15-Inch MacBook Pro Unites Power with Economy

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April 2010 MacBook Pro 15 with 2.4-GHz Core i5 and 5,400-rpm HDD



51 seconds

June 2009 MacBook Pro 17 with 3.06-GHz Core 2 Duo and SSD



61 seconds

October 2009 iMac with 2.66-GHz quadcore Core i5 and 7,200-rpm HDD



29 seconds

How the 15-in. MacBook Pro stacks up to a Core i5 iMac and Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro.

That kind of power is great if you're a video editor or rendering something in a 3D modeling app like Modo. If time is money, you might be able to justify the extra expense. But for most not-quite power users, the i5 should suffice. Not only is it fast and energy-efficient, but it also runs at a relatively cool 115 degrees Fahrenheit during general use. (Watching hi-def videos in full screen through iTunes kicked the temperature up to 153 degrees, but I could barely hear the cooling fans turning.)

In fact, if I were buying a MacBook Pro this year, I'd be fine with the Core i5. Although I typically lust after -- and often buy -- the fastest processor available, this time around I'd opt for the low-end 15-incher instead of the high-end model and use the $400 I'd save to buy an SSD drive.

Options I'd Choose: SSD and High-Res Display

I've been an SSD convert ever since I used a MacBook Air with one; that's why I installed one in the MacBook Pro I bought last summer. It feels just as supercharged now as it did last summer. I've had zero problems with the drive or the laptop itself. In fact, it's been the best laptop I've ever owned, and over the years, I've had several.

When it comes to SSD options for the 15-in. MacBook Pro, Apple gives you three ways to spend money: You can go lean and get a 128GB SSD for $300, go extravagant with a 256GB SSD for $750, or go money-is-no-object outrageous with the 512GB SSD for $1,400. Going all out would boost the price of this $1,799 laptop to $3,199, which is almost 44% more. Since I don't need a lot of room for data, the 128GB drive works fine for me.

Put simply: Any of these Core-based MacBook Pros would be a screamer with an SSD.

I'd also go for another new option Apple is offering on this particular model: a higher-resolution screen. The 15-in. MacBook Pro comes with a 1440-by-900-pixel screen; for an extra $150, you can order one that's 1680 by 1050 pixels. Like fast processors and SSDs, I like pixels. My 17-in. MacBook Pro has a 1920-by-1200-pixel screen, and I flat-out love it. So the prospect of a higher-resolution screen in the 15-in. MacBook Pro is a welcome addition. In fact, I'd be happier if Apple offered a 1920-by-1200-pixel screen in this model, but I'm not holding my breath.

Although higher resolution can make things look a little smaller, the increased sharpness -- and the extra screen real estate -- is well worth it. If you're keeping track, the pixels-per-inch count on the stock model works out to about 106; on the optional higher-resolution screen, it's 129. (On my own MacBook Pro, it's 133.)

The standard resolution on the 15-in. model is my only nit to pick. Given that I'm used to a higher resolution, everything on the new MacBook Pro felt slightly oversized, whether it was menus, text or Web pages. That's why, personally, I'd opt for the upgraded screen resolution in the new model. Again, though, resolution is really a matter of personal preference -- and eyesight. The same is true for Apple's now-standard glossy screens. You can't get the anti-glare finish on the 13-in. models, but you can get it on the 15-in. and 17-in. versions. But it'll cost you an extra $150.

Bottom Line

All in all, Apple has delivered a laptop that's more than just an evolutionary upgrade with unseen updates under the hood. It has moved its higher-end MacBook Pros closer to true quadcore speeds, while improving battery life and adding serious GPU performance. Given that the prices across the line are roughly the same as those of the last generation, depending on exactly which model you choose, that should be enough to make these laptops a sweet deal for anyone looking to upgrade.

Me? I'm standing pat for now with the MacBook Pro I have; my new iPad should keep my techno-lust engaged for the time being. But it's good to see that Apple hasn't lost sight of the fact that the iPad, as phenomenal as it is, is but one of several options for would-be Mac buyers. For users who need the horsepower of a full-featured laptop, the latest MacBook Pro models should more than fit the bill, offering stylish construction, rock-solid design, long battery life and more than enough processing power to get them through any digital task.

At a Glance
  • Apple MacBook Pro


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