MacBook Pros: A Look At an Upgraded Family

Apple pulled a flanking maneuver on us today, catching us by surprise. While there were some rumblings about the unibody 13” MacBook possibly being brought into the “Pro” family, there were no rumors about changes to the MacBook or Pro line in general beyond perhaps the usual speed bumps.

MacBook Pro 13

Instead, we got some major updates to the MacBook Pro line, and lower prices. Let’s take a look…

The 13” MacBook Pro

I already considered the unibody 13” kind of a MacBook Pro Lite, so in my view it’s fitting they’ve officially added it to the family. Some of you who claim it can’t be a “Pro” without FireWire, well, then it’s a Pro. Let’s just get right to the additions today:

  • Processor speed bumps. From 2.0 to 2.26 on the entry model, 2.4GHz to 2.53 on the high end.
  • FireWire 800. There you go! Probably the single biggest complaint about the MacBook just got silenced.
  • SD Card Slot. I’ve wanted one of these for a while. Easier to use on the road; no cable needed.
  • Improved battery. A whopping 7 hours of battery life; and the battery itself should last nearly 5 years. When they did this for the 17” MacBook Pro I mentioned that I’d love them to bring this technology to the rest of their line; I’m glad they did so.
  • Better screen. It’s hard to quantify this, but I believe it’s the same screen they use in the MacBook Air, which is a visibly better screen than the first unibody 13” MacBooks.
  • Base Memory on the entry remains 2GB, but increases to 4GB on the high end (maximum memory for both increases from 4GB to 8GB).
  • Hard Drive configurable maximum is now 500GB.
  • Backlit keyboard for all models (previously just at the high end).

And all of this for $100 less than yesterday; $1,199 entry, $1,499 high end. These are tremendous upgrades for the “little” MacBook. I have an original high-end unibody 13” and am jealous. I’d especially love the battery, SD slot, and of course the “free” 4GB RAM upgrade all for $100 less than I spent. The better screen, faster processor, and FireWire are just icing on that cake.

The MacBook Pro 15”

This model shares many updates with its little brother:

  • Speed bumps from two models at 2.4GHz and 2.66GHz, to three models at 2.53, 2.66, and 2.8GHz.
  • Improved battery with the same characteristics as above.
  • Same SD slot as above.
  • Base memory of 4GB on all models (maximum of 8GB).

Unlike the 13” model, where all they did was add features, the 15” models got some trimming:

  • These models no longer have the Express Card slot.
  • The new low-end model lacks the discrete NVIDIA 9600M graphics

With the low-end model priced at $1,699, the upshot is that the price of entry for a 15” MacBook Pro is now $300 less than yesterday. And, though it lacks the discrete graphics and Express Card slot, it gains the SD card slot, greatly improved battery, and a faster processor. This is basically a 15″ version of the high-end 13″ MacBook Pro for only $200 more.

The $1,999 price that used to be the entry point for 15” is now a beautiful “middle” machine lacking only an Express Card slot from yesterday’s model, but gaining the SD slot, battery, etc. At $300 over the entry 15” version, you get a faster processor, discrete graphics, and a bigger hard drive. This thing is comparable to what Apple sold for $2,499 yesterday!

Finally, the high-end 15” is another $300 over the middle model. Still no Express Card, but you get a faster processor and a 500GB hard drive in addition to the SD slot, great battery, and discrete graphics. Note that the high-end 15″ costs $300 less than yesterday, and is a better machine.

It’s amazing what you get in a 15” MacBook Pro today compared to yesterday. Unless you require the Express Card slot, these are superior machines, at significantly lower prices, than before.

The MacBook Pro 17”

This model is the newest of the bunch, and as such needed the least upgrading. It already had the great battery, for instance. In addition, the 17” model retains the Express Card slot instead of getting an SD slot. Still, you get a bigger hard drive (500GB up from 320GB) and save $300 since it now starts at $2,499.

Summary

The 13” models are truly MacBook Pros, with more and better features, lower prices, and they lost nothing in the process. They are fantastic machines.

The 15” models are excellent values, shedding only the Express Card slot (and discrete graphics at the low-end) but gaining an SD slot, the better battery, and other things in the process. The three new price points make the larger 15” screen more affordable than ever.

The 17” is primarily unchanged, but getting a larger hard disk while saving $300 in the process is a pretty sweet deal.

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