Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro (Spring 2010)

The latest crop of MacBook Pro laptops from Apple has several new features, such as a new generation of Intel processors, improved dual graphics, and increased battery life. Most of the changes, however, are relegated to the 15- and 17-inch models. The 13-inch models remain the least expensive of the Pro line, but also remain the most similar to the previous generation.

What's changed

Both new 13-inch MacBook Pro models include Nvidia's GeForce 320M integrated graphics, which shares a minimum of 256MB of main memory. This replaces the GeForce 9400M integrated graphics in the previous generation (which shared the same amount and type of RAM). In our testing, the new 13-inch models achieved much better frame rates on our Call of Duty test. For example, at 38.9 frames per second, the 2.4GHz MacBook Pro did 15.2 frames per second better than the higher-end, 2.53GHz 2009 model--an improvement of 64 percent. They still lagged way behind the new low-end 15-inch MacBook Pro, which garnered 68.4 frames per second thanks to it discrete graphics.

In the area of battery life, Apple claims a three-hour increase over the previous 13-inch MacBook Pros--the new models offer up to 10 hours of battery life, instead of seven. Part of the longer life is due to a slightly higher capacity built-in battery--63.5 watt hours versus 60 watt hours in the previous model. But Apple credits most of the improvement to the greater efficiency of the GeForce 320M graphics over the 9400M. Our standard battery test, which plays a looped video in QuickTime until the battery dies, showed a life of 4 hours and 19 minutes for the 2.4GHz model and 4 hours and 33 minutes for the 2.66GHz model. Those compare favorably to the 2009 13-inch 2.26GHz (3 hours and 30 minutes) and 2.53GHz (3 hours and 38 minutes) models, as well as the current MacBook ( Macworld rated 4 out of 5 mice ) model (3 hours and 45 minutes). In simple terms, the batteries do indeed last longer.

The new MacBook Pros have the same Multi-Touch glass trackpad as before, but the line adds a new trick. All of the new MacBook Pros (including the 13-inch models) now have inertial scrolling. Just like on an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad, swipe your finger down to scroll through a long Web page, for example, and the momentum continues the scrolling until it gradually dies off. The feature seems right at home on the MacBook Pro and will be familiar to anyone who has used Apple's iPhone OS devices.

Another new feature, common to the entire MacBook Pro line, is the ability for the Mini DisplayPort connection to output multichannel audio in addition to the video signal it has always carried (the MacBook Pro supports mirroring or extending your desktop on an external display up to 2560 by 1600 pixels, but the adapters needed are all optional accessories). To test it out, I purchased the $9 Mini DisplayPort to HDMI Adapter from Monoprice. I then connected the MacBook Pro to my HDTV using the HDMI cable and input that I usually use for my Blu-ray player. Although it worked for video (letting me play beautiful 720p video without problem) the audio didn't play through my TV, instead coming out of the MacBook Pro's built-in speakers. I asked Apple about it and the company recommends higher-quality cables such as the $40 Griffin Video Display Converter available on the Apple Store, saying that some lower-priced cables don't work (Monoprice has since updated the product page to say "This product does NOT support audio for the 2010 MacBook that outputs audio through the Mini DisplayPort.")

What's the same

Although the 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pros include Intel's new Core i5 or Core i7 mobile processors, the 13-inch MacBook Pro continues to use the Core 2 Duo line of processors. In the 13-inch size, Apple offers a 2.4GHz dual-core processor in the $1199 model, and a 2.66GHz dual-core processor in the $1499 model (up from 2.26GHz ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ) and 2.53Ghz ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ) in the previous generation, respectively). Each has 3MB on-chip L2 cache shared between the two cores.

Some users have wondered why Apple decided to stick with Core 2 Duo processors instead of using the new Intel Core i3 in the 13-inch line. Although one could cynically speculate that it's designed to 'cripple' the low-end MacBook Pro with old technology to force people to spend more, it seems more likely that Apple didn't want to use the Intel HD integrated graphics that such a move would require (the 15- and 17-inch models include Intel HD graphics, but have dedicated Nvidia graphics processors as well).

Both models now include 4GB of 1066MHz DDR3 RAM, and support a max of 8GB (previously, the $1199 MacBook Pro only came with 2GB). Just as before, there are two USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire 800 port, a Mini DisplayPort graphics connection, a Gigabit ethernet port, 802.11n and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR wireless technology, an SD card slot, a full-sized backlit keyboard, an 8x slot-loading dual-layer DVD SuperDrive, built-in stereo speakers (which sound quite good), a single port for audio in and out (including support for digital output), and a built-in iSight camera. The new models include 250GB or 320GB 5400-rpm hard drive (up from 160GB or 250GB drive, respectively, at the same speeds).

These MacBook Pros use the same LED-backlit 1280-by-800 pixel glossy display as the previous models (there are no antiglare or high-resolution display options, as there are on the 15- and 17-inch models). The display are very bright, and the viewing angle is respectable in the horizontal direction, but not that great vertically--you really need to adjust the angle of the display to achieve optimum viewing.

New 13-inch MacBook Pro: Speedmark scores

The Macworld Lab performed its standard bevy of tests on these new models, and compared them to the previous generation of 13-inch MacBook Pro, the new 2.4GHz 15-inch MacBook Pro, and the 13-inch unibody MacBook.

In our Speedmark 6 suite, the new models scored 118 for the 2.4GHz model and 126 for the 2.66GHz model (compared with 107 and 123 for the previous generation, respectively, and 112 for the MacBook)--the difference due, mostly, to the improved frame rate scores thanks to the Nvidia 320M graphics.

Other tests showed rather negligible deltas, with the new models generally doing slightly better than their same-price counterparts from 2009. The one big anomaly was our Compressor test on the 2.4GHz 2010 13-inch MacBook Pro, which took longer to complete than even the white MacBook. And in our folder duplication and Parallels WordBench 6 multi-task tests, the old higher-end 13-inch model beat even the new model with a faster processor by a little bit.

In some hands-on testing running Adobe Photoshop CS3 and CS4 and Aperture 3, I found even the 2.4GHz model to be adequate. And while running Windows XP in Parallels Desktop 4, encoding an HD MKV file for Apple TV using VideoMonkey, and playing a streaming Netflix TV show episode in Safari simultaneously (with the computer sitting flat on a desk), the back of the MacBook Pro got warm where the battery is, but not uncomfortably so. After running for about 15 minutes, the max external temperature (at the very back, near the serial number) was 107 degrees as measured by an infrared temperature device used to monitor HVAC systems in our office.

Macworld's buying advice

If you already have the previous 13-inch MacBook Pro, there's not a lot of reason to upgrade unless you simply must have the newest version of everything. The changes to the 13-inch lineup are mostly about improved graphics and battery life, and they aren't all that different from the year before--and it's somewhat hard to justify the $1499 model based only on its larger hard drive and slightly faster processor, which didn't translate to much difference in our tests.

To get the most from the new generation of MacBook Pros, you'll need to step up to the larger sizes, which take advantage of the i5 and i7 processors and their own graphics improvements. Still, at 4.5 pounds and less than 9 inches deep, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is the most portable Pro model available, and for many users the small weight and size make up for the somewhat limited (comparatively) performance.

And the new models create a wider gap between the 13-inch MacBook Pros and the like-sized, $999 MacBook. Starting at $200 more than the MacBook, you get a faster processor, an aluminum enclosure, a FireWire port (of the 800 variety), twice the standard RAM, Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics, a built-in SD card reader, a backlit keyboard, a longer-lasting battery, and a trackpad that supports inertial scrolling.

[Jonathan Seff is a Macworld senior editor.]

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