About to buy my first MacBook, any thoughts?

MacBook Pro

MacBook Black

I’m about to pop my Mac cherry. It’s time for an upgrade from my old Toshiba Portege m200 tablet that I’ve had for about 3 years. I’m trying to decide whether to go with the Pro or non-Pro version of the MacBook, weighing the pros and cons of each. This is yet another case of a long-time Windows user switching to a Mac. The last Apple computer I had was an Apple II E. For a variety of reasons I’m switching, but the Paralells virtualization software is a driving force that got me to actually make the decision.

I like a small laptop. I have a 24 inch widescreen monitor on my desk, which I use most of the time if I’m working at home. Over the past few years I’ve come to really appreciate the small form factor of my current laptop. It’s a 12-inch display and it’s light (just over 4 pounds). That 12-inch display packs a 1400 x 1050 resolution, so that’s sweet for a laptop that small. Part of the reason I really value the small size is that for the past 2 and a half years I’ve been commuting an hour each way via train to work every day. I often work on the train, so being able to easily carry around my laptop and pull it out without breaking a sweat has been important to me. That said, I’m not going to be commuting any longer, so maybe the small lightweight aspect isn’t as important to me anymore.

In terms of MacBooks, I’m deciding between the 13-inch MacBook and the 15-inch MacBook Pro. The 17-inch MacBook Pro is out, I’m not even considering something that big.

Should I get the best?
As a tech junkie it’s always hard for me to not buy the hottest thing available. In the computer world you always pay a premium for the newest, fastest machine. But you know you’ve got the most badass thing you can get. My roommate works for Google and gets a free MacBook Pro for work. I have the opportunity of getting a better one 🙂

I have an itch to get the fastest machine I can get with the most RAM I can get. So now I’ve got to control my desire and hold off on buying a $3,200 laptop (most expensive MacBook Pro config I could get) until I consider whether it’s actually worth it.

As I see it I have 3 options:

  1. $1,756 – 13-inch black MacBook @ 2 Ghz
    2.0 Ghz, 2 GB RAM, 120 GB drive
    The best non-Pro MacBook available. 2 GB RAM through Apple is only slightly more expensive than doing it through an external vendor, so it’s worth the convenience.
  2. $2,393 – 15-inch MacBook Pro @ 2.16 Ghz
    2.16 Ghz, 3 GB RAM, 120 GB drive
    Includes $355 RAM upgrade from Crucial (one two-gig stick).
  3. $2,893 – 15-inch MacBook Pro @ 2.33 Ghz
    2.33 Ghz, 3 GB RAM, 120 GB drive
    The fastest processor with the most RAM I can get. Includes $355 RAM upgrade from Crucial (one two-gig stick).

[Note: these prices include an educational discount I get for being an employee of Stanford University, and they all include the extended AppleCare plan.]

I’m currently leaning towards option #2, but trying to determine if it’s worth $640 more than option #1. There’s a part of me that wants to jump at the 2.33 Ghz version just because, but is that really worth an extra $500? I can buy a lot of booze for $500.

Hard drive
I’ve got a 600 GB external drive, so I’m not putting a priority on the internal drive space. I’ve got 50 GB on my current Windows disk that I’m going to transfer over with Parallels Transporter. So I figure I can deal with a 120 GB disk just fine.

Each of those options has the most RAM you can stick into the machine. The 13-inch MacBook can only have a max of 2 GB. The 15-inch Pro can have a max of 3GB. Something sneaky is that you can’t order the 2.33 GHz machine with one one-gig stick of RAM (but you can for the 2.16 GHz machine). I can get a 2GB stick from Crucial for $355. This means if I get the 2.33 GHz machine, I end up with one one-gig stick that I don’t use. Versus the 2.16 GHz machine allows me to only order one-one gig stick, so I’m not paying for something I’m just going to throw away (I’ll pretend I’d try to sell it on ebay, but I know I’m too lazy). Another option would be to just get 2 GB of RAM instead of 3. I’m definitely going to get at least 2. My current Windows laptop has 1 GB and when I run Flex Builder in Eclipse, Flash 9, Photoshop, and Illustrator all at the same time it gets a little unhappy. So if I want 3 GB of RAM that pushes me toward the 2.16 GHz MacBook Pro. Is it worth it? I don’t know, I suppose I could always upgrade later.

Display considerations
I like high resolutions, even on small screens. The 1400 pixel wide resolution on my current 12-inch screen is awesome. I’m young and have good eyesight at close range, so I like the screen real estate and don’t have trouble reading the small text. The 13-inch MacBook has a resolution of 1280 x 800. The 15-inch Pro has a resolution of 1440 x 900. And obviously the Pro version’s screen is physically larger. This pushes me toward the 15-inch Pro.

I have a 24-inch monitor that requires that my laptop be able to output at least 1600 x 1050 (which my current laptop was barely able to do, with some tweaking). Both MacBooks can output to high enough resolutions for external displays. The non-Pro can output up to 1920 x 1200, which is enough for me. The MacBook Pro can output a ridiculous max resolution of 2560 x 1600, far more than I need. This one’s a tie.

I was talking to someone at 360Flex and they told me that the non-Pro MacBook can only mirror the screen when using an external display, not extend the desktop. Maybe this used to be true and got an upgrade, because looking at the specs on Apple’s site it says that both the non-Pro and the Pro can do mirroring and extended desktop. While I don’t use my external monitor and my current laptop screen at the same time very often, I do occasionally, and I certainly want that option. I’ll assume the Apple specs don’t lie to me, so this one’s a tie.

So I guess I’ve got to decide if the better display, the slightly faster processor, and the extra gig of ram are worth $640. Or maybe I’ll impulsively buy the fully pimped out 15 incher. If anyone has any thoughts that might help me decide, let me know. And if anyone knows the cheapest (but still reliable) way to get a single 2GB stick of RAM for a MacBook Pro, hook me up.


9 thoughts on “About to buy my first MacBook, any thoughts?

  1. I bought a macbook pro today and the only reason i got the Pro version was because you need at least 128mb ram to connect it to a cinema 30 inch screen. With your 24-inch screen you might wanna test if it’s all supported.. and I didn’t know only the Pro version can extend your screen but that would also be an important reason for me to get the Pro version instead.

  2. As a long time mac user, I recommend option 2.

    It has been reported that Adobe’s CS3 products use some hardware acceleration for UI, and if that is the case, more video memory is better. Add to that, the fact that the Pro has a true DVI out and not a mini-dvi out and you might be better off because of that, too… more convenient than lugging around a dongle to plug in to other displays.

    Glad to see more switchers out there!

    That Parrellels transporter app looks cool! Is that free?

  3. I recently bought a macbook pro when i started working from home. I’m running on a 15 inch, 2 gigs ram, 2.16 ghz with the 120 hd. I have xp via parallels. I run run flex builder and all the other adobe apps in rosetta until CS3, i use the xp share for the test suites from adlnet and general crossplatform testing. I’m pretty happy with it so far. I have an external monitor i hook up to sometimes. I’d like to have 3-4 gigs of ram with xp running, but everything might get better once i’m not running rosetta. I got it from the apple refurb site(imac, mac mini, and mbp so far no problems) for 1500 bucks. http://www.macsales is great for upgrades. They have not failed me yet:


  4. Hello there..After my 3 years of a 17″ PowerBook experience i need something more portable.
    But i wanted the best h/w in a smaller package so i order an 15″ with 2.33 GHz, 3 GBs RAM(the price for one 2GBs chip is UNBELIEVABLE), 160 HDD.I live with this beast for 1-2 months and i’m totaly happy.The amazing is that this 15.4″ laptop has the exact resolution as my 17″ PowerBook(1440×900) so i have the same space as before.Back in home there is a 23″ Cinema witch completes my happiness.The MacBook is even more portable but i have some thoughts on the GPU, the mini DVI and the total RAM..I like the black color but i hate the plastic skin.I really hope that you will take the right decision.Anyway, enjoy Mac OS X!

  5. As a recent switcher myself to a 17″ MBP, I would think #2 is probably your best option. In addition, be sure to pop in all 3GB RAM allowed – it helps a ton with Parallels.

    My girlfriend has the Black MB you are also considering, and really, the screen resolution isnt that great compared to the MBP. In addition, it is missing a few other hardware features that you’ll regret not having after a few weeks of use. Not to mention that the black plastic shell is nowhere as durable at the pro’s metal shell. Oh, and go for the matte screen finish – your eyes will thank you after coding all day.

  6. Nate says:

    I had the exact same dilema when I bought my MBP. I got the 2.33 processor with 2 gigs of ram. I was going to upgrade to 3 gigs later to use with parallels but I honestly barley ever use parallels. I’ve never had a ram issue while just running osx. If you go with the slower processor good luck ever trying to upgrade it, plus with the faster processor you can tell your roommate how much better your MBP is than his.

    Definitely get the pro because of the better video card too.

    Here’s how I would make my setup if I were you. I would leave my old laptop at work and try to snag another monitor (i used to work for a university and old monitors were everywhere because of guaranteed upgrade cycles for professors.) At work I would then have an extra screen for my MBP and one for my windows laptop and use synergy to use the same keyboard and mouse between them. That way you get uber screen realestate and the use of both OSes.

    At home you could switch to windows and do things if you had to through parallels. I have a regular machine at home with vista that I use to game and for Visual Studio. Anything other than that I use my MBP.

    I think your educational discount is like $200 with the MBP too; only 100 with the MB.

    You should also drop that apple protection care plan and live in the danger zone :).

    Now you have to decide whether you want glossy or matte!

  7. Doug says:

    Yeah, go for the MBPro over the basic MB.

    I recently bought both, the MB for my wife (for blogging and running her online hobby store for hand-dyed yarns), and the MBP for myself as developer. I went through the same buying decision tree as you have posted, and I went for option #2. I didn’t think the extra $600 was warranted for the slightly faster CPU. Also, your MBP #2 will run a fair bit cooler on your lap than option #3. The heat does get a bit excessive after a while.

    FYI – Like you, I was also switching over Mac from Windoze, and I *luv* it. I run Parallels for a few legacy things as needed, but I am so glad to be done with Windows for now.

    PS: Love the blog, still waiting for the Flex source posting of the infamous MXNA RSS app.

  8. Just to give the other side, I looked at the same data and chose a Black MacBook over the MBP. I also commute a lot and for me even the 13″ was bigger than I wanted (coming from a 12″ Dell), and the 15″ to me was not worth it.

    I have 2Gb RAM and run Parallels running MSSQL and CF as well as the Mac running CF, MySQL and Eclipse, Entourage, Word, Excel and other bits and pieces. 2Gb RAM works fine for me, but I don’t do any graphics or large video work.

    The separate video card, expansion slots and support for multiple external monitors are all Pro only options, but I don’t do anything too graphics intensive, I’m OK with one large external screen instead of two (and I mirror so I can easily switch between working on the laptop on the train and working in the office or at home on the larger LCDs) and I don’t want to put a Verizon wireless card (or anything similar) into my MB, so for me the MB was better and cheaper – a winning combination. Obviously depending on your use case your milage may vary, but I wouldn’t completely discount the MB.

  9. nate says:

    I’m having a similar problem in choosing between the MB or the MBP 15″. I’m a Youth Pastor switching from pc to mac. I’m needing something to do both graphic design and video work. Not necessarily major video work, just putting together video of our student activities and advertisements for events. I would greatly appreciate any feedback that I can get.

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