How to buy the best new Macbook Pro

We look at the latest Macbook Pro notebooks, break down build to order options and decide what's best value

The latest Apple Macbook Pro.

The latest Apple Macbook Pro.

Apple's recent update of the Macbook Pro product line means new CPUs, new graphics processors, new ports and most importantly new prices.

To start us off, here's a direct comparison of all Apple's pre-built options for the 13in, 15in and 17in models of the Macbook Pro:

Apple Macbook Pro comparison
Model 13in, 2.3GHz 13in, 2.7GHz 15in, 2.0GHz 15in, 2.2GHz 17in, 2.2GHz
Price $1399 $1698 $2099 $2499 $2899
CPU 2.3GHZ Intel Core i5, dual core 2.7GHz Intel Core i7, dual core 2.0GHZ Intel Core i7, quad core 2.2GHz Intel Core i7, quad core 2.2GHZ Intel Core i7, quad core
Graphics chipset Intel GMA HD 3000 integrated graphics, 384MB shared memory Intel GMA HD 3000 integrated graphics, 384MB shared memory Intel GMA HD 3000 + AMD Radeon HD 6490M w/ 256MB memory Intel GMA HD 3000 + AMD Radeon HD 6750M w/ 1GB memory Intel GMA HD 3000 + AMD Radeon HD 6750M w/ 1GB memory
Internal hard drive 320GB, 5400RPM 500GB, 5400RPM 500GB, 5400RPM 750GB, 5400RPM 750GB, 5400RPM
RAM 4GB DDR3 RAM, 1333MHz 4GB DDR3 RAM, 1333MHz 4GB DDR3 RAM, 1333MHz 4GB DDR3 RAM, 1333MHz 4GB DDR3 RAM, 1333MHz
Display resolution 1280x800 pixels 1280x800 pixels 1440x900 pixels 1440x900 pixels 1920x1200 pixels
I/O ports Gigabit Ethernet, SDXC card slot, FireWire 800, 2x USB 2.0, 'Thunderbolt' I/O, audio I/O Gigabit Ethernet, SDXC card slot, FireWire 800, 2x USB 2.0, 'Thunderbolt' I/O, audio I/O Gigabit Ethernet, SDXC card slot, FireWire 800, 2x USB 2.0, 'Thunderbolt' I/O, audio I/O Gigabit Ethernet, SDXC card slot, FireWire 800, 2x USB 2.0, 'Thunderbolt' I/O, audio I/O Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire 800, 3x USB 2.0, 'Thunderbolt' I/O, Express Card/34 slot, audio I/O
Battery 63.5 Watt-hour, 7 hour life 63.5 Watt-hour, 7 hour life 77.5 Watt-hour, 7 hour life 77.5 Watt-hour, 7 hour life 95 Watt-hour, 7 hour life

As you can see, each of the 13in and 15in Macbook Pro units can be ordered in two pre-built configurations — a base model and a high-end configuration, differing in processing power, hard drive space and graphics memory. The 17in Macbook Pro is only available pre-built in one configuration.

Apple's build-to-order process lets you configure a 13in, 15in or 17in Macbook Pro to your exacting requirements, although alterations do come at a price. 13in units can add up to 8GB or RAM or a larger hard drive — choosing from 500GB or 750GB 5400RPM, 2.5in traditional laptop drives or a 128GB, 256GB or 512GB SSD.

If you are buying a 15in Macbook Pro notebook you can choose from a slightly wider range of upgrades. The option to upgrade to 8GB of RAM is available, as are HDD and SSD capacity and speed boosts. You're also able to specify a glossy high-resolution 1680x1050 pixel display, or a matte anti-glare screen of the same resolution.

The 17in Macbook Pro has hard drive, RAM, display and CPU build-to-order options. You can choose a more powerful 2.3GHz Intel Core i7 processor, as well as 8GB of DDR3 RAM, up to a 512GB SSD, and an anti-glare notebook screen of the same resolution as the stock glossy display.

Apple's build-to-order upgrades range from reasonably priced to outrageously expensive. Optioning a higher resolution or anti-glare screen costs between $70 and $200 depending on whether you're beefing up the 15in or 17in — we think this is a pretty good price for the extra resolution and anti-glare coating. RAM upgrades are pricy — $240 for an extra 4GB of DDR3 RAM is around twice the price of buying 8GB from a bricks-and-mortar computer store and changing it over yourself, which doesn't void the computer's warranty. If you're upgrading a 17in Macbook Pro's 2.2GHz CPU to 2.3GHz, it costs $200 — a reasonable price to pay for the extra processing power.

Hard drive upgrades are the most complicated part of building a Macbook Pro to order. Prices vary based on the model you're starting with, which is an interesting move on Apple's part. Optioning the best mechanical hard drive, a 750GB 5400RPM unit, costs $130 on a 500GB-equipped 13in or 15in Macbook Pro, but if you're starting with the base-model 13in the same upgrade is $200. Similarly, choosing a 128GB SSD is $320 on the base 13in, $250 on the 500GB-equipped 13in and 15in models, and only $120 on the 750GB-equipped 15in and 17in laptops. Picking up a 512GB SSD is an expensive proposition any way you go about it — $1470 on models that start out with a 750GB drive, $1600 on the 320GB 13in, and strangely more expensive at $1600 on the 500GB-equipped 15in and 17in units. You can also replace the hard drive yourself in Apple's unibody Macbook Pros without voiding the entire system's warranty — if you're technically competent this is an easy way to save money.

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