Can't decide on a Macbook Pro for engineering

Discussion in 'MacBook Pro' started by smc333, Jan 28, 2010.

  1. smc333 macrumors regular

    Jan 24, 2010
    Boston, MA
    Hi everyone,

    I'm an engineering student, halfway through my first year, and I am absolutely fed up with this Dell Studio XPS (esp. the 1366x768 resolution). So I'm planning on buying a new Macbook Pro as soon as tomorrow night.

    Now, my budget is not unlimited, but I have the money to spend a reasonable amount, so I've lined up a few questions.

    Is the 13" 1280x800 good enough? I can stand to loose some of the horizontal and gain some vertical, though ideally the 15" at 1440x900 is a better fit.

    What are the advantages of getting the 2.66GHz w/9600 model? How much of a bump is that really? And how portable is the 15" model?

    (I do have a netbook with Linux so I won't be carrying it around with me all the time).

    With the student discount, I can probably afford the 2.66 model, but I'm just wondering how beneficial it really is.

    I can't wait any longer for a refresh at this point, this Dell has gone to hell in a handbasket.

  2. thejadedmonkey macrumors 604


    May 28, 2005
    Well steve, the 13" Macbook or Macbook Pro isn't going to provide you with a better resolution. The dock generally takes up more space then the task bar, so if anything (even with the 40 extra pixels of horizontal height) it would be about the same.

    You'd need to get the 15" or 17" one if you want a higher resolution.

    The base 15" model is going to have integrated graphics. Not good. You'll want to look at the 15" with the nvidia graphics, which will run you $2000. There's no way around it if you want power and a large screen.
  3. PAC88 macrumors 6502

    Apr 23, 2009
    if you don't like your current resolution than I don't think the 13" will be much of an improvement. I would probably recommend the base 15" w/ 9400 gpu.. There is no real world difference between 2.53 and 2.66. If you want a big jump in resolution then, the 17" would be the best coming from what you have.. maybe get a refurbished 17". It's portable enough if you have a desk to set it on in class. I see people with 17" mbp all the time at my school and they don't even look that big.
  4. nStyle macrumors 65816

    Dec 6, 2009
    Not true... the base is not integrated... it is an nvidia as well... I think what you are thinking of is the dual-gpu... where one is in use to save power and the other is used when it is necessary.

    What font is that in your sig?
  5. Azathoth macrumors 6502a

    Sep 16, 2009
    If you find 1366*768 woefully inadequate, how do you expect 1280x800 to be better? It's like those engineering students that calculate resistor values to 5 significant figures...

    If you play games then the discrete gfx is useful. For pretty much anything else I would go for a standard 2.53GHz 15". Almost no engineering SW will use much graphics power.

    BTW due to Apple's driver problems in Bootcamp, the discrete (high power) gfx card is always-on in Windows, so you'll get quite a bit poorer batt life, if you plan to dualboot.
  6. Bill Gates macrumors 68020

    Bill Gates

    Jun 21, 2006
    The base model does have integrated graphics, but it is a powerful enough chip that it is suitable for a large swath of potential MBP buyers.
  7. Dan73 macrumors 6502a

    Jul 30, 2009
    ...9400M is an integrated chip...
  8. Gabriel GR macrumors 6502a

    Gabriel GR

    Jul 12, 2009
    Athens, Greece
    If you have to design stuff the only mbp I can recommend you is the 17.

    Most of my tasks are text related (queries, code, reports etc) so the 13" suits me perfectly, although I have an external screen too.
  9. wesrk macrumors 6502a

    Nov 4, 2007
    if you are doing extensive graphic design or will do in the future, get the one of the higher 15", if portability is not of your concern, get the 17". If you are in things such as civil engineering or something that does not need a lot of graphic power, follow the advice below.

  10. smc333 thread starter macrumors regular

    Jan 24, 2010
    Boston, MA
    Thanks for the responses. I will probably move the purchase to Saturday.

    My theory on why 1280x800 was better is because on this 16:9, I could sacrifice some screen width in the name of height. I've used 1280x800 on another person's PC and it felt like a better resolution.

    Having said that, I think you guys have convinced me to go for the 15". I do have a 1080p 23" monitor that I may be bringing up, but honestly, I'd rather not have to deal with an external monitor etc...

    17" seems too big, and out of my price range. But I used 1440x900 extensively on a desktop computer in the past and it worked out very well for me. I was able to run a lot of CAD and other software well on it, and in some sense, there wasn't too much wasted space doing day to day tasks like there can be on 1920x1080.

    So I think I'll probably jump at a 15" model, now its just a matter of which one.

    I realize that the 2.66GHz CPU isn't any significant speed or performance increase, so that's purely down to the fact of the 9600GT + 9400M vs just the 9400M. Am I correct in saying the 9400M uses system RAM? Also, I plan to walk to the Boylston, MA Apple store to purchase the machine (I can't have anything expensive/major shipped here, so I need a pre-built Apple configuration.

    Honestly, I'd love the 2.66 model, it seems to be a better value when you add the larger HDD (will run a Bootcamp partition), plus the 9600GT. I'd really love the $2100 model for the 500GB and added cache, but that's probably not an option.

    So any thoughts about this?

    Thanks for all the help so far.
  11. ammusk macrumors regular

    Oct 20, 2009
    Hello Steve,

    I'm a engineering grad student too, using a 15" MBP (Early 2008 2.4Ghz).

    Here are my thoughts:

    15" is almost perfect for me. It's not too big or small. I use MATLAB most of the time and the screen size and it's resolution 1440x900 isn't a shortcoming for me.

    17" may be better for movies and photography. But since you're strapped for cash, 15" is the best way to go.

    2.66Ghz or 2.8Ghz is not much of a difference. It's just 140 Mhz faster. Why pay more? Your reasoning is right.

    If you're not in desperate need of a laptop right now, I strongly urge you to wait a few weeks because a MBP refresh is due. . The current models will drop 15-25% in price too.

    And most important of all, have fun with your MBP.

    PS: Don't forget to buy Apple Care if you plan on using your MBP for a few years.
  12. smc333 thread starter macrumors regular

    Jan 24, 2010
    Boston, MA
    Thanks for the response.

    So I think you're totally right about the screen resolution. 1440x900 is a great compromise between a portable screen and a usable resolution. Like I've said I've used it before and it was great to me then. 1920x1080 on a 17" is probably too small for me. I'm glad to see that another engineering student has experienced and likes this resolution.

    So the only reason a processor bump makes sense is the 2.8 GHz. The 2.66 offers only clock speed, negligible at best, though the 2.8 has the cache.

    So basically I just don't know if I want the 2.66 for the 9600GT or if the 2.53 with a 9400M will be enough (I'm thinking it is). I can always upgrade the hard drive if needed.

    So I'd like to wait, but this Dell has pretty much served me as long as I can bare. I was disappointed that no refresh occurred, but on another token, these are still great machines, so I may have fun.

    And isn't it true that students get a 3 year warranty without the service?
  13. m85476585 macrumors 65816

    Feb 26, 2008
    The cache increase will also be negligible in terms of performance. It might make some calculations faster, but it probably isn't worth it. The 2.66 is about 5% faster than the 2.53, so it is almost definitely not worth it.

    15" is a good size, and 1440x900 is a good resolution. 15" can be a bit too big to carry, but it's not that bad. It's too bad Apple doesn't make a 15" 1650x1050 or similar, though. Matlab is fine but slow. Visual Studio is OK. Quartus is kind of cramped. I have a 22" 1650x1050 monitor if I need more space, but usually I just leave it hooked up to my desktop and run all my Windows-only software there, instead of in bootcamp. I set my dock to be on the left side and autohide to get more vertical space.

    The 9400 is good enough for just about anything except gaming. It shares system RAM, but if you upgrade to 4gb or more, you will be fine. You should consider 6-8gb of RAM if you want to run virtualization with any kind of engineering software.

    You will want to dedicate about 30-40GB to bootcamp if you install Win7, and maybe 20-30 for XP. Or more, depending on what you want to put on the bootcamp partition.

    You have to buy Applecare if you want the 3 year warranty. If you buy it, you get full tech support, replacement parts, and service, like everyone else.

    I'm sorry to hear you don't like the Dell. That model is one of my top choices if for some reason I needed a new laptop that's not a Mac (for example, if this one dies, the new ones don't have expresscard or eSATA).
  14. ebowen macrumors newbie

    Jan 9, 2010
    loose vs. lose

    Engineering students should know the difference between loose & lose.
  15. miles01110 macrumors Core


    Jul 24, 2006
    The Ivory Tower (I'm not coming down)
    Depending on the programs you use, I don't really understand why you're getting a Mac. Pretty much every industry-standard engineering app I can think of (at least for Mech/E) runs either better or "only" on Windows.
  16. smc333 thread starter macrumors regular

    Jan 24, 2010
    Boston, MA
    Thanks for responding.

    I see what you're saying, and it makes a lot of sense.

    So you're telling me I won't see much of a benefit from the 9600GT in my applications (I use an Xbox 360 to game), which is good, meaning the 9400M is going to do the job. That right there saves me a decent amount of money.

    This Dell has a 500GB hard drive, and I'm sitting here seeing 418/438 free. I don't use that much hard drive space, so I don't think that 250GB is going to be limiting, even with my Windows partition.

    I thought I would like the Dell. Realistically though, it's a plastic, smudgy, hot running machine with a bad screen resolution.

    Nah. We're too busy doing Multivariable Calculus, Electromagnetic Physics, and Linear Algebra.

    I need a better display, and the Mac has one of the best I know. Additionally, most of our software runs on Mac, and we SSH into Linux terminals to do a lot of the work. I'm keeping a small Windows partition to run Windows ENG software I may need.

    Thanks for the help guys, and I may be leaning back toward the $1599 model now. Keep the replies coming, planning on purchasing this tomorrow.
  17. xxplosive1984 macrumors regular

    Jun 7, 2009
    Dallas, TX
    Was this really necessary? :rolleyes:
  18. m85476585 macrumors 65816

    Feb 26, 2008
    The 9600 might have some benefit if you do CAD, but I don't have any experience with that. It would also have some benefit if you are doing highly parallel computations optimized and compiled for the GPU, but that might be more CS than engineering. I think Matlab can be made to do some computation on the GPU, but only for specific functions, and the program has to be complied and run a special way. When I looked into it, it didn't seem practical for 99% of Matlab computations.

    You should still consider a larger/faster hard drive, just to increase the overall speed of the computer. A 7200RPM drive will be faster, as will a larger drive because of higher data density. You can always upgrade it yourself, later.

    The MBP will run just as hot, and it might feel hotter because the aluminum case conducts heat well (into your lap). I have mine sitting on a bunch of square aluminum tubing cut in 1 foot sections and bolted together, which keeps the CPU 10 degrees cooler with no extra fans.
  19. Jaro65 macrumors 68040


    Mar 27, 2009
    Seattle, WA
    But they don't. They do know a difference between a polynomial and exponential equations though. And I do not mean to offend, since I'm an engineer too.
  20. wesrk macrumors 6502a

    Nov 4, 2007
    Speak for yourself, we do know the difference. It pains me to see when people make those mistakes. I grade a lot of papers and I constantly see "then" instead of "than" for example, and I keep telling students that they should know better, I do, and English is not my native language.
  21. smc333 thread starter macrumors regular

    Jan 24, 2010
    Boston, MA
    Thanks. It seems everyone is telling me the 9600GT really isn't as necessary as I thought. Which is true, I've run CAD software on a GMA 950, and while it was far from great, a 9400M affords me over 4x the performance of the 950.

    This Dell has a notorious problem with heat, I doubt the MBP would be anything close to it.

    I think it does make sense to go for the base model now, though. If I don't need the additional GPU power, I might as well save money. Plus it gives me better battery life on Windows, since the machine is forced to use the 9600GT on Windows.

    Though I'm wondering if 250GB is really enough? I need to buy it in the store, for another $250 I do get the 9600 GPU and another 70GB. I'm not interested in disassembling a brand new computer to upgrade.

    Oh, and on the grammar, that's the ONE single mistake I constantly make. I'm a fanatic about your and you're, and their, there, and they're. I did get a 760 on SAT writing, so cut me some slack guys.

    Thanks for the help so far.:apple:
  22. m85476585 macrumors 65816

    Feb 26, 2008
    250gb is probably enough. It's really not hard to upgrade the hard drive if you want to in the future. It's at least designed to be upgraded, unlike the older models.

    The new MBP's, especially the 13" really do run hot. 90C for the CPU is normal under heavy load. It is completely safe/normal, but you will probably see a few threads a week about it here.
  23. Harmless Abuse macrumors regular

    Mar 21, 2008
    That's WHY you know better.

    English isn't my native language either. Because it wasn't my native language, I was taught a very formal version of the English language instead of something more casual.

    When being taught English from a different language, you learn about grammar a lot more than a native speaker, who assumes things sound good because they didn't have to study it so closely when they were 2 years old and really starting to speak.

    Besides, you don't have to have perfect grammar to be an engineer, just great with math and physics. I'm also an engineering student!

    To the OP - Go with what your budget can afford. Is there a way you can buy refurbished and have it shipped home for you to go pick up? Or are you out of state.
  24. Jaro65 macrumors 68040


    Mar 27, 2009
    Seattle, WA
    You know the difference and I know the difference, but not everybody else does. This, obviously, doesn't have much to do with eng'g. It pains me too to see people use "your" instead of "you're", "loose" instead of "lose", etc., etc. I do not mind when people highlight an incorrect usage every now and then, as it is really an opportunity to learn. What's really not to like about that?

    But then again, we're getting into semantics rather than contributing to the OP's thread.
  25. ryannazaretian macrumors 6502a


    Sep 21, 2008
    I would not recommend a MacBook Pro if you have any reason to run Windows because of a non-OSX program.

    The BootCamp experience for me has been pretty bad. Also, in my experience, the OSX engineering programs such as Matlab or Mathematica don't work very well. In fact, the version's (Matlab 2008b, Mathematica 7.0) I have won't work on Snow Leopard, and I had to roll back to Leopard, but again, they don't work very well, and talk a while to load. They're just not made for OSX.

    More on the BootCamp. An hour and a half of battery life is pretty bad for a college student. It requires them to be close to a power outlet almost all the time. Also, BootCamp froze up on me a lot before the BootCamp 3.1 update and a motherboard replacement. I haven't had it freeze again, but that doesn't mean it's not going to happen. Trackpad is awful to use in Window, so you would have to have a mouse around to even use Windows for a lot of engineering applications such as AutoCad which requires the use of actual buttons and the ability to scroll or press the middle mouse button. It's a pain to use most of the time. Plus the 1440x900 screen is unbearable for any type of multitasking. Too low of a resolution. I often need to have two windows side by side, and there isn't enough screen to do this adequately.

    Do yourself a favor and get a PC. I do not recommend Dell, HP, Compaq, Gateway, or Acer. Asus seems to have a pretty good reputation right now, as well as Toshiba. Sony is ok as well, but I have not been impressed with Sony.

    I'm in Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering.

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