A high-end 13", or low-end 15"? Which one to buy?

Discussion in 'MacBook Pro' started by Cubytus, Feb 17, 2012.


Which model should I buy? Please explain briefly.

  1. 13", dual-core 2.8GHz i7

    10 vote(s)
  2. 15", quad-core 2.2GHz i7

    41 vote(s)
  3. Another option (please explain briefly)

    1 vote(s)
  1. Cubytus, Feb 17, 2012
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2012

    Cubytus macrumors 65816

    Mar 2, 2007
    Hi, MR community,

    I'm about to sell my mid-2010 13" MBP, and will need to replace it on the same day. I got it as a replacement for a "lemon" mid-2008 unibody MacBook that failed repeatedly despite being repaired multiple times.

    Currently, I have a hard time choosing between 2.8GHz dual-core i7 13", and 2.2GHz quad-core i7, 15".
    I intend to upgrade it immediately with 8GB from OWC, and replace the internal HDD with a much smaller, but much faster SSD, also from OWC, as I read Apple's SSD performance wasn't necessarily top-end. An Apple Care service will also be bought.

    Both are within expected budget, although with upgrades, the 15" may start to become a bit expensive.

    Expected use: as the current MSc project is over, I don't expect to start a PhD immediately. Hence, I don't think I will be doing heavy 3D work tommorow, but it may happen, eventually. However, I do occasionally use a Windows virtual machine *sigh* that needs to have DirectX installed, even when the target application doesn't use 3D at all (Windows logic!). Plus, I sometimes crack WPA2 keys, and read that GPU-accelerated cracking was orders of magnitude faster with a CUDA-compatible GPU, making the difference between "virtually invulnerable", and "reasonably openable". I also regularly have to use a Windows XP virtual machine just to manage my Nokia E5 phone, and, rarely, burn video DVDs since the functionality is broken in OS X.

    I can't speak about future use, but the last upgrades I did on the machine I'm selling were all about speed and reactivity. I tend to leave many windows open at the same time, hence the 8GB upgrade. From time to time, this is insufficient as I still manage to hit swap space. In fact, if I couldn't sell it, I seriously thought about installing a high-performance platter-drive inside, or an SSD.

    I also really like to be able to sit about anywhere I can find a seat, not necessarily looking for a power outlet, thanks to the ~6h30 real runtime battery (optimistically rated 10h in 2010). Plus, I tend to haul my computer everywhere at all times, as well as its charger and longer cord (just in case).

    I never found myself really constrained by the smaller screen estate, thanks to Spaces, except on those very rare times I found time to watch a movie (grad students forfeiting any free time in echange for knowledge). Also, glare wasn't a real issue most of the time. In bright light and while wearing a white shirt, reflection in the screen sometimes distracted me, but really, was a non-issue the vast majority of times. Plus, the rare times I encode DVD movies, I found myself quite satisfied with the Core 2 Duo performance.

    It may also be important to note that, I learned the hard way that a house, appartment or shelter may be hard or too expensive to come by, hence, my link to the civilized world must be very reliable (Apple's laptops usually are) and not rely on external devices too much, hence me hauling it almost everywhere and keeping a strong padlock on hand.

    Expected serious issue: no Rosetta means no native driver support for my scanner, which performs flawlessly and fast. However, despite being utmost "un-Apple" (install from command line, X11 required, cluttered interface), I managed to install XSANE through MacPorts and get a scan. Some options aren't available, such as 200dpi resolution.

    Current issues with the MacBook Pro (mid-2010) are:
    Integrated storage space is tight, the 250GB HDD being filled to ~85%, thanks to large music collection, photos, various caches...
    If I install a SSD, it likely won't be larger since it would already cost about $300, and current issue won't be solved.
    If I instead choose a high-performance platter HDD, space will double, but performance may take a small hit (although not allowing the system to self-defragment in the current set-up, in itself, lowers performance).

    As much as iTunes is a heavy beast, once launched, it takes almost no CPU to play music, hence performance hit is minimal. I wouldn't be happy to have to find an additional spot for a fragile external HDD and its cable whenever I want to listen to music on the go.

    Thus, what is your experience, either with the present 13", 2.8Ghz i7, and 15", 2.2 GHz i7, in regards to battery life, flexibility, portability? Were you able to revert one of these two to Snow Leopard?

    More importantly, as I don't expect to switch computers each year, but rather when the Apple Care coverage expires or when an exceptional feature comes out, which model would fit the bill?
  2. AntJon82 macrumors member


    Feb 3, 2009
  3. ZZ Bottom macrumors 6502a

    Apr 14, 2010
    Wirelessly posted (Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; CPU iPhone OS 5_0_1 like Mac OS X) AppleWebKit/534.46 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/5.1 Mobile/9A405 Safari/7534.48.3)

    Um as a 2011 13" user I'm always quick to defend its abilities, but you sound like you'll actually benefit from the quad core and GPU more than most posters looking for similar advice. Neither machines offer ultra-portability, so what's 1 lb. extra when you get so much more power.

    If your looking to save money, I have found other retailers to be more competitive than OWC; newegg.com for example.

    BTW you will not have the benefit of CUDA with either machine.
  4. Cubytus thread starter macrumors 65816

    Mar 2, 2007
    CUDA is not compatible with the dedicated GPU in the 15"??
  5. throAU, Feb 17, 2012
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2012

    throAU macrumors 603


    Feb 13, 2012
    Perth, Western Australia
    I own a 15" - the deal breaker for me on the 13" was 1280x800 screen resolution. It's just not enough.

    If that is good enough for you, then fair enough.

    Also bear in mind that anti-glare will be useful if you plan on using the machine outside, and that is not available on the airs or on the 13" pro.

    I suspect that the 15" will be more future proof also, being quad core.

    It's just a fair bit less portable, but was a tradeoff i was willing to make (I ended up with a glossy hi-res - I wanted hires but didn't want to give up edge to edge glass for ability to easily clean).

    Also if you want half decent battery life, you WILL need gfxcardstatus installed on the 15". The AMD radeon KILLS battery (like, down from 6-8 hrs to 1.5-3 hrs doing the same tasks).

    When streaming sound cloud over the wireless and general browsing, i can get a solid 5.5 hrs out of my 15" Pro on integrated GPU. If i'm just browsing without streaming/playing music, that can go out to 8 hrs or so.

    Turn on the discrete GPU and you need to find a power outlet pretty quick - with the GPU turned on its more of a portable desktop...
  6. Zwhaler macrumors 604


    Jun 10, 2006
    The 15" is not a low end machine. You will have a great user experience on the quad core, and the difference in screen size provides extra luxury when using virtually every application from web browsing to word documents... 15" 2010 MBP owner here.
  7. rockyroad55 macrumors 601


    Jul 14, 2010
    Phila, PA
    He's referring to the low end 15" as in the cheaper one of the two main configurations not low in relation to the 13".
  8. ixodes macrumors 601


    Jan 11, 2012
    Pacific Coast, USA
    The 15" will fill your needs quite nicely on most tasks. While it will run Windows, depending on what kind of experience you're used to, Win 7 on a Mac is not without it's compromises, a search of this forum will be worth the effort. You can then decide for yourself.

    I'm using a 15" mid 2010 i7 / 8GB / 512GB SSD / hi-res MBP. Doing a variety of scientific, resource intense work in both OS X & Win 7, the compromises such as elevated temps & noisy fans, impact my workflow. When needed I use my identically configured, workstation class HP laptop, which runs faster & much cooler.
  9. maflynn Moderator


    Staff Member

    May 3, 2009
    I vote for the 15" for you needs now and the near future
  10. Bear macrumors G3

    Jul 23, 2002
    Sol III - Terra
    From what you said, it sounds like you'd be happier with the 15" model.

    First, any parts you upgrade with non-Apple parts you need to save the Apple parts for AppleCare service. Especially if the unit needs to be replaced.

    Things to consider on the 15" do you want the higher resolution screen or the antiglare screen?

    As for the disk, depending on prices, getting the 7200 RPM 750GB disk from Apple could be cost effective. I know disk prices are still fluctuating. And if for some reason you decide to go with the higher end 15" model, the disk upgrade is only $50 from Apple.
  11. Cubytus thread starter macrumors 65816

    Mar 2, 2007
    How could I be "more happy" with a quad-core and strong GPU? I'm not using anything near high-power or high-graphics apps.


  12. NutsNGum macrumors 68030


    Jul 30, 2010
    Glasgow, Scotland
    Surely then, you've just answered your own question.
  13. snaky69 macrumors 603

    Mar 14, 2008
    CUDA is a proprietary nVidia feature. The equivalent with ATI is called ATI stream, I don't know if the MBP's card can use it. And even if it can, the programs you are running must be programmed to actually use it for you to benefit from it.

    I'd lean towards the 15" myself, given your information.
  14. Cubytus thread starter macrumors 65816

    Mar 2, 2007
    hi, community,

    I just bought it. A 13", since portability was more important than raw power.
    I also thought about my typical use, where the computer can be tigthly squuezed between loads of papers, then I thought about the 15" relative lack of rigidity compared to the 13", fearing that it may break more easily.
    With a less expensive one, I reasoned I woud be able to install a bigger SSD without breaking the bank. Currently, there's 750GB installed.
    Finally, I found that, if ever I find a need for quad-core and strong GPU, I could always resell this one sooner and get the more powerful version. That way, I'm not trying to project myself in a blurry future and make hypothesis about future needs.

    I frankly had serious doubts about my decision, but ended up finding that a MBP is still a MBP, and not as limited as the Air.
  15. Cubytus thread starter macrumors 65816

    Mar 2, 2007
    More, even with promising technologies such as Grand Central Dispatch, OpenCL, or CUDA, none of them have seen any implementation yet. So more power wouldn't necessarily translate to more speed.

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