Switching. Do I want a Macbook or Macbook Pro?
September 25, 2008 10:47 AM   Subscribe

What will best suit my needs: a Macbook, or a Macbook pro?

(I know there are many similar questions on here already, but I want info for the most current systems, and for how I will use it.)

I am switching from a PC, this will be my first Mac. I play games only occasionally, but I usually have a browser (Opera) open with about 15-20 tabs (yeah, ADD) and several other applications, such as YM or AIM, Word, iTunes, Last.FM, perhaps Photoshop, etc. So, no really heavy-duty music or photo editing, but I like to have a lot going on at once. I will be taking it to school with me most days, so I want it to be sturdy (more worried about internal durability than cosmetics.) Size is not so important to me compared with speed/power.
Is there a significant difference between a 2.4 GHz and 2.5 or -6 GHz processor?
I’m considering a refurb. Anything to watch out for?
Know of any secret deals I could get? (I am a student.)
What else do I need to know?
posted by catatethebird to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The regular MacBook is more than fine for what you describe (there's very little difference technically anyway, mainly video card), and in my experience, much much more durable. The sexy-looking metal MacBook pros are prone to bending/twisting damage and are just generally more delicate all around.

No human being alive could ever sense the difference between 2.4GHz and 2.5GHz and 2.6GHz processors. Negligible.

Refurbs are good, since they come with the full warranty, but check the student version of the Apple store first, and your on-campus store, to see if there's a bundle that makes the whole thing even cheaper than a refurb.

There will be new models out in the next week or two, so you may want to wait for the ensuing (refurb) price drop or (new) close-out on campus.

And if possible, get the black one, which looks about 10x better than the white, especially after a couple of months of use.
posted by rokusan at 11:00 AM on September 25, 2008

Extra RAM is much more important for multitasking performance than a small increase in CPU speed.
posted by demiurge at 11:05 AM on September 25, 2008

I'll let others give you the Pro vs. MacBook arguments. Overall, yes, the Pro will be faster. I'll just give you my experience.

I have a 13 inch MacBook 2.16 Ghz. I have 1.5 Gigs of memory, and plan on upping that to 2. For running multiple programs, more memory has a noticeable effect on speed. So whatever you get, max out the ram. I recommend buying your own and installing it yourself. It's very easy to do, and you will save a lot of money over buying from Apple. DO buy name brand ram, however, and do a little research on brands. Some brands seem to have a higher failure rate.

I run Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Safari, Word, iTunes, iChat, and a few other programs at the same time, and it handles it fine. I'm sure the Pro would be faster, but I like this size and price point.

I have bought several refurbs from Apple over the last 10 years or so, and have been thrilled with all of them. It saves some money, and you get the same warranty as new. Whether you can get a student discount the same as the refurb discount is worth looking into.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 11:09 AM on September 25, 2008

Max out the RAM. 4GB. Buy from TransIntl.com or MacSales.com or Crucial. Very easy to install RAM inside the battery bay. Save yourself several hundred dollars by not buying the extra RAM from Apple.
posted by mrbarrett.com at 11:09 AM on September 25, 2008

The macbook pro, aside from not being much faster unless you're a gamer, only comes in 15" and 17" versions. Not very luggable. My macbook (not pro) is a little large for ever-day-carry use at 13" and have taken leaving it on my desk more often than note and bringing an Aspire One instead.

These days you could purchase both, and an ipod touch for handy reference, for about the same price as the pro.
posted by mce at 11:10 AM on September 25, 2008

Best answer: As for deals, what follows is a GREAT WAY to save money on your first Apple computer purchase. Go to the Apple Store for Education and check the discounted prices for your specific school. Then, you'll want to sign up for an Apple Developer Connection membership as a student (this costs $100, but will save you much more than that when buying your first computer).

The ADC membership also gives you tons of great, geeky stuff including developer CDs and free OS updates for a year in case a new version of OS X is released.

The educational discount PLUS the ADC membership discount will likely add up around 25% savings off the full price of a new computer. You'll get a bigger discount if you buy a more expensive machine, so that might tip the balance in the direction of getting a MacBook Pro instead of the standard MacBook.

You can only do this double discount thing once in a lifetime (only on the first Apple computer you buy via this method), so make it count!

This is how I bought my first Mac and I saved about $450. Good luck and enjoy your new Mac!
posted by plasticbugs at 11:11 AM on September 25, 2008 [9 favorites]

Here's a link to the ADC Student Developer Hardware Purchase Program that has all the info that I just mentioned above.
posted by plasticbugs at 11:12 AM on September 25, 2008

I've got a 13" MacBook that - with "just" 2GB of RAM - regularly has iTunes, Firefox (5-10 tabs), Adium, Adobe Bridge, Photoshop CS3, and probably something like TextEdit. Never had a problem handling that much, and it's much cheaper than the not-much faster Pro model - plus, far more portable, and generally more durable. Definitely recommend it over the Pro for your needs.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:33 AM on September 25, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, lots of useful info already, so a couple bonus questions. I'm definitely waiting for the new versions to come out, probably go for the Macbook unless I find some spectacular deal on the Pro...then, is it more likely to be a better deal to buy an old version refurb, old version new, or go for the bright shiny new version?
Also, will my Mac come with a 1GB memory module in each slot, meaning I'll have to buy two 2GB modules to upgrade it myself?
posted by catatethebird at 11:34 AM on September 25, 2008

I currently own both a macbook and macbook pro. I rarely use the macbook pro as the macbook can do everything i need it to, so the pro just gathers dust.

I see my pro as more of a desktop replacement and generally leave it plugged into a 24" monitor, so if portability is key take the macbook.

If its gonna stay on the desk take the pro.

Also the rumor mill states new macbook and pro's are but a few weeks away. So you might be able to find a good bargain on the current generation
posted by moochoo at 11:36 AM on September 25, 2008

The MacBook has Intel on board graphics, the Pro has an NVIDIA GeForce 8600M G. If you intend to run Photoshop CS4, which has GPU acceleration, you might want to look at the Pro.
posted by doctor_negative at 11:37 AM on September 25, 2008

MacBook Pro here, 17" refurb 2.6GHz that shipped with 2GB RAM. I upgraded to 4GB with a $85 kit from Crucial and 1.5 minutes with a screwdriver. Apple charges $400 for that upgrade. I saved about $535 buying the refurb vs. new.

I couldn't survive with the MacBook resolution, otherwise I probably would have bought one. I love having the 17" at 1920x1200.

I'm pretty mobile and picking up and working in different facilities multiple times daily. The MBP hasn't been a bit of trouble for me as far as mobility goes.
posted by cdmwebs at 11:41 AM on September 25, 2008

The Macbook will be fine - spend the extra cash on RAM.
One more thing to consider: unless they've come out with a fix recently, the Macbook will not run Second Life, owing to a graphics card problem.
posted by media_itoku at 11:41 AM on September 25, 2008

A few notes:

On portability - The Macbook is smaller at 13", but it weighs *almost* as much as a Macbook Pro, (5.0 vs 5.4lb) but you get 2" more of screen real estate.

Screen Quality - The Macbook screens are definitely inferior to the MBP screens. Every one I've seen/used has a washed out look. (Even the ones in the Apple Store). I've tried color calibrating them, but they just don't match the MBP screen. It may not bother you, but check it out for yourself.
posted by wongcorgi at 1:26 PM on September 25, 2008

I bought a refurb macbook about a year and a half ago, and it's a great machine. However, I've been having various technical difficulties with it -- it's currently being repaired for the 3rd time. First time, it was a bad wireless card, 2nd and 3rd times -- motherboard replacements. Now I don't know if that has much to do w/ it being a refurb -- I bought it when newer models came out, so I think they took all the older models and just labeled them refurbs.

With a combination of a student deal and it being a 'refurb,' I got it for $899. I think a while later, they got as low as $799. I would suggest buying it on a credit card which offers extended warranty protection (instead of buying AppleCare). I've certainly used my extended warranty quite a bit.
posted by bsdfish at 1:40 PM on September 25, 2008

I think any answer you may get here may be completely different after the rumored Apple Event on October 14th. The new Macbook will probably have an aluminum case, and who knows, it may even have a graphics card.

I do agree that with the current models, the screen quality definitely seems better on the MBP. My roommate has the regular Macbook and I have a (refurb) MBP, and whenever we sit next to each other on the couch I always think I made the right choice. Maybe he just has his resolution set in some weird way.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 3:05 PM on September 25, 2008

And if possible, get the black one, which looks about 10x better than the white, especially after a couple of months of use.

The white one will get very dirty (though they're easy to clean). The black one will have a thousand smudges. That's what you get for a 100 more bucks.

The new macbook may come with the pro's aluminum, which I'd far prefer over either.
posted by justgary at 3:10 PM on September 25, 2008

I own two refurbished Macs. One's a pro and the other is a G4 Powerbook. They are both aluminum cases boxes. Both are bent every so slightly and came that way from Apple. Despite the cosmetic damage, they have both been absolute troopers in the reliability department. But since you're a student, I'd get a new MacBook on the student discount program.
posted by chairface at 3:54 PM on September 25, 2008

As a macbook user, the only feature I am jealous about from the MBPs is the metal case. The plastic on the MB is not up to scratch, as far as I'm concerned, and degrades pretty quickly.
posted by pompomtom at 5:01 PM on September 25, 2008

One big difference is that the MBP can be ordered with a matte screen. The macbooks only come with a glossy screen (which I hate). Also, I think the the 15" screen is worth the extra expense; 13" is too small for me.

If you really are short on cash, you will get a lot of value from a refurb macbook; max out the RAM, and if you have money left upgrade the hard drive to a 250 or 320 GB drive.
posted by kenliu at 9:11 PM on September 26, 2008

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