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2010 Apple MacBook Pro Spring Edition Review

by The Review CrewMay 30, 2010

The 2009 version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro was one of our favorite laptops, providing a great combination of design, performance, and battery life in a thin chassis. We tended to like it even more than the 15-inch model, since it managed to be smaller and still high powered, provided you could live without boosted dedicated graphics.

We were excited about the 2010 MacBook Pro updates in part because we were hoping that Intel’s new processors would find their way into this smallest of all MacBook Pros to make a killer laptop. Unfortunately, though the 15- and 17-inch 2010 MacBook Pros received upgraded Core i5 and i7 CPUs, the 2010 13-incher still has a Core 2 Duo processor that has been bumped to a slightly faster version.

However, there are other modest, but notable, improvements in the 2010 version: for instance, the previous MacBook Pro’s integrated Nvidia 9400M graphics have been updated to Nvidia’s new GeForce 320M processor. Still not gaming-enthusiast level, the graphics are more than capable of running most games at acceptable frame rates.

Most importantly, the battery life on this new MacBook Pro has been boosted again, improving on the already impressive gains we saw last year when Apple integrated the battery.

After reviewing the large changes that went into the 15-inch Core i7 MacBook Pro, the 13-inch was bound to suffer a bit in comparison. The lack of a Core i-series processor puts the aluminum 13-incher a step behind its big brothers for the time being, and we’re still lacking wish-list items such as HDMI, Blu-ray, or built-in 3G.

Still, even though the spring 2010 13-incher feels more like an incremental evolution than a true next-gen leap, it offers significant improvements over the 2009 edition and manages to retain the same price.
Price as reviewed $1,199
Processor 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
Memory 4GB, 1,066 MHz DDR3
Hard drive 250GB 5,400rpm
Chipset MCP89
Graphics Nvidia GeForce 320M
Operating System OS X 10.6.3 Snow Leopard
Dimensions (WD) 12.8 inches x 8.9 inches
Height 1.0 inch
Screen size (diagonal) 13.3 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 4.5 / 5.0 pounds
Category Mainstream
Looks-wise, this is the same MacBook Pro we know from 2009. The lines, the keyboard, the weight, the materials, and the screen all feel indistinguishable from the previous model. The unibody aluminum body is as sturdy and slim to our eyes as it seemed in late 2008, even after a year and a half. On the other hand, no further engineering improvements have been implemented. For anyone expecting greater changes, that might be disappointing: after all, last year’s update, though subtle, did include an SD card slot, an integrated battery, and an LED-backlit display. Even so, a year later, we find the design to be one of the best and most comfortable on the market.

Eagle-eyed Mac users might notice one tiny change: the MagSafe magnetic power adapter cord has gotten a slight tweak, now using a thinner side-attaching cable just like the one on the MacBook Air. The cable juts out less and, as a result, it should suffer fewer yank-outs.

We liked Apple’s raised, backlit, chiclet-style keyboard before and we still like it now. The 2010 model’s keyboard feels slightly sturdier, although the differences may be too small to quantify. The large glass multitouch clickable trackpad we love also remains the same. We still wonder why nobody else makes touch pads this large or comfortable to use with multitouch.

One welcome tweak, “inertial scrolling,” has been added to the pad’s settings; it allows the trackpad to work much like an iPhone’s or iPad’s screen for flick-scrolling documents with two-finger gestures. It’s great to use on long Web pages or documents. It’s a tiny change, that we hope it carries across older MacBook Pros via a software update, and we can’t help but notice that it closes the gap even further between the touch-gesture world of the iPhone OS and the Mac OS X multitouch experience. Maybe the iPad and the MacBook will grow into the same product someday, but for now the trackpad is their main point of common reference.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro still has an edge-to-edge, LED-backlit, glass-screened display, garnering it uncanny comparison’s to an iPad’s body. The native screen resolution is still 1,280×800 pixels, as the 13-inch doesn’t have a true 16×9 display. Viewing angles are excellent, and the screen’s color and brightness are great for movies and games. The 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pros offer antiglare coating for an extra $50, but there’s no option on the 13-inch to do the same.

Speaker volume on the 13-inch Pro is better than expected, but it’s still not booming. The stereo speakers are more integrated on the 13-inch body than they are on the 15 and 17-inch models, which send sound out through side grills. The MacBook Pro, like all Macs, has reverse-function F keys to directly change volume or screen brightness without having to press an additional button.

Ports on the 13-inch MacBook Pro remain the same as in 2009; the FireWire 800 and SD card slot are present, but Apple stubbornly refuses to offer an HDMI port yet again. There is a small but important consolation prize, however: new MacBook Pros can now output both audio and video through the Mini DisplayPort-out jack, whereas last year’s models had to output audio via the 3.5mm audio jack. For those connecting to a TV, this means you need only a single Mini DisplayPort to HDMI cable. We’d still prefer HDMI, but at least this new solution is more streamlined than before.

The new MacBook Pro models feature 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 Intel Core 2 Duo and a 250GB hard drive, whereas the $1,499 version has a 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo and a 320GB hard drive. The hard drive can be upgraded to a maximum of 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.

The speed-bumped Core 2 Duo processor at the heart of the MacBook Pro isn’t part of the 2010 Core i3, i5 and i7 processor family–it’s a holdover from last year, and that’s a bit of a shame. However, most mainstream users will find perfectly adequate performance in these Core 2 Duos–multitasking, video editing/playback, and photo and graphics work can all be handled, sometimes surprisingly well. In our benchmarks, the 2010 MacBook Pro 13-inch outperformed the Core i3 Asus U30Jc and came close to the souped-up Core i5 Sony Vaio Z116GX/S. Against those laptops, it actually came out on top in multitasking by a decent margin, although some of the programs we use for our benchmark tests, such as iTunes and Photoshop, are very Mac-friendly. The 15-inch Core i7 Spring 2010 MacBook Pro still outperforms this 13-incher by a considerable margin, but it also costs $1,000 more in the configuration we tested.

Integrated graphics in the 13-inch MacBook Pro are provided by the Nvidia GeForce 320M GPU, which shouldn’t be confused with the very similar-sounding GeForce GT 320M. This isn’t a truly discrete GPU, but the 48-core processor is a boost from the 9400M integrated graphics in the 2008/09 13-inch MacBook Pros.

The bottom line is that though this isn’t a hardcore gaming processor and it lags behind the discrete, auto-switching graphics on the new Core i5/i7 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pros, its gaming chops are far more robust than what is usually found on small-screened laptops this thin. We bench-marked Call of Duty 4 and got 32.2 fps at the native 1,280×800-pixel resolution with high-end features such as 4x AA, and 36.3 fps at the same resolution with no anti-aliasing and medium graphics settings. That’s pretty good, especially considering the Core i7 MacBook Pro ran COD4 at 34.9 fps at its native 1,400×900-pixel resolution (but nearly double that with graphics settings set to medium).

The 13-inch MacBook Pro has an integrated, non-user-removable battery that lasted an even 6 hours on our video playback battery drain test. Our test is more grueling than what most users experience as normal usage, and you can expect more life under different power settings and casual-use conditions. The 2009 13-inch MacBook Pro had a battery life of 5 hours and 15 minutes. The battery bump may not seem huge, but it’s another step up from the already improved 2009 battery performance.

This year’s boosts, according to Apple, come from a combination of CPU efficiency and new battery chemistry, since the 13-inch MacBook Pro retains the same compact dimensions as before. Six hours is more than we’d expect out of a mainstream laptop with decent graphics, and it led the pack compared against Core i3, i5 and Core 2 Duo laptop competitors.

Apple’s support and service reputation is strong, thanks in part to its collection of retail stores (as long as you live in a market served by one). MacBooks include a standard, one-year, parts-and-labor warranty, but come with only 90 days of toll-free telephone support. To get more service and coverage you must purchase an Apple Care warranty, at $349 for three total years of coverage. Considering the alternatives and the proprietary nature of Apple products, we’d recommend it.

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The Review Crew
The Review Crew is a group of beat editors, writers, and consultants that have been working together for years. They know just about everything about everything collectively and have published their collective work under the Review Crew brand moniker for almost 20 years.

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