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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  • seapeople - Wednesday, October 20, 2010 - link

    The entire argument that "Macs have to be more expensive because Apple has to pay for..." is a moot point, because Apple makes GOBS of money off EVERYTHING they sell, especially including Macbook Pros. Macs are more expensive than PC's marginally because they cost more to make, but substantially because Apple simply has a product/brand name combination so desirable by people that they can sell it at huge price markups.

    To summarize: yes, there is a good reason that Macs are more expensive than PC's... it's because Apple likes to make money, and who can blame them? If you buy a $1500 laptop from Dell, you get ~$1400 of premium hardware crammed into a cheap plastic case with barely adequate build quality that trades quality for cheapness in every place you can see just so Dell can squeeze a $50 margin out of the machine and stay afloat through their mass marketing ability, whereas if you buy a $1500 laptop from Apple you get ~$700 of hardware fitted with top of the line externals including a unique and beautiful aluminum-alloy chassis, premium screen, and best-in-class touchpad that allows Apple to pull down a $500 margin and remain as the only company in the world with no debt. The Dell machine appeals to value-hungry tecno-inspired nerds who can give you the exact model number of the processor in their cheap plastic-looking machine, while the Apple machine appeals to normal people who don't necessarily know why their new shiny computer doesn't have a right click option but they're too embarrassed to ask and so just ignore it.
  • zefyr - Thursday, October 14, 2010 - link

    I would really like to see you include the HP envy 14 in your comparison. Of all the pc laptops i think its the most comparable.
  • VivekGowri - Thursday, October 14, 2010 - link

    If you can get HP to send us one, we'd certainly include it. We've to date been unable to get HP to respond to our request for a review unit, so that ball is squarely in their court, not ours.
  • Friendly0Fire - Sunday, October 17, 2010 - link

    I'm pretty sure this might have to do with their supply issues with the Radiance screen.

    To be honest, I find these Mac articles a little useless and yes, biased, if you don't include the direct competition to them. I'm not buying an Asus for a stylish aluminum body or a super-high quality display, I'm buying one because it offers tremendous bang for your buck, great performance and acceptable quality. If I wanted a Mac and looked at options similar to it, I'd bring up a Vaio Z and an Envy 14 and then I'd make a strict comparison between the three. Both of those laptops would most likely utterly trash the Macbook Pro 13 and even then 15.

    It's obvious that comparing a BMW to a Hyundai, the BMW will win (well, as long as price isn't a factor, which it of course isn't here). It isn't as obvious if you also get the Mercedes and the Lexus in the mix.

    I understand that you don't have the bazillions that'd be required to buy out and test every laptop around, yet I can't shake the feeling that you're putting out a grossly wrong picture that only casts Apple in a near-godly figure, which annoys the hell out of me. If other, comparable choices are available for less money, it's just doing the consumer a disservice not to clearly mention it.
  • Thermogenic - Thursday, October 14, 2010 - link

    Why not let the Alienware use it's 335M?
  • VivekGowri - Thursday, October 14, 2010 - link

    That's just a quirk in the graph's labeling, I think. I'm pretty sure Jarred didn't artificially limit the Alienware's performance when he tested it.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    Sorry, my mistake on a few charts. I retested the M11x R2 using the IGP at one point to show how it compared with the AMD HD 4200 IGP. Those results were put in the application charts, which changed the scores in PCMark and 3DMark (particularly in the latter). I've updated the charts with the correct 335M scores. Thanks for the catch!
  • Focher - Thursday, October 14, 2010 - link

    What I find interesting in the review - which was quite thorough and fair - is that the "value" part really came down to only the price-to-CPU comparison. In reading your section about the display, you castigate other manufacturers for cutting corners (and costs) on the display quality and compliment Apple. It seems Apple made the same call, but opted for the higher quality display and the lower quality (in terms of processing power) CPU. I only would point out that even the review mentions that the processing power of the C2D CPU is more than sufficient for typical usage patterns.

    I will admit my bias that Apple's industrial design tends to have me at hello, and for raw processing power I would never consider a notebook anyway.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    Here's the thing: the CPU and IGP should be going for a song these days, which means that the cost of all the hardware minus the chassis and LCD is significantly less than the competition. Take the $1000 ASUS N82Jv and put the MBP13 chassis and LCD in there, and by all means it's a $1200 laptop that we'd happily recommend. (That would be $100 extra for the LCD, and $100 extra to make the chassis better.) Unfortunately, what Apple has done is to take something more like a $600 laptop, add in a good chassis and LCD, and they're charging $1200 for it.

    Based on the components, design, peripherals, etc., the MBP13 should go for more like $1000, and the standard MacBook could go for as little as $750, but of course Apple has no interest in lowering prices that far as long as people are willing to pay $1000 and $1200.
  • solipsism - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    You’re only looking at a few aspects of the total product. Intel’s Price List doesn’t have the C2Ds being that much cheaper than the newer chips. Again, it seems like the lesser of two evils over using Core-i + IntelHD or sticking with C2D for a generation and having a better dGPU.

    I think too many companies focus only what can be marketed on a spec sheet and not what is useful for the average user. Anand readers are not the average user. This means compromises, just like a notebook-grade components cost more and are slower than desktop-greade components.

    But the worst conclusion is determining what a product *should* go for by simply looking at a component or a few components of another product. Did you consider the cost of milling the aluminium chassis. Did you consider the cost of using green, recyclable materials and manufacturing methods (I don’t care about this but it does affect the cost)?

    But most importantly, it doesn’t sound like you considered supply and demand? I know this a tech-based site but in business you sell a product at what the market can bare in order to maximize your profits. You don’t look at the same of a few parts of a competitor and then match their price regardless of profit. That’s asinine!

    Let’s not forget that Apple has a “boutique”-like product line while most other big vendors have excessive model numbers. They simply can’t command the price point that Apple can. That doesn’t mean they are being altruistic;, they would get more profit from customers if they could.

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