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MacBook Pro: Choosing Your Options

written by: Ace Fritzer•edited by: Michael Dougherty•updated: 10/27/2011

In this article we look at MacBook Pro models and options to help you determine the right configuration for your use. Model, processor, memory, hard drive; these are all factors that could influence your decision-making process.

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    MacBook Pro 15-inch 

    MacBook Pro is a powerful and elegant computer regardless of the configuration. It's probably safe to say that most applications are well covered with few, if any, performance upgrades. Choosing the right MacBook Pro for many of us comes down to display size and perhaps staying within our budget. Some users may have a specific purpose for their MacBook Pro that requires a certain configuration. For instance, a software program or hardware peripheral may specify certain features, ports, or minimum specs regarding the memory or processor.

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    Screen Size, Computer Size

    Screen size (display size) may be the single best starting point in choosing the right MacBook Pro specs for you. If you work with video or audio, both of which are well served by a large screen, determining your screen size is a logical first step. At the time of this article, MacBook Pro comes in three sizes; 13-inch, 15-inch, and 17-inch.

    Performance increases along with the screen size in the model family. This has often been the case with past Macintosh models as well. Our current MacBook Pro models progressively upgrade the main processor (more on this in the next section) along with the graphics processor. The 15-inch and 17-inch models have a AMD Radeon HD graphics processor in addition to the Intel HD Graphics 3000 processor. In fact, these MacBook Pro models automatically switch to the AMD Radeon HD for gaming or other graphic-intensive usage.

    Some models may offer other features critical to your usage, overriding screen size as the first consideration. In this lineup, the 17-inch has an ExpressCard/34 slot while the other models provide an SDXC slot.

    All this talk about screen size brings up another point; external monitor interface capabilities. These MacBook Pro models provide for an external monitor connection through the Thunderbolt port, which is also a super fast peripheral interface. Thunderbolt connects to USB, FireWire, Ethernet, DVI, HDMI, VGA, or DisplayPort by using adapters. A Mini DisplayPort, or the Apple Thunderbolt Display, can connect directly to the Thunderbolt port. Some older adapters may work to convert to Mini Display port. In other situations you may need to order something more specific. Check compatibility for your particular peripherals to be sure how they will work.

    To sum up screen size, let's list out a few considerations:

    • Portability - How important is the ease of portability to your travel needs?
    • Physical screen size - Will you use an external monitor as needed or mostly use the MacBook Pro built-in display?
    • Model specifics - Is there an inherent advantage to choosing one model size over another in order to include other performance enhancements or features?
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    What’s My Power Usage?

    Performance considerations from "under-the-hood" are processor, memory, hard drive and graphics processor. What's the number of cores? What's the processor speed? Does it have Intel® Hyper-Threading technology or other performance boosting functions? Does your primary software utilize these performance boosting features?

    The current MacBook Pro models use Intel i5 and i7 processor chips. Take note the i5 and i7 in the 13-inch model is a dual core version. Starting with the 15-inch, the i7 chips are quad-core. In other words, Intel i5 or i7 does not automatically mean quad-core. I had this misconception when I first heard of the i5 and i7 chips. By the way, the switch some time ago from Motorola's PowerPC to Intel chips makes it possible to run Windows using a dual-boot setup on a Mac, including the MacBook Pro.

    Another performance factor is the drive type and capacity. An upgrade from the standard 5400 rpm drive to a 7200 rpm is a common move for users needing higher performance from the operating system (boot) drive. The internal drive speed may add noticeable improvement to the overall system's performance during some operations. Now, solid state drives (SSD) are becoming commonplace, but currently are a pricier option.

    The size of the drive, for some of you, may not be such a huge consideration. Professional uses may require an external drive for large-scale data intensive projects anyway. This avoids the internal drive, which has to supply operating system and software requests, from having to do double-duty writing and reading large data files. Check your software's recommendations.

    Lastly, don't forget the memory (hey, that's pretty funny). Our current MacBook Pro model line-up provides 4GB as standard, expandable to 8GB. Often it is less expensive to order the memory upgrade initially. Adding memory after the purchase often means replacing the memory with larger chips. The 4GB in our MacBook Pro family is installed as 2 x 2GB. To upgrade requires 2 x 4GB, replacing the existing memory.

    If your purchase is intended for a specialized use, research on the software you will be using including near term upgrades. A little pre-purchase reading—maybe a phone call—could help buy the right MacBook Pro model and configuration.

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    Options Upon Options

    Final thoughts on the selection of your new MacBook Pro are as follows:

    • If you have a specific use, determine which models will work as possible choices.
    • Determine compatibility with existing peripherals.
    • Of the workable models, weigh portability vs functionality and comfort.
    • Lastly, budget. This one speaks for itself.
    Good luck with your new MacBook Pro!


  • MacBook Pro image downloaded from and used under the terms of Apple Press Info.Product Images and Info,
  • MacBook Pro. Thunderbolt.
  • MacBook is a trademark of Apple Inc.
  • Thunderbolt is a trademark of Intel Corporation in the U.S. and/or other countries.
  • MacBook Pro image(s) is property of Apple, Inc.
  • Apple website. MacBook Pro. Retrieved October 20, 2011, from