Mac Musings

The MacBook Pro Core 2 Value Equation

Daniel Knight - 2006.10.25, revised

Apple gave the MacBook Pro line a significant update yesterday. The new models have Intel's Core 2 Duo CPU, higher clock speeds, twice as much RAM standard, a higher memory ceiling (3 GB vs. 2 GB), a faster SuperDrive that also adds dual-layer burning, and bigger hard drives - all with no change in price.

In addition to that, the 15" MacBook Pro gains one feature sorely missed on the earlier version, a FireWire 800 port.

Between faster CPUs and the more efficient Core 2 design, Apple is claiming up to 39% more processing power for the new MacBook Pros.

The 15" models ship this week, and the 17" will ship next week.

15" MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo

As before, there are two versions of the 15" Core 2 model. The low-end 2.16 GHz model has 1 GB of RAM, a 120 GB hard drive, and a 6x dual-layer SuperDrive for US$1,999. The high-end 2.33 GHz model ships with 2 GB of RAM, and both can be expanded to a maximum of 3 GB of RAM. It sells for US$2,499. (The RAM alone is worth over $100 of the price difference.)

As options, Apple offers a 160 GB 5400 rpm hard drive and a 200 GB 4200 rpm one.

17" MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo

The 17" 'Book has a 2.33 GHz Core 2 Duo CPU, 2 GB of RAM (3 GB max.), a 160 GB hard drive, and an 8x dual-layer SuperDrive as the 15" 'Books. The price remains the same at US$2,799.

Hard drive options include speed (100 GB 7200 rpm) and capacity (200 GB 4200 rpm).

New vs. Close-out Value

Tuesday morning, only the Apple Store has the new models listed, and nobody had yet discounted the Core Duo models. But by late afternoon, they were weighing in with close-out prices. These from MacMall are typical:

Apple claims "up to 39%" more processing power for the new models, but the real world improvement based on faster CPU speed and benchmarks of Windows Core 2 models is probably a 15-20% overall improvement.

We can readily compare the 2.16 GHz Core Duo model with the 2.16 GHz Core 2 MacBook Pro. For the $100 difference (or no difference if you buy from someone with a $100 rebate, such as MacMall), you get a 10% more efficient CPU, a bigger hard drive, a faster SuperDrive that burns dual-layer DVDs, and a FireWire 800 port. No brainer: The Core 2 is the better value.

On the low end, the 2.0 GHz Core Duo model has a barely adequate 512 MB of RAM, a smaller hard drive, and a slower SuperDrive when compared to the entry-level Core 2 model. Add $52 to bring the Core Duo to RAM parity, and you're only saving $150-250 compared to the new model. With roughly 15% more power and all the other improvements, it's also a no brainer. Bang for the buck, go Core 2.

Looking at the 17" MacBook Pro, we have a faster, more efficient CPU - about 15-20% more real world processing power for $300 difference in price. That works out to about a 7% difference in price, and MacMall's $150 rebate cuts that in half.

Only if you're absolutely interested in the lowest price does it make any sense to buy the close-out Core Duo MacBook Pros at these prices. But if you want the best price, you need to look at refurbs.

Apple Refurb Value

These are Apple's best prices on refurbished MacBook Pro Core Duo models:

Now we're seeing realistic prices. The 2.0 GHz Core Duo model saves you $450 compared to buying the new 2.16 GHz Core 2 model and a $100 rebate. That's a 22% saving for about 15% less speed - or closer to 19% if you upgrade to 1 GB of RAM. A good value.

The 15" 2.16 GHz Core Duo model is just 10% more and includes the 1 GB of RAM you really want these days. It's $300 less than the 2.16 GHz Core 2 model (after rebate). That's 15% less money for a 5-10% slower machine. No FireWire 800. A smaller hard drive. A slower SuperDrive. "Only" 1 GB of RAM (2 GB on the 2.33 GHz MacBook Pro is luxurious). But a good value - and only $100 more than a refurbished 2.0 GHz Core Duo plus 512 MB of RAM.

At the top, the new 17" 2.33 GHz MacBook Pro is just $2,649 after rebate, but the refurbished 2.16 GHz Core Duo sells for $450 less. That's 17% less money for 15% less speed, a slightly smaller hard drive, half the RAM, and a slightly slower SuperDrive.

It's less clear-cut when you factor in rebates. I'd say the value of the Core 2 model is slightly better, primarily because it comes with a luxurious 2 GB of RAM. But the close-out Core Duo model is a pretty good value as well.

Best Values

I'm torn between the two new 15" models. An 8% clock speed difference isn't a big deal, and the additional RAM costs just $115 on the open market, making it hard to justify the $500 price premium. The $385 difference (after a RAM upgrade) is hard to justify for just 8% more horsepower.

So among the new models, the entry-level 15" MacBook Pro is the better value.

For those looking primarily at value, not raw computing power, the refurb price on the close-out 2.0 GHz and 2.16 GHz 15" MacBook Pros have a lot to offer at very attractive prices. A better value than the Core 2? Hard to say, but definitely a comparable value.

On the top end, a refurb 17" MacBook Pro for $2,199 is a very good value, especially if you're not a power user. The new Core 2 model is a slightly better value if you can take advantage of the extra processing power - working with video quite a bit, for instance.

Overall, Apple has done the best job pricing refurbished close-out Macs ever, providing roughly equal value at all levels.