Blog Post

MacBook vs. MacBook Pro: Which Should You Buy?

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.

56 Responses to “MacBook vs. MacBook Pro: Which Should You Buy?”

  1. I sangged a macbook 13″ for under 850. I use it for e-mail, the web, and photoshop. I’ve used final cut pro, but only when i’ve had to take work home.
    It’s a pretty powerful laptop. I give it a thumbs up.

  2. Does anybody know when the 2010 MBP would be out??? I am planing to buy one though haven’t decided 13” or 15”. I would love to have a 15″ but the price is killing me. Any comments/suggestions would be highly appreciated.

  3. yousefzoq

    Hi. I seem to be having the same problem. But I think I’ve found it. The MB has the exact same specs as the cheapest 13″ MBP , except the MBP has 90 GB less memory! (weird). I’m hoping to upgrade my MB or MBP after buying it (couple months) , but they can both go up to 4 GB RAM (right the MBP can go up to 8 GB RAM, but thats just insane and i dont think i will ever need that). the MBP has firewire and an SD card slot , but almost all (if not ALL) external drives come with the option to use USB. Making no firewire no problem. I just keep feeling that the MBP has to be better in some way, and don’t want to regret buying the MB. So if anyone can convince me the MBP is better or reassure me that MB is the way to go I would be sincerely grateful :)

  4. My 12″ G4 Powerbook which I was just complimented on that morning, died in the afternoon. It might be the screen, it might be the motherboard. It is in the shop. I was hoping to get by for another six months, as I never seem to get out of debt. Anyway expecting the worse I asked lots of questions. I’m going to stick small, which also equals cheaper and I think I’m going Pro.

    One feature the store guy and I came up with, was the Pro can take 8 GB of RAM, the MacBook only 4 GB.

    I can upgrade that later.

    In the olden days the iBook had soldered on RAM which was another advantage of the Pro. Unfortunately I have several external FireWire drives, I could migrate to USB 2.0, but I don’t want to.


  5. Amid Alimuradov

    I purchased Mac Book Pro two days ago, and had to return it and get Mac Book just because Pro catches wifi signals about 20% worse than MacBook does. We performed side by side comparison at a local Apple Store and they Genius agreed Pro is not as strong as MacBook when it comes to wifi. The reason is that it’s made of aluminum.
    Another thing we need to point out is that MacBook’s polycarbonate unibody sometimes can be more durable than MacBook Pro’s aluminum one. If you drop your keys or a cellphone from 1-1.5 height on the palm rest of MacBook Pro it actually might end up having a ding or a tiny dent on it. If the same happens to MacBook, it wont crack at all. But yes, plastic can never be as durable as aluminum.
    It all depends … ! :)

  6. I am in the market for a macbook or MBP…not sure which to get. Might be going for the MBP, mostly for the screen size options. after reading this, wondering if I should wait until March to purchase…what kind of upgrades do you think they are making? will it effect the price as well?

  7. Thanks for this blog. I bought a ‘standard’ Macbook online and received it yesterday. I never checked to see what the differences were between the Macbook and the Macbook Pro because I didn’t realise they did a 13″ version. I panicked today when I realised they did, so I was thinking about sending my Macbook back and getting the Macbook Pro. This blog has subdued my fears as there are no additional features on the MBP that I would use over the Macbook. If it has eSATA on it, that would be another matter entirely. I kind of expect them to add that onto the Macbook next March when they change the design of the MBP (as mentioned above by someone.) I’ll happily stick with my (barely) lesser spec Macbook for now as it does everything I need :D

    • yeah if you want eSata you have to go with a pre-Built in battery version of the 15″ unibody, it has a express slot which allows you to connect eSata drives, in my opinion, the first 15″ unibody pro is the best choice all around.

    • Your wording is somewhat confusing, but it sounds like you are comparing the white MB to every laptop Apple makes.

      Hopefully you don’t consider the Air to be something that regularly uses it’s CD/DVD drive. And hopefully you are not comparing any 13″, Pro or not, to a 17″ with Hybrid SLI, HD resolutions, and an ExpressCard slot.

      In my opinion, the only advantage the current unibody MB has over the 13″ Pro is the HDD size. The aluminum and the other ports easily make the Pro better to me.

  8. About the lack of another line out:

    If you buy a MacBook you usually don’t do music editing and stuff like that. The new macbook is cheaper than the other white macbook when it was released. that’s the trick!!
    Apple with this new white model wants to sell it to students, not musicians and Pro users.

  9. It amuses me how many people rush out to buy Macbook Pros just because they must be better, when the average user doesn’t make use of many (if any) of the added features. It’s like those people who think a pro-level camera makes them take better pictures – it’s all in the name.

    That isn’t to say that Macbook Pro doesn’t have plenty of good features and solid specs, just that the buyer should consider how much he’s actually going to use what he’s paying extra for. I use my Macbook just for typical things – internet, photo editing, word processing, music – and I don’t feel that I’m missing out on anything. (And I have the most basic Macbook on the market!)

    • brian maddox

      of course…

      i’ve run FCP 6 on a 12″ powerbook g4 for a couple of years now. granted, it’s a long wait to do any kind of complicated rendering. but it’ll work…

      on the new 13″ intel mac. you bet it’ll work… it better. my 2.53 Ghz MBP is on it’s way… :)

  10. I bought a mid 09 13″ MBP over the MB because of the touch pad and the looks. Aluminum over plastic? No discussion! It is worth the extra 200. As my wife said “must have” when we dumped her HP pavillion for an iMac. I needed a PC to take with me since work is cracking down on personal use, so I Iooked at all sorts of PCs. I can’t stand to use the trackpad on that Dell, so I carry a mouse all the time. The touch pad on my MBP is fantastic. I love the two finger scroll. For the folks who complain about not 7 hours but 4, try 2-3 with the dell.

  11. Charles W. Moore

    A few supplementals:

    Seven hours battery life would be decent, if it was acheivable. Reports are that real-world performance is more like 4-5 hours. See:

    With two extended life batteries in my old G4-upgraded Pismo PowerBook I can go for more than 10 hours with only minimal conservation workarounds. Four hours isn’t enough for comfort, and then one is left waiting for a recharge or tied to wall current (if it’s conveniently available). If it isn’t, you;reports: out of luck with a built in battery. I live in an area where lengthy power outages are not uncommon.

    The 13″ screen used in the Pro model has a 60 percent greater color gamut than the one in the white MacBook, which explains the different look.

    My last two laptop purchases and last two iPod purchases have all been Apple Certified Refurbished units, and all have been excellent — indistinguishable from new aside from the packing boxes.


    • Real world performance aside, I think it is fantastic that I can open and close my laptop all day at school, and never run out of battery! It also charges REALLY fast, a feature never talked about. Thanks for the screen info, I was doing a migration from my aluminum macbook to my new pro, and I did notice the screen was more detailed on the pro. Also, about hard drives/memory? The first thing I did when I bought the macbook was tear it apart and put a 640gb hard drive and 4gb of RAM in it, as I have done with every macbook I have owned. (three by the way) It is a risk, but I just can’t afford the 90% markup that apple charges to put such things in! Anyway, I totally love my new ‘book!

  12. 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.

  13. degrees_of_truth

    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.

  14. 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.

  15. Catmanrog

    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… :-)

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

    • Derek McDougal

      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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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…

    • Appleaddict22 (on YT)

      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..

    • 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!

    • @ 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…

      • Daniel Klein

        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?