The “Poor” 13″ MacBook Pro

The 13″ MacBook Pro has been getting beaten up pretty severely by certain commentators recently. Actually, ever since Apple released the re-jiggered MacBook Air in October 2010, that particular portable has received more than its fair share of beatings.

Well, I’m here to toss some love to the poor 13″ MacBook Pro.

First off, I’m extremely biased, having owned two 13″ MacBook Pros, but I’m not blind to the fact that the 13″ MacBook Pro is now, perhaps, the one Apple product that seems the most out of place. While the MacBook Air is receiving almost universal praise and the 15″ and 17″ MacBook Pros continue to hold down their positions as the larger-and-higher-end portables offered by Apple, the 13″ MacBook Pro gets stuck between the two by having some higher-end components (faster processors, larger RAM capacity, Firewire 800 port, etc.) coupled with more weight, a poor screen (still at 1280×800), and no standard SSD (while the Airs come with ONLY an SSD).

Because of this, Marco Arment and Ben Brooks have maybe rightfully been beating up on the 13″ Pro. They have a hard time seeing where this machine might fit in for a person choosing a new Apple portable.

It really comes down to a number of factors.

RAM Potential

I can’t speak much because I’m still running at only 4GB in my 2011 13″ MacBook Pro, but I will soon be picking up the full 8GB to max it out. That’s fully double what you can put into a 13″ MacBook Air (or an 11″ Air), and can make a HUGE difference when you are running one or more virtual machines for whatever purpose.

Don’t underestimate what that can mean for a person who wants to be able to run with just a single machine, filling in whatever holes they might have with a dedicated VM for either testing, or that pesky Windows app that you need to have access to for work (I’m looking at you Microsoft Access 2010).

Size

A portable, by its definition, should be easily portable. The 15″ MacBook Pro is too large for me to comfortably take back and forth between work and home. Granted, I do not carry much with me at all other than a light case and the MacBook Pro, and I do use a case meant specifically for 13″ portables, so the extra size of the 15″ would make a difference.

The MacBook Air would be more portable, but the RAM potential above is something that can’t be completely ignored by everyone.

Expansion

An odd thing to think about with a portable, but the ability to purchase off-the-shelf RAM and hard drives to stick into my machine is something that appeals to me. Right now there is a 500GB hard drive in this little guy, but I won’t hesitate to drop a newer drive in here at some point to gain some performance increases or storage capacity … if there would be a need.

Processor Speed

The dual-core Intel Core i7 is a pretty speed processor, not getting hampered by the ultra-low-voltage requirements of a machine the size of the Air. The Air is mighty fast and impressive, but if you need processing power in a small package, the 13″ MacBook Pro is pretty attractive.

Conclusion

Even with all of that above, the 13″ MacBook Pro, sadly, is not long for this world unless some major changes happen. I think that the first thing that needs to change is the screen. Having a 1280×800 screen on this while the 13″ MacBook Air has a 1440×900 screen seems almost criminal, and it will need to change. I have to think that if this single change happened (along with maybe the option for quad-core Core i5 or i7 processors) that some people would be appeased.

However, Apple is probably going to drop the 13″ MacBook Pro completely, maybe the next major redesign of the MacBook Pro line. With that, the portable lineup from Apple becomes crystal clear: 11″ and 13″ MacBook Airs and 15″ and 17″ MacBook Pros. That’s a decidedly less-confusing lineup than what they have.

However, I will miss the 13″ MacBook Pro. That line has served me well.

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