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.