UPDATED: The New Apple MacBook Pros: What’s With the One in the Middle?

product-15in.jpgWith the new MacBook Pros Apple released yesterday, I’m left wondering about the purpose of the middle model.

First, all three models get a new Penryn processor (2.4 or 2.5GHz) with 6MB of shared cache, a new multi-touch trackpad, and larger hard drives. (One thing to note is that Apple’s laptops — MacBooks and MacBook Pros — no longer come with an Apple remote.)

The third model is the 17-inch, so there’s a clear difference you’re paying for there. But I’m just not seeing a reason to move up from the base model to the one in the middle. This is unusual in Apple’s line-up, where the middle model is usually the most bang for the buck.

Consider what $500 over the base model gets you:

  • 2.5GHz processor instead of 2.4.
  • 250GB drive instead of 200.
  • 512MB SDRAM instead of 256.

That’s it.

The processor difference is non-existent — even the most ardent MBP supporter wouldn’t claim a noticeable difference between 2.4 and 2.5. And you can upgrade to the 250GB drive for 50 bucks. So it would seem one is paying $450 for the extra 256MB of video RAM.

I certainly don’t want to downplay video performance, but we’re not talking about a better graphics engine with more memory, we’re talking about the same GPU. Now that the base model has some “breathing room” with 256MB, will double that make a huge difference? More specifically, will it make $450 worth of difference? The listed support for external monitors is the same as for the old models, so there’s no advantage there.

This is one case where Apple’s step up from the base model might be a misstep. Or maybe we’ll see benchmarks soon that show the extra SDRAM makes more difference than I’m giving it credit for…

On the flip side, the $1,999 MacBook Pro is now an absolute killer pro laptop!

[UPDATE:] On 2/29 ArnandTech published a very detailed review of the new MacBook and MacBook Pro. On page 12 of the review they have this to say, which is applicable to my article:

How much does Apple charge for the average 5% improvement in performance? Unfortunately you can’t just purchase the CPU upgrade, you have to buy the $2499 model instead of the $1999 model. You get another 50GB of hard disk space (250GB vs. 200GB) and 512MB of video memory along with the CPU upgrade but you’re paying an extra $500…

If all you care about is the larger cache, the $500 upgrade cost is a tough pill to swallow. Even the increase in drive space isn’t all that attractive for the money. The increase in video memory is nice but 256MB should be all you need for smooth Exposé performance on the 15″ 1440 x 900 display.

Our recommendation? If you’re going to upgrade your notebook in another 1.5 – 2 years anyways, pocket the $500 and don’t bother with the added cache. It’s not going to do much for you today.

8 thoughts on “UPDATED: The New Apple MacBook Pros: What’s With the One in the Middle?

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  2. That might be the case, and I might have been recalling the previous-previous Intel CPUs.
    One thing I can’t fathom is the fact that Intel’s roadmap reveals the next generation of Core 2 CPUs will be released within 6 months.

  3. 37,

    No, the previous cache was also 1:1. It may be that the Penryn’s have a smarter caching algorithm, however.

  4. IYou should notice that the L2 Cache is now at 1:1 speed with the cores. If my memory served correctly, the L2 cache was at half speed with the cores.

  5. The difference in the VideRAM going from 256MB to 512 alone is a reason why i will upgrade after just one year with my MacBookPro. If you are a videoProfessional (3D and Motion Graphics) doubling the amount of VideoRAM will macke a hugh difference in Aplles Motion and programs such as Cinema 4D .. and thats the market the MacBooks Pros are aimed at..

  6. 37,

    You are right. And Apple’s getting sneaky on me.

    Here I was all proud of myself for noticing they no longer ship a remote, and I didn’t notice they (well, Intel) lowered the cache on the base model by 25% (it used to be 4MB). All the new MacBooks have 3MB as well.

    I suspect the new Penryns with 3MB cache probably do as well as the older processors with 4MB, but going to 6MB could be a very nice boost. Clearly, part of the $450 delta I mention isn’t just for a .1GHz clock speed increase. Now I’m even more anxious to see benchmarks on these things.

    I don’t see the different hard drive specs you mention. The middle comes with a 250 5400 and can be upgraded to a 200 7200. The base comes with a 200 5400 and can be upgraded to the other two.

  7. $1,999 MacBook Pro comes with Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz with 3MB L2 Cache
    $2,499 MacBook Pro comes with Intel Core 2 Duo 2.5GHz with 6MB L2 Cache

    the more the cache, the better the performance. I’ve tested HD rendering on Intel Core 2 Duo with 2MB vs 4MB Cache. The difference is worth the money for me.

    So, I’d say you need to take a look at the specs closer.

    In addition to that the hard-drive specs are different between the two 15-inch models.
    I’d personally get the 7200RPM one.

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