MacBook Pro 13" Impressions

Some weeks ago my late 2007 MacBook Pro 15” started having issues during boot – it presented gray Apple logo with a bar graph underneath which went somewhere near 1/4th the way two times and then the computer would just turn off without any warning. I immediately checked various forums and tried all suggestions, but nothing worked. Luckily I had my Tech Tool Pro 5 DVD ready so I booted with it and performed all bunch of tests, even waited an hour for HD bad sectors search, however no problem whatsoever was reported. I also performed volume rebuild, restarted and voila – OS X booted (still preceded with gray bar graph though). Once there, I ran Disk Utility to repair permissions and it didn’t report any problem.

Then I tried another reboot to verify it would work, but got stuck with the same problem! So I decided to restore Mac OS X 10.6 from install DVD and while I was there also checked on permissions, however this time Disk Utility reported errors and refused to finish the operation… Weird…

Soon I discovered the only way of booting into OS X was to first boot to Tech Tool Pro, perform volume rebuild and restart… Although doable, it wasn’t something I was willing to live with, so I decided to use sleep instead. This worked, but the trust was gone, so after few days decided I need to solve this. At the end I decided to buy a new laptop. After checking prices, I decided to go with more portable 13” than more powerful 15” and ordered a MacBook Pro 13”, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD HD. This would give me roughly the same CPU power, but 1GB RAM more (my 15” didn’t accept more than 3GB!) and SSD of course. And as I tend to use the laptop connected to external monitor most of the time, small screen shouldn’t be deal breakter. So after 3 weeks and a single restart the laptop arrived…

My MacBook Pro has these specifications:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz
  • NVIDIA GeForce 320M
  • 13” screen
  • 4GB RAM
  • 128 GB SSD HD

First impressions

After going over typical Apple unpacking experience, the shining new laptop was finally standing alongside the old one. Visually it didn’t look that much smaller. But one of the first things I noticed was how bright the screen was in comparison to the old (matte) one! Here’s a photo of the two side by side, although note that it really doesn’t even come close to show the actual difference! The screen was also much brighter and with more vivid colors (as expected from a glossy screen). In fact, the screen is even brighter than my iMac’s 21”! I still have to test it in the sun, but this’ll probably wait until warmer months in the spring…

Working with MBP 13”

Next I decided to do battery calibration as recommended by Apple. After fully charging and keeping connected for 2 hours, I unplugged the power supply. I timed the calibration so that I could use the laptop disconnected for few hours in the afternoon/evening and until the battery is almost discharged and then leave it resting through the night. And so I did or at least I though I would – but the battery just wouldn’t “cooperate” – after unplugged it showed an estimated time of 8-9 hours and after a couple of hours of working with display set to full brightness, it still estimated well over 3-4 hours… Although this was a pleasant surprise, my calibration plans were going down the sink. Remembering reading about Adobe flash drastically reducing battery life I went to play some flash movies in Safari in the background, which did drop the juice considerably. But as time was getting late, I finally inserted a DVD with HD movie clips, looped that in QuickTime and went to bed after verifying the remaining time dropped again. All in all – you can expect quite a bit of battery life from this little beast!

Another thing I noticed that the laptop is generating considerably less heat than my old MBP 15”! In fact, it’s staying pretty cool even while being used heavily! And the ventilators are very quiet, even way after the point where the MPB 15” would be hissing and generally becoming very loud. In fact, I have to listen very closely to even hear if the ventilators are ever working…

The computer is smaller than 15” and also feels more solid (although MBP 15” doesn’t twist a bit neither as cheap PC laptops do!). It’s also lighter. All this combined with smaller size certainly make it more suitable for transporting.

The SSD

Right, what can I say about it? If you don’t have one, you really owe it yourself! I mean, this is likely to have to biggest impact to computer speed after increasing amount of RAM. Cold starting the computer takes just a couple of seconds (haven’t measured, but I’d say around 15-20) and shutting down just 2-3 seconds! Launching applications as well as practically any other operation I do is also marginally faster than anything I was used to.

I’ve done some benchmarks with DiskTool Pro to compare the performance with MBP 15” with 4500 RPM HD and that of an iMac 21” with 7200 RPM HD. Here are the results:

MacBook Pro vs. iMac HD Benchmarks

MacBook Pro, iMac HD Benchmarks

Note that these are merely quick tests, only usable for quick not in-depth comparison!

If you’re considering SSD as an option, you might want to read these articles on anandtech.com and bit-tech.net. The first one describes generally how SSD work and the differences with normal HD, while the later specifically looks at SSD implementation on Macs. They’ve discovered that despite the lack of TRIM support, performance was not degraded as much as on Window 7 with TRIM, which they attributed to Apple’s specific firmware for models with SSD. I found both articles interesting read!

Conclusion

So is the small laptop good enough for serious development purposes? The answer is surely personal. I work most of the time connected to external monitor with laptop screen closed, and can easily live with smaller screen real-estate when needed. What I wanted from the new computer is greater portability, and with smaller size, weight and much greater battery life, this fits the bill perfectly for me.

Update 2010-01-03

Matt Legend Gemmell recently posted a review about his new MacBook Air 11”, so I thought I would do quick comparison with my MacBook Pro 13”:

  • Xcode 3.2.5 and 4dp5 launches in less than 2 seconds.
  • Pages, Numbers and Keynote ‘09 launch in about 1 second.
  • Safari launches immediately.

I don’t have Microsoft Office and Photoshop to compare those, but here are some of other apps I use regularly:

  • Acorn requires less than a second.
  • Espresso also takes around 1 second.

Start and shutdown times are also similar. So it looks like MacBook Pro 13” with 128GB SSD performs similar to new MacBook Air 11”. Doing quick price comparison on US Apple Store, MBP 13” price is $1,550 and MBA 11” $1,300 while MBA 13” comes at $1,400 (all with 4GB RAM and 128GB SSD). MBP does have somewhat more processor power (2.4GHz vs. 1.4GHz and 1.86GHz), although I’m not sure how much difference that makes. Now go and pick your favorite :)



Want to reach us? Fill in the contact form, or poke us on Twitter.