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Is The MacBook Pro Really A Better Value Than The MacBook? - Plus 'Book Mystique Mailbag

by Charles W. Moore

Last week, Dave Woodward over at startusup.com posted a blog entitled ”Why You should buy a MacBook Pro,” arguing that the professional Apple ‘Books justify their higher cost with substantively better value.

“Upon trivial inspection,” Dave observes, “one might surmise the only change the addition of the word “Pro” to the fine market-ese that is the word “MacBook” (bless you), is a change of material (MacBook == plastic, MacBook Pro = metal) and a slightly larger screen. However the differences are far greater once a person decides to look under the hood, kick the tires, and other automotive metaphors.”

For one thing, Dave notes, “the MacBook Pro (up to $155 off MSRP at Mac Prices today) has 100% more L2 Cache on faster processors from the base MacBook (up to $100 off MSRP at Mac Prices). Although the clock-speed of these processors may only be a little higher (2.33Ghz over the base MacBook at 1.83Ghz), the addition of that extra L2 Cache magnifies the increase.”

This is an excellent point. Larger L2 caches provide significantly better real-world performance that transcends nominal differences in clock speeds. For example, the Original 233 MHz PowerBook G3 Series “MainStreet” models back in 1998 had no L2 cache. When 512k of cache was added to the subsequent “PDQ” 233 MHz model, speed performing some tasks nearly doubled. Similarly, a 500 MHz G3 Pismo PowerBook with 1 MB of L2 cache outshines in certain contexts the 600 MHz or 700 MHz G3 iBook which have only 256k on-chip cache. Larger caches are a solid point in favor of the MacBook Pro over the MacBook.

Dave says: “The MacBook Pro’s also come with double the amount of RAM standard over the MacBooks, even triple the amount in the 17” MacBook Pro.”

We should note that while that is true with the base, 1.83 GHz MacBook, which comes with 512 MB of RAM (which isn’t close to being adequate, especially with the MacBook’s Intel GMA 950 “vampire video,” about which more below, bleeding off 80 MB of it), the two 2.0 GHz MacBook models come with the same 1 GB of standard RAM as the base 15” MacBook Pro does.

While one can always upgrade RAM, and the MacBook sells for substantially less than the MacBook Pro, the MacBook Pro supports up to 3 GB of RAM, while the MacBook maxes out at 2 GB. The value implications of this will depend on the amount of RAM the individual user would actually install. For example, my 17” PowerBook supports up to 2 GB, but I have only 1.5 GB installed, and am unlikely to upgrade further. However, the Intel Macs are substantially more RAM-hungry than PPC Macs, and with a MacBook I imagine I would want at least 2 GB, and it’s nice to have a bit of headroom above that.

Dave’s next point: “the MacBook’s come with a measly 13” screen with a resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels. While this resolution may work fine while editing one Word document at a time for your school book report due on Friday, it provides for a very cramped working environment when one is required to have multiple Browser windows..... Death to scrollbars!”

Screen size is a tricky issue, as it is directly related to the physical size and weight of the computer. For instance, the anticipated subcompact MacBook Pro, when/if it arrives, will likely have a smaller display than the MacBook, although likely around the same resolution. A smaller display, because it facilitates smaller bulk and weight, could be regarded as a value advantage by some users. Personally, screen size is not a deal-breaker. I’m still reasonably content working with the 1024 x 768 displays on my Pismo and iBook, although I do enjoy the wide open spaces of my 17” PowerBook’s widescreen. That said, I think I could be reasonably happy with the MacBook’s 13” screen. This will always be a subjective value-judgment for each individual. Something Dave didn’t mention is that you can get either a matte or glossy display with the MacBook Pros, while it’s glossy-only with the MacBook.

And of course, as Dave points out, you can always hook up an external monitor for desktop work, but there we encounter another distinction between the MacBook Pro and MacBook - the latter only supports external monitors with resolutions of up to 1900 x 1200 pixels - effectively a 24” flat panel display (which would be plenty enough for me and then some!), but the MacBook Pro comes with a DVI-out port and built-in Dual Link support that will take you up to a 2560 x 1600 30’ Apple Cinema Display if you so desire (and can afford!). Definitely not an issue for me, but if big monitors are your fancy, it’s something to consider.

Something Dave didn’t mention specifically is that the MacBook Pro has a real ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 graphics processing unit (GPU) with 128 MB or 256MB of dedicated GDDR3 video RAM, while the MacBook is somewhat hobbled in the video department by Intel’s kludgy Graphics Media Accelerator 950 video technology, that annexes up to 80 MB of the computer’s system RAM for video support, so not only does the MacBook support less maximum RAM, the system doesn’t get to use all of it. This cost-reducing scheme, disparagingly referred to by many as “vampire video,” also results in comparatively anaemic video performance, and is of course one of the reasons why the MacBook Pro supports larger external monitors than the MacBook. The MacBook Pro also boasts a PCIe graphics system, while the MacBook doesn’t.

Another point Dave didn’t cover in his critique is that the MacBook Pro supports ExpressCard 34 hardware expansion and the MacBook does not. Again, how important this issue is will depend on the needs - present and potential - of the individual user. I expect there are lots of PowerBooks and MacBook Pros out there with virgin CardBus/Expresscard slots, but if you need hardware expansion, the MacBook Pro is definitely your sensible choice by default.

You also get larger capacity hard drives as standard equipment, and there are other bells and whistles that come with the MacBook Pro, like the backlit keyboard and ambient light sensor, a FireWire 800 port, and an extra USB 2 port on the 17” model, that simply aren’t available on the MacBook.

So does the MacBook have any advantages other than up-front price compared with a MacBook Pro? Well, its tough, polycarbonate case could be one. Apple’s metal-skinned notebooks don’t have a particularly enviable reputation for physical ruggedness, and personally, I think polycarbonate plastic is a more practical and serviceable material for portable computer housings than metal, although the anodized aluminum units are a big improvement over the original painted Titanium PowerBook G4s.

One of the most compelling things the MacBook has in its favor is easy hard drive swaps and upgrades. Access to the MacBook Pro’s internals is somewhat nightmarish, although not as bad as with the erstwhile iBooks, which represented something of a nadir of internal accessibility.

More subjective would be a preference for black computers, in which case the top of the line MacBook is your only Apple solution. I like white or metal better aesthetically, so that one’s not compelling for me.

The bottom line is that the price difference between a roughly similarly configured MacBook (middle model white 2.0 GHz, 80GB HD, 1 GB,) and a 15” MacBook Pro (2.16 GHz, 1 GB, 120GB HD) is $700. If you want a black MacBook, the price advantage shrinks to $500. Compare prices at Mac Prices, and save potentially hundreds of dollars on a new Mac. Prices are updated daily.

If your pocketbook can stand it, I think the superior graphics support, bigger display with higher resolution, ExpressCard port, larger hard drive, and other features outlined above represent amply good value for the extra capital outlay, so Dave is right, you probably should go for a MacBook Pro.


'Book Mystique Mailbag Your U1F article
Trouble with modem in PowerBook G3 Pismo under OS X 10.4


Your U1F article

From David H Dennis

It seems odd, but if I'm grokking the specs correctly, this notebook is restricted to Windows Vista Basic thanks to its onboard "vampire video" card.

I tried to click through to the specs page to verify this, thinking that for an upmarket product there has to be some kind of mistake here, but I hit an error page and could not get past it.

Am I right about the notebook? If so it's not even competitive with a base MacBook (since that can display all of MacOS X's effects).

Hope you're well.



Hi David;

Thanks, you as well.

I haven't had much success in tracking down a definitive answer to this.

You may be right.

Asus is certainly making a big deal about their laptops' Vista support, , but I guess support for Vista Home Basic is technically Vista support, but as Microsoft themselves describe it:

"If you simply want to use your PC for tasks such as surfing the Internet, corresponding with friends and family using e-mail, or performing basic document creation and editing tasks, then Windows Vista Home Basic will deliver a safer, more reliable, and more productive computing environment."

As PC Mag's Lance Ulanoff observed:

"Windows Vista Home Basic could be the most pointless edition of Windows that Microsoft has ever released.... No one's computing needs will be fulfilled by this cut-rate version."

My guess is that the next step up Windows Home Premium would also support "vampire video" machines like the U1F, and extends the Basic feature set considerably - see: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/windowsvista/editions/choose.mspx
But what a confusing concatenation of versions!

With OS X, you get full support of all features with every current Mac (and a lot of older ones).



Trouble with modem in PowerBook G3 Pismo under OS X 10.4

From Jacek Socha

Refer to thread :



- Concretely problems with modems in PowerBooks G3 Pismo 500 MHz under Mac OS X 10.4.8 Tiger. 

Im working on the same machine (PB Pismo 500 MHz, OS X 10.4.8) and I have made modem test on it.

It has been connect without problem and it worked stably.

I have placed results of my observation (include screenshots) on macplug.org 


Problem remains else only as : I don't know it is a big difference but my PowerBook is originally G3 400 upgraded to G3 500 hz.

Maybe this infomation will be useful for some Pismo users.

I salute
Jacek Socha


Thank you for the information, Jacek.

One of these days I must get around to reinstalling Tiger on my Pismo. It has worked very reliably for over a year since I "downgraded" from OS 10.4.4 to OS 10.3.9, but I do miss Spotlight.



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