Review: The MacBook Pro (13-inch, Early 2011)

Titling Introductions is Hard

Back in 2009, when I was managing an Apple-Authorized Service Provider, I picked up a 13-inch MacBook Pro as a work machine and reviewed it. I closed my review with this:

Over the years, I’ve used a Clamshell iBook G3, a PowerBook ‘Pismo’ G3, a Titanium PowerBook, both a 12- and 15-inch aluminum PowerBook, two pre-unibody MacBook Pros and a black MacBook.
I’m confident in saying this machine smokes them all — and is finally a decent replacement for the 12-inch PowerBook. Simply put, Apple is shipping the best notebooks they’ve ever built, and you’re not going to find a better machine out there for $1,199.

It’s a very different world now. The MacBook Air has gone from an over-priced, under-powered notebook to the crown jewel of Apple’s notebook line. With that shift, the 13-inch MacBook Pro’s future has been questioned for some time.

Now, I know all of that. Even so, when I upgraded my work machine from a Core2Duo 15-inch MacBook Pro, I moved to the new i7 13-inch MacBook Pro.

As back in 2009, I need a machine at the intersection of power, expandability and portability. The 13-inch MacBook Pro is that machine.

A Brief Interpolation About Re-Reviewing a Product

Before continuing this review, go read my article from 2009 first. The parts about the construction, keyboard and trackpad all stand true today. The battery life on this new machine isn’t nearly as good as my old Core2Duo-powered machine, but I’ll get that to a bit.

Power, Baby

This model is the high-end, with the 2.7 GHz Core i7. I added 8 GB RAM and my 115 GB OWC SSD post-purchase.

About this mac

The short version? This little MacBook Pro is insanely fast. It feels like as quick as a MacBook Air, just with lots of ports and a SuperDrive.[1. Like the Air, this machine has a Thunderbolt port, but the only time I use it is to hook it up to a 27-inch LED Cinema Display on my desk.]

But that power comes with a drawback.

Is That a Jet, or Are You Running Photoshop Again?

This MacBook Pro gets hot. While I don’t really care about temperature readouts and fan RPMs as much as some people, I do have to say that under load, this machine is loud and hot.

Basically, when under load, the CPU will ramp up and up until it bumps into its thermal limits, meaning the single fan in the MacBook will also ramp up and up. I blame Intel.

To help cope with this while at work, I’ve got the notebook up on a stand to help with airflow. Running this MacBook Pro in clamshell mode is just about impossible.


Sadly, the battery life has taken a hit on this model due to the CPU. While Apple claims up to 7 hours of battery life, I haven’t seen it.

In Closing

I really don’t think the 13-inch MacBook Pro has much of a future. That’s a shame, as it still offers the most power and expandability that can be found in such a small Apple notebook. Even with the heat issues, this machine is well worth the money.