What's the same

Although the 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pros include Intel's new Core i5 or Core i7 mobile processors, the 13-inch MacBook Pro continues to use the Core 2 Duo line of processors. In the 13-inch size, Apple offers a 2.4GHz dual-core processor in the £999 model, and a 2.66GHz dual-core processor in the £1249 model. Each has 3MB on-chip L2 cache shared between the two cores.

Some users have wondered why Apple decided to stick with Core 2 Duo processors instead of using the new Intel Core i3 in the 13-inch line. Although one could cynically speculate that it's designed to 'cripple' the low-end MacBook Pro with old technology to force people to spend more, it seems more likely that Apple didn't want to use the Intel HD integrated graphics that such a move would require (the 15- and 17-inch models include Intel HD graphics, but have dedicated Nvidia graphics processors as well).

Both models now include 4GB of 1066MHz DDR3 RAM, and support a max of 8GB (previously, the MacBook Pro only came with 2GB). Just as before, there are two USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire 800 port, a Mini DisplayPort graphics connection, a Gigabit ethernet port, 802.11n and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR wireless technology, an SD card slot, a full-sized backlit keyboard, an 8x slot-loading dual-layer DVD SuperDrive, built-in stereo speakers (which sound quite good), a single port for audio in and out (including support for digital output), and a built-in iSight camera. The new models include 250GB or 320GB 5400-rpm hard drive (up from 160GB or 250GB drive, respectively, at the same speeds).

These MacBook Pros use the same LED-backlit 1280-by-800 pixel glossy display as the previous models (there are no antiglare or high-resolution display options, as there are on the 15- and 17-inch models). The display are very bright, and the viewing angle is respectable in the horizontal direction, but not that great vertically, you really need to adjust the angle of the display to achieve optimum viewing.

New 13-inch MacBook Pro: Speedmark scores

The Macworld Lab performed its standard bevy of tests on these new models, and compared them to the previous generation of 13-inch MacBook Pro, the new 2.4GHz 15-inch MacBook Pro, and the 13-inch unibody MacBook.

Speedmark scores

In our Speedmark 6 suite, the new models scored 118 for the 2.4GHz model and 126 for the 2.66GHz model (compared with 107 and 123 for the previous generation, respectively, and 112 for the MacBook), the difference due, mostly, to the improved frame rate scores thanks to the Nvidia 320M graphics.

Other tests showed rather negligible deltas, with the new models generally doing slightly better than their same-price counterparts from 2009. The one big anomaly was our Compressor test on the 2.4GHz 2010 13-inch MacBook Pro, which took longer to complete than even the white MacBook. And in our folder duplication and Parallels WordBench 6 multi-task tests, the old higher-end 13-inch model beat even the new model with a faster processor by a little bit.

In some hands-on testing running Adobe Photoshop CS3 and CS4 and Aperture 3, I found even the 2.4GHz model to be adequate. And while running Windows XP in Parallels Desktop 4, encoding an HD MKV file for Apple TV using VideoMonkey, and playing a streaming Netflix TV show episode in Safari simultaneously (with the computer sitting flat on a desk), the back of the MacBook Pro got warm where the battery is, but not uncomfortably so. After running for about 15 minutes, the max external temperature (at the very back, near the serial number) was 107 degrees as measured by an infrared temperature device used to monitor HVAC systems in our office.

OUR VERDICT

If you already have the previous 13-inch MacBook Pro, there's not a lot of reason to upgrade unless you simply must have the newest version of everything. The changes to the 13-inch lineup are mostly about improved graphics and battery life, and they aren't all that different from the year before, and it's somewhat hard to justify the £1249 model based only on its larger hard drive and slightly faster processor, which didn't translate to much difference in our tests.

To get the most from the new generation of MacBook Pros, you'll need to step up to the larger sizes, which take advantage of the i5 and i7 processors and their own graphics improvements. Still, at 4.5 pounds and less than 9 inches deep, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is the most portable Pro model available, and for many users the small weight and size make up for the somewhat limited (comparatively) performance.

And the new models create a wider gap between the 13-inch MacBook Pros and the like-sized, £816 MacBook. Starting at £180 more than the MacBook, you get a faster processor, an aluminum enclosure, a FireWire port (of the 800 variety), twice the standard RAM, Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics, a built-in SD card reader, a backlit keyboard, a longer-lasting battery and a trackpad that supports inertial scrolling.