The Late 2011 MacBook Pro Value Equation

On Monday, Apple updated the MacBook Pro (MBP) line with faster processors (CPUs) across the board, along with higher capacity hard drives and better graphics processors (GPUs) on some models with no change in pricing.

Granted, these are not huge speed bumps, ranging from a high of 10% to a bit under 4%, but in every case you are getting more computing power at the same retail price as the Early 2011 models offered. (Of course, those models are now being discounted, where inventory remains, which may make them a better value – the whole point of this article).

Other than processor speed, hard drive capacity, and graphics processors, the hardware appears to be identical to the Early 2011 models, which means they can run Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard if you need to or want to.

Not all dealers list all the new models at present, and most do not yet have inventory, but that should change in coming days.

13″ MacBook Pro

The Late 2011 13″ MacBook Pro comes in two models: the base 2.4 GHz dual-core i5 with 4 GB of system memory (RAM) and a 500 GB 5400 rpm hard drive, and a more powerful 2.8 GHz dual-core i7 version with a 750 GB hard drive. These replace the 2.3 GHz i5-powered Early 2011 13-incher with a 320 GB hard drive and the 2.7 GHz i7 model with a 500 GB hard drive.

13 inch MacBook ProIt’s a shame Apple hasn’t seen fit to offer the same 13.3″ 1440 x 900 display found in the Mid 2011 MacBook Air either as a standard feature or a build-to-order option, instead sticking with the tried-and-true 1280 x 800 display used in every 13.3″ MacBook model since the first one shipped in May 2006. Of course, 1440 x 900 is the same resolution as the 15″ MBP, and I’m sure Apple doesn’t want to cut into sales of the more expensive (and more profitable and more powerful quad-core) model. Maybe we’ll get a higher resolution display in the next revision of the 13″ MBP.

The entry-level MacBook Pro has a 4.3% faster CPU, which should make a barely perceptible difference, along with fifty-some percent more hard drive space. The better model gets an even less impressive 3.7% speed bump, along with a 50% bigger hard drive. In terms of value, I’d peg the faster speed as worth about $50, and the same for the larger hard drive.

Current best prices for the low-end 13-incher are $1,094 for the 2.3 GHz Early 2011 and $1,174 for the 2.4 GHz Late 2011 model. With just $80 difference between the two, it’s a toss-up unless you really need more than 320 GB of hard drive space but not more than 500 GB, in which case you should choose the Late 2011 version.

On the top-end model, the 2.7 GHz Early 2011 is going for $1,390, while the 2.8 GHz Late 2011 will set you back $1,464 – an even closer $74 price difference. I’d give a very slight edge to the newer model, but if a 500 GB drive will satisfy you, the value of the close-out Early 2011 edition is excellent.

15″ MacBook Pro

The larger MacBook Pros come with more powerful quad-core i7 CPUs, so despite having lower clock speeds than the 13″ MBP, they are vastly more powerful. The Late 2011 15″ MacBook Pro comes in a 2.2 GHz model (500 GB hard drive, Radeon HD 6750M graphics with 512 MB of video memory) and a 2.4 GHz one (750 GB hard drive, 6770M graphics with 1 GB). These replace the 2.0 GHz (320 GB, Radeon HD 6490M graphics with 256 MB) and 2.2 GHz (500 GB, 6750M graphics with 1 GB).

15 inch MacBook ProWe see the biggest speed bump on the 15″ MBP with this round of upgrades – 10% more speed at the entry level and 9% more on the faster version.

Build-to-order options include a higher resolution 1680 x 1050 display (add $100), larger hard drives or solid state drives (SSDs), and a 2.5 GHz CPU upgrade for the 2.4 GHz model ($250).

The best current prices for the 15″ Late 2011 MacBook Pro are $1,754 for the 2.2 GHz model, $2,144 for 2.4 GHz, and $2,449 for the 2.5 GHz build-to-order model. Close-out prices on the Early 2011 version are $1,594 for the 2.0 GHz model and $1,994 for 2.2 GHz.

On a $2,000 computer, let’s say the 10% more speed is worth $200, and the larger hard drives perhaps $50. It’s more difficult to place a value on a better graphics card and double the video memory, but let’s say $50 there as well. On the entry-level model, you save $160 with the close-out model. If your budget is tight, I certainly wouldn’t recommend against it, but the new 2.2 GHz model offers more value.

Going to the faster edition, the price difference drops to $150. With a slightly faster processor, a slightly better graphics processor, and 250 GB more drive space, the new 2.4 GHz model represents a much better value, especially since the new 2.2 GHz 15-incher offers almost everything the Early 2011 2.2 GHz one has at $240 less, making it the value champion.

17″ MacBook Pro

17" MacBook ProLike the top-end 15-incher, the Late 2011 17″ MacBook Pro also gets a 9% speed boost over the Early 2011 version. The hard drive is 50% more spacious, and the Radeon HD 6770M graphics is a step up from the 6750M used in the older model. With a $2,500 computer, let’s say the speed is worth $225, with another $75 for the larger drive and improved graphics, for a $300 total.

Today’s best price on the new 2.4 GHz model is $2,434, and you can get the 2.2 GHz model on close-out for $2,259 – a saving of $175. The speed difference alone has that much value, so unless you need a 17-incher and can’t stretch the budget far enough, the Late 2011 version is the one to go for. Not that you won’t be satisfied with a 9% slower model and an extra $175 in your pocket!

What About Refurbs?

Apple’s best values are almost always in refurbished units, hardware sent back from customers or retail stores, tested and certified before being reboxed and resold with the same warranty as a new-in-box machine. Several members of our writing staff have been very happy with Apple Certified Refurbished equipment, and we’ve been using them at Low End Mac headquarters since 2003.

13″ MacBook Pro

You can buy the new entry-level 13″ MBP for $1,174, the close-out Early 2011 for $1,094, or an Apple refurbished one for $929 – $175 less than close-out price and $245 below the best current price for the newest model. We pegged the value of the difference between the Early and Late 2011 versions at roughly $100, so the refurb wins hands down for value. For $245, you can boost system memory to 8 GB (not from Apple, however), swap in a 1 TB hard drive, and still have money left.

With the faster model, it’s $1,464 for the Late 2011, $1,390 for a new-in-box Early 2011, and just $1,189 for certified refurbished. Save $275 for a less than 4% difference in processing power, and you can afford to double system memory and drop in a huge hard drive with money to spare.

15″ MacBook Pro

Want a steal on a 15″ MacBook Pro, which many consider to be the ideal sized notebook? Look no further than the 2.0 GHz quad-core i7 Early 2011 model selling for $1,359 refurbished. That saves you $395 compared to the best price on the new 2.2 GHz model, again leaving plenty of money to double memory (even at Apple’s prices) and upgrade to a higher capacity hard drive.

Need more power? The 2.2 GHz Early 2011 version sells for $1,699 refurbished, which only saves you $50 over the Late 2011 model at the same speed, but you’re getting twice as much video memory. Granted, it’s not a huge price difference, but if you can benefit from having 1 GB of video memory vs. 512 MB, this is a good (but not great) value.

17″ MacBook Pro

You can pay $2,434 for the latest 2.4 GHz 17-incher, $2,259 for the 2.2 GHz Early 2011 on one close-out, or a mere $1,949 for a factory refurb 2.2 GHz. That’s a saving of $485 vs. the new model, which is enough to cover a 12 GB memory upgrade (say from OWC, since Apple only goes as high as 8 GB) and a faster or higher capacity hard drive.

Overall, refurbs offer excellent value for the budget-conscious. Those drawn to the ultimate speed will always want the latest and greatest (and most expensive), but for those with more low-end needs, refurbs merit you attention – but be aware that inventory may be limited.

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