To Pro or not to Pro?

51 Comments

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?

51 Comments

Erik

I have a MBP from before and I got a Blackbook. I had to sell it due to its poor screen. I got an Air instead, mainly for the better screen. The screen on the newer MacBooks are incredibly bad. Dither and bad contrast.

Jethro Jones

Thanks for all your comments! I did not mention the LED Backlit display on the MBP. That is another good selling point. And Peter brings up a good point about wireless reception. It has been rumored that they did away with the metal casing on the iPhone because the reception was poorer than plastic.

I am still undecided, but I will post what I do get when I get it.

John

The MBP is really not that much heavier or larger than the MB. Not a factor really for me…

Francisco Mota

I have both – I’ve been using a 2.3 MBP for over a year now and I’m in the process of switching to a black 2.4 MacBook with 4gb of ram.

My usage pattern is very similar to yours and after a year I was getting tired of lugging the MBP all over the place – without any advantage: I don’t usually do anything with my computer that really needs a dedicated graphics card, so I took the plunge.

The Macbook form factor is perfect for me. And it has plenty of horsepower.
And between the smaller and lighter computer+power brick, my bag feels a lot lighter.
So far the only thing I’ve missed is the backlight keyboard…

When I first bought the Macbook I was thinking in keeping the 2, but now I’m selling the MacBook Pro.
I’m very pleased with my Macbook and find it perfectly usable has my primary machine.

longwing

My iBook G4 has an expiring warranty in December so I will face the same choice. I have always gone with the low end macs. Since the days of the Performa. My wife has a Powerbook G4 and the metal case feels too slick to me. I feel like I’m going to drop it. I get a better grip on the plastic iBook.

Although I’ll probably get the MacBook, if I wrote the Apple Blog I’d probably have to get a MacBook Pro.

Michael Vermaak

I have a MBP but also use a MB on shows along side it.
One thing I find with any glossy screen is the brightness compared to the LED screen from the MBP, also the matt screen on the MBP is so useable in most light conditions while with the glossy screen I find it hard to concentrate for periods in most light conditions. Also the resolution makes a huge difference for me.

If your going to do any Final Cut work I would highly recommend a MBP over a MB but it’s all down to how much you will use it.

If your not doing lots of video editing and are fine with the glossy screen and resolution the go with the MB.

Everyone’s needs are different, a colleague has a MBP for sending emails surfing the net and running keynote and PowerPoint presentations the only reason he has a MBP is for playing COD4 in Windows!

Dave

I also have been doing this analysis. I concluded that if you really can convince yourself that the smaller screen is OK that the MB is OK.

Actually the difference in cost between the 15″ MBP and 17″ MBP which has more screen resolution is a tougher call to make than the MB vs 15″ MBP call. BTW the Apple refurb store usually has great deals on the MB and MBP. There are also MB there and even an occasional Black one.

I have never known how the refurbs do so any comments on that route would be welcomed. I am leaning toward the 15inch MBP just because it will be useful for a longer period of time plus the display size is something I need.

John

Backlit keyboard is killer. For me, that and the graphics card are worth the extra coin. With Leopard (and apps) using Core Animation/Image/Graphics for so many things it really makes a difference.

Peter – I have no issues with wireless reception. I have read it is better with the MacBook – but I upgraded from a PowerBook and there is no comparison.

maestroQC

My wife has a MacBook and I a MBP.
The illuminated keyboard is a trivial feature but it makes a hell of a difference.
I couldn’t go without it.

Peter

I’m very interested in this comparison but there’s one key element I’d love to see discussed — wireless reception. My wife has a Macbook and gets fantastic wireless reception — my Aluminum Powerbook can’t even pick up a signal in our living room where she’s easily able to surf the net. How do the (very similarly cased) Macbook Pro’s stack up on wireless reception? I’d go for a Macbook Pro in a heartbeat if I thought I’d get that kind of wireless reach.

tory

MPB, definitely. The display makes all the difference, as has been previously noted, in a real-world work environment. Since my laptop is my work machine (some programming, occasional Linux sysadmin and XP network support), my entertainment center (music, movies, surfing), and belongs to my employer (so what difference does a couple hundred extra mean to me?), the Pro was a no brainer. Love it! It’s a wonderful machine that runs XP under parallels as fast as most native XP installs in our unit and gives me four OSes at my fingertips. If I ever get fired or leave for somewhere where they will not supply me with a replacement, the first thing I do will buy one myself.

(Wife has a MB– perfect for her needs– being dragged around libraries and academic conferences and such. Portability is the biggest issue here, of course.)

Benjamin

I look at a laptop as a long term purchase. With that in mind, I purchased a MBP. My reasoning was that even though it cost more upfront, it costs less in the long run because I can keep it longer between refreshes. My father has a 2 year old MB that is feeling really slow and if I were using it, I’d have to upgrade to a newer model. With my MBP I’m planning on using it for at least 3 to 4 years.

On the negative side, replacing the hard drive in the MBP is a pain in comparison to doing so on the MB. My keyboard still isn’t flush :-).

Ben

Litos

Plus, the MB DOES have a connection to an external display… At least mine does (got it last November), so a new one will surely have it.

So, down to the graphics and looks… I’d get another MB right now!!

monkeypox

don’t forget that the ease of upgrading the non-pro macbook’s hard drive (remove the battery, unscrew 3 screws and slide in a new drive) is a huge plus. upgrading on the macbook pro is a much more complicated procedure. save yourself some money; get the smallest drive you can with your macbook and replace it yourself.

Panny

@Nathaniel Bibler

The macbook does have 2 finger scrolling (and 2 finger-click for ‘right’ click which is also very handy) – you don’t need the macbook pro fir this.

Bruce

MBP has a better screen and I can connect up another monitor and the macbook can’t

I’m using a 1.83GHz Core Duo (old, not CD 2) with 2GM RAM to drive a 23″ Cinema Display. It’s great having the combined screen space, moving windows from one display to the other. No real world issues editing in Photoshop, watching fullscreen video, etc.

HWH

Uh, that is: Same analysis *here*, same conclusion. Must stop proofreading comments AFTER submission.

HWH

Same analysis hee, same conclusion.

A key factor: will you be looking at the laptop’s screen most of the time; or an external monitor most of the time. If external monitor, is it larger than 1920×1200 (typical 24″ and 27″ size)?

Scott

MBP has a better screen and I can connect up another monitor and the macbook can’t.

Nathaniel Bibler

If this is a machine you will use for several hours throughout the day without an external mouse, I’d throw my $0.02 and say that the multi-touch pad on the MBP is more than a minor convenience. It’s hard to explain to someone who isn’t used to it being there, but once you use it, it is worth at least $100, if not more.

No moving the pointer to the sidebars, AT ALL; just two-finger slide to scroll. That alone saves me at least a few minutes a day, not to mention relieves the need for me to *think* about how I’m reading your post vs. just reading your post (focusing on the task at hand). As long as the pointer is somewhere in the window, scrolling is effortless and thoughtless. Spread across the lifetime of the machine (3-4 years?) even saving me 2-3 minutes per day, which is an understatement, more than justifies some cost difference between the two.

Think about how often you scroll a window! Web browsers, text editors, email ….

James

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.

Alex Muller

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.

Joe

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.

Luca

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.

bloatedsack

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.

Todd

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.

Jalle

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.

wilson

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
MBP – LED TFT

HardDrives
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?

Peter

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..

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