Apple MacBook Pro 13 review
Apple fans will be enraptured, but poor battery life in Windows limits its crossover appeal.
Those eagerly awaiting the latest update to Apple's MacBook Pro 13 can finally rest easy. Two new processors and an all-new graphics chipset make their debut in the cutie of Apple's MacBook Pro range, with the promise of better performance and longer battery life, along with stunning good looks.
If you were expecting a ground-up redesign, however, you're liable to come away crestfallen. Instead, Apple’s 13in notebook remains very much the same as before. The biggest change is that the Core 2 Duo processors in the previous models have been bumped up to 2.4GHz and 2.66GHz respectively, and the Nvidia 9400M graphics make way for the newly turbocharged GeForce 320M chipset. While the 15in and 17in models have received Intel’s latest Core i5 and i7 processors, and a massive performance boost in the process, the MacBook Pro 13 hasn’t been quite so lucky.
As ever, though, it makes a sterling first impression. The aluminium unibody chassis still manages to combine understated class with rock-solid construction in a way that no other laptop can rival. Bullet-proof build quality pushes its weight up to a substantial 2kg, but given the power on offer it's far from outlandishly heavy.
Meanwhile, LED backlighting ensures that images pop off the 13.3in screen with startling brightness, natural colours and great contrast. It's matched with a set of speakers that border on excellence (by laptop standards), providing plenty of volume and a rich, warm tone that makes music genuinely listenable.
Intel's Core i3 and i5 processors are conspicuous by their absence, but the new MacBook Pro 13 is still capable enough for most. Apple sent us the faster (and pricier) of the two models on offer, and the 2.66GHz processor and 4GB of DDR3 RAM powered it to a nippy 1.29 in our benchmarks, just a nose ahead of the previous 2.53GHz model which settled for 1.26.
Graphics performance is much improved too, with the GeForce 320M managing an average of 50fps in our least taxing Crysis benchmark. It’s some 21fps faster than the GeForce 9400M of the previous generation; enough to make the MacBook Pro 13 a modestly capable gaming laptop in its own right.
Apple has also managed to improve the already impressive battery life. We clocked the Pro 13 idling away on the OS X desktop for over 13 hours, four hours longer than the previous model. Unfortunately, Windows users are still inexplicably left languishing behind. Running our light use test under a 64-bit installation of Windows 7 saw battery life tumble.
With the screen at half brightness and wireless and Bluetooth off, the MacBook lasted a decidedly average 5hrs 22mins. We experienced similar issues within Windows when we reviewed the previous generation of the MacBook Pro 13, and it’s enough to severely dent the machine's appeal for Windows users.
The MacBook Pro 13's other downsides affect anyone, regardless of the OS they choose. Connectivity suffers in the pursuit of minimalist beauty with just two USB ports, a FireWire 800 port, Gigabit Ethernet, an SD card reader and a single 3.5mm mini-jack that doubles as both audio input and output. That's not to mention the mini-DisplayPort, which is entirely useless unless you shell out yet more money for a matching D-SUB, DVI or HDMI adapter.
The backlit keyboard is liable to prove divisive. It's identical to that of the larger MacBook Pros, although its compact layout makes more sense than it does on those laptops, it’s still just a bit too cramped for our liking.
Despite the aggravations it’s hard not to have a soft spot for the MacBook Pro 13. Its size will be a big attraction for many, and given that this is one laptop whose fashion credentials are married with nippy performance, an excellent display and tuneful speakers, there's plenty to like.
With the advent of Core i5 and i7, however, it's no longer possible to wholeheartedly recommend the MacBook Pro 13. A Windows-based laptop will never match the Apple on design, but it will trample it underfoot on performance. And with poor battery life continuing to plague the new MacBooks under Windows, you'd be wise to think twice before splashing out.
|Price ex VAT||£1,063|
|Price inc VAT||£1,249|
|Features & Design||5|
|Value for Money||4|
|Warranty||1yr collect and return|
|Dimensions||325 x 227 x 25mm (WDH)|
Processor and memory
|Processor||Intel Core 2 Duo P8800|
|SODIMM sockets free||0|
|SODIMM sockets total||2|
Screen and video
|Resolution screen horizontal||1,280|
|Resolution screen vertical||800|
|Resolution||1280 x 800|
|Graphics chipset||Nvidia GeForce 320M|
|Graphics card RAM||256MB|
|VGA (D-SUB) outputs||0|
|Hard disk usable capacity||298GB|
|Internal disk interface||SATA/300|
|Hard disk||Seagate ST9320325ASG|
|Optical disc technology||DVD writer|
|Optical drive||Matshita UJ-898|
|Replacement battery price inc VAT||£0|
|Wired adapter speed||1,000Mbits/sec|
|802.11 draft-n support||yes|
|Integrated 3G adapter||no|
|Wireless hardware on/off switch||no|
|Wireless key-combination switch||yes|
|PC Card slots||0|
|USB ports (downstream)||2|
|PS/2 mouse port||no|
|9-pin serial ports||0|
|Optical S/PDIF audio output ports||1|
|Electrical S/PDIF audio ports||0|
|3.5mm audio jacks||1|
|SD card reader||yes|
|Memory Stick reader||no|
|MMC (multimedia card) reader||no|
|Smart Media reader||no|
|Compact Flash reader||no|
|Pointing device type||Touchpad|
|Audio chipset||Cirrus Logic CS4206A|
|Speaker location||Above keyboard|
|Hardware volume control?||no|
|Camera megapixel rating||1.3mp|
Battery and performance tests
|Battery life, light use||5hr 22min|
|Battery life, heavy use||1hr 48min|
|Overall application benchmark score||1.29|
|Office application benchmark score||1.24|
|2D graphics application benchmark score||1.57|
|Encoding application benchmark score||1.16|
|Multitasking application benchmark score||1.18|
|3D performance (crysis) low settings||50fps|
|3D performance setting||Low|
Operating system and software
|Operating system||Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard|
|OS family||Mac OS X|
|Recovery method||Recovery disc|
|Software supplied||Apple iLife|