Mac Musings

The Spring 2010 MacBook Pro Value Equation

Daniel Knight - 2010.04.21 -

Apple overhauled the MacBook Pro line last week. The April 2010 models look the same as the models they replace and have the same size and weight, but under the hood, there are quite a few differences.

Perhaps the most important is that Apple has squeezed out even more battery life. The new 13" MacBook Pro (MBP) is rated at 10 hours of wireless productivity, while the 15" and 17" models are rated at up to 9 hours. Since the batteries can't be easily removed and replaced, this is very important to travelers.

13" MacBook Pro

The smallest MacBook Pro is the least changed - and the only one to still use Intel Core 2 Duo technology. The entry-level model runs its CPU at 2.4 GHz, while the top-end model is rated at 2.66 GHz. On average, that's about 5% faster than last year's model. Not a big deal, but every little bit does help.

Primate Labs reports overall scores of 3390 for the 2.4 GHz model and 3739 for the 2.66 GHz. Last year's 2.26 GHz scored 3137, while the 2.53 GHz rated 3561. That's an 8.0% performance boost at the low end (clock speed alone predicts 6.2%) and 5.0% at the top end (clock speed predicts 5.1%).

The biggest change here is the new Nvidia GeForce 320M 48-core graphics processor. Nvidia claims it's up to 80% more powerful than the GeForce 9400M found in the original 13" MacBook Pro. Unfortunately, everyone seems intent on benchmarking the 15" and 17" models with their Intel i5 and i7 CPUs, so I haven't yet seen any benchmark results for the graphics engine in the 13-incher.

The new Nvidia GPUs are also more energy efficient, which contributes to improved battery life.

Prices remain the same as last year's models.

15" MacBook Pro

The Intel i5 and i7 CPUs found in the 15" MBP use the same Nehalem technology the powers the Mac Pro and iMac. This allows the CPU to "overclock" itself (Intel calls this Turbo Boost), which means that the rated speeds of 2.4, 2.53, and 2.66 GHz are just a starting point - a minimum. Each of the two cores can run at a 25% higher clock speed as long a heat isn't an issue.

This is evident from benchmark results. While the 2009 model had a faster rated clock speed for its Core 2 Duo (C2D) CPU, the ability of the i5 and i7 to dynamically change clock speed shows using Primate Labs' Geekbench:

The slowest i5 MacBook Pro has 15% more processing power than last year's top-end machine and 34.6% more than last year's entry-level model. Comparing the 2.53 GHz models, the i5 is 40% more powerful, and the 2.66 GHz models find the i7 providing 45.8% more horsepower. That's pretty close to the "up to 50%" more power that Apple claims.

Then there's the new Nvidia GeForce 330M 48-core graphics processor, which is more powerful than the GeForce 9600 found in last year's 15" and 17" models. Bare Feats benchmarked it at 20.8% better using the Cinebench 11.5 OpenGL test. We await results from Macworld and others.

Apple has introduced a 1680 x 1050 high resolution display option for an extra $100, giving it almost as much resolution as the 17" with its 1920 x 1200 screen.

The entry-level model retails for $1,799, the midrange for $1,999, and the top-end, with its i7 CPU, for $2,199. Compared with last year's models with GeForce 9600 graphics, prices are $200, $300, and $400 less respectively.

17" MacBook Pro

Except for being bigger and heavier and having a larger display, everything said about the 15" MacBook Pro applies equally to the 17" model, but there is no 2.4 GHz option. With a $2,299 price, the 2.53 GHz i5 model retails at $200 less than last year's 2.8 GHz model, while the $2,499 2.66 GHz i7 machine is $300 less than last year's 3.06 GHz model. Geekbench numbers for the 15" and 17" MacBook Pros are the same.

The 2010 Value Equation

All things are never equal, and it's hard to quantify the value of longer battery life or a better graphics chip. And then there are new RAM and hard drive configurations to factor in.

13" MacBook Pro

Based on Geekbench scores, the 2009 13" MacBook Pro should sell for no more than 92-95% of the price of the current model. Factoring in more RAM on the base model and bigger hard drives across the board, the 2.26 GHz 13-incher should be going for about $999, and the 2.53 GHz model at roughly $1,350.

Looking at our Best 13" MacBook and MacBook Pro Prices, things look good. The 2.26 GHz model is available for as little as $1,080, and the 2.53 GHz model at $1,388. Both prices seem a bit on the high side.

The true bargains are Apple certified refurbs: $929 for the 2.26 GHz model, and $1,189 for the 2.53 GHz one. That said, you have a less powerful graphics processor and a few hours less battery life, which could well tip things to the Spring 2010 model.

15" MacBook Pro

Looking at Geekbench scores, Apple should be practically giving away last year's 15-inchers. After all, this year's entry-level $1,799 model runs circles around last year's 2.8 GHz and 3.06 GHz models. Close-out prices do not reflect the performance difference, with the 2.8 GHz and 3.06 GHz models selling for more than the more powerful 2.4 GHz 2010 machine.

Factoring in improved graphics, longer battery life, and automatic graphics switching (you have to restart the earlier models to switch between GPUs), the 2010 models win in the bang-for-the-buck category. The only reason you might want to consider last year's 2.53 GHz model is that it's available at $160 less than the new entry-level machine. A few less bucks, a fair bit less bang.

As always, Apple certified refurbished has some great bargains: $1,349 for last year's 2.53 GHz model (which lacks GeForce 9600 graphics), $1,529 for the 2.66 GHz model, $1,699 for 2.8 GHz, and $2,039 for 3.06 GHz. I'd skip right past last year's 2.8 GHz and 3.06 GHz models at those prices, choosing a 2010 model. But if you're out to save money, the 2.53 GHz and 2.66 GHz close-out refurbs are very attractive options.

17" MacBook Pro

As with the 15" MBP, last year's 17-inchers should be selling for less than the new 2.53 GHz model (priced from $2,199). That's true of the 2.8 GHz model, available for as little as $2,050, but for $150 difference, I'll take the 2010. Don't even bother looking at last year's 3.06 GHz model, with prices starting at $2,349 - the new i5 model smokes it at a lower price.

Apple certified refurbished prices give you some lower-cost options: 2.66 GHz for $,1699, 2.8 GHz for $1,869, 2.93 GHz for $1,819, and 3.06 GHz for $2,099. There's little reason to consider the 3.06 GHz model at this price when you have have the more powerful 2.53 GHz i5 machine for just $100 more, but if you want a 17" MacBook Pro for well under $2,000, the 2.53 GHz and 2.93 GHz models offer very attractive deals.

Join us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter or Google+, or subscribe to our RSS news feed

Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

Links for the Day

Recent Content