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Customer Review

456 of 477 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Solid Computer Gets Faster, February 24, 2011
This review is from: Apple MacBook Pro MC700LL/A 13.3-Inch Laptop (OLD VERSION) (Personal Computers)
I stopped by my local Apple Store the morning this MacBook Pro was made available to the public and bought one, replacing my over two year old unibody MacBook. These are premium computers, and well made. My old computer, which looks very much like this one, still looked great after two years, with a little scratching on the bottom, and an unfortunate denting of one corner. I do not regret for one minute paying more for a device I use several hours a day, and from which I derive my living.

The strong point of this computer over previous 13 inch unibody MacBooks is the processor. It is noticeably faster at computationally intensive tasks. For example, I have a large application written in the C++ programming language which Xcode on my late 2008 vintage MacBook could compile in 16.5 minutes, this MacBook can do the same task in 8.5 minutes, a nearly doubling of speed. Similiarly, converting a 10 minute MP3 file to AAC in iTunes used to take 21 seconds, now it takes 14 seconds. Unsurprisingly, computer processors have gotten faster. The new processor does tend to heat up fast under full load, so be prepared for more frequent fan noise.

The weak point is the stock hard drive, a 320GB 5400 RPM Hitachi laptop drive. Any operation depending on hard drive throughput is not going to be much faster on this computer than in years past. If you do not have large capacity needs, you may be better served special ordering a model with a smaller but much faster solid state drive (SSD), they do not come cheap, but will result in a much more balanced computer that does not leave its high performance CPU idling awaiting data. I would do so, but the higher capacity SSDs cost as much as the computer alone.

If you were to upgrade to an SSD, be aware that while this model has one type III SATA port, you might have trouble using one of the new type III SATA SSD drives in it. [Update: online reports indicate Apple has started shipping these laptops with the optical bay also using an SATA III port.] I tried to install a 128 GB Crucial RealSSD C300 into the hard drive bay and the operating system installer failed to install. Online forums indicate people are having troubles with type III drives, and whether the problem is with the drive used, a bad cable, or firmware is in dispute. You might want to wait on a type III upgrade until this settles out. In the meantime, I've purchased a bracket allowing me to replace the optical drive and put the SSD on the type II port formerly used by the SuperDrive.

This and the new MacBook Air are the only laptops Apple sells without a discrete graphics processing unit (GPU), instead relying soly on the Intel integrated 3000HD GPU. Intel has previously not been known for its GPU prowess, but space constraints and Intel's design restrictions, and improvements in performance finally pushed Apple into going integrated only. I would have preferred a discrete GPU, especially in a premium laptop, but I am not a gamer, and will make do with the much better CPU. I'm sure Apple would have preferred a discrete GPU, as their strategy for performance improvements is to use the GPU for general purpose computing using the OpenCL framework.

New to this year's models is the Intel Thunderbolt connector superseding the Mini Display Port connector. This flexible port will likely become more and more useful as hubs and peripherals become available to make use of its fantastic speed. Adaptors and docks will be available to use this one port as a USB, DVI, Firewire, Ethernet port simultaneously, making one data cable for easy desktop docking. But, I don't have any use for it now. Media reports indicate Apple will have this port to itself this year, although Intel is insisting that other motherboard manufacturers could start to include it, and I hope they do. Whether the port is a marketplace success is not a foregone conclusion, but I look forward to syncing and charging a future iPad over this speedy port; sadly the iPad 2 does not have this port, but someday.

I am glad to have a standard FireWire 800 port, and an SD Card reader, neither of which were found on my previous non-Pro laptop. I'll be able to charge my iPad at maximum speed with the 2 Amp USB ports, something I couldn't do before. The FaceTime app for OS X comes pre-installed, you don't have to buy it from the Mac App Store.

Little luxuries include the backlit keyboard, the MagSafe power cable, the firm responsive keyboard, and the big multitouch capable trackpad. The display is bright and has a good, but not great range of viewing angles, certainly worse than an iPad, but better than most cheap laptop monitors Yellows are a bit saturated while using the default color profile. I'm sure many would prefer a higher resolution than 1280x800, but I'd prefer a jump to very high resolutions combined with support for resolution independence in the operating system and applications. Maybe someday. The high resolution iSight camera surprised me with its clarity and size when doing a FaceTime chat.

A few things have gone downhill. It takes the removal of 12 screws to swap out the hard drive, my old MacBook had but 1. There used to be a dedicated microphone port next to the headset jack, but that has gone the way of the dodo, and I never used it anyway. Charge time for going from dead battery to 100% is a bit more than 3 hours, which I think is worse than it used to be.

I chose to purchase my own 204-Pin DDR3 SO-DIMM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10600) named brand memory from a favorite online vendor and saved quite a bit of money over Apple's charge for 8GB of RAM (2x4GB). Installation was simple enough with the right sized Phillips screwdriver, although it is odd that we are expected to change the RAM while the battery is still connected. Still the installation went without incident, and is certainly simpler than most other laptops. I was a bit disappointed that the added RAM didn't appreciably improve my Xcode compile time, slicing at most 20 seconds off the 8.5 minutes, but hopefully it will help when multitasking multiple applications.

This is a refinement to previous generations, and I would bet likely to be the last for this series of machined unibody anodized aluminum enclosures, as elegant and perfect as they seem to be. If you wait a year or more, you might get such changes as awesome Liquid Metal cases of fantastic shapes, Retina Display monitors, touch screens, standard SSD boot drives, 4G cell networking and the loss of the optical drive. But I couldn't wait, I needed the horsepower now, not next year.

As a Mac Developer, I've been running OS X Lion 10.7 on this box as my primary operating system for several weeks prior to the official release and I recommend upgrading to Lion if it didn't come pre-installed. Quick and solid, although you should prepare to train yourself with the more intensive use of gestures brought over from iOS and which make a perfect fit with the built in trackpad.

Compared to other Macs.

Owners of recent vintage 13 inch MacBooks will have to make an informed decision to stay pat or move up. Many will get better value for their money replacing their spinning hard drive with an SSD, something I was tempted to do. Seriously, a Core 2 Duo with a separate NVidia GPU and an SSD will run great under OS X Lion in a few months, so think about just doing a hard drive upgrade instead of the whole computer. Having said this, this model has much better battery life than that of a few years ago, and a better set of ports, along with the backlit keyboard, much faster CPU and a higher resolution camera. Another advantage against my late 2008 model is the maximum RAM, this model has a maximum capacity of 8GB, the same as last years model, but higher than my old capacity.

Versus the 2.7 GHz i7 version of this same screen size, which also comes with Intel integrated graphics. Online reports give the i7 version an overall speed improvement of perhaps 10-15%, which is pushing being even noticeable. I preferred to do what I did, spend the money on putting in a moderately sized boot SSD in the former optical bay. The difference in random disk access is amazing, and very noticeable. If money is no object, you could do both.

Between this and the new MacBook Air. The new Air is approximately as fast at processing as this Pro, but has an extremely fast built in SSD drive; in practice it will feel turbo charged next to the base model of the MacBook Pro with it's spinning disk. The Air is also lighter and the 13" model has a higher resolution display. Basically I recommend getting the Air unless you absolutely need one of the following: more than 256 GB of hard drive space, a Firewire port in the box, more than 4GB of RAM, or an Ethernet port. I am planning on purchasing an Air for my wife, coupled with the new Cinema display which comes with USB, Ethernet, and a Firewire port, it will be a flexible, albeit extremely expensive combination. I, however, need the hard drive space so I'll be sticking with this MacBook Pro for this round.

Between larger MacBook Pros. As I carry my laptop back and forth to work daily and prefer to work with it on my lap, I've never had any urge or wish for the 15 inch, much less the 17 inch version. But they do have real discrete GPUs, and i7 processors, so for people with large display and maximum horsepower needs, they are an excellent option. One lemonade out of lemons advantage of not having a discrete GPU is a more consistent battery life; the discrete GPU should only be in use when the horsepower is needed, but sometimes it becomes unnecessarily active resulting in decreased battery life of perhaps an hour less, something 13" owners don't have to worry about.

Compared to PC Laptops

Obviously, if you need a Mac, you're choices are limited, but some people buy MacBooks for use as Windows 7 laptops. There is the extra expense of buying Windows 7 for System Builders separately, but basically, Apple's Boot Camp makes any Mac into an excellent Windows box. My wife has been running Windows on a 4 year old Mac Mini for years without major issues. Alternatively, you could buy third party virtualization software like VMware Fusion and run both OS X and Windows simultaneously. The question is why would a Windows user bother.

Mainly because MacBook Pros are premium laptops, and most laptops sold by non-Apple manufacturers are economy models. Apple ships more thousand dollar plus laptops than anyone else, and it has the economies of scale to make expensive laptops cheaper than other manufacturers--see for example the Dell Adamo. Take the enclosure, a single block of aluminum machined by robot into a lightweight yet rigid piece and anodized to resist most scratches, with a reliable hinge that keeps the monitor closed when closed and opened at your angle when opened. Possibly the best enclosure in the world. Other manufacturers don't do this or don't do it as cheaply because they don't make a million premium laptops a quarter. Similarly, I wouldn't know where to find a PC laptop with a Thunderbolt port, mini-Display Port, Firewire 800, optical audio out, a MagSafe power connector, and 7 hours of claimed battery life. On the other hand, any reasonably priced PC laptop will have a Blu Ray drive, and might have USB 3. The MacBook Pro market for Windows 7 users are those consumers with the money and the wish for quality, which isn't being met in the PC marketplace, not for people who are on a tight budget, or who's computer isn't a big deal to them, or who just dislike Apple for whatever reason.

Windows laptops targeting the same general consumer need would be the Lenovo Thinkpad X220, and the Sony Vaio S. Windows users should be sure to compare these models and other Sandy Bridge chipset based 13 inch laptops.

In summary, this is an excellent, computer if a bit pricey. I expect to get a couple of years of service out of it, and then hand it off to a relative for many more years of useful life. These things are built to last.
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Showing 1-10 of 111 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 24, 2011, 2:24:33 PM PST
J. Mitchell says:
glenn,
good to know as I too just purchased this computer from amazon for programming use. I opted out of the Air model due to the concerns you listed. Thanks for taking the time to write a very helpful review!

Posted on Feb 24, 2011, 2:25:15 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 24, 2011, 2:28:15 PM PST
DJ says:
Quick question for you Glenn. Just curious if you were able to compare the earlier model MC374LL/A with this new model in the store. I just ordered one from Amazon. Looking forward to receiving it by early next week.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 24, 2011, 2:32:39 PM PST
Hi Dhiraj,
I'm afraid I have no personal experience with the MC374LL, but I would think that any program not making extensive use of the GPU will definitely be faster on this i5 based machine then on any Core 2 Duo based machines. And that most applications will be faster anyway regardless of GPU usage.

--glenn

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 24, 2011, 2:38:34 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 24, 2011, 2:39:24 PM PST
DJ says:
Thanks Glenn. I was thinking along the same lines. I do not need heavy graphics capabilities and this model should be a lot faster than the earlier version with the new 1333 MHz RAM and a faster processor.

Posted on Feb 24, 2011, 10:14:23 PM PST
Glenn,
Thanks much for the detailed review. I don't have much capacity need.Should I replace the standard hard drive with a 128GB SSD - an additional $250 to get a better perfomance?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 25, 2011, 2:46:40 AM PST
That is what I would do. It will make your computer much more performant for a comparatively modest amount of money. You could buy the drive separately and install it for about the same amount of money, and end up with a spare 320GB drive, but it probably wouldn't be worth the hassle.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 25, 2011, 4:32:35 AM PST
Thanks Glenn for your suggestion.

Posted on Feb 25, 2011, 7:50:08 AM PST
Jennifer says:
I would get that wifi checked out, I don't think it is a case of a more accurate reading. I am rooms away from my hub (on a 2011 pro) and show full strength. I'm in agreement with everything else you say about this machine though :)

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 25, 2011, 8:04:10 AM PST
Hi Jennifer,
I've got 5 bars here at home, and I've got a wall, a chimney and some wire mesh between me and the wifi hub FIOS gave me. I don't know what the difference could be, perhaps it's a bit directional because of the metal in the shell. I'll try spinning the Mac around next time I'm in the office.

Thanks for the suggestion.
--glenn

Posted on Feb 25, 2011, 10:15:11 AM PST
E. J. Bezdek says:
This may well be the most useful tech review I've ever read on Amazon. Thanks, Glenn.
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