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Apple MacBook Pro 13 review

Verdict

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

Review Date: 11 May 2010

Reviewed By: Sasha Muller

Price when reviewed: £1,063 (£1,249 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
4 stars out of 6

Performance
4 stars out of 6

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.

Author: Sasha Muller

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User comments

Bargain (not)

After the well tempting price of £259.99 I've now ended up with a Lumix camera :(

By Steve_Adey on 12 May 2010

@Steve_adey

LOL

:D

Indeed £260 seems like a bargain for an Apple laptop... oh wait.

PC Pro Fail!

By Grunthos on 12 May 2010

Battery life

The battery life seems astonishing (in OSX).

I'm not aware of any Windows laptops that have that kind of stamina with a Core2Duo and nVidia graphics.

Am I right?

By Grunthos on 12 May 2010

Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

It seems our automatic price finder had a bit of a fit.

By SashaMuller on 12 May 2010

I think you're right Grunthos. Nobody can be Apple on battery power...

By TimoGunt on 12 May 2010

I meant beat. I'm sure I typed beat

By TimoGunt on 12 May 2010

The question is why?

Historically battery life has been something Apple have been bad at.

What are they doing that is different from other manufacturers?

Sasha, have you any knowledge about what might be going on here?

By Grunthos on 12 May 2010

Only batteries have the answer...

I think part of the reason Apple didn't adopt Core i3/i5 is because it'd require a larger logic board. Sticking with Core 2 meant that they could leave more room inside the chassis for a huge battery.

Apple has also employed a Lithium-Ion Polymer battery, which has a higher power density than the Lithium-Ion batteries more commonly employed by laptop manufacturers. Higher power density = more watthours in a smaller space = longer battery life.

By SashaMuller on 12 May 2010

Thanks Sasha

Thanks for the information Sasha.

Interesting stuff, I don't see any other laptop manufacturers even coming close to this stamina.

Even the premium ones such as Sony.

Ho hum.

By Grunthos on 12 May 2010

Just wait...

Intel's forthcoming low-voltage Core i5 might just change all that. We'll just have to wait and see! :)

By SashaMuller on 12 May 2010

Reason for the i3/i5 exclusion

There is a perfectly logical explanation for the exclusion of the core series of processors.

Intel do not allow nVidia to create chipsets for the new Core ix platform whereas they were previously allowed to do so for the Core 2 Duos.

Apple decided it would improve graphics performance alongside a small bump in CPU speed for an overall increase in speed rather than cripple the laptops with the vastly inferior Intel integrated graphics.

It would be nice to have a discrete graphics card but size and profit margin constraints likely put an end to this dream.

If only it were cheaper.

By watttyford on 13 May 2010

Another option; and comments on use

From this very site:

http://www.notebookcheck.net/Asus-U35Jc.35647.0.ht
ml

Don't get me wrong, I love the hardware of the Macbook Pro, and if i were a user that didn't need to interface with Microsoft server and development environments on a regular basis I probably would buy one.

As it is... This machine (MBP) performs much better with OSX than it does with Windows, and the drastic reduction in battery life when switching from the former to the latter is unsettling. I agree that when Mac begins to integrate i-series processors into the Pro 13 that it will be very difficult to find a better alternative.

Check here for details on why the i-series is superior to core 2 duo: http://www.notebookcheck.net/Intel-Core-i3-370M-No
tebook-Processor.32767.0.html

By Wyatt on 25 Aug 2010

correction!

the review from this site is located at:
http://www.pcpro.co.uk/reviews/laptops/360199/asus
-u35jc/benchmarks

By Wyatt on 25 Aug 2010

correction!

the review from this site is located at:
http://www.pcpro.co.uk/reviews/laptops/360199/asus
-u35jc/benchmarks

By Wyatt on 25 Aug 2010

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