More Bang, Less Bucks for My MacBook Pro

Published in TidBITS 856 (2006-11-20)

More Bang, Less Bucks for My MacBook Pro

by Jeff Carlson <>

After patiently waiting for Apple to give the MacBook Pro line a boost, I finally ordered a new Intel Core 2 Duo-based MacBook Pro to replace my three-year-old PowerBook G4. To my astonishment, buying a new MacBook Pro cost less than what I paid for my current PowerBook. In fact, after looking over some numbers, I realized that the MacBook Pro cost less than all recent models I've ordered before it.

The configuration I chose is the high-end 15-inch model for $2,500. It includes a 2.33 GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 2 GB of memory, a 120 GB hard drive, 6x double-layer SuperDrive, and the ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 graphics card with 256 MB of RAM. Given that my PowerBook G4's 80 GB drive was almost full, I decided to spring for the build-to-order 160 GB hard drive in the MacBook Pro for an extra $100.

That was actually my first surprise. Conventional wisdom is that Apple charges a premium for such build-to-order items (like adding more memory), but the $100 fee for the 160 GB drive is less than what I could find online. If I were to buy one from a third-party vendor, I'd probably get a 160 GB Seagate Momentus 5400.3 notebook drive from for about $175 with shipping. (That's not the cheapest offering out there, but I've relied on Seagate drives for years. Expect to spend as little as $156 for an inexpensive 160 GB drive right now, with prices no doubt dropping over time.)

The next surprise? This is the first laptop in ages where I haven't needed to factor in the cost of upgrading the amount of memory. My configuration came with 2 GB of built-in RAM, which is fine for my needs right now. The MacBook Pro can support up to 3 GB of memory, but getting there is awfully expensive: you need to replace one of the 1 GB DIMMs with a 2 GB DIMM, for which Apple charges $575 through the online Apple Store. A search at dealram turns up a 2 GB DIMM for $290 through, a company with an unfortunate name but from whom I've successfully bought RAM in the past. Although I'm sure I'll move up to 3 GB at some point in the future, it's not an immediate concern, and hopefully prices will have dropped a bit by then.

In terms of other build-to-order items, I chose to keep the non-glare version of the screen (which I'm glad is still an option, versus moving all of Apple's portables to the glossy screens found on the MacBook line), and opting not to buy the $50 USB modem. I don't necessarily object to the MacBook's reflective screen - I just prefer the non-glare version I'm accustomed to.

I opted not to buy extra power adapters for the MacBook Pro. With previous PowerBooks, it's always been worth the cost to have an adapter at home, one at the office, and one in my bag. (Apple changed the physical power connector between each PowerBook model, so I've had to purchase new adapters each time.) In this case, I've decided to carry the included MagSafe adapter with me, and plug it into the power cord extensions from my existing adapters; the cord plugs into the slot on the adapter's brick that normally offers flip-out prongs. I retain the ease of having a power plug available on my desks, without shelling out $160 in extra MagSafe adapters.

So, with tax and free shipping, my total cost was $2,844.

Comparing Past PowerBooks -- Going back chronologically, my PowerBook G4/1.25 GHz model ended up costing me $3,412 with tax and shipping in 2003. That included the PowerBook itself, two power adapters, and $200 worth of RAM. Last year I also spent another $250 to bring the memory up to the PowerBook G4's full 2 GB capacity, but I'm not including that in the total.

In 2001, I bought one of the first wave of PowerBook G4 Titanium models, which set me back about $3,375 for the PowerBook, two power adapters, and one 256 MB DIMM.

And in 1998, I paid a whopping $4,114 for a PowerBook G3, two power adapters, an expansion bay Zip drive, and a copy of Virtual PC 2.0 (I'm going through old email receipts, so I don't have the breakdown of each item at hand, but I'm guessing the latter two cost about $350, leaving $3,764 with shipping).

AppleCare -- I also need to factor in one more cost: the AppleCare extended protection plan, which adds two years of coverage to the one year that comes with the machine. I usually don't go for extended warranties when buying most devices, but in the case of the laptop that goes everywhere I go, and which I rely on for my livelihood, AppleCare is essential. I've purchased AppleCare for every laptop mentioned above, and without fail I've had to send the computers back to Apple for one reason or other.

Apple charges $350 for its MacBook Pro AppleCare coverage, but you can do better at (currently $293) or TidBITS sponsor Small Dog Electronics ($299). You'll end up paying a little for shipping, but it's an item that you can add to a future order to spread out the mailing cost.

And Even More Savings -- I want to also point out that buying the MacBook Pro is saving me another $600 to $900 by removing the need to purchase a Windows PC laptop. A few years ago I bought a refurbished Dell Inspiron for $850 to use during those times when I need to test something under Windows. That machine is starting to feel a bit pokey, and a couple of projects on the horizon will demand that I run Windows.

Because I work in a handful of locations, it doesn't make sense to buy a cheap desktop PC that runs Windows, and if possible I'd rather not carry two notebooks with me. With the MacBook Pro, I don't have to, since it will run Windows under Parallels Desktop or Boot Camp. I get to work on whatever I need, wherever I am.

Buying a new computer is always a big investment, especially in my case where my laptop goes everywhere with me. But I didn't expect the actual cost for a significantly better machine to come in below my budget. That frees me up to buy other accessories (or toys) if necessary.

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