Grad student to buy 2012 13" or 2011 15"

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by willmer, Jun 11, 2012.

  1. willmer macrumors newbie

    Jun 11, 2012
    After seeing the lackluster improvements to the 13 in MBP, I am now trying to figure out whether I should go with a new 13 in or an old 15. Here's what I'll be doing with my MBP.

    I'm a graduate student in the biological sciences so I will be using the macbook for:
    • Writing
    • Reading Papers
    • Editing Microscope photos with Photoshop
    • Managing large amounts of data with Excel (1000 data points for 10-20 groups)
    • Creating figures and graphs with Illustrator
    I would like to keep it for the rest of my time in graduate school (3-5 years) so I'm sure I'll want to upgrade the memory later when its cheaper and put in a larger SSD when they are also cheaper.

    Since I work for a university, I have access to their tech store which may allow me to purchase a brand new 2011 15 in MBP at a discount (TBD) as they bring in the new 2012 models. I would like to keep my budget under $1500, hopefully nearer to 1200. I currently plan on getting the 2012 13" MBP ($1099) with an added SSD (+$100) and apple care ($249) for a total of $1448. But given the superior CPU in the 2011 15", I am thinking about getting a refurbished or new model.

    If I got the 2011 model, what would be the cost to upgrade the RAM from 4 GB to 8GB and what would be an estimate to put in a SSD (128 or 256 GB)?


    • 2012 13" vs 2011 15" - which one?
    • cost of upgrading 15" ?
  2. spacepower7, Jun 11, 2012
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2012

    spacepower7 macrumors 68000

    May 6, 2004
    My question for you is how often do you need to be portable? If you have one or two main places of use, you could buy 2 decent external monitors, one at home and one at your school office? Something like that? For $300 for both LCDs.

    When I was in grad school I disliked using excel on a MacBook 1280x800 screen. At home I was always plugged in to a dell 24" 1920x1200 LCD. If I had a dedicated office on campus (do you?) I would have bought a cheap external 22" LCD and would have been content with the MacBook 13".

    If you don't have a dedicated workplace on campus, maybe the 15" MBP or 13" MBA would work better.

    Short answer, I want to see the most excel cells as possible!

    You want the most pixels in the places you use your computer most often. If 80% or more ( random % I picked) is at home and a place you can trust the safety of your own LCD, get the 13" and 2 screens = more productivity.


    The ram upgrade for the 2011 15" from 4 to 8 GB is less than $60

    SSD prices fluctuate but Mac compatibility and track record are more important than being cheap.

    I'm not 100% sure but the apps you listed won't currently see much of a difference in performance of the CPUs, a SSD may have a greater impact on some processing.
  3. willmer thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jun 11, 2012
    I do indeed have my own office and I haven't tried out a second monitor yet with my laptop but that sounds like it would provide a solution. Most of my heavy work will be done when I'm at work. The most I would do at home is doing measurements using a Wacom tablet and entering it into my spreadsheets.

    I was thinking that the 2011 15" quad core might be significantly better than the 2012 13" dual core, but it might not be needed. I'm not sure what my PhD thesis project will have in store for me so I would like to have some extra room if possible (and affordable) in case I need a computer with more resources in the future.
  4. FrankHahn macrumors 6502a

    May 17, 2011
    If you could afford a retina MacBook Pro, I would suggest to go with a retina MacBook Pro in consideration that you do photos; otherwise, 2012 13" may be a better choice since it has up-to-date technology and is of high mobility in comparison with the 2011 15".
  5. Ulysses12 macrumors newbie

    Aug 24, 2011
    The mobility is a good point, but the late 2011 15" is still fairly up to date technology. Plus, it has discrete graphics.
  6. Mr. Retrofire macrumors 603

    Mr. Retrofire

    Mar 2, 2010
    The new 15" Non-Retina version has a HD 4000 IGP, Ivy Bridge processor, USB 3.0, free upgrade to Mountain Lion (much faster than Lion), FW800, Thunderbolt, Gigabit-Ethernet, CD/DVD drive and much more. All for 1,699.00 US$:

    Regarding SSD upgrades:
    I heard good things about Samsung SSDs.

    Regarding RAM upgrades:
    I heard good things about Kingston, Samsung and Crucial (not Corsair). I use this Kit from Kingston. My next RAM upgrade (Sandy Bridge-not Ivy Bridge, be careful!) will be the M471B1G73AH0-CH9 (2 x) from Samsung. Corsair RAM is an option, but i heard enough horror stories (overheating), so i do not buy this (cheaper) brand.
  7. willmer thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jun 11, 2012
    A new 15" is out of the question as I can't afford it. Personally, I see little difference in the 13" vs the 15" for portability since I'm usually stuffing it into my backpack and carting to and from work. The weight difference is also less of an issue. It really comes down to any differences in the processing power and the slight difference in display size for when I won't be hooked up to an external monitor.

    By the way, what is the significance/meaning of a discrete GPU? I saw people commenting on how the 15" has one.

    Would both the 2012 13" and the 2011 15" give me the ability to upgrade the RAM and HD if I wanted? I know the 2011 do, but I have heard mixed thoughts on the 2012 models and the ability to add/modify hardware.
  8. Mr. Retrofire macrumors 603

    Mr. Retrofire

    Mar 2, 2010
    Only the retina-model (15") is like the MacBook Air. All other Mid-2012 models have upgradeable standard (cheaper than non-standard) components, such as RAM & HDD/SSD (like in the Early-2011 and Late-2011).

    The discrete GPU is good for games, CAD-software and some scientific tasks (specialized programs). Many open source and closed source (Adobe et cetera) video filters use the GPU. I use a video denoiser (FFT3DGPU) under Windows, which uses the GPU. It is roughly 2x-3x faster than the same filter/algorithm on a dual-core Sandy Bridge CPU.

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