13-inch Apple MacBook Pro £1299
10th Jul 2012 | 15:48
The 2012 refresh gives Apple's most portable MacBook Pros an exciting upgrade
Apple upgraded its entire range of notebooks with the mid-2012 refresh. Although the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display has grabbed most of the headlines, the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro shouldn't be overlooked.
The two new 2012 13-inch MacBook Pros retain the same form factor used by the previous generation, which was released in late 2011. Once again, we get a unibody enclosure milled from a single block of aluminium. This is far stronger and lighter than if it were built from separate parts.
The LED backlit screen is the same as before, as is the 720p FaceTime camera that sits above it. Just the thing for video calls. Apple's famous backlit keyboard is retained too. When the light dims, the keys are automatically lit to aid typing. You can dim this backlight if it's too strong, or switch it off altogether if (for example) you're watching a movie.
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But although from the outside they look exactly the same as before, the 2012 13-inch MacBook Pros offer significant improvements over the 2011 laptops under the hood.
The processors have been upgraded. Although the speed bump is very small - 0.1GHz on each model - the new CPUs are Ivy Bridge chips, the third generation of Intel's Core i series. These processors have significantly better integrated graphics than their late 2011 predecessors.
Since the 13-inch MacBook Pros' logic board is too small to house a discrete graphics processor, this is a very important upgrade.
The top-of-the-range 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display made a few sacrifices for the sake of portability, losing its optical drive to make it lighter, dropping a couple of connectivity ports that were too big for the ultra-thin body and swapping the hard drive for solid state storage to reduce both bulk and weight.
But the two new 13-inch MacBook Pro models stay faithful to the regular MacBook Pro design. The 8x SuperDrive for reading and burning CDs and DVDs is retained, as are the FireWire 800 and Gigabit Ethernet ports.
The single Thunderbolt port introduced last year is also retained, as is the SDXC card reader. Once again, the 13-inch MacBook Pros have two USB ports, but these are now USB 3.0. Storage is still via a hard disk drive, at least in the standard, off-the-shelf computers.
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The cheaper of the two 13-inch MacBook Pros costs the same as before; this entry-level 2.5GHz MacBook Pro is still £999 in the UK or $1,199 in the US. The pricier 13-inch 2.9GHz MacBook Pro has actually got a little cheaper, selling for £1,249 or $1,499.
Like all Macs, the new MacBook Pros come supplied with the latest version of OS X, which at the time of writing is 10.7 Lion. If you buy before the release of its successor Mountain Lion, which is due in July 2012, you can claim a free upgrade.
Apple's acclaimed iLife suite is also included; edit your videos with iMovie, make music with GarageBand and organise your digital photographs in iPhoto.
Both models in the mid-2012 MacBook Pro refresh have dual core Ivy Bridge processors. The cheaper of the two uses a 2.5GHz Intel Core i5. The higher-end version has a 2.9GHz Core i7, the fastest dual core mobile processor currently available.
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Like all current MacBook Pro processors, they have a Turbo Boost feature for extra speed. When processing needs are high, underused resources are reallocated so the CPU can temporarily exceed its stated clock speed, subject to temperature and power considerations. Under Turbo Boost, the processors can reach 3.1GHz and 3.6GHz respectively. Unfortunately, the Apple online store offers no processor upgrade options for the 13-inch MacBook Pros.
Another feature common to all current MacBook Pro processors is Hyper-Threading. This enables two threads to run on each of the processor's two cores, giving a total of four virtual cores. This means tasks can be spread more evenly, so applications can process data much faster.
The new Ivy Bridge processor's integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 chipset is around 60% more powerful than the old Intel HD Graphics 3000 used by the Sandy Bridge processors. Visuals are smoother and faster than before, and it's very power-efficient, so it won't run down your battery.
Faster onboard memory has been used across the 2012 MacBook Pro range. The new models, including the 13-inch MacBook Pros, use 1600MHz DDR3 memory instead of the 1333MHz RAM used in the previous generation. The more expensive 13-inch model has 8GB of RAM out of the box, with the cheaper version having 4GB, which you can upgrade to 8GB for an extra £80/$100 if you buy on the Apple Online Store.
Unlike the Retina display MacBook Pro, the regular MacBook Pros have user-serviceable RAM, so you can fit your own after purchase if you wish.
The standard 13-inch MacBook Pros offer 500GB and 750GB hard drives, respectively. These are fairly slow, at 5400rpm. If you want something faster or more capricious, you can upgrade on the Apple Online Store. The cheaper model can be boosted to 750GB as a custom option, and the more expensive version to 1TB. Alternatively, you can install a solid state drive of 128GB, 256GB or 512GB on either 13-inch MacBook Pro.
Although connectivity options are largely the same as the previous generation of 13-inch MacBook Pros, the step up to USB 3.0 is extremely welcome - and perhaps overdue.
The built-in 63.5 Watt-hour lithium-polymer battery lasts for around seven hours of wireless internet use. That's enough to go a whole day between recharges.
The 13-inch MacBook Pros measure 2.41 x 32.5 x 22.7cm (0.95 x 12.75 x 8.94 inches), and weigh 2.06kg (4.5lbs), so they're significantly more portable than their 15-inch stablemates.
We put the entry-level £999/$1,199 13-inch MacBook Pro to the test, and it fared very well. The new integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 chipset certainly proved its worth, which is very important, since the 13-inch notebook doesn't have a discrete GPU.
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In our gaming tests, Doom 3 ran at 87.8fps, and the more recent Call of Duty 4 at 64.6fps. To put this in perspective, the more expensive of last year's 13-inch MacBook Pros, a 2.8GHz Core i7, only managed 70.9fps and 46fps, respectively. This year's entry-level MacBook Pro comprehensively beat a model that cost considerably more and is less than a year old.
The take-up of USB 3.0 in Windows PCs has been very fast, much faster than Thunderbolt has caught on with Mac peripheral producers. This means add-on devices such as external hard drives and flash drives are extremely common.
Super-speed USB debuts on the Mac with the 2012 notebook refresh, and very welcome it is too. USB 3.0 can carry up to 4.8GB/s, which is 10 times faster than USB 2.0's 480MB/s. It's backwards-compatible with the older USB standard, so your USB 2.0 peripherals still work with the new MacBook Pros.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro's two USB ports are both USB 3.0, unlike many PC notebooks, which offer a mix of USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports.
The 13-inch laptops are inevitably the most portable of the MacBook Pro range. Although not as light and slim as a MacBook Air, at under an inch thick and a little over two kilograms, you can carry it around all day without straining your back. If you want a very portable machine but with more configurability and storage than a MacBook Air, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is ideal.
In operation, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is very quiet, and it rarely gets too warm, unless you're really maxing out the processor. But audio quality is merely average, especially compared to the 15-inch models.
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Music played through the 13-inch notebook speakers sounds tired and lifeless, with little bass or depth. To be fair, laptops are never noted for audio reproduction, especially the smaller ones, but if you want to use your 13-inch MacBook Pro to listen to music on the move, it's best to buy a pair of USB speakers to go with it.
Like all Macs, the new 13-inch MacBook Pros come supplied with the latest version of OS X and the iLife suite. As we mentioned before, new Macs purchased before the release of OS X Mountain Lion get a free upgrade.
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A glance at the 13-inch MacBook Pro and its stats might lead you to believe the mid-2012 refresh is a very minor speed bump. You'd be wrong.
Although both the £999/$1,199 notebook's 2.5GHz dual core Intel Core i5 and the £1,249/$1,499 model's 2.9GHz dual core Intel Core i7 are only 0.1GHz quicker than those used in the previous generation, the step up from second-generation Sandy Bridge to third-generation Ivy Bridge chips brings benefits of its own.
The Intel HD Graphics 4000 integrated graphics chipset is up to 60 per cent more powerful than the Intel HD Graphics 3000 chipset used in the last generation's processors, and USB 3.0 makes its Mac debut with the 2012 notebook refresh.
The improved integrated graphics are especially welcome considering the 13-inch notebook is too small to support a discrete graphics processor. Speedier RAM is appreciated too, as are the new USB 3.0 ports.
The 2012 13-inch MacBook Pro is full of those little touches that make MacBooks so desirable. The keyboard is backlit for easy typing in low light conditions, and the unibody build, whereby the casing of the MacBook Pro is milled from a single block of aluminium, makes the notebook strong and light.
The screen is very good, with rich, vibrant colours and great viewing angles, and although not as light and thin as a MacBook Air, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is very portable.
Although a discrete graphics chip was never on the cards, if graphical power is important to you, its absence is definitely a consideration. Upgrade options for those who buy on the Apple Online Store are very sparse. You can add more memory to the entry-level model and upgrade the hard drive in either 13-inch MacBook Pro, but that's it. There's no opportunity to pick a faster processor, for example.
It's a pity the entry-level model only uses a Core i5 too, instead of the more powerful Core i7 processors used in the rest of the MacBook Pro range.
The mid-2012 MacBook Pro is a formidable machine. Like the 15-inch models, the refresh sees it take a significant - if unremarkable - step forwards. The new processors and their improved graphical capabilities give the new releases a considerable power boost over their predecessors, and the USB 3.0 ports makes available a wealth of already-released high-speed storage peripherals.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro is ideal for those who need a little more configurability and storage than the MacBook Air can offer, but also need a very portable machine.
Creative professionals and gaming enthusiasts might be better off with the bigger screen and better graphical capabilities of the 15-inch MacBook Pros, but the 13-inch notebooks are ideal for some users. Students, for example, will welcome their portability as they haul their MacBooks to lectures, and also their sizeable hard drives for storing music and movies as well as work. Just remember to invest in external speakers.