AppleGazette’s Kevin Whipps addresses the quandary over how to choose between a MacBook and a MacBook Pro, noting that it used to be that if you wanted a 13-inch Mac laptop (excluding the MacBook Air), the only option was the original MacBook. Now with a 13-inch […]

AppleGazette’s Kevin Whipps addresses the quandary over how to choose between a MacBook and a MacBook Pro, noting that it used to be that if you wanted a 13-inch Mac laptop (excluding the MacBook Air), the only option was the original MacBook. Now with a 13-inch aluminum MacBook Pro on the market, the decision has become more complex.

Kevin allows that the 13″ MacBook Pro doesn’t give you a lot more value for your dollar, comparatively. I beg to differ, but there’s a large element of subjectivity in any such judgment, with many variables such as how much you value FireWire support (some of us a lot), how important a SD Card slot is to your needs, and whether the premium look, fit, finish, and durability of the Pro’s aluminum unibody construction justifies the 20 percent higher price.

20 Percent Higher Price — 20 Percent More Value?

Personally, I think these factors do add up to 20 percent more real value and then some, although Kevin has a point about the two machines being pretty much clones when it comes to core computing power. For example, it now appears that even Apple’s nominal 4GB maximum RAM upgrade spec for the MacBook is completely arbitrary. OWC is offering 8GB memory upgrade kits for the plastic unibody MacBook.

The MacBook comes with a 250GB hard drive, which is more than respectable for standard equipment, especially since the 13″ MacBook Pro’s base $1,199 model comes with a more modest 160GB drive. With the MacBook, 320GB and 500GB drives are BTO options, but that bumps the price to MacBook Pro levels.

The Case for the 15″ MacBook Pro

Kevin actually includes the 15″ MacBook Pro in his comparison, noting that at 5.5 pounds, the unibody 15-incher is not a whole lot heavier than the 13″ MacBook and MacBook Pro units at 4.7lb. and 4.5lb. respectively, and offers much more expansive screen real estate at its 1440 x 900 resolution. Being a former 17″ PowerBook user who recently switched from the big, old ‘Book’s 1440 x 900 display to an aluminum unibody MacBook’s more cramped 1280 x 800 13.3″ screen, I have to agree, and the latest $1,699 entry-level 15″ Pro is especially price-enticing.

However, note well that if you need the heavy-duty graphics support provided by the discrete NVIDIA 9600M GT GPU with 256MB of dedicated VRAM, you’re still going to have to pony up $1,999 for the middle-model 2.66GHz 15″ Pro. The $1,699 unit is essentially identical in power to the high-end $1,499 13″ MacBook Pro, and has only the integrated NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics chipset (which should be more than adequate if you’re not into high-end graphics or video, or serious gaming) that annexes up to 256MB of your system RAM for video support.

A No-Brainer

Personally, while I find the new polycarbonate unibody MacBook very attractive — a quantum improvement over the old, iBook-esque MacBook form factor — my recommendation remains if you can somehow scratch up the extra $200, the base 2.26GB MacBook Pro 13″ represents the zenith of value and power for the money that Apple has ever offered in a portable computer, and if you’re willing to go with an Apple Certified Refurbished unit, the Apple Store currently has them available for the same $999 price as the new plastic MacBook, with the same warranty and AppleCare eligibility.

For me, it’s a no-brainer.

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  1. The new unibody MacBook is a quantum step backwards from the last generation. For the same $999, you lose Firewire, separate audio in and out ports and a user replaceable battery. As it stands, the newest MacBook should have been priced at $799-$899 because Apple took out more than it added…

    1. Appleaddict22 (on YT) SD Tuesday, November 10, 2009

      1. Why would you need separate headphone and speaker jacks? Personally, i think Apple did a very good job, since they are trying to be “greener”. And you’re not gonna have the headphones on while listening to something from the speakers are you? Please think.

      2. No user replaceable battery means MORE battery. Whats not good about a 7 hour battery? Come on man.
      You get 1000 recharge cycles so you’re not gonna need to change that battery any time soon..

    2. Appleaddict22, in your statement, you get it wrong.

      It’s not the speaker / headphones that are now the same. It’s the IN / OUT. Microphone input / Headphones.

      Even if you do a little bit of audio editing, mixing, recording…. This choice from Apple is kind of bad!

    3. @ Appleaddict22:

      1. Please read posts before responding. If you are a musician (which is a higher probability if you’re using a Mac), you will want to monitor recordings with headphones. If there is one jack, you can’t plug in a Mic and headphones at the same time.

      2. Real world battery life is closer to 4-5 hours – this is well documented. I can still get that with my 2 year old late 2007 Black MacBook and its original battery…

      1. Daniel Klein SD Tuesday, May 18, 2010

        Most real musicians and recording artists use outboard pre-amps and recording devices. The ones starting out that would like an all in one solution are going to find it here. Wasn’t it a LINE-IN? That means you’d need a pre-amp to use a microphone anyway. Does turning the brightness down assist battery life?

    4. I love the new MacBook Pro, Do I think its worth the money? of course not its an Apple Mac! But then its not about the money is it?

    5. Appleaddict22 – emmm, DJs use headphones and speakers at the same time, so do others people involved in audio production. der.

  2. benjamin Schmidt Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    I bought a late 2009 MacBook Pro 13″, 2.53GHz, for $1500. That is a steal. The MacBook Pro is the most perfectly priced Apple product right now. Even the $1200 is fantastic. Why would ANYONE pay $999 for a very low specs/features when for about $200 more, you can get a full featured Macbook.

    And you even get to say it’s a Pro.

    1. Because not everyone can afford it

  3. Any bets on why the Pro is getting the next processor bump to differrenciate it a little more from the regular Macbook? I know, people reading this blog might care a lot about Firewire, but for the average consumer, the number still has to be higher in order to make him or her shell out more money.

    At least that’s my not completely unbiased theory – I’m in the market for a new Pro, and I’m still waiting it out a little because I don’t want to buy a model a week before the next hardware upgrade.

    1. I know what you mean! According to Digitimes, the next macbook pro upgrade, aka processor upgrade and slight design changes will be February or March of next year.

  4. The refurbished units seems like a no-brainer if you are willing to buy them as-specd. Is availability of these usually limited?

    1. Yeah. With the refurbs, they are first come, first serve. Apple usually doesn’t have two of the exact same model (same specs) at once. It’s very rare when/if they do.

  5. I totally agree. Apple dropped the Firewire port again and there’s not even a SD card reader in the MacBook. Not really a ‘Pro’ feature in my opinion. 160GB is unacceptable for the MacBook Pro. I hope Apple will release an update before the holidays.

  6. As I type on this early ’08 MBP 17 aluminum with matte screen, nothing but pure functional pleasure here for this retiree. Can’t imagine anything removed or added for that matter… :-)

  7. If you bump up the hard drive on the MBP to 250G to make it comparable to the $999 MB, you are paying 25% more for a few more ports, an illuminated keyboard, and a metal case. To me, it seems like a steep price to pay for a few extras that (for most people) are hardly critical.

  8. degrees_of_truth Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    I tend to think the smaller hard drive in the 13-inch Pro is a temporary anomaly, and that the feature set on the plastic MacBook allows for lowering the price later, after initial demand settles out.

  9. Add a matte screen option to the 13″ MBP and I will order one ASAP…

    1. Can you make a glass screen a matte screen? The only option I see is a screen filter so you can have some sort of anti-glare.

  10. Are the screens on MacBooks the same as on the Pros?? I compared them in a store and MacBook’s screen looked darker and with bluish tint. It wouldn’t be surprising MacBooks have lesser screens… My vote goes for Pro, but I agree it’s mostly subjective decision.

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