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What are the differences between the "Mid-2010" 13-Inch, 15-Inch, and 17-Inch MacBook Pro models? Which is best for my needs?
Please note that all models mentioned in this Q&A have been discontinued. The "Mid-2010" MacBook Pro line was replaced by the "Early 2011" line on February 24, 2011.
If one merely takes a quick look at the "Mid-2010" 13-Inch, 15-Inch, and 17-Inch MacBook Pro models one would be unlikely to notice major differences apart from the obvious variation in size and weight.
Naturally, the 13-Inch models -- the MacBook Pro "Core 2 Duo" 2.4 13-Inch and "Core 2 Duo" 2.66 13-Inch -- are smaller and lighter than the 15-Inch models -- the MacBook Pro "Core i5" 2.4 15-Inch, "Core i5" 2.53 15-Inch, and "Core i7" 2.66 15-Inch -- which in turn are smaller and lighter than the MacBook Pro "Core i5" 2.53 17-Inch.
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc.
All of these models have a black and silver "Unibody" case -- milled from a single block of aluminum -- and all have a backlit keyboard, a "no button" glass multi-touch trackpad with support for new "inertial scrolling" -- which Apple describes as an "intuitive way to scroll through large photo libraries, lengthy documents and long web sites" -- and have LED-backlit displays.
By default, each display has a glossy finish. However, the 15-Inch models also are offered with a high-resolution 1680x1050 display in either a glossy or anti-glare finish for an additional US$100 or US$150, respectively, and the 17-Inch model is available with an anti-glare display at the same 1920x1200 resolution as a US$50 upgrade. As a minor point of differentiation, the anti-glare configurations have a silver "frame" around the display rather than a black one.
All have a built-in non-swappable battery design, and this battery is not designed to be removed or serviced by end users, just like the battery in the earlier "Mid-2009" MacBook Pro line. Some users still may not like the idea of not officially being able to replace the battery themselves, although it still is possible with a bit of effort, and as the 13-Inch models provide as much as 10 hours of battery life and the 15-Inch and 17-Inch models as much as 8-9 hours of battery life, it seems doubtful that many would be interested in "swapping" in a second battery for additional runtime when away from an outlet. Even on a long flight, eight hours of continuous use probably is about as much as any user would need.
Connectivity between the 13-Inch, 15-Inch, and 17-Inch systems is a major point of product differentiation. All of these models include AirPort Extreme (802.11a/b/g/n), Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, Gigabit Ethernet, a single Firewire "800" port, and a "Mini DisplayPort" that supports an external display at 2560x1600. The Mini DisplayPort also passes an audio signal, so it possible to use a Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter without the need for a second USB adapter for audio when connected to a device that supports audio via HDMI (like an HDTV).
However, the 15-Inch and 17-Inch models have optical digital/analog audio in/out and the 13-Inch does not -- it lacks optical audio in and instead has the same "combined optical digital output/headphone out (user-selectable analog audio line in)" port used by the iPhone. The 13-Inch and 15-Inch models have an SD card slot, whereas the 17-Inch has an ExpressCard/34 expansion slot instead. The 17-Inch model also has three USB 2.0 ports and the 13-Inch and 15-Inch models only have two.
Externally, the "Mid-2010" line unfortunately uses the same model numbers as several other MacBook Pro models and EMC numbers are not listed externally at all, so they only can be externally differentiated by the last three or four characters of the serial number -- the last three characters for 13-Inch and 15-Inch models and the last four characters for the 17-Inch models -- courtesy of EveryMac.com's Ultimate Mac Lookup feature.
In software, the 13-Inch, 15-Inch and 17-Inch models can be identified by the model identifiers MacBookPro7,1, MacBookPro6,2 and MacBookPro6,1, respectively. When model identifiers are combined with processor speed, it is possible to pinpoint the exact model (but these identifiers are not available if the system will not boot).
Internally, there are huge differences between the "Mid-2010" models, particularly between the entry-level 13-Inch models and the higher-end 15-Inch and 17-Inch models. All support the same 8 GB of 1066 MHz DDR3 SDRAM (PC3-8500), support 3 Gb/s Serial ATA hard drives, and have an 8X DL "SuperDrive".
Otherwise, these models are internally completely different. The 13-Inch models use slower 45 nm "Penryn" Intel Core 2 Duo processors with a 3 MB on chip level 2 cache shared between the two independent processor cores and a 1066 MHz system bus.
The 15-Inch and 17-Inch models, on the other hand, use significantly faster 32 nm "Arrandale" Intel Core i5 or i7 processors that have a dedicated 256k level 2 cache for each of two cores, a 3 MB or 4 MB level 3 cache, and a 2.5 GT/s "Direct Media Interface" in lieu of the traditional system bus. The 15-Inch and 17-Inch systems also support "Turbo Boost" -- which "automatically boosts the processor speed based on workload" up to 3.33 GHz on the fastest configurations -- and "Hyper Threading" -- which allows the system to recognize four "virtual cores" or "threads." These architecture improvements contribute to a substantial difference in performance.
Additionally, the 13-Inch models have slower NVIDIA GeForce 320M "integrated" graphics that share 256 MB of memory with the system whereas the 15-Inch and 17-Inch models have dual graphics systems -- NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M with 256 MB or 512 MB of dedicated GDDR3 memory and integrated Intel HD Graphics with 256 MB of memory shared with the system. The 15-Inch and 17-Inch models also automatically switch between graphics processors depending on use. For example, if one is typing a document or listening to music, then the system uses the Intel HD Graphics to conserve battery life and it only kicks the dedicated graphics card into gear when it is needed for graphics intensive tasks such as gaming or 3D animation (any application that uses OpenGL or Core Graphics among other technologies).
The major differences between the 13-Inch, 15-Inch, and 17-Inch "Mid-2010" MacBook Pro models -- size, display, battery life, connectivity, processor type and speed, and graphics -- as well as configuration and price -- are summarized below:
|2.4 13"||2.66 13"||2.4 15"||2.53 15"||2.66 15"||2.53 17"|
|Processor:||P8600 (C2D)||P8800 (C2D)||I5-520M (i5)||I5-540M (i5)||I7-620M* (i7)||I5-540M* (i5)|
|Speed:||2.4 GHz||2.66 GHz||2.4 GHz||2.53 GHz||2.66 GHz*||2.53 GHz*|
|TurboBoost:||No||No||2.93 GHz||3.06 GHz||3.33 GHz*||3.06 GHz*|
|L2 Cache:||3 MB||3 MB||256k (x2)||256k (x2)||256k (x2)||256k (x2)|
|L3 Cache:||None||None||3 MB||3 MB||4 MB||3 MB|
|Drive:||250 GB||320 GB||320 GB||500 GB||500 GB||500 GB|
|Optical:||8X DL||8X DL||8X DL||8X DL||8X DL||8X DL|
|Std RAM:||4 GB||4 GB||4 GB||4 GB||4 GB||4 GB|
|GDDR3:||No||No||256 MB||256 MB**||512 MB**||512 MB**|
|Batt Life:||10 Hours||10 Hours||8-9 Hours||8-9 Hours||8-9 Hours||8-9 Hours|
|Weight:||4.5 lbs||4.5 lbs||5.5 lbs||5.5 lbs||5.5 lbs||6.6 lbs|
* Starting October 20, 2010, the MacBook Pro "Core i7" 2.66 15-Inch also is available via custom configuration with a 2.8 GHz Core i7 (I7-640M) for an additional US$200. This custom processor supports "Turbo Boost" up to 3.46 GHz. When introduced on April 13, 2010, the MacBook Pro "Core i5" 2.53 17-Inch also was available via custom configuration with a 2.66 GHz Core i7 (I7-620M) processor for an additional US$200. On October 20, 2010, Apple kept the original custom configuration option and added a 2.8 GHz Core i7 (I7-640M) upgrade option for an extra US$400.
** These models have a NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M with 256 MB or 512 MB of dedicated GDDR3 memory and integrated Intel HD Graphics with 256 MB of memory shared with the system.
† The 13-Inch models lack optical audio in and instead use the same "combined optical digital output/headphone out (user-selectable analog audio line in)" port as the iPhone.
†† The 15-Inch models also are offered with a high-resolution 1680x1050 display in either a glossy or anti-glare finish for an additional US$100 or US$150, respectively, and the 17-Inch model is available with an anti-glare display at the same 1920x1200 resolution as a US$50 upgrade.
§ Dimensions provided in inches, while each system is in the "closed" position.
So, which "Mid-2010" MacBook Pro is best for my needs?
Please note that this answer was written when the "Mid-2010" MacBook Pro line was current. However, it still may be of "historical" interest as well as of use for one considering a "Mid-2010" MacBook Pro on the used market.
To determine which MacBook Pro is best for your needs, it is necessary to first decide what aspect of the purchase is most important to you. If price is most important, buy the least expensive MacBook Pro "Core 2 Duo" 2.4 13-Inch model (or consider an even less expensive MacBook or a used MacBook Pro model). If performance is most important, and price is not critical and you still need a notebook rather than a desktop Mac, purchase the MacBook Pro "Core i7" 2.66 15-Inch or the MacBook Pro "Core i5" 2.53 17-Inch custom configured with a 2.8 GHz "Core i7" processor (and you always can upgrade these models with more RAM and/or an SSD after purchase to further improve performance). If performance and price are critical, the mid-level MacBook Pro "Core i5" 2.4 15-Inch is perhaps the best option as it offers more performance than the 13-Inch models but at a lower price than its higher-end siblings.
If compact size or battery life are most important, the MacBook Pro "Core 2 Duo" 2.4 13-Inch and "Core 2 Duo" 2.66 13-Inch models are the ones to consider, with the entry-level MacBook Pro "Core 2 Duo" 2.4 13-Inch trading a modest reduction in speed and hard drive capacity for a US$300 lower price tag. You also may wish to consider a "thin and light" MacBook Air model if size and weight are your highest priority. If compact size and performance are priorities, then you will have to make the difficult decision between the smaller MacBook Pro "Core 2 Duo" 2.66 13-Inch, perhaps configured with more RAM and a faster hard drive or SSD after purchase, and the larger, but considerably higher performing MacBook Pro "Core i5" 2.4 15-Inch.
If you want the largest screen available, the most connectivity and/or the only model with an ExpressCard/34 slot, then the MacBook Pro "Core i5" 2.53 17-Inch is your only choice. If the ExpressCard/34 slot isn't critical, and you want something more compact, you also could consider a 15-Inch model custom configured with a high-resolution 1680x1050 display for US$100 over the standard price. If optical audio in or a display with a matte finish is important, the 15-Inch and 17-Inch models are the options available to you. Likewise, if an SD card slot is important -- or at least more important than an ExpressCard/34 slot -- the 13-Inch and 15-Inch models are the models to consider.
Ultimately, only you can decide which "Mid-2010" MacBook Pro is best for your needs, but by evaluating what aspect of the purchase is most important to you and the options available you can make an excellent choice.
Site sponsor PowerMax has new and used configurations of the MacBook Pro models available free of sales tax and OWC sells memory and hard drive/SSD upgrades for the "Mid-2010" MacBook Pro models for substantially less than what Apple charges.
Please refer to EveryMac.com's Ultimate Mac Comparison feature to dynamically compare any MacBook or MacBook Pro model to any other G3 or later Mac.