywhere push is all about.

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