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MacBook Pro A1278 (13-inch)

At a Glance
  • Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro/2.26GHz

    PCWorld Rating

When Apple released the aluminum unibody MacBook in October 2008, the differences between the MacBook and MacBook Pro laptop lines narrowed to a point where folks began to wonder when Apple would decide to merge the two lines into one. With the introduction of the new 13-inch MacBook Pro model (in two versions)--and the reconfiguration of the MacBook line so that it now features a single white 2.13GHz MacBook--a clear distinction between the two lines is back.

Unveiled at Apple's annual Worldwide Developer's Conference, the new 13-inch MacBook Pro features three major differences from the aluminum MacBooks that are now replaced. First, the new 13-inch laptops use a longer-lasting, nonremovable battery, similar to the one first unveiled in the 17-inch MacBook Pro.

Second, Apple restored the 13-incher's FireWire connectivity in the form of a single backwards-compatible FireWire 800 port. Hallelujah!

And finally, the new 13-inch MacBook Pros now feature a Secure Digital (SD) memory card slot. Having an internal SD card reader is obviously handy for photographers and videographers whose cameras record to the popular SD format, but an SD card can also be used as a startup disk, as we verified: After using OS X's Disk Utility to format and create a GUID partition on an 8GB card, we installed Leopard on the card, and it worked as a startup disk.

The new 13-inch MacBook Pro comes in two standard configurations, or models. The $1199 version has a 2.26GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB of 1GHz (or 1066MHz) DDR3 RAM, and a 160GB 5400-rpm hard drive. The $1499 version features a 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB of 1GHz (1066MHz) DDR3 RAM, and a 250GB 5400-rpm hard drive. Both models ship with the same nVidia GeForce 9400M graphic chip (which was used in the aluminum unibody MacBook) that shares 256MB of main memory.

From the front, the new 13-inch MacBook Pros look nearly identical to the aluminum MacBooks they replace. The new laptops have the same precision-crafted, aluminum unibody design as the aluminum MacBook, with a glossy, widescreen, 1280-by-800-pixel-resolution display and iSight camera encased behind a sheet of glass. Apple claims that improvements made to the display and backlight have increased the color gamut by 60 percent. Unfortunately, these MacBook Pros don't have an antiglare screen option.

On the left-hand side, the new MacBook Pros have a MagSafe power connector, a gigabit ethernet port, a Mini DisplayPort, two USB 2.0 ports, the previously mentioned FireWire 800 port (amen!), and SD card slot. These last two additions come at the cost of separate audio-in and audio-out ports, which are replaced with a combined optical-digital-output/headphone-out port that can be switched to be an analog audio line-in (it works with the Apple Stereo Headset that comes with the iPhone). Also, the Kensington lock slot has moved to the right side, next to the slot-loading 8x SuperDrive.

Running PC WorldBench 6, this high-end 13-inch model scored reasonablely well, notching a 99 in tests. That's a fairly handy sum compared to PC competitors in the class. However, what kind of bump does it give over other MacBooks? Compared with each other, the new 2.53GHz MacBook Pro was just over 12 percent faster overall than the 2.26GHz MacBook Pro. The 2.53GHz laptop was about 21 percent faster at Photoshop and Cinema 4D.

Some of this performance difference is due to the 2.53GHz system's additional RAM; to quantify the difference, MacWorld leveled the playing field by adding 2GB of memory to the 2.26GHz model, bringing it up to 4GB, which is the standard configuration for the 2.53GHz version. Most of MacWorld’s tests, which are run one at a time, don't benefit much from additional RAM, and the underwhelming two-point improvement in the Speedmark score bears that out. The biggest performance difference with the additional RAM was in our Photoshop suite times, which improved the 2.26GHz MacBook Pro's score by about 10 percent.

When comparing the new 13-inch 2.26GHz MacBook Pro to the last aluminum 13-inch 2GHz MacBook, we see that the 2.26GHz MacBook Pro is about 12 percent faster overall, with speed improvements across the board.

Looking at the performance differences between the new 13-inch 2.26GHz MacBook Pro and the lowest-priced Mac laptop, the $999 2.13GHz white MacBook, we find a Speedmark improvement of 7.5 percent with the 2.26GHz MacBook Pro. The 2.26GHz model also had better frame rates in 3D games, thanks to the faster memory that the MacBook Pro uses; the white MacBook has 800MHz DDR2 memory, while the 2.26GHz MacBook Pro uses 1066MHz DDR3 RAM.

The most interesting benchmark comparison is between the 13-inch, 2.53GHz MacBook Pro and the 15-inch, 2.53GHz MacBook Pro. These laptops had a less than 1 percent difference in their Speedmark scores, and their specifications are nearly identical. The $200 price difference between the two buys just buys you an additional 2 inches diagonal of screen real estate.

You can't swap out the new built-in lithium polymer battery, but Apple's hoping you never need to--our tests show that the new battery lasts longer per charge than the removable battery found in the previous generation of MacBooks.

In Macworld's battery life test, we play on a continuous loop a movie ripped from a DVD and saved to the internal hard drive. The movie is played at full screen and full brightness, with the keyboard illumination turned all the way down and AirPort turned off. The new 13-inch MacBooks lasted about 48 minutes longer than the older aluminum MacBook, and about 10 minutes longer than the current 2.13GHz white MacBook. If you compare the battery life of the 13-inch MacBook Pro with that of its 15-inch siblings, you'll find that the larger batteries in the 15-inch models give the laptop 30 more minutes of playback power.Running PC World's battery tests, we only managed to squeeze three hours, 50 minutes out of the high-end 13-incher.

The new 13-inch MacBook Pro models can handle up to 8GB of memory. To upgrade the RAM in the 2.26GHz model, which comes with just 2GB of RAM in its standard configuration, Apple charges an extra $100 for 4GB (a pair of 2GB modules) and $1100 for 8GB (a pair of 4GB modules). The 2.53GHz model, which ships with 4GB of RAM, can be purchased with the optional 8GB of memory for an additional $1000. Third-party companies will sell you compatible memory for less; OWC, for example, sells an 8GB kit for $635, but you have to install the RAM yourself.

Unfortunately, Apple won't sell a MacBook Pro without RAM, or even let you configure a 2.53GHz laptop with less than 4GB, so if you do decide to use after-market memory, know that you'll end up replacing the stock memory with the upgrade, and you'll have two extra of sticks of RAM. OWC has a memory trade-in program that will help to offset the cost of the upgrade a little.

You can also configure your MacBook Pro with a different hard drive. For an additional $50, you can outfit the 2.26GHz model with a 250GB hard drive. A 320GB drive is $100, and a 500GB drive costs $200. (All of the hard-drive upgrades spin at 5400 rpm.)

Apple also offers two solid-state drive (SSD) options and charges $400 for a 128GB SSD or $850 for a 256GB SSD. Each option costs $50 less on the 2.56GHz model.

Processor upgrades are not an option on the 13-inch MacBook Pros, and Apple offers only optional 7200-rpm hard drives on the 15-inch and 17-inch Macbook Pro models. Apple considers the memory and hard drive to be user-serviceable parts, so there's nothing stopping you from buying one from a third party and installing it yourself.

With its lower price, the return of FireWire (woo-hoo!), a better-looking display, and a new built-in SD Card slot that you can boot from, the newest member of the MacBook Pro makes an impressive debut. But check back and we'll update this story with a full review as soon as we get results from the PC World Test Center.

--James Galbraith

This story, "MacBook Pro A1278 (13-inch)" was originally published by Macworld.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Apple's retake on the 13-inch laptop sees a boost in power, drop in price -- and the return of FireWire.

    Pros

    • FireWire 800 port
    • Bootable SD card slot

    Cons

    • No matte screen option
    • No video adapters
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