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MacBook Pro: The Perfect Computer?

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macbookpro13My friend and Low End Mac’s publisher, Dan Knight, posted a nearly 3000-word essay recently positing a “what’s the perfect Mac” conundrum: MacBook Pro or iMac. I share Dan’s enthusiasm for examining and debating such hypothetical questions, and I thoroughly enjoyed the piece, but for me, the matter is much more open-and-shut.

I’ve been advocating for more than a decade that laptops are the logical Mac for most users, and in my estimation the unibody MacBook Pros — particularly the new 13-inch model — come as close to personal computer perfection as has yet been achieved.

As his top laptop candidate, Dan Knight leans more toward the 15-inch unibody model, with a particular nod toward the $1,699 configuration, which would be my second choice for ultimate Mac notebook value. First choice is the 2.26 GHz 13-inch MacBook Pro at $1,199, which gives you almost everything you get in the lowest-priced 15-incher, with the obvious exception of display acreage, and for $500 less.

However, for Dan, screen size and finish are much higher priority issues than they are for me. He developed his computing style and habits working as a professional book designer on two-page 152 x 854 and 1280 x 960 resolution screens, and finds smaller displays — say 1034 x 768 (SVGA) or lower resolutions — too restrictive for his tastes and work.

I, on the other hand, spent my first three Mac-loving years on a PowerBook with a 9.5″, 640 x 480, passive matrix grayscale display. After that experience, anything larger has seemed generously roomy, or at least adequate. The highest-resolution screen I’ve had in any Mac to date is the 1440 x 900 display in my 17″ PowerBook, which I like a lot, but adapting to the 1280 x 800 resolution of my 13″ unibody MacBook when I upgraded posed no real problem. Leopard’s Spaces feature has eliminated much of the inconvenience of working with modest display real estate.

Today, I would draw the line at 1064 x 768, which is what my two still-in-service Pismo PowerBooks offer. That’s also the highest resolution any of my desktop computer monitors have ever had, which sounds quaint when the entry-level $1,198 iMac today comes with a 20-inch 1680 x 1050 screen.

Dan’s current production rig is a dual-1GHz Mirror Drive Door Power Mac G4 driving a 1280 x 1024 a Dell (s dell) flat panel display — hardware that befits the theme of his website, and ideal for a guy who isn’t yet willing to give up Mac OS Classic Mode. However, Dan says he’s excited this week because now that Apple (s aapl) has just added an “antiglare” display option for the 15-inch unibody MacBook Pro, he thinks it could become the perfect production machine for him, even going so far as to suggest that the 15-inch MacBook Pro is probably the perfect computer, period.

I won’t quibble overmuch with that, although I do still champion the 13-incher, since I’m more than satisfied with the glossy display. As Apple notes, with a glossy screen finish you get graphics, photos, and videos with richer colors and deeper blacks, which is better for most users who don’t have to work in print media. But if having an antiglare option helps persuade folks like Dan Knight to dismount the fence on the laptop side, I’m all for it, and let’s have it available on the 13-inch model as well.

So will Dan finally end up on a MacBook Pro, which would be his first production laptop since the original Titanium PowerBooks back in the early-to-mid ’00s? I think there’s a good chance he will, but he isn’t slamming the door on desktops by any means, noting that the perfect desktop computer would take the current iMac design, move some ports for easier access, and offer an antiglare screen option. Perhaps for him it will boil down to whatever Apple does next with the iMac.

How about you? Would you vote for either the MacBook Pro, the iMac, or something else entirely as “the perfect computer?”

43 Responses to “MacBook Pro: The Perfect Computer?”

  1. Personally, I can’t imagine being tied to either desktop or laptop exclusively. My iMac gives me a giant 24″ screen, big hard drive, great graphics (Radeon 4850), and my devices (speaker system via optical connection, AIO printer, card reader, Ethernet, iPhone dock, external HD for Time Machine) are *always* connected. I don’t have to do the cable tango all the time. I get none of those things with a laptop. Sure, I could hook up a laptop to an external 24″ display and external hard drive, but I don’t want the hassle. And I’d never get the 3D gaming power I get with my iMac.

    My perfect solution is my 24″ iMac *and* a MacBook Pro, kept in perfect harmony with DropBox, though currently I’m saddled with a lowly MacBook as my portable partner.

  2. James McEwan

    I have a 24″ 3.06GHz iMac and it is perfect for all my needs. I came over to the Mac last year after Vista problems and will never go back.
    Delighted with this machine.

  3. Dustin Boswell

    If Apple would release a docking station for the MBP it would make it the perfect computer. I’m a solid Apple fan, but the lack of a docking station really minimizes its viability as a primary computer.

    I have both a 15″ MBP and a 24″ iMac with a second 24″ monitor because I live on the computer (I know: sad). I find that I now rarely use the MBP, relying instead on my iPhone when I travel. Not optimal, but better than trying to sync the two machines.

    But seriously, Apple: no docking station?

  4. TexasYellowDog

    If you don’t require portability, nothing beats a Mac Mini connected to a very large 1920x1080p display along with an Apple bluetooth keyboard and a mouse from another vendor. You get all your normal desktop computing needs plus entertainment software that blows the Apple TV away. Every codec in the book, surround sound, file server, airTunes music distribution to the whole house, wireless printers, DVR, storage vast and fast via Firewire–cheap, quiet, dependable with the same guts as a 13″ Macbook pro and keep the change.
    I’ve got two connected to the same display with the second Mini available in a spaces window via screen share.

  5. ‘ Y’all are all talking 13″ and 15″ MBPs or equivalent PowerBooks – or in rare instances Mac Pros – but I honestly put my vote in for the 17″ MBP… If one leaves pricing out of the equation and speak of technical merit only. :-)
    ‘ I bought myself the 17″ around 3 months back – first Mac. after a lifetime of building my own home machines and the use of several different “PC” laptops issued by work over the years… Honestly – and this is the opinion of a VERY picky person with VERY high standards – I can’t recall ever being more satisfied or content with an I.T. purchase!!!
    ‘ The Unibody 17-incher is so light and small that it handles and feels like a 15-inch notebook in all the best, positive ways, yet it provides the power of a good desktop with the resolution of an up-to-30″ screen and the actual physical screen size that was considered huge just a few years back. It’s an incredible machine and offers the very best of both worlds with little real, significant compromise!!!

    ‘ I couldn’t imagine going back to working on anything else – and I don’t intend on doing so in the future if I have any choice in the matter. :-D

  6. My main production machine—an original Power Mac G5—is now some six years old. It’s still an awesome machine and plenty fast enough for probably 95% of what I do (I’m a graphic designer and applications developer), but I’m well aware of what the Snow Leopard transition will mean for it. As such, I’m carefully eying the market for my next Mac.

    I’ve actually considered the Mac Pro, for two reasons: expansion and 30″ display. (Based on reviews, Apple’s Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter seems to be *extremely* flaky.)

    I’ve also considered getting a MacBook Pro, but my experience with Mac laptops has been *very* disheartening. I bought an iBook in 2004, but it spent so much time in the shop that Apple eventually gave me a free MacBook, to replace it. That MacBook has since had everything replaced but the keyboard, over the course of several repairs; and the case is now cracked in two places, again. (And yes, I know the unibodies probably won’t crack, but what else will they do?)

    The bottom line is that I’ve been buying Apple computers for 17 years, now, and the only time I ever had a desktop go bad is when I’m pretty sure my platinum G3 got struck by lightning. I only get paid for the hours I work, so even a day or two without my production machine would be disastrous. Would I consider an iMac? I suppose; I’ve never really thought about it, before. However, I will *not* sacrifice reliability for mobility. That’s just bad business.

    My 2¢.

  7. Asger H

    I switched to MB-Pro 15″ from a 13″ MacBook in march 2008, just after the update to Penryn CPUs.
    It is by far the best computer I have ever owned (apart from my grey PowerMac G3, 233 back in the days :-)

    When the unibodies were released I was pleased to see that I wasn’t completely outdated because they had the same CPU speed and resolution.
    It is still fast enough for my needs, is LED background lit, GPU is supported by OpenCL. I recently upgraded to hard drive to 320GB 72k rpm to give it a small performance boost. It’s foot print is even a tad smaller than the unibody 15″

    Actually I don’t think I will upgrade until MB-Pros will get a significantly faster CPU or an option to choose a higher screen resolution.
    Well if Apple will make a 13″ with 1440×900 I might even consider that one…

    • I have a 15″ unibody MBP, and is the best computer I’ve ever owned or used. However, my work laptop is a 13″ Lenovo X300 (it is just a little over 3 lbs). The Lenovo X300 comes standard with 1440 X 900! Now that I’ve experienced that high a resolution on that small of a form factor, I can’t imagine ever going back to 1280 x 800.

      The 13″ MBP would be the perfect computer if Apple offered a higher resolution for it, like Lenovo does on the X300…

  8. I am dying to get my hands on a 13″ MacBook Pro. I currently have a 15″ Unibody from November which is awesome. Still, I miss my MacBook Air and think the 13″MBP would be a nice compromise.

    I use a desktop at work and while I do enjoy the 24″ display when working on many documents at once, I still believe the notebook is the better option for most people. Without question, due to the recent upgrades to the MBP and the MBA my next machine will be 13″.

  9. I’m in love with my mbp 13″. I previously owned a 17″ with 1920*1080 screen. The adaption to the much lower resolution wasn’t hard – i just use spaces and exposé a lot more than before… The 13″ model is much lighter than the 15″… this is a pretty important point to me…

  10. I would go for the best 13″ configuration you can get as well. And in fact I will in two weeks.

    Of course I’d love two have a more powerfull machine as the 17″ are, with a designated graphics processor. Stepping down from a desktop PC, the integrated graphics make me worry a bit to be honest. But I don’t see a 17″ to be desirable because a relatively heavy and big item like that is not what I would go for when making a choice for a notebook. You chose one of these because you want to use it on the go and not in your home office only. If so you could stick to a desktop machine.

    In my opinion the 15″ is just a realtively expensive compromise with the bigger screen, and an option to choose a graphics processor and a faster CPU.

    That’s why for me a good 13″ configuration is the perfect choice (sadly the 8GB RAM are a little out of my world – pricewise).

    Have a good one,


  11. I love my 15″ MBP that I purchased in May. Wish I would have waited a few weeks to get it cheaper. When I need a bigger screen I just connect to the 24″ cinema display. I LOVE MAC!!

  12. Jack bauer

    my perfect computer is my 2008 Mac Pro :), but i love the new MBP and would buy the 15″ and have the best of both worlds. Sync between them, MBP for on the go, and the MP in my home-office (also being used as my central home media server) to my 52″ HDTV via AppleTV!

    Just awesome

  13. MBP Unibody 15″ 2.66 here. Perfect computer, the best i’ve had in my life. I think i would be very glad if i had a 13″ MBP instead, they’re are awesome too!

  14. I bought the 13″ Macbook Pro and I would have to say that I completely agree, it is easily the best computer I have ever owned. In fact, I told a friend that it was also the best PC I ever owned because the dual booting to Windows 7 is great. With the new graphics card and the solid unibody design, this is one impressive piece of hardware. Very, very satisfied!

  15. Petchamon

    Very happy with my 15″ aluminum MBP. Best computer I’ve ever owned, and can support the case for the perfect computer. Mine isn’t the newest, but it does everything I need it to do with comfort and style. (I almost wrote it’s as reliable as the day is long, but you know what would happen next…. ;-)

  16. For my personal use, I think the perfect setup would be a laptop with an additional (read: larger) screen and big external HD. That way you can get best of both worlds. As for size, my 13″ screen does me well, but I probably wouldn’t mind the extra size the 15″ gives me.

  17. I recently purchased the new 13″ Macbook Pro after my white Macbook died. I have to say that I am extremely impressed with this model and I think that it is the closest thing to the perfect computer that I have found. It’s light, compact, and is overall visually appealing. I was also extremely happy that Apple decided to put the illuminated keyboard on this model, which is something that I have been wanting for quite some time. It also has great power, and I love being able to run so many applications at once without everything going berserk. I also think that the SD card slot addition was genius; it makes transferring picture and video files so much easier. I am very happy with this laptop and am positive that I will remain that way!

  18. I’m apparently in the minority, but I’m happy with my 24″ iMac– the big screen and the additional kick in performance are what I want. The only attachments (besides an all-in-one printer) are two firewire hard drives, one for music & pix, and one for SuperDuper backup.

  19. MarceloR

    I have a 17 inch Powerbook hooked up to an external display and running off of a two-drive RAID0 FireWire 800 external drive for almost five years now. It did a great job as a desktop substitute. In case I needed the Powerbook to go out of the home, I would simply mirror the RAID0 external drive using SuperDuper while I took a shower and it’d be ready to go. The LCD is bad now so I don’t take it out anymore.

    I’ve been combining a laptop, external display and a fast external drive in lieu of a desktop for a long time now. Besides the Powerbook I also have two Thinkpads setup this way in the house. I think this strikes a great balance between portability and performance. Take out the external drive and you are left with poor laptop hard drive performance, take out the external display and you have to compromise on inadequate display size. All of which is fine when on the road but not in the home.

  20. I bought the 13″ MBPro recently and love it! Portability is a big deal and the ability to slide it into a side pocket of my camera backpack is great. Like having a portable studio.

  21. Great post. I think the 13″ is probably the best (2.53 model). I had a 15″ unibody before they update specs in June. It was ok, but it was overpriced, and base configuration wasn’t great. I think the prices are much more realistic now. Fortunately, I could send it back, as I’d only had the MBP for 4 days when they updated.

    I think however, if you are going to be using this for any sort of design on the move, you’ll want highest spec, biggest screen you can afford. Fiddling about with big graphics in photoshop on a 13 will drive you mad. For writers though, it’s perfect, a fantastic combo of portability and usability.

  22. My wife has the 13-inch model hooked up to a $400 24-inch Samsung monitor, with an Apple MDP-DVI connector in between. All the real estate she needs when she’s at her desk, and a very nice portable computer when she’s travelling. I initially had reservations about the glossy screen (being used to the matte screen on my 2007 MBP), but it’s never been an issue. And IMO, the 13-inch model is the best looking unibody MBP.

  23. If Apple extends the anti-glare option to the 13″ MBP they will have a sale to me posthaste…

    A 13″ MBP with the option of connecting a larger monitor… Now that would be a nice combo.

  24. I’ve got a nearly 2 year old 17″ MacBook Pro with the Matte screen. It is indeed a near-perfect computer. In fact, I can’t actually think of anything at all I’d like to see that it hasn’t already got.

    Even at nearly 2 years old, it still “feels” as good as new. And I prefer the all-silver model I have to the newer black-keyed variants. Looks a lot more stylish IMHO.

    • Catmanrog

      I agree totally with psionmark. My 2 year old 2.6 Ghz 17″ MBP with hi-rez Matte screen and 4GB of RAM is my dream machine as I sit on the couch. I would not try this with my old Lisa…

    • My 17″ is a little older, and one that’s limited to 2G. It’d be perfect if it could use 8G. My problem with the new ones is that I don’t like the keyboard nearly as much. The silver keys are just wonderful, IMO.

  25. No way I would pick a desktop as a perfect computer. They lose simply because they’re not portable. If you factor in price, the 13″ MBP is clearly the best. It is the most well built computer that Apple builds (alongside Mac Pro) and the base 15″ is too expensive for an extra 2″.

    You will get more for your money (if you include build quality) with the 13″ than any other computer Apple makes and other maufacturers.

  26. As MBP 13″ no longer has the crappy screen and includes the illuminated keyboard for 1199, I guess it could be the perfect computer. There’s always something – weird mini DP port, no eSATA, no HDMI – but still it’s pretty darn close to being the perfect one.