How to buy the best new Macbook Pro
- — 25 February, 2011 15:00
Apple's recent update of the Macbook Pro product line means new CPUs, new graphics processors, new ports and most importantly new prices.
To start us off, here's a direct comparison of all Apple's pre-built options for the 13in, 15in and 17in models of the Macbook Pro:
|Apple Macbook Pro comparison|
|Model||13in, 2.3GHz||13in, 2.7GHz||15in, 2.0GHz||15in, 2.2GHz||17in, 2.2GHz|
|CPU||2.3GHZ Intel Core i5, dual core||2.7GHz Intel Core i7, dual core||2.0GHZ Intel Core i7, quad core||2.2GHz Intel Core i7, quad core||2.2GHZ Intel Core i7, quad core|
|Graphics chipset||Intel GMA HD 3000 integrated graphics, 384MB shared memory||Intel GMA HD 3000 integrated graphics, 384MB shared memory||Intel GMA HD 3000 + AMD Radeon HD 6490M w/ 256MB memory||Intel GMA HD 3000 + AMD Radeon HD 6750M w/ 1GB memory||Intel GMA HD 3000 + AMD Radeon HD 6750M w/ 1GB memory|
|Internal hard drive||320GB, 5400RPM||500GB, 5400RPM||500GB, 5400RPM||750GB, 5400RPM||750GB, 5400RPM|
|RAM||4GB DDR3 RAM, 1333MHz||4GB DDR3 RAM, 1333MHz||4GB DDR3 RAM, 1333MHz||4GB DDR3 RAM, 1333MHz||4GB DDR3 RAM, 1333MHz|
|Display resolution||1280x800 pixels||1280x800 pixels||1440x900 pixels||1440x900 pixels||1920x1200 pixels|
|I/O ports||Gigabit Ethernet, SDXC card slot, FireWire 800, 2x USB 2.0, 'Thunderbolt' I/O, audio I/O||Gigabit Ethernet, SDXC card slot, FireWire 800, 2x USB 2.0, 'Thunderbolt' I/O, audio I/O||Gigabit Ethernet, SDXC card slot, FireWire 800, 2x USB 2.0, 'Thunderbolt' I/O, audio I/O||Gigabit Ethernet, SDXC card slot, FireWire 800, 2x USB 2.0, 'Thunderbolt' I/O, audio I/O||Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire 800, 3x USB 2.0, 'Thunderbolt' I/O, Express Card/34 slot, audio I/O|
|Battery||63.5 Watt-hour, 7 hour life||63.5 Watt-hour, 7 hour life||77.5 Watt-hour, 7 hour life||77.5 Watt-hour, 7 hour life||95 Watt-hour, 7 hour life|
As you can see, each of the 13in and 15in Macbook Pro units can be ordered in two pre-built configurations — a base model and a high-end configuration, differing in processing power, hard drive space and graphics memory. The 17in Macbook Pro is only available pre-built in one configuration.
Apple's build-to-order process lets you configure a 13in, 15in or 17in Macbook Pro to your exacting requirements, although alterations do come at a price. 13in units can add up to 8GB or RAM or a larger hard drive — choosing from 500GB or 750GB 5400RPM, 2.5in traditional laptop drives or a 128GB, 256GB or 512GB SSD.
If you are buying a 15in Macbook Pro notebook you can choose from a slightly wider range of upgrades. The option to upgrade to 8GB of RAM is available, as are HDD and SSD capacity and speed boosts. You're also able to specify a glossy high-resolution 1680x1050 pixel display, or a matte anti-glare screen of the same resolution.
The 17in Macbook Pro has hard drive, RAM, display and CPU build-to-order options. You can choose a more powerful 2.3GHz Intel Core i7 processor, as well as 8GB of DDR3 RAM, up to a 512GB SSD, and an anti-glare notebook screen of the same resolution as the stock glossy display.
Apple's build-to-order upgrades range from reasonably priced to outrageously expensive. Optioning a higher resolution or anti-glare screen costs between $70 and $200 depending on whether you're beefing up the 15in or 17in — we think this is a pretty good price for the extra resolution and anti-glare coating. RAM upgrades are pricy — $240 for an extra 4GB of DDR3 RAM is around twice the price of buying 8GB from a bricks-and-mortar computer store and changing it over yourself, which doesn't void the computer's warranty. If you're upgrading a 17in Macbook Pro's 2.2GHz CPU to 2.3GHz, it costs $200 — a reasonable price to pay for the extra processing power.
Hard drive upgrades are the most complicated part of building a Macbook Pro to order. Prices vary based on the model you're starting with, which is an interesting move on Apple's part. Optioning the best mechanical hard drive, a 750GB 5400RPM unit, costs $130 on a 500GB-equipped 13in or 15in Macbook Pro, but if you're starting with the base-model 13in the same upgrade is $200. Similarly, choosing a 128GB SSD is $320 on the base 13in, $250 on the 500GB-equipped 13in and 15in models, and only $120 on the 750GB-equipped 15in and 17in laptops. Picking up a 512GB SSD is an expensive proposition any way you go about it — $1470 on models that start out with a 750GB drive, $1600 on the 320GB 13in, and strangely more expensive at $1600 on the 500GB-equipped 15in and 17in units. You can also replace the hard drive yourself in Apple's unibody Macbook Pros without voiding the entire system's warranty — if you're technically competent this is an easy way to save money.