At my day job, we are getting new computers for everyone, and I weaseled my way into a position to have some input on the process. I have heard nothing but rave reviews of MacBook Pros and I was sure this would be my chance to […]

At my day job, we are getting new computers for everyone, and I weaseled my way into a position to have some input on the process. I have heard nothing but rave reviews of MacBook Pros and I was sure this would be my chance to get one. There are other people in the company that have MacBook Pros and certainly do not use them as well as they could (one guy only uses his for Entourage and Internet Explorer:Mac)! As I sat down to start pricing it out, I knew that I would only be able to get the base model. So, I compared the MacBook Pro with a souped-up white MacBook to see if it was really worth it to get a Pro.

The first thing you need to do when preparing to purchase a new computer is determine how it will be used. That will go a long way in determining if it is worth it to buy the more expensive model. Besides the basic email and web surfing, I need a computer that can handle a large library of photos, music, and video. In addition, I will do a fair amount of video calling using Skype or iChat. I also use Delicious Library for managing all of my books and gadgets. I will do some video editing, but certainly not a lot.

Many of these needs are satisfied by any of Apple’s computers. I am not a photographer or videographer, and my livelihood does not depend on the speed and ability to handle 15 programs open at once. At the same time, however, I do a lot of presentations and I can’t have my computer freezing up because I have too much open.

When compared side-by-side, there is not much difference. Here are the things that are exactly the same:

  • Processor: 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo 3MB shared L2 cache
  • 2GB (two SO-DIMMs) RAM standard expandable up to 4GB
  • Hard Drive (they both can have 250 GB hard drives at 5400 rpm though the MacBook starts out at 160)
  • 8x double-layer SuperDrive (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
  • Built-in iSight camera
  • Mini-DVI video out
  • Built-in AirPort Extreme (802.11n)
  • Built-in Bluetooth 2.0 (2.1 on MacBook Pro) + EDR
  • 10/100/1000BASE-T (Gigabit) Ethernet
  • Combined optical digital/audio out, combined optical digital/audio line in, microphone, speakers
  • Two USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire 400 port
  • Glossy screen

That is a lot of important stuff that is the same. What is better on the MacBook Pro?

  • NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT with 256MB of GDDR3 SDRAM compared to an integrated graphics card on the MacBook
  • Resolution 1440 x 900 pixels
  • Full-size, illuminated keyboard with ambient light sensor; Multi-Touch trackpad
  • One FireWire 800 port, one ExpressCard/34 slot
  • One inch thick
  • Up to 5 hours wireless productivity (vs 4.5 hours on MacBook)

I am sure this list of things that are better is debatable, but I think most would agree with most of the items.

What is better on a MacBook? (Again, these are probably debatable, especially the screen-size.)

  • Smaller screen means I am not opening up a monster on my lap in a meeting
  • Lighter weight (5.0 lbs compared to 5.4, not much lighter, but still) because of smaller screen
  • Personally, I like the keyboard better

I will be purchasing iWork ’08 and a MobileMe subscription. When I priced these computers out, the price came to $2197 for the MacBook Pro and $1547 for the MacBook. The biggest thing that stands out as making the Pro better is the video card. However, I just don’t know if that video card is worth the $650 price difference. Multi-Touch would be nice, but again, not worth the price tag. Would I pay more for battery life? Maybe, but I don’t think the battery life is drastic enough for it to be a major player. In addition, even if I upgrade through Apple to 4GB RAM, the MacBook is still $450 less than the MacBook Pro. That may be a better place to spend my (employer’s) money.

So, unless there are some compelling reasons that you have, I don’t see how it is better to get the Pro for my needs. What do you say? Would you persuade me one way or the other? Also, are there any other killer features that I may have missed?

  1. Your analysis is through and accurate. Get yourself the MacBook with bigger hard drive from Apple, get 4gb of memory from OWC, and call it a day..

    If you were going to hook it to an external monitor, or run vmware/parallels on it, then the Pro would have made a bit more sense..

  2. Go for the MacBook, the Pro will be overkill for your needs.

  3. Good comparison. I’m shopping for a portable myself… Here are some additional comparisons.

    MB – 3mb L2 cache
    MBP – 6mb L2 cache

    Display (if you consider brightness an issue)
    MB – TFT

    MB – Seems capped at 5200 RPM
    MBP- 5200 up to an upgraded 7200 (this factor + video card + 6mb cache = better transition potential for keynote)

    Don’t forget MBP comes with DVI to VGA adapter ($20 for MB)

    I’m a multimedia person and for quick production on the run I think the mac book cuts the mustard. Sitting behind the desk a macPro is the way to go. Did your budget include cinema displays w/ laptop?

  4. For me it was the look that tipped the balance in the end. MBP simply looks better:) But also I wanted the bigger screen (15″) and I realized that despite the difference in price, I wouldn’t be satisfied with MB.

  5. The reasons you mentioned are why I decided to go with a loaded black MacBook (it just looks nicer than a white one) instead of a MacBook Pro.

  6. Buy the Pro. It really is better, and with the educational discount (I “homeschool children”), its not that much more.

    There’s a world of difference in the video cards. The only reason I dumped my Powerbook Ti was because the screen cut out, otherwise, even at 800ghz, it was more than enough to do my tasks.

  7. I was in the same boat as yourself, and Todd. I went for a Black Macbook also because the MBP was just way to much money for the personally minor benefits.

  8. for doing real work, the 15″ screen is a MUST.
    of course, you should have external monitors as well, but in that case you would just extend the desktop.

    My wife uses a 13″ MacBook for everything, and she seems to like it. It’s a fine little machine, but I can’t stand to do anything on it more than casual websurfing because the screen is just too damned small. My 15″ MBP, just 2 inches bigger, makes a WORLD of difference.

  9. This is a really close call – I’m personally using a MacBook with 4GB of RAM and am finding it fine for absolutely everything. It’s just, the MacBook Pro feels… snappier, and it’s the graphics card that’s making the difference. While $650 is probably a lot, it’s £330 here – which is just about worth it.

  10. The MBP screen absolutely destroys the MB screen. Not only is it bigger, it is also much brighter and the colors are much more vivid. If you plan on doing real work in this machine, go with the MBP for sure.


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