Windows fanboy stunned into submission by 13" Apple 'Sandy Bridge' MacBook Pro

Updated happygeek 4 Tallied Votes 675 Views Share
Fast and beautiful, but mainly fast...
Could be lighter, could be cheaper, could have beefier graphics (but ultimately, couldn't care less)
Apple finally introduces a 'baby' MacBook Pro that deserves the 'Pro' label, and then some. Sure it isn't cheap, and it could yet be improved (not least by ramping up the graphics to match the 15" and 17" versions) but what it does do is do everything really, really fast. For now, this is the best baby laptop you can buy. Bar none.

I am something of a Windows fanboy I guess, and will make no bones about the fact that I have always thought of the 13" Apple MacBook Pro in the same way that I have about Military Intelligence, European Community and Advanced BASIC: it's an oxymoron. Given that the smallest of the MacBook Pro range has often been outperformed by non-Pro labelled Macs, not to mention the non-Apple competition, I was almost expecting Apple to see the folly of its ways and scrap the damn thing altogether. And I was half right.

With the launch of the 2011 MacBook Pro range, Apple has indeed seen just how stupid it was to have an underpowered, underspecced and underwhelming machine in the line up. But rather than scrap the 13" model, Apple has done the intelligent thing and brought it up to speed, literally.

I managed to get some time with the Sandy Bridge powered, Core i7 version of the 13" MacBook Pro although there is a much cheaper, and much less impressive, Core i5 version available for techno-masochists and people who just cannot let the oxymorons go. Sure, this Core i7 powered pocket rocket of a machine is not cheap at an eye watering base configuration of $1,499 but you sure do get a lot of bang for your buck packed into that to die for, hewn from a lump of aluminium, 325x227x24mm chassis weighing in at just 2kg. There's the 500GB (5,400rpm) hard drive, 4GB of RAM, 1280x800 13.3" screen, FireWire 800 and the brand high-speed 'Thunderbolt' I/O port for starters.

Erm, on a slightly less enthusiastic note there's also the integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 with 384MB RAM and a couple of, erm, USB 2.0 ports as well. Both the 15" and 17" machines in the 2011 MacBook Pro range get the brand new and stinkingly impressive AMD Radeon HD 6750M graphics cards in addition to the same integrated Intel graphics as the 13" machine. None of them, however, get a USB 3.0 port which is a shame and maybe an opportunity missed. I feel confident that the competition will not be missing that particular chance to get a little bit of spec oneupmanship.

Understandably, it is hard not to get stuck on the graphics issue when you see that the 13" MacBook Air can manage 1366x768 compared to the relatively meagre 1280x800 of the 13" MacBook Pro, but it is all relative at the end of the day. Especially when it is very hard indeed to find fault with the screen this little beauty sports, being crisp and smooth when viewing HD video and sharp and clear when viewing everything else. It's hard, therefore, to stay upset with Apple for too long: in fact my upset was turned around the moment I switched this thing on and got to appreciate the additional grunt under the hood provided by the Sandy Bridge leap.

Everything from firing up your applications to running the most processor intensive of them is notably faster, you would be forgiven for thinking that there is some kind of magic instant on technology at play when you open the lid of your machine as it just speeds straight into action. This is, and I am almost peeing my pants with joy as I write this, truly exciting stuff. Yes, I'm a geek and proud of it, but who wouldn't be moved to tears (and even urine) when confronted by a dual core baby MacBook which can outperform a quad core iMac? The Intel Sandy Bridge effect really cannot be underestimated, with the single chip design and hyper-threading, turbo boosting technologies thrown in. Not fast enough for you? No problem, the 2.7GHz Core i7 can run be beefed up to 3.4GHz with that Turbo Boost feature... Speed really is what this new MacBook Pro is all about, and not just from the Sandy Bridge upgrade either: there's also Thunderbolt to consider. The Thunderbolt I/O is a 10Gbps (both ways) port, which went by the less inspiring codename of Light Peak during development, that will enable a truly huge amount of data to be transferred at the same time - once suitable peripherals become available that is. And don't despair, those peripherals will be barrelling along by the bucketful in due course.

Yes, this is a very expensive little laptop, but what you are paying for is a thing of great beauty with enough grunt underneath the attractive outer appearance not to disappoint.

happygeek 2,411 Most Valuable Poster Team Colleague Featured Poster

Perhaps I should have mentioned that I restrained myself from awarding this a 10/10 due to the high cost and the less well specced graphics issues.

alex1980 -2 Newbie Poster

Useless review. All mentioned features can be found in similarly priced PC laptops. It should be called a review by a psuedo windows fanboy :-)

happygeek commented: sigh... -2
happygeek 2,411 Most Valuable Poster Team Colleague Featured Poster

Really? What about the 'hewn from an aluminium block' form and the Thunderbolt I/O (on a current rather than forthcoming PC laptop) to name but one bit of tech mentioned?

And believe me, I've been a PC/Windows guy for close on twenty years so there's absolutely nothing pseudo about my loyalties :)

Exception e 0 Newbie Poster

1280x800 AND 1500 dollar makes it a 5.6/10, not 9/10. I suggest you'd better get a sony vaio if your budget is that huge.

Rashakil Fol 978 Super Senior Demiposter Team Colleague

Did you seriously just pee your pants with joy because of a minor upgrade to a computer? For the sake of giving you the benefit of the doubt, we should assume this entire article was sarcastic. Also, how in the world could anybody think that 1200x800 is inferior to 1366x768? Hello? You just said a 16:10 screen with higher vertical pixelage was inferior to a 16:9? And a 1366x768 screen, at that? You just praised the concept of 1366x768! What is wrong with you? (Hint: it's that your standards for screen resolution on a 13" screen are absurdly low. My netbook with an 8" screen has a higher resolution than that.)

Any computer with less than a 1440x900 screen can't really be considered pro, but I'm being too generous -- we might consider that to be amateur, but we should at least give credit to 1600x900 for not being 768 pixels high. It's really a wanna-be 1400x1050, now that's pro, and 1680x1050 and 1920x1080 are naturally pro. If you want a real Pro machine these days you really need something like the Thinkpad T510 or W510 (or W520, coming soon) or HP Elitebook or *gasp* the MacBook Pro 17" edition, with its 1920x1200 resolution. All praise the MacBook 17" Pro! Honestly it's sad that I'm praising a computer with a 16:10 resolution, our standards have fallow so much from the days of 4:3. (Seriously with the 15" they could at least get 1680x1050 and none of this 1440x900 crap.)

Nobody with real work to do is going to get a computer with 1200x800 or 1366x768 resolution, unless by "real work" you mean mastering the art of online commentary or browsing the Facebook while sipping a latte at the local Starbucks while you eye that boy with the hair and hope he notices the sleek chassis on your computer but ohhh then he pulls his black magnesium-framed monolith and you flutter your eyes involuntarily, then he notices and "There's no time for you, woman, I've got real work to do," as he caresses his three-button trackpoint lovingly.

happygeek commented: not a mac fan then... -2
poppycock 12 Newbie Poster

Well Mr Winder, I guess if there's one thing the apple haters hate worse than an apple user, it's the windows "fanboy" who dares to find something positive to say about a Mac.
Welcome to the world of Hating Apple No Matter What. You're probably a bit taken aback by the torrent of phlegm and vitriol your review has invoked, I wouldn't blame you if you never ran another story about anything Apple again. It's a bit like going to a tobacco chewing southern town a hundred years ago and suggesting that all men are equal.
How could you not know that you can't do real work on a computer with a 1280x800 resolution screen!
Let's stay real on the truth here and not forget that the world is flat.

happygeek commented: I knew the vitriol was a-coming... +12
WASDted 184 Practically a Master Poster Featured Poster

Wow, happygeek, great review, right on the money. I agree with your assesment. My favorite testament to Apple's commitment to design and quality is the MagSafe power connector. Win!

happygeek commented: Thanks Eyal, it's a real nice bit of kit - shame about the price +12
happygeek 2,411 Most Valuable Poster Team Colleague Featured Poster

Thanks Eyal, it's a lot of money but despite what some might argue you get a lot of bang for those bucks in terms of raw speed courtesy of Sandy Bridge. For me though, I guess it is the combination of form and factor that has me sold. Design isn't everything, but when it is this good it's very hard to ignore.

Fortinbra 37 Posting Whiz in Training

First and foremost, I loved the article, I don't get to see much good Apple press around anymore.

Second, to all the Apple haters, you have opinions, as does everyone else. If you're going to speak negatively about a product or company, please, I beg of you, base you speech in fact, not opinion or speculation.

Apple as a whole is an excellent business. I have had no problems with their customer support, their developer support, or with most of their products. I do own a late 2006 model MacBook (core 2 Duo 2Ghz), and the screen has gone out on me, and they replaced it with no questions asked. I did have to show them the issue, which was easy enough at my local Apple store.

I am not a Microsoft Fan boy, I rather dislike them. I am not an Apple fan either. I believe that you should use the best tool for the job that you know how to use. I am a developer, I specialize in Web and mobile development. If I want to make an app for Windows Phone 7, I use Visual studio in Windows. If I want to make an iOS (iPhone/iPod/iPad) app, I use OSX. Best of both worlds... Boot Camp.

Back to the article, I agree that Apple is way too expensive, but is it worth it considering the stability of the platform as compared to Windows? I do plan on getting a new macbook Pro, but I think I'm going with the 17" model, and using the beefier specs available...

happygeek commented: Thanks for the support :) +12
happygeek 2,411 Most Valuable Poster Team Colleague Featured Poster

For me, 13.3" just squeezes into my definition of a baby laptop whereas 15" does not, and that's important to me. My day to day machine for the last year or so has been an 11" (Windows7) netbook as it fulfills my need for real grab and go portability coupled with a big enough keyboard to be able to knock out a couple of thousand words (minimum) every day, wherever I happen to be.

Rashakil Fol 978 Super Senior Demiposter Team Colleague

15" is just too big for me, for casual carry-around-everywhere use. 14" is of course tolerable, I learned to tolerate that at college, but 13" is really a nice sweet spot. The main depressing downside of the new MacBook pro is that it has a built in CD drive, even on the 13" version, instead of eschewing that and making users carry a separate drive. There's no use of a drive without disks, and if you have disks, a drive's not much bigger. They could surely use that space for something... something power-consumptive, or perhaps just more battery. I can see a 15" machine carrying such a drive, especially if it's a particularly thick workstation model, or if it's swappable with extra battery or better yet an SSD. Which you can do on a MacBook Pro but not in some friendly way.

If I wanted a largeish netbook replacement and was willing to spend the money I'd consider going with a 13" MacBook Air. It lacks the unnecessary stuff, has the essential stuff. Unfortunately right now I'm getting into heavy-duty software development where I'm fighting high compile times and absurd performance demands, and there are better things when the variable in question is portability. On the portable carry-anywhere netbook front, I'm really happy with the Sony Vaio P Series, which is itty-bitty and actually fits in pockets. So if you want to type something out in a cafe, or visit a friend in the city, you don't have to carry anything in your hands or on some hipsterbag and you just put it in you coat pocket. Plus it has a 1600x768 screen. That's a plus. And it has a "stick" mouse, not a track pad (because there is no room for one). Which is another plus. It is quite slow, though, but hey that's the price you pay for being as thin as possible.

The MBP has other problems, notably that its trackpad is centered relative to the machine instead of being in the appropriate place for the user's thumbs. Other laptops have left-of-center trackpads, but Apple's fashion sense is too effete for that. And of course that it lacks a middle mouse button. Which a thinkpad has. Thinkpads also have a better keyboard, but of course that may be subjective.

For my next machine I'm going with a Thinkpad W520, which as far as I can tell has a better price, better specs (well it's 5.95 lb instead of 5.6 lb, and thicker), and deeper upgradeability than the 15" MBP. On a 15.6" model you can go 1920x1080 instead of MBP's puny 1680x1050 (that's not actually puny), with a touch screen. I'm going to get a touch screen. I have needs. It's only a shame that it's not 1920x1200.

And of course with that you get more slots and ports, a DVD drive you can replace with an extra SSD, and a thicker frame. So it's a W520 for a desktop replacement laptop and a netbook that's like 1/15 the size for writing Sailor Moon fanfiction on the train. Haha, just kidding, I meant Harry Potter fanfiction.

GarrathE 12 Newbie Poster

Happygeek, I have been reading you in PC Pro for well over ten years now. And this contribution is of the same high quality. It tees me off when quality work provokes a stream of blind prejudice.

On a technical note, Apple decided to skip USB3 for Light Peak, now aka Thunderbolt. Just like it decided to skip Blu-ray for downloads. Why would they include what they see as yesterday's technology alongside today's? So you will never see either of them on any Apple product.

On price I'd say that while most folk are of the 'know the price of everything, but the value of nothing' tribe and are compelled to drive a Ford 'cos they are cheap; some of us see the value in a BMW and are happy to pay it's price! I make a good living out of Microsoft as a SharePoint Architect but at home we are all Mac. As is one in five computer owning homes in the US now!

happygeek commented: thanks for the support, glad you like the PC Pro stuff :) +12
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