Apple MacBook Pro 13 review

11 May 2010

Apple fans will be enraptured, but poor battery life in Windows limits its crossover appeal.

Price when reviewed: 
1,249(£1,249 inc VAT)
5

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.

Read our review of the 2011 Apple MacBook Pro 13, Apple MacBook Pro 15 and Apple MacBook Pro 17 laptops here

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 Macbook Pro 13

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.

Details

Price ex VAT £1,063
Price inc VAT £1,249
Overall rating 5
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 4
Performance 4

Warranty

Warranty 1yr collect and return

Physical specifications

Dimensions 325 x 227 x 25mm (WDH)
Weight 2.050kg
Travelling weight 2.3kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core 2 Duo P8800
Motherboard chipset Nvidia
RAM capacity 4.00GB
Memory type DDR3
SODIMM sockets free 0
SODIMM sockets total 2

Screen and video

Screen size 13.3in
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
HDMI outputs 0
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 1

Drives

Capacity 320GB
Hard disk usable capacity 298GB
Spindle speed 5,400RPM
Internal disk interface SATA/300
Hard disk Seagate ST9320325ASG
Optical disc technology DVD writer
Optical drive Matshita UJ-898
Battery capacity 6,300mAh
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

Wired adapter speed 1,000Mbits/sec
802.11a support yes
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter no
Bluetooth support yes

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch no
Wireless key-combination switch yes
Modem no
ExpressCard34 slots 0
ExpressCard54 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 2
FireWire ports 1
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel 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
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Touchpad
Audio chipset Cirrus Logic CS4206A
Speaker location Above keyboard
Hardware volume control? no
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
Camera megapixel rating 1.3mp
TPM no
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader no
Carry case no

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