2011 is my upgrade year for the “main machine.” I had been spending a while trying to figure out the best fit between performance and portability, and had settled on the $2,199 15″ MacBook Pro. But I ended up going with the $700 cheaper 13″ model and investing less than half the savings in some great custom additions:
At the end of the day, I have:
- 2011 Unibody 13.3″ MacBook Pro
- Dual core i7 “Sandy Bridge” – 2.7GHz, up to 3.4GHz turbo mode, hyperthreading, on-chip integrated graphics (outperforms my 3-year-old discrete GPU, which was more than I needed)
- 128GB Crucial C300 SATA 6Gbps SSD (solid state drive). (Crucial announced a new model the week after I installed it, grr!)
- 8GB Corsair 1333MHz DDR3 RAM
- MCE OptiBay hard drive bay (replaces waste-of-space DVD drive with original 500GB SATA hard drive)
I came in almost $300 under my originally planned purchase, and got the added benefits of a more portable system and a blazing-fast SSD. I simply cannot believe how much of a difference the SSD makes; I’d guess that many people would feel like their old computers were brand-new if they installed an SSD. My system boots in mere seconds, and almost all applications load instantaneously. (Big ones like Photoshop take a couple of seconds.) I was really happy that I could get rid of the DVD drive and keep my capacious media drive with me with the MCE OptiBay (though it has pretty bad shock protection and a couple of big screws that hopefully aren’t digging into the unibody’s lid.)
The only hard part is getting used to the glass-covered 1280×800 screen. There is no matte option for the 13.3″, and it’s sheer marketing evil that Apple offers better resolution on the 13.3″ MacBook Air while forcing Pro buyers up a price notch to the 15.4″ to benefit from a high-res display. The glass covering the display is… interesting. Yes, it has more vibrant colors, but it also has terrible glare, and is also a major fingerprint magnet to boot.
So I’m pretty happy with it, all things considered. I’m very surprised with just how much performance can be squeezed into a 13.3″ package- except for the requisite screen size difference, this is a no-compromise high-performance device suited to be my only PC, and it’s under 5 pounds and an inch thick. I feel like instead of paying more for a V8 BMW, I bought a cheap little Honda Civic and gave it a killer turbo while keeping the weight low.
For others looking for a new computer, I recommend:
- If you don’t run CPU-intensive tasks like media encoding or gaming, consider just throwing an SSD into your current system instead
- If you think you need the specs of a more expensive model, compare its marginal cost with that of upgrading a cheaper one.