MacBook Choice: The decision just got a whole lot tougher

Posted on by Mike Evans

Author: Michael Evans

Since the introduction of the unibody aluminium 13-in MacBook Pro I know that many buyers have gone for this smaller model in preference to the 15-in version. Many who could well afford the top-level model have traded the performance for lower weight and smaller overall dimensions. I once owned a 17-in MacBook Pro because I was seduced by the massive screen real estate and the thought that it would be a desktop replacement as well as a portable. Well, it certainly replaced the desktop Mac Mini, but it did nothing for my back muscles when I had to lug it around the world's airports. It was a big mistake, in retrospect. Even my current late-November 2008 15-in machine, admirable in almost all respects, is a tad heavy for carrying and too wide for easy stowing. In particular, it's not a very pleasant computer to use on an aircraft.

The choice to go for the smaller 13-in has been an easy one during 2009. If the aluminium version had been available in November 2008 I would certainly have opted for it. Now, with the latest speed upgrades to the 15-in model, everything is up for grabs again. There is now a clear line between the 13-in model with its Core 2 processor and single NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics processor and the larger models with either i5 or i7 processors and two graphics processors: In addition to a faster GeForce GT 330M there is an Intel HD graphics card for energy efficient operation.

The 320M in the cheaper models is no slouch, though (see this AppleInsider analysis). With its 48 processing cores it is claimed to be the fastest integrated graphics processor on the market and offers up to 80 percent more speed than the card in the current 13s. It's just that faster GT 330 and Intel HD setup on the 15- and 17-in models is going to prove a great temptation. Overall, taking into account the i5/i7 processors and the faster graphics, the two larger models are said to be up to 50 percent faster than their predecessors.

So now the choice isn't so clear-cut. Buyers previously tempted to go for the smaller, lighter and almost-as-fast 13-in MacBook Pro will be sorely tempted by one of the 15-in models. And with the iPad barking away in the background, Mac fans will now be considering all their options. They could well decide to go for a 15-in laptop but not carry it around as much, relying on the iPad for shorter trips. At least, though, we now have real choice again. 

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