Hands on: Apple's new 13-inch MacBook Pro

Apple didn't include a new Core i5 or i7 processor in its newest 13-inch MacBook Pros, but the laptops still contain a few small but important upgrades offering more value for the price.

CNET

We have our hands on the new 13-inch MacBook Pro here at CNET, and have been putting it through its benchmark paces. In the meantime, we've been eager to see what differentiates this 2010 update from the 2009 version. While we had a wish list of features we wanted to see included and were disappointed that a handful were omitted, there are some key improvements that we're glad to see.

The 2009 13-inch MacBook Pro was one of our favorite laptops, and we were greatly hoping that the 2010 update would feature Intel's new Core processor series. It turned out that Core i5 and i7 CPUs are only in the 15-inch and 17-inch 2010 MacBook Pros , while the new 13-incher still has a Core 2 Duo processor that's been bumped to slightly faster versions.

It's a bit disappointing, as it puts the aluminum 13-incher a step behind its older brothers for the time being, and makes the 2010 MacBook Pro 15-inch the leader of the new MacBook pack.

On the other hand, there are other modest but notable improvements. The integrated Nvidia graphics have been updated to Nvidia's new GeForce 320M processor. It's an improvement over the already serviceable GeForce 9400M integrated graphics the 13-inch MacBook Pro has had since fall 2008, and should help this MacBook keep pace with current games. It's not a high-level processor, but it's far more than any thin portable laptop in this range usually has.

Most importantly, the battery life on this new MacBook Pro has been boosted again. This year's boosts, according to Apple, come from a combination of CPU efficiency and new battery chemistry, despite having a similar-size integrated battery in the same slim chassis. Our early benchmarks show six hours of run time on our video playback battery drain test, approaching an hour longer than last year's model.

Looks-wise, it's the same MacBook Pro we already like. The lines, the excellent backlit keyboard, the weight, the materials, and the screen all feel indistinguishable. A few small touches can be eagle-eyed by frequent Mac users. For example, the MagSafe magnetic power adapter cord has gotten a slight tweak, using a thinner side-attaching cable like the one on the MacBook Air. The cable juts out less and should, as a result, suffer fewer yank-outs.

Ports remain the same, but all new MacBook Pros contain a small but important upgrade to their Mini DisplayPort-out jacks-- they now output HDMI audio and video , whereas last year, audio had to be output via the 3.5mm audio jack. For those connecting to a TV, this means you only need a single Mini DisplayPort-to-HDMI cable. While we'd prefer an HDMI port, at least this new solution is more streamlined than before.

The large glass multitouch clickable trackpad now has "inertial scrolling" that makes the trackpad work even more like an iPhone or iPad for flick-scrolling documents with two-finger gestures. We found it useful for long Web pages or documents, and it closes the gap even further between the iPhone OS touch-gesture world and the Mac OS X multitouch experience--hopefully Apple will add this tweak to previous Pros in a software update.

The 13-inch Pro's edge-to-edge glass-screened display remains at the same 1,280x800 resolution, since the 13-inch doesn't have a true 16x9 display. The 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pros offer an antiglare coating for an extra $50, but there's no option on the 13-inch to do the same.

There are also some spec bumps from the previous generation, as would be expected. Both configurations have 4GB of RAM, upgradable to 8GB for an extra $400. The lower-end MacBook Pro configuration, at $1,199, includes a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo and a 250GB hard drive, and the $1,499 version has a 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo and a 320GB hard drive. You can upgrade to 500GB at 5,400rpm for an extra $150 over the base configuration, or you can add an SSD ranging from $350 for 128GB to $1,450 for 512GB.

While in one sense these 2010 MacBook Pro 13-inchers feel more like a slow evolution than a true next-gen leap, they are improvements from the 2009 editions at the same price. We'll post our full review soon.

 

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