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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Apple MacBook Pro Winter 2011 review:

Apple MacBook Pro Winter 2011

The new second-generation Sandy Bridge Intel Core i5 CPU is a huge improvement on last year's 13-inch Pro. Benchmark tests show that this model is nearly twice as fast in multitasking and the iTunes test. Start-up boot time is also zippy, although nowhere near as fast as on the MacBook Air. This is the processor upgrade we were hoping for last year, and then some. While you should obviously keep in mind that the 15-inch Pro is even faster, for the price and the size, it's hard to beat what the 13-inch offers. Even more surprisingly, the entry-level 13-inch Core i5 CPU wasn't all that much slower than the more expensive Core i7 13-incher we reviewed. Photoshop test scores slowed from 68 to 78 seconds, and iTunes from 92 to 99 seconds, but these results still leave most other last-generation Core i-series laptops in the dust.

If there's one compromise on this year's 13-inch MacBook Pro, it's in the graphics. Instead of the Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics in last year's Pro, this year's models use integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000, part of the second-generation Core i-series' improvements. They're a big leap up from what we're used to from integrated graphics, but they're not ideal for hard-core gaming. We played Call of Duty 4 and got a reasonable 31.7fps at native resolution and anti-aliasing turned off, but only 17.8fps with 4x anti-aliasing turned on. Last year's MacBook Pro, with the same settings, achieved 36.3 and 32.2fps, respectively.

However, for a normal, everyday user, the Intel integrated graphics are a success. They're effectively invisible; they "just work" to use Apple's words, ably running media and most casual 3D gaming. For those who want to seriously render or play upscale games, the 15-inch Pro's ATI Radeon graphics offer a major step up. Honestly, the Mac landscape is devoid of many big games, and the 13-inch Pro can at least play most of what's out there (Bejeweled 3, for instance, ran silky smooth). Also keep in mind that these integrated graphics are still better than the average low-end Nvidia GPUs and integrated Intel graphics seen on most thin 13-inch Windows laptops in 2010.

Juice box
Apple MacBook Pro Winter 2011 (Core i5, 13-inch) Average watts per hour
Off (60%) 0.23
Sleep (10%) 0.66
Idle (25%) 5.79
Load (05%) 45.84
Raw kWh Number 34.55
Annual power consumption cost $3.92

Annual power consumption cost

For the second year in a row, the 13-inch MacBook Pro has made another leap in battery life. Matching the promises made by Apple, the 13-inch Pro's integrated battery lasted 6 hours and 42 minutes using our video playback battery-drain test. That's about three-quarters of an hour better than last year's 13-inch Pro, and one of the best battery lives on any laptop we've ever reviewed. With roughly 7 hours of runtime (on the conservative end), you'll probably be able to carry your MacBook Pro for the day and leave your charger behind, if you're so bold.

Service and support from Apple has always been a bit of a mixed bag. Apple includes a one-year parts and labor warranty, but only 90 days of telephone support. Upgrading to a full three-year plan under AppleCare will cost an extra $249, and is pretty much a must-buy, considering the proprietary nature of Apple products and their sealed bodies. Support is also accessible through a well-stocked online knowledge base, video tutorials, and e-mail with customer service, or through in-person visits to Apple's retail store Genius Bars, which, in our personal experience, have always been fairly efficient, frustration-free encounters.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

System configurations:

Apple MacBook Pro - Core i5 Sandy Bridge 13.3-inch - 2.3GHz
OS X 10.6.6 Snow Leopard; 2.3GHz Intel Core i5; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 384MB (Shared) Intel HD 3000; 320GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Apple MacBook Pro - Core i7 SandyBridge 13.3-inch - 2.7GHz
OS X 10.6.6 Snow Leopard; 2.7GHz Intel Core i7; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 384MB (Shared) Intel HD 3000; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Apple MacBook Pro - Core i7 Sandy Bridge 15.4-inch - 2.2GHz
OS X 10.6.6 Snow Leopard; 2.2GHz Intel Core i7; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 1GB AMD Radeon HD 6750M / 384MB (Shared) Intel HD 3000; 750GB Toshiba 5,400rpm

Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch
OS X 10.6.6 Snow Leopard; 1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo; 2048MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce GT 320M; 128GB Apple SSD

Apple MacBook Pro - Core 2 Duo 13.3-inch - 2.4GHz
OS X 10.6.3 Snow Leopard; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce GT 320M; 250GB Seagate 5,400rpm

What you'll pay

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