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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  • B3an - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    I agree. I dont own either laptop but have used the Sony Vaio Z and this Macbook Pro. The Sony Vaio Z is literally better in every way i can think of. And it's definitely smaller and lighter as you say.

    It kinda makes me sick that people buy Apple products when there's better alternatives that are actually worth the money they cost and have up to date hardware.
  • GeorgeH - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    Carbon fiber is lighter than aluminum too. :)

    I did the math before making the first post - here are the results:

    13"MBP - 108.5 in^3
    15"MBP - 133.9 in^3
    Z - 102.9-133.8 in^3

    The Z isn't a conveniently rectangular like the MBP, so volume is much harder to measure. Best possible case it's 95% of a 13" MBP, worst case it's essentially the same size as a 15" MBP. My money is on it being much closer to the latter than the former. It certainly feels smaller, but when you're trying to cram components into a chassis what something feels like is kind of irrelevant.
  • doobydoo - Saturday, October 16, 2010 - link

    Of course, when buying or using a laptop, what it 'feels like' is the only relevance, the actual imperceivable size being absolutely irrelevant.

    That being said, I have measured the height of the Vaio at the front and the back, and both the front and the back measurements specified by the manufacturer include 0.1 and 0.2 extra for the feet (respectively). The actual sizes are 0.9 at the front and 1.1 at the back (excluding the feet).

    Applying these dimensions gives an overall 102.92 cubic inches, significantly less than both Apples, which backs up the easy-to-tell feeling you get when you see them both next to each other.

    So Sony has managed to put together a significantly faster laptop (with i7 processor and RAID SSD's as well as dedicated GPU), in a package which is smaller, lighter, and more stylish than an Apple, and one which can run Windows 7 without overheating.
  • mlambert890 - Saturday, October 16, 2010 - link

    This has to be one of the craziest discussions I've ever seen... Dude... Take your 13" MBP and go to a Sony store with it... Put it next to a MacBook. You're measuring volumes and water displacement on a laptop. You don't see how that's crazy?

    The Z is a POUND and a HALF lighter and is OVER half an inch shorter in depth. It is smaller in every way that matters.

    I don't own either laptop or particularly care, but it's just mind boggling the lengths a fanboy can go to not "lose" on a point.

    Maybe Apple will make a smaller, faster laptop than the Z. Right now they don't. If that troubles your soul to the gore for some reason just fall back on "well it doesn't run OSX!". At least that makes SOME kind of sense.
  • GeorgeH - Saturday, October 16, 2010 - link

    I don't own a MBP (or any other Apple products.) Personally I'd much rather have the Z than 13" MBP, and would recommend that anyone with the cash and no desire for OSX choose the Z as well.

    This was only about the engineering aspect of the thing, more specifically being able to cram ~3-5 new chips (dGPU and associated memory) and their associated cooling and peripheral components into the MBP to support Intel's newest CPUs. The claim was made that the Z was smaller but had more inside it, and I merely disagree that the Z actually is smaller.

    In other words, the above is just a discussion about making computer hardware. That you thought otherwise is your fanboy malfunction, not mine. :)
  • softdrinkviking - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    It strikes me as interesting that Apple devotes so much time and money to hardware integration. It undoubtedly adds to the development time and costs for any small change that goes into a new model. Apple kind of locks their designs in place down to the smallest detail.
    That's probably one reason why there isn't a new CPU; the development costs for all of that micro-managed integration are so astronomically high, and the process takes so long, that Apple can't get a CPU refresh to the public this year.

    Perhaps the 'integrated approach' is not such a good thing if it keeps Apple from updating its CPUs to a competetive level.

    I also don't understand why people have developed software to run windows on macs.. if the added value of a mac is the integration of the OS and the carefully choosen components, doesn't it kind of defeat the purpose of the mac experience?
    Is there some kind of practical and necessary reason for it? Do mac owners sometimes get sick of OSX and install Win 7 just for a change of pace?

    Side notes:
    1 I don't think it's helpful to compare notebooks to desktops on a price/performance basis.

    2 The value of 'little things' is too subjective to make a determination in the price of the MBP or any other laptop. Because of that, it's not really useful criteria for a PC to PC comparison. That is why, at least i think it's why, that Vivek stuck to things that can be measured and show their effects in benchmarks that show performance in tasks that people actual use.

    The fact is, everybody has different tastes in keyboards and screens and trackpads and those sorts of things, so maybe an Acer is more desirable to some people, and should therefore demand a premium.
    Basically, Apple is charging a little less than double the price of a 13" windows/linux/chrome laptop for mac OS and their choice of hardware. If you like both of those things to the tune of about double a windows machine, then you buy it.
    It should not be hard, even for a mac fanboi, to see the lack of value in a MBP for someone who doesn't have a preference for Mac OS or Apple's hardware choices. (which is what this article is supposed to be about "Can it be a Decent Windows Laptop?")
  • Johnmcl7 - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    The Vaio Z11/12/13 actually goes up to an i7 and can have four SSD drives in a chassis that's smaller and lighter than the Apple machine. Anandtech prefer to ignore the Z series and Sony in general, apparently Sony wouldn't give them one but the fact that these machines existence makes an article like this nonsense probably has a large part in it. I think it's laughable reading such rubbish as the MBP having no equal etc. in the PC market when Sony comfortably exceed it, I'm using an older Z series which trashes the MBP in pretty much every area going. Its smaller and lighter using a carbon fibre chassis, I'd put the build quality of the Vaio as better, it packs in a 3Ghz C2D processor, blu-ray writer and 1600x900 screen none of which the Apple offers. With the 256GB SSD I was able to buy it brand new for the same price as an entry level Macbook as it's an older model which is still far better than the Apple version.

  • slickr - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    How about Apple actually focused on what IS important - the CPU, GPU, Battery, HD, etc.. instead of few gimmicky "features" if you can even call them that that people droll over. You have to be pretty stupid to think that few gimmicks are more valuable than a newer, faster, quieter and at the same time cheaper notebook.

    While the outside design is nice, there are hundreds of notebooks out there that are cheaper, faster, more powerful and better looking than the Apple macbook pro 13.
  • xype - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    Cheaper, faster, more powerful yes, better looking no. Not hundreds, not dozens and, at best, a couple, _if_ you simply like a different style (ie, black case, shiny case, etc).

    As for the "stupid" comment: it has nothing to do with stupid, and everything to do with priorities. And, if we're being honest, Apple seems to hit a sweet spot with the general populace there. And they know that will sell them more laptops and pleasing the 0.5% of the market that is made of hardcore geeks.
  • Piet Boer Mienjong - Thursday, December 30, 2010 - link

    I think Apple does focus on what is important. How cool it will look when using it at the local coffee place.

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