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12/30/2007
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What's better for a business Mac notebook: MacBook or MacBook Pro?

Its not easy to decide which notebook Mac to buy. The three main models  the 13.3-inch MacBook, the 15-inch MacBook Pro, and the 17-inch MacBook Pro  offer a variety of tradeoffs, not just in the essential aspect of screen size, but in their different options.

Its not easy to decide which notebook Mac to buy. The three main models  the 13.3-inch MacBook, the 15-inch MacBook Pro, and the 17-inch MacBook Pro  offer a variety of tradeoffs, not just in the essential aspect of screen size, but in their different options.In this post, Im going to talk about how to choose a Mac notebook for the typical business user, who needs to carry a laptop for telecommuting or for business travel, or who just prefers to have a notebook instead of a desktop Mac.

My recommendations may not fit business users who have specialized requirements, like those who are using Macs as portable multimedia recording studios. The assumption is that the MacBook or MacBook Pro will be the users primary business computer, vs. an adjunct to a separate desktop iMac or Mac Pro.

But first, to screen size. Thats the most important consideration, given that it dictates both the physical size of the notebook and its cost. Heres my own opinion:

 13.3-inch Macbook: The 1280x800-pixel screen is too small for people to use, except on airplanes and hotel rooms. If the user will have a decent-sized external to use as a primary display, the 5.0-pound notebook is deal for hauling around by frequent travelers.

 15-inch MacBook Pro: The 1680x1050-pixel display is good for everyday use. This model hits the sweet spot: Big enough screen to work on, but small and light enough (5.4 pounds) to carry around.

 17-inch MacBook Pro: The 1920x1200-pixel display is gorgeous, but the laptop is too big and heavy (6.8 pounds) for frequent travelers. Its too big for airplanes, for example. Only buy this expensive notebook for workers who truly need to carry around such a huge display, or for executive who will never carry it anywhere but insist on having a notebook. Everyone else will love using it but will hate carrying it.

Beyond that, there are very few fundamental differences between the MacBook and MacBook Pro.

 The MacBook can drive up to a 24-inch (1920x1200 pixels) monitor, but cant support an external 30-inch (2560x1600 pixels) monitor. The MacBook Pro can. Only you can tell if that's important.

 The MacBook Pro has a FireWire 800 port; the MacBook does not. For most users, this is not an important difference.

 The MacBook Pro models come with expansion slots, but nobody uses them. (There are other minor tech spec variations under the hood, but they dont affect the typical business user at all.)

For most business users, also, the slowest available processor speed is more than adequate. For the MacBook and 15-inch MacBook Pro, thats the 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor. For the 17-inch MacBook Pro, its the 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor. With all machines, get a minimum of 2GB RAM. If the user will be running a Windows virtual machine under Parallels or VMWare, get 4GB RAM.

What about hard drive? For notebooks, my recommendation is the biggest fast hard drive available. In this case, fast refers to the rotation speed of the disk. Notebook hard drives generally come in two speeds, 5400 RPM and 7200 RPM. Apple doesnt offer all speeds for all models. The faster disk speed will make a noticeable different in overall system performance.

 MacBook: Get the 250GB 5400 RPM drive; theres currently no 7200 RPM option.

 MacBook Pro: Get the 200GB 7200 RPM drive, instead of the 250GB 5400 RPM drive, unless the user truly needs the extra 50GB of space.

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