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Summary:

Fellow TAB writer, Charles Moore, wrote a great article about why it’s a good idea to seriously consider the “mature technology” of a refurbished Mac as soon as a new generation is announced. I won’t recount the details in that article, but his reasoning is very sound, […]

Fellow TAB writer, Charles Moore, wrote a great article about why it’s a good idea to seriously consider the “mature technology” of a refurbished Mac as soon as a new generation is announced. I won’t recount the details in that article, but his reasoning is very sound, and it’s solid advice.

So solid, in fact, you might almost wonder why it makes sense not to take advantage of the especially good deals that can be had as soon as a new model comes out. Well, I thought I’d look at it from the other side — or, at least my side — and describe why I took a different path and ordered a brand new MacBook. 

Keep in mind that a lot of my reasoning stems from the improvement I believe the MacBook experienced with the new model. 

A key difference in logic between Charles’ article and mine is that his was limited mostly by price while mine is mostly by size (which, to some extent, also limits price). For me, a move up to the MBP wasn’t so easily done because I’ve had machines with that footprint (though heavier) and the fact is I just didn’t take them around much. It’s amazing how much quicker I’ll grab a MacBook-size machine and take it out than one the size of a MBP.

The problem with the plastic MacBook, however, is that as nice a machine as it is (I’m writing this on the family’s white 2.2GHz model), the integrated graphics are a hindrance when I try to use Aperture (my daughter uses iPhoto and it’s a bit less of an issue), and the screen, though quite nice, has a very limited viewing range. 

What I really wanted was a MBP in a MacBook size, and I think that’s just what Apple has provided. I’m not so sure that the LED screen and NVIDIA graphics alone wouldn’t have been enough to make me at least consider a MacBook. Those changes certainly make it a much better Aperture machine (no, I’m not a pro photographer).

All the other new MacBook features, the solid aluminum case, lighter weight, thinner, backlit keyboard, and extra battery life were delicious icing on the cake. The new MacBook even shares the same chipset, architecture, front-size bus speed, fast memory, etc. as the new MBP line. No FireWire? Yes, that’s one differentiator between them, but not an issue with me because I have an iMac for that, and my 2001 video camcorder is going to be replaced with an AVHCD model (with USB) when the time comes. My one external FW HDD also sports a USB interface. I won’t need FireWire at all within the next year or so anyway. 

Based on the above, it’s easy to see that even the excellent refurb deals on the older MacBook models simply don’t appeal to me. The machines are not quite adequate for my purposes. And, despite the great deals on the older MBP’s which make them a perfect deal for some, they bring little to the table over the new MacBook but a larger, heavier form factor. I’d have the larger screen, but otherwise nothing much to show for it. The larger screen is nice, but not enough. 

So I’m getting a loaded, high-end new MacBook. As configured it’s still $150 less than the new entry MBP, but has twice the memory and a bigger hard disk. Performance is identical unless I fire up the discrete graphics on the Pro, but then I lose battery life. And since the new MacBook graphics are already five times the speed of the older models, the extra boost of the MBP just isn’t worth the extra size I’d lug around. I’d rather have more memory and drive space with less weight, and save a few bucks in the process. 

Getting a refurb MBP would save some cash, but doesn’t address the size issue and brings no other appreciable benefits. If you must have FireWire, or don’t mind the larger machine, than a refurb MBP is a great value, as Charles described. But if you want a MBP “mini”, then you want a new MacBook model. The early positive reviews of the MacBook help to make the decision as well.  

I didn’t think I was in the market for a notebook. I have a 24” iMac and borrow/sync with my own account on the family’s MacBook on occasion. But I didn’t expect Apple to bring so much of what’s appealing in the pro line to the MacBook level. I’m sold. The machine was ordered, it’s scheduled to arrive later this week, and I’ll write about it when it gets here.

  1. Any ideas how the NVIDIA GeForce 9400M of the MacBook compares to the ATI Radeon X1600 of the 2006 MacBook Pro? I ask, because I am seriously considering the MacBook, but I don’t intend to step down on the graphics performance.

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  2. AlexK,

    Sorry, I don’t know. I do find it interesting that on the current MacBook Pro page Apple compares the 9600M discrete processor to the 9400M integrated processor. In other words, they don’t compare either graphics processor in the new MBP to the old one, so there is no sense of what you’re gaining (if anything) over the last generation. The discrete bests the integrated by about 80%, which is nice but in my opinion says a lot more about the 9400 than the 9600.

    I will say that my gut tells me the 9400M would compare quite nicely to the X1600.

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  3. Thanks SO MUCH for this article. I have been postponing my purchase of a MacBook (to replace my clunky iBook G4) pending the announcement last week. However, once it happened, I found myself in the refurb vs. new dilemma, and every day I change my mind.

    In my case, I am considering the refurbished black MacBook vs. the $1299 new MacBook. Your points about the lightness and the quality of the screen really hit home for me. I don’t do serious photo editing on my laptop, I have an iMac for that (ditto the firewire concerns), but I do need a light, sturdy machine that I can work on for hours. The alumnium case and the longer battery life are definite points for me.

    I’m going to spend more money but I like to hold on to hardware for some time – the iBook is the only time I’ve held onto hardware for less than five years. I hope that this first rev of the new MacBooks are mature enough that I can do that.

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  4. I started digging a bit after writing my comment. I wasn’t the only one wondering how the 9400M compares to the X1600 it seems.

    This guy ran a benchmark on his iMac (which has the same card as my 17″ MBP from 2006) and his new MacBook.
    http://forums.macrumors.com/showpost.php?p=6461091&postcount=10

    For comparison I ran the cinebench benchmark as well and lo and behold the new MacBook beats my good old MacBook Pro out of the water! I scored about 3300 on the OpenGL part of the benchmark.

    The MacBook is getting more interesting by the minute. :-)

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  5. Hi Tom;

    I’m still on the refurb. early 2006 MacBook Pro side of the fense, but you’ve advanced a good case for the new MacBook.

    As you say, different aspects are key for different people. And I can’t dispute that my 12″ iBook is a lot nicer to pack around than my 17″ PowerBook or old Pismos, although one of the latter is currently filling the role of “road machine” for me.

    However, for my purposes screen size and resolution is a major persuader, as is the availability of a matte finish display (I’m becoming more persuaded in that direction by reading a lot of Mac Web commentary this week). The old MacBook Pro lasohas a LED backlight, so that is a wash. I also read somewhere (might have been Primate Blogs’ benchmarks) that the MacBook Pro’s NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT with 256MB of GDDR3 memory is roughly 2x faster than the new discrete NVIDIA graphics in the MacBook.

    Of course, as I noted in my column, FireWire is also a biggie for me, and I prefer the old school keyboard.

    I agree with you that the new MacBook is now a pocket MacBook Pro in all but name. It has no ExpressCard slot (another element inclining me toward the refurb. MacBook Pro) but then the 12″ PowerBook had no CardBus slot either, although it did have FireWire.

    All that said, I expect you’ll be very happy with your new MacBook.

    Charles

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  6. Tom, if you haven’t yet, you may want to check out the new MacBooks in person before deciding to purchase one. The new MacBooks also have the same bad off-angle viewing of the old MacBooks.

    I actually bought one assuming the 13″ LED backlit LCD screen would be the same as the one in my MacBook Air. Sadly it is not (far off for that matter) and I returned my shiny new MacBook and sadly paid the 10% restocking fee.

    Here is a Gizmodo review that clearly shows the off-angle viewing difference of the new MacBooks and new MacBook Pros.

    http://gizmodo.com/5063492/macbook-and-macbook-pro-review

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  7. Brad,

    I did compare them in the Apple Store before purchasing, and the new looked much better than the old.

    Now I have my new MacBook and can compare it to my white MacBook side-by-side even more closely. Comparing the two, the new screen beats the old one easily. Really, for me it’s not even close.

    I agree it’s not the same as the one in the MBA (which in turn is not as good as the one in the MBP), it is much brighter than the old MacBook. Further, while the up/down viewing angle is still fairly limiting, the left/right is much better on the new than the old.

    In short, I believe it’s an excellent improvement over the old MacBook, which is all it had to be. Comparing it to machines that start at $1,799 and $1,999 seems a bit unfair.

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  8. Charles,

    Thanks. Can’t blame you for snapping up the great refurb deals. For me, my last two (admittedly Windows) laptops were 15-inchers of roughly the footprint of the MBP. I just didn’t take them out very much.

    The reason my last Mac was an iMac was because I decided I just wasn’t for the portable life. Oh, if only I’d tried the MacBook! When I bought one for the family I realized that having a laptop that’s the size of, you know, a lap, makes a difference!

    I got the new one today and am so far just thrilled with it. In use, and comparing to the white 2.2GHz MacBook, it beats it out by a little in a few things, and a whole lot in others. It’s not only a bit lighter, but so solid I think even if it weighed the same it would FEEL lighter. Trackpad is phenomenal.

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  9. Hi Tom;

    Cool! Congratualtions on your new baby.

    It’s actually a tenth of a pound lighter than even a 12″ PowerBook, so the lightness is not an illusion.

    Charles

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  10. More than a compact MacBook Pro, I really see the new MacBook as the heir to the 12″ PowerBook, which remains one of my favorite Apples.

    I’ve been burned a few times by the Rev A bugs and so followed Charles’ advice this time and got an early 2008 MacBook Pro (new clearance price, not refurb) and I couldn’t be more delighted. The 15″ matte screen is simply the best laptop panel I’ve ever used.

    Yes, its a lot bulkier than the black MacBook I used to use, but when I really to travel light, I’ve still got my trusty 12″ PowerBook, which sadly, is no longer the lightest full-featured Mac notebook.

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