Is a Macbook Pro worth the extra $150?
July 10, 2010 6:52 AM   Subscribe

What's the advantage of a Macbook Pro over a Macbook? Does it justify the extra $150?

I'm replacing a four-year-old, ailing Macbook with a new model. While I was poking around the Apple Store, I noticed that the Macbook Pro is an extra $150, for (as far as I can tell) an aluminum body, a firewire port, a back-lit keyboard, and some extra hard drive space.

Am I missing something else? Are these extras worth the extra money? What makes them worth the extra money, if they are? (I.E. what do they add to your usage?) I'm pretty set on the Macbook, but I want to make sure I am doing my due diligence and that I am not going to regret something a year or two down the road on what is definitely a major purchase for me.

In terms of usage, I'm hardly a power-user. I'm a graduate student in the humanities and my computer's used mainly for writing and research of a decidedly non-graphic-intensive sort, Internet browsing, listening to music, and watching online videos. The hard drive space isn't a big attraction—I upgraded my old Macbook's drive to 160 GB some time ago and haven't even filled half of it.

So, would the $150 be money well-spent for somebody like me? Was it for you? Why or why not?
posted by synecdoche to Computers & Internet (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Oh hi, you're me!

I currently have a 4 year black macbook, and once it dies will be replacing it with something from Apple's current lineup. I will likely go with the 13 inch pro for the following reasons: 1) the aluminium build seems more robust -- my current (plastic) macbook has quite a few chips and marks. 2) There have been (admittedly rare) times when the lighted keyboard would have been nice. 3) I think the default 4GB of ram on the pro is a good thing.

Will these affect your day to day use? I doubt it. Might you find them valuable if you keep the new macbook for another 4 years? Quite possibly.

Are these 'worth' $150? Probably not.. but then no-one purchases an Apple product as a value proposition.

Final note -- the current macbook and 13 inch macbook pro are still powered by horribly outdated core 2 duo processors.. (which makes the price premium even harder to currently swallow)... this is what is stopping me from currently upgrading.. If you can hang on to your old one for another 6 months, it might be worth waiting .
posted by modernnomad at 7:03 AM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah, definitely worth it for me. I spend anything from 6 to 10 hours a day using my MBP. When you interact with something so intimately, and for so long, those small details like aluminum unibody make a huge difference to your experience. I can't speak for the revamped Macbooks, but my white MB from three or four years ago was a flimsy piece of crap that got horribly stained from handsweat after a few months, cracked in about 5 different places, had keys that disintegrated and a screen that begin splitting away from the plastic casing. The user experience was just foul. My new MBP is in mint condition (apart from where I've scratched it on the top through careless use) after a year; it's far and away the best quality piece of tech I've ever bought and makes me happy every day I use it. For me that's worth much more than $150.

Oh, and the backlit keyboard does sound like a useless gimmick but it's a dream when you're working or watching your MBP in bed.
posted by dontjumplarry at 7:09 AM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

How much time do you spend on your computer? If you're me, it's about 50-60 hours a week. If the extra port, backlit keyboard, wider screen, etc., make you even slightly more productive, isn't it worth it?

When you bought your car, did you make your decision based on a $150 difference? How much time do you spend in your car? Probably less than you spend on your computer, amirite?
posted by musofire at 7:11 AM on July 10, 2010

Better graphics in the Pro was the big thing for me. You have the option of using the integrated graphics or a dedicated GPU. This makes a difference for things like watching movies, but it's a must if you're going to want to play graphics-intensive games. Steam was ported to OS X, and Valve has released the Orange Box for Mac, and those games flat-out will not play unless you're in battery-eatin' mode. So if you'd like to play the occasional game, you're going to want the Pro. Otherwise, you'll be fine.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:15 AM on July 10, 2010

Once you've had a backlit keyboard, it can be very hard to go back. That's worth at least $75, IMHO.
The GPU upgrade is worth the other $75 (easily); the other stuff is gravy.
Now, if the $150 is the difference between the tippy-top of your budget and busting said budget, all that is moot. But if you have the money, yes, it's worth it.
posted by willpie at 7:30 AM on July 10, 2010

I use both a 2-year old blackbook for fieldwork and a current 13" MBP.

The MBP is slightly lighter, and a good deal sleeker. If you travel a lot and work on planes a lot, that and the backlit keyboard add real value. Also, I think the new MBP battery is on a whole different plane of existence. I am getting 4-6 hours easily off a charge with consistent use, wifi on. Even when new my blackbook never did better than 2 hours on a full charge. I don't think they've made any major improvements to the MB battery.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:33 AM on July 10, 2010

Best answer: IT professional here: I was just having a conversation about this with a colleague (who had a 13" plastic MacBook on his desk) yesterday. The takeaway from the conversation was, with the current lineup, "always buy the Pro." The sturdier aluminum case is worth $150 alone, and the rest is, as pointed out, gravy.

Go for the Pro.
posted by The Michael The at 7:34 AM on July 10, 2010

One more thing: an MBP is likely to hold its resale value better (although maybe not the Core2 13" MBP, because it is an older generation processor, although I find it plenty spiffy for my own fairly intensive uses, partly because the GPU on the MBP is a big boost).

Unless they've solved this, *every* plastic Macbook eventually develops problems with the case. In any case, invest the (absurd) 50 bucks in a shell case whatever model you buy and retain a good deal more resale value in the process and you can amortize the expense.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:37 AM on July 10, 2010

The current 13" MacBook and MacBook Pro have the same battery and graphics, and they've reportedly fixed the cracking case issues with the MB.
posted by 6550 at 7:41 AM on July 10, 2010

Just playing devil's advocate here...

Someone mentioned the 4GB of RAM... When will you ever use 4GB of RAM? You said you're in humanities, which makes me think that your largest file size will only be a few MB, and you're not doing any serious number crunching.

Maybe consider just buying the Macbook, and spending the other $150 on an extra TB of memory? (pdf's and mp3's and jpeg's will kill you in that department...)
posted by chicago2penn at 7:51 AM on July 10, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice so far. Just to be more specific, I would be getting the least expensive MBP—so the same processor, the same graphics card, the same hard drive, but 2 GB more RAM, aluminum case, backlit keyboard, etc.
posted by synecdoche at 7:52 AM on July 10, 2010

You'll be fine either way. If you are planning on keeping it for a long time to come I'd go with the MBP. I'd probably do that regardless. They are both capable macs that will do more than what you require of them, so you will have room to grow if you develop other interests down the road.

"...but then no-one purchases an Apple product as a value proposition."

That's tired rhetoric. I most definitely do buy macs as a value proposition. No viruses and customer support alone makes it this. Not going to go into a PC/Mac derail, but that statement is utter crap.

When buying a mac it's best to start with the dollar amount you are wanting to spend, then use that to decide, knowing it's cheap to add memory or drive space later. So focus on speed and screen size. You can almost always spend just another $150 on the next model up. That's how Apple works.

Take a look at their desktop or iPod line ups. Each step up is only a little more money than the previous one. Each is probably worth the extra cash. Suddenly you have spent $20,000 on a fully decked out Mac Pro and asking yourself why you need a Fibre Channel Card.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:08 AM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had this same quandary when I was computer shopping last year. I ended up going with the MBP because I liked the look of it more, and I'd rather spend an extra $150 to ensure I love it that much more rather than always wondering if I should have gone the other way.

In short: buy the MBP if you like it better. if you don't care.....don't bother.
posted by desl at 8:24 AM on July 10, 2010

So, would the $150 be money well-spent for somebody like me? Was it for you?

For me, the difference is the FireWire port. As a musician, I use much more storage than any internal hard drive (literally terabytes). I can keep a desktop computer plugged into the external drives constantly, but obviously I want mobility with a laptop...which means that when I do plug in the laptop to transfer files, I want it done quick. FireWire is fast.

The RAM is also a consideration, just because of my computer habits: I often keep a lot of things open simultaneously.

For you? Based on what you said, the lesser model is probably fine. But if the price difference is only $150, I'd go for the upgrade anyway. You never know. I haven't really noticed some of the intangibles mentioned above, but you might.

Lastly, I wouldn't worry about what Apple "might" release in 6 months. Nobody knows, and Apple's full of surprises, both good and bad. See, for example, the constant rumors about the Verizon iPhone. (Six months ago, it was "certain" to come with iPhone 4. Today, it is "certain" to come in January.) The MacBook Pro was just updated, and the current model is a good product.
posted by cribcage at 8:27 AM on July 10, 2010

I replaced a plastic macbook with what was then called a unibody 13" macbook (it later got adjusted into the pro line). There is absolutely no comparison in terms of build quality, and I can't see buying the plastic one ever again. One caveat is that in the current lineup, the 13" pro is the only one that is still on a core 2 duo (hasn't been bumped to a core i5 or i7 yet). Also, maybe you know this, but right now if you buy through the education store you get a free ipod touch.

When will you ever use 4GB of RAM? You said you're in humanities, which makes me think that your largest file size will only be a few MB, and you're not doing any serious number crunching.

If you have to write a dissertation eventually, and you are planning on writing it in word, you need as much memory as you can possibly buy, regardless of field. (Not that I'd advocate writing a dissertation-sized document in word.)
posted by advil at 8:37 AM on July 10, 2010

I have a MBP, love it. A caveat- the aluminum around the keyboard will get pitted eventually if you rest your wrists on it. No danger or anything, just an aesthetic thing.

The back lit keyboard is great. I'm also really fond of the light sensors which dim with the light. And having dropped this things more times than I'd like to admit, the aluminum case is wonderful.

So yeah, for an extra $150, go for it.
posted by Hactar at 8:44 AM on July 10, 2010

Definitely get the MBP. I know it used to be the case that the display is of higher quality on the Macbook Pro, but I'm not sure if that's still true. With Snow Leopard, the 4GB of RAM will help a lot as soon as you have more than 2-3 apps open at once. Once you use a backlit keyboard you'll wonder how you ever got along with out it. Finally, the build quality is out of this world.
posted by AaRdVarK at 9:16 AM on July 10, 2010

It's really nice having the solid unibody instead of a creaky case, but don't the current macbook amateurs have unibody plastic?

I think you also get a line-in jack on the pro.

I like the light sensors and keyboard a lot too. Great at night when your partner goes to sleep before you, and when on a plane at night.

The unibody is not indestructible. A coworker dropped his and dented the corner, and my has a small nick from a pair of poorly tossed nail clippers (GRAR).

@advil What would you use to write a dissertation length document? I used word, but kept each chapter in a separate file. It was a drag and I still dread formatting it and so haven't published a version for my own use.
posted by mecran01 at 9:20 AM on July 10, 2010

I'm typing this on a 13" mbp that I bought a year ago. Previous laptop was a 12" aluminum powerbook.

The extra firewire port is extremely handy, since my main external backup drive is firewire. The backlit keys are awesome. It's splendid for watching videos. It's fairly light, and very sleek. It looks almost as new as the day I bought it.

I vote for spending the extra $150.
posted by rtha at 9:20 AM on July 10, 2010

What would you use to write a dissertation length document?

TeXShop is a nice TeX previewer.
posted by harmfulray at 9:33 AM on July 10, 2010

This exact question, almost word for word, was asked not too long ago. You might want to try and find it.

You kept your old computer 4 years. If you keep this one 4 years that's about 37 dollars a year. 3 years its 50 bucks. There's a point where being thrifty becomes being foolish.

You're there.
posted by Dennis Murphy at 9:37 AM on July 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

Don't be afraid to buy the best. You'll never wish you had better.
posted by I'm Doing the Dishes at 10:00 AM on July 10, 2010

@advil What would you use to write a dissertation length document?

LaTeX no question. You edit it in plain text using whatever editor you want (I use emacs, which is very, very reliable), and there is no real issue of computing power/memory for simple formatting tasks. But, it isn't for everyone and there is a learning curve -- redoing an existing diss. in latex would be a chore. (On the other hand, a student in my dept. recently redid a chapter that was previously written as a journal article in word, and it only took her a day or so.)

The thread-germane point is that, for better or worse, much modern software uses far more memory & processor resources than it seems like it should, so getting the best computer you can at the time you order it, as long as you can afford it, is nearly always preferable. Word is notorious (for large documents at least) but even things like firefox can be bad.
posted by advil at 10:28 AM on July 10, 2010

This is a slight derail, but I'd add here that I got a refurbed MacBook Pro and have been extremely happy. I never would have known it wasn't new and I saved a few hundred on it. If the $150 is giving you pause, you might be well-served by shopping for refurbs. I was very happy with PowerMax.
posted by el_lupino at 10:46 AM on July 10, 2010

nthing refurbs, and since the 13in MPB is still on the Core 2 Duo, you're not really buying "last year's model" if you get a refurb now. It's also the best way to avoid the deliberate temptation of the Apple upsell.

(there are lots of previouslies on not using Word for thesis/dissertation-writing.)
posted by holgate at 11:15 AM on July 10, 2010

Yeah, refurbs are great. You can buy them direct from Apple, certified to be in proper working order. They come with the same 1-year warranty as a new machine, and are eligible for AppleCare protection. We just bought a refurb MBP at the office, and, except for the lack of a pretty cardboard box, it was indistinguishable from a brand new computer.

Personally, I'd go for the MBP. We’ve got both a Pro and a regular MacBook in the house, and I find the backlit keyboard to be very handy. That said, the regular MacBook is a fine machine.
posted by thinman at 12:26 PM on July 10, 2010

Not sure if this is still the case, but in the past, the base-level plastic Mabook didn't have full functionality of the touchpad. This may not mean much to you now, but let me tell you that going from using my Macbook Pro to using my sister's plastic Macbook is a big difference--I definitely miss some of those finger gestures, not to mention the larger touchpad space.
posted by litnerd at 2:21 PM on July 10, 2010

I'd say the advantage to more memory (within reason) is less disk swapping when you switch between applications rather than the size of individual documents. When I was writing my dissertation, I habitually had a web browser, Acrobat Reader, R, Illiustrator (for tweaking graphics), BibRef, GVim, and iTunes open at once. The jump from 2 to 4 Gig was useful there, I'm not certain that going beyond 4 Gig is that useful at this time.

In addition to LaTeX, I'd suggest kicking the tires on Mellel and Bookends, and perhaps Nisus as well. I've yet to find a satisfactory path from LaTeX + APA -> RTF or ODF.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:16 AM on July 11, 2010

But, I'll also point out that RAM is one of the easiest things to upgrade/replace on the current Mac models and is almost always cheaper from anybody but Apple.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:54 AM on July 11, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice.

For the record, I'm using Nisus (or rather, a combination of Nisus, Scrivener, and occasionally Writeroom) to write my dissertation these days. The dissertation will be all text, and I find it works quite well for what I need it to do. But at any rate...

I picked up the Macbook Pro today. I haven't had a chance to play with it yet, but it is charging up right now and I'm beyond excited. Thanks for everyone's input.
posted by synecdoche at 2:45 PM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

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