'Book Value

New Unibody MacBook or Discontinued 15" MacBook Pro?

Charles Moore - 2008.10.28 - Tip Jar

Responding to some of my previously published musings and observations about the recently-launched MacBooks and MacBook Pros, a reader suggested "wait a little more, let's say about half a year, 'til the next updates and then get the future 'old' unibody MacBook Pro as a refurb."

aluminum MacBook

Procrastination in these these matters has its appeal, especially with my present G4 PowerBook still providing reasonably satisfactory service - but then logically follows the argument that the revision B unibody MacBook Pros will likely be better than the revision As, so maybe it would be better to wait until they hit the refurb channels and so on, ad infinitum.

I'm definitely an advocate of not updating for the sake of updating or to have the "latest and greatest" (however briefly), but objective factors do eventually impact the upgrade dynamic. My PowerBook G4 is wonderful, but nearly three years into the Macintel era, I'm beginning to bump up against its limitations, including the inability to run a growing roster of Intel-only software that I should be reviewing. More prosaically, the 80 GB hard drive is pretty nigh full as well, and while one could install a larger-capacity drive, that's no simple operation with the aluminum PowerBooks and would still amount to a stopgap.

It's probably time to take the plunge.

older MacBook ProThe contenders that make sense within my budget limit are the holdover 2.1 GHz MacBook White, the new 2.0 GHz base model Unibody MacBook, or a refurbished last-generation 2.4 GHz 15" MacBook Pro, and I'm not really smitten with yesterday's MacBook, other than that it still has FireWire support.

Between the other two, the old school MacBook Pro seems to me the better value. It's faster, has a larger, higher-resolution display (I'm fairly ambivalent about the matte vs. glossy debate but do provisionally lean toward matte), and a real discrete graphics processor with dedicated video RAM to drive it - the latter reportedly still about 2x as fast as even the MacBook's swish new Nvidia GeForce 9400M integrated 3D graphics. Both displays are LED backlit, so that's a wash. The MacBook Pro comes with a DVI port and an adapter for other formats - but you need a $30 optional Mini DisplayPort dongle for any external display with the MacBook.

Both machines come with 2 GB of RAM, but the MacBook Pro has a 200 GB hard drive vs. 160 GB for the MacBook. The MacBook Pro has both FireWire 400 and FireWire 800 ports, and it provides a lot more peripheral connectivity than the Unibody MacBook with its paltry two USB 2.0 ports, only one of them full-powered. I find the ports on my current PowerBook oversubscribed much of the time, so that's definitely an issue for me, especially since none of the Intel machines has an internal modem. I'll need a modem for Internet access for a year or so yet until broadband finally makes it to this neck of the woods (hopefully), so there goes one USB port unless someone comes out with an ExpressCard 34 dialup modem. The MacBook has no ExpressCard slot; the MacBook Pro does.

There's the backlit keyboard, which I like on my 17" PowerBook, but which is not available on the entry-level MacBook, although that would be far from a deal-breaker for me. I also like old-school type keyboards better than the avant garde "chiclet" ones.

In the MacBook's favor are its undeniable coolness (also reportedly literal coolness of operation) and its more rugged and solid unibody construction, the glass trackpad, extreme ease of access to the hard drive, and it's $50 cheaper. Not enough, IMHO considering what you don't get.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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