MacBook Pro Alternatives

A few weeks back, we published an article describing Bill Lake’s purchase of a $3,000 MacBook Pro and his justification for such a pricey endeavor. While many of his points are valid, the fact remains that many people simply cannot justify spending so much on a laptop, especially with today’s tough economy. For a consumer to buy even a more basic MacBook Pro, he or she must commit to spending at least $2,000, which is still too much money for many of us for a laptop.

Most people interested in a MacBook Pro consider it because of its own unique combination of features. But with a retail price of $2,000-$2,500 for this laptop, this unique combination of capabilities comes at a steep price. Other notebooks have many (if not all) of the features you would find in the MacBook Pro, and if you can prioritize those features that you truly want, you can recreate  most of the Mac experience and save a good chunk of cash. While it is possible to install OSX on some PC systems, it is a very complex and unreliable process, so you will miss out on the OSX experience. However, keep in mind that most Mac applications do have PC-compatible counterparts, and for the few that don’t, there is still the option of VMware. If you can go without OSX, the savings are substantial.

When thinking about the features to which most people are attracted, I came up with several main categories: performance, battery life, aesthetics, and build quality. Now, there are plenty of laptop manufacturers that could stand up to these requirements, but limiting my search to Dell, Sony, Asus, and MSI gave me a wide spread of features and prices. On the following pages, you’ll see my picks for MacBook Pro alternatives. But first, here are the MacBook Pro's specifications:

Processor
Core 2 Duo (6 MB cache, 2.53 GHz)
Memory
4 GB DDR3-1066
Hard Drive
320 GB 5,400 RPM
Video Card
Nvidia 9400M and 9600M GT 512 MB
Display
15.4" LED 1440x900
Relevant I/O Ports
2x USB, Mini Display Port, IEEE 1394b, 34 mm Express Slot
Dimensions
14.35 x 9.82 x .95"
Weight
5.5 lbs.
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  • So essentially, Pay more for a MacBook Pro for equal or lesser performance, but my farts will smell better?
  • quantumrand
    Sleepless in BostonSo essentially, Pay more for a MacBook Pro for equal or lesser performance, but my farts will smell better?


    No, you'll just think your farts smell better, and then tell everyone about how good they smell.
  • norbs
    Who cares what little kids think, you could not afford a mac book or the cheaper PC alternative, your opinion doesn't matter... ;)
  • quantumrand
    I want to know why all the crap ware you get with PC manufacturers isn't mentioned. I mean sure, you could just reformat when you get the thing, but for some people, that's a complicated task.
  • touchdowntexas13
    That's like saying, I want to know why the article didn't take into account the range of compatibility with games/applications that the other systems have. If you want to start a whole mac vs. pc thread, then go ahead, because you will probably get plenty of responses. Unlike the title suggests, the author of this article was obviously trying to keep a level playing field. He even threw in a refurbished mac to show a cheaper solution that would be almost just as good as the real thing.

    If we are going to be nitpicky, he didn't compare the hdd's, which some of the other systems either had a faster or a bigger hdd than did the macbook pro.

    And before someone says "you could always just dual boot with windows", that would be an expense that would need to be taken into account, because windows is expensive. And that would be just as complicated as removing the crapware off of those pcs...

    Very nice article by the way. I can't say i needed to be told that there are cheaper/faster alternatives to macs, but it's good to see this site acknowledge people that can't afford them.
  • shurcooL
    Sony Vaio Z is a sleek sexy 13.3" machine weighing at only 3.5 lbs. It looks kinda similar to the FW series, except smaller.

    It seems like a nice competitor to the regular MacBook, no?
  • andy_newton
    It all comes down to what you are going to use this laptop for and for how many years.

    If you intend to buy a new laptop once a year just for Casual Gaming, Facebook, and other non critical things or just because you easily get bored then it's pretty obvious: Don't buy a Mac.

    If you do tons of color critical work such as prints, movie, special effects, & CAD then it's quite obvious too: Among all the choices in the article, Macbook Pro is the only one that comes with a Monitor suited for those specific tasks even if your choice of OS is Windows.

    Another thing: those 8 hr battery life claims--is it with Vista doing nothing? How do you get 8hrs?

    I've never come across any Vista Premium notebooks (including any Apple) that lasts more than 4 hrs running Vista doing nothing with all hardware turned on (Wifi, bluetooth, 50% LCD Brightness, 50% Volume, 50% Backlit )

    I'd appreciate it if someone can enlighten me.

    -ND
  • quantumrand
    Yeah, I'm skeptical about the 8 hours of battery life thing too, but it seems to be about the average laptop manufacturers are claiming for their 9 cell batteries. I seriously doubt any of them, including the macs, get 8 hours.
  • quantumrand
    Andy_NewtonIf you do tons of color critical work such as prints, movie, special effects, & CAD then it's quite obvious too: Among all the choices in the article, Macbook Pro is the only one that comes with a Monitor suited for those specific tasks even if your choice of OS is Windows.


    I just have to say, the 15.4" MacBook Pro doesn't have that great of a screen. True, it's LED backlit, so it gets a uniform brightness. But, at 1440x900, it's held back considerably. The XPS 16 would be a much better choice screen wise, being LED backlit and 1920x1080. The Vaio also has a supperior display.
  • cadder
    I just now configured a Dell Latitude E6500 as closely as I could to the MBP and it came out at $1291. I picked the E6500 because it has the all metal chassis. A few months ago I bought an E6500 for myself, spec'd out a little higher than the MBP but I bought it with a coupon from the Dell outlet and got it for a LOT less money.

    I also picked the same resolution as the MBP and it is known that of the 3 manufacturers that make these display panels Dell sometimes uses the same one that Apple uses. So the Dell display would not be inferior to the MBP, it would be IDENTICAL. I've checked and my own E6500 has the identical display panel that the MBP uses.

    I am not an Apple fan in any way, for several reasons, but I'm learning that part of the price difference between Apple and "the others" is that Apple uses premium hardware. You can get a budget 15" laptop for around $600. You just have to decide if you are willing to spend more money for that and for their other features. I didn't want a budget laptop so I spent a lot more, but still far short of the MBP.
  • Spanky Deluxe
    quantumrandYeah, I'm skeptical about the 8 hours of battery life thing too, but it seems to be about the average laptop manufacturers are claiming for their 9 cell batteries. I seriously doubt any of them, including the macs, get 8 hours.


    I doubt any laptop running Vista will hit 8 hours of battery life. Mac laptops cannot reach the same battery life in Vista as they have advertised for OS X. Simply because Vista is horrendously bad at energy efficiency. http://www.macuser.co.uk/news/232674/os-x-thrashes-vista-in-battery-life-tests.html
  • socrates047
    Right on curnel_d, i totally agree. Apple isnt viable for tight budgets, period.
  • rooket
    "A few weeks back, we published an article describing Bill Lake’s purchase of a $3,000 MacBook Pro and his justification for such a pricey endeavor. While many of his points are valid, the fact remains that many people simply cannot justify spending so much on a laptop, especially with today’s tough economy. For a consumer to buy even a more basic MacBook Pro, he or she must commit to spending at least $2,000, which is still too much money for many of us for a laptop."

    No, as far as I recall it was a low-end laptop that was overpriced by about $1500. Wasn't about economic climate, it was about using your brain.
  • Tomsguiderachel
    curnel_dAbsolutely none of that is true. Apple notebooks are perfect for the average computer user. Granted, most will try and make it last longer than a year so they dont feel stupid when throwing $3k down the drain every year, but the macbook pro is deffinately not built for professional work.

    Hi Curnel_D, thanks for your comment. I would just like to point out that "most people" are average computer users. Also, most people tend to use their laptops for personal use as well as work use. I doubt I need to go on and on to you about the hundreds of thousands of individuals in the graphic design, publishing, film and other media industries that prefer to use Apple computers. But the point is, those are professions where people do prefer the way the Mac OS handles the software they use. I simply want to remind you that usefulness isn't only defined by performance and IT environments. Your perspective, as someone who cares deeply about a machine's performance in an IT environment or for enthusiast gaming, is very far outside the norm.

    Thanks,
    Rachel Rosmarin
    Editor of Tom's Guide
  • dwhizzle
    Andy_NewtonIt all comes down to what you are going to use this laptop for and for how many years.If you intend to buy a new laptop once a year just for Casual Gaming, Facebook, and other non critical things or just because you easily get bored then it's pretty obvious: Don't buy a Mac.If you do tons of color critical work such as prints, movie, special effects, & CAD then it's quite obvious too: Among all the choices in the article, Macbook Pro is the only one that comes with a Monitor suited for those specific tasks even if your choice of OS is Windows.Another thing: those 8 hr battery life claims--is it with Vista doing nothing? How do you get 8hrs?I've never come across any Vista Premium notebooks (including any Apple) that lasts more than 4 hrs running Vista doing nothing with all hardware turned on (Wifi, bluetooth, 50% LCD Brightness, 50% Volume, 50% Backlit )I'd appreciate it if someone can enlighten me.-ND


    If you do "Tons" of color work, why in the wide-world of sports are you using ANY laptop? And if you are, use the new Dell Studio 16 - It has the highest color gamut screen ever to be used in a laptop.

    And about the battery life, the macbook doesn't get 8 hours of battery life either; check the test and you'll see it gets about 5 hours in normal use, and 6-7 with most things turned off/down.
  • Tomsguiderachel
    dwhizzleIf you do "Tons" of color work, why in the wide-world of sports are you using ANY laptop? And if you are, use the new Dell Studio 16 - It has the highest color gamut screen ever to be used in a laptop.And about the battery life, the macbook doesn't get 8 hours of battery life either; check the test and you'll see it gets about 5 hours in normal use, and 6-7 with most things turned off/down.

    I can conceive of many situations--photographers, for instance, who often need to do editing on the fly to please a client--where one would need a laptop to do color work.
  • dwhizzle
    TomsguiderachelHi Curnel_D, thanks for your comment. I would just like to point out that "most people" are average computer users. Also, most people tend to use their laptops for personal use as well as work use. I doubt I need to go on and on to you about the hundreds of thousands of individuals in the graphic design, publishing, film and other media industries that prefer to use Apple computers. But the point is, those are professions where people do prefer the way the Mac OS handles the software they use. I simply want to remind you that usefulness isn't only defined by performance and IT environments. Your perspective, as someone who cares deeply about a machine's performance in an IT environment or for enthusiast gaming, is very far outside the norm.Thanks,Rachel RosmarinEditor of Tom's Guide


    Racheal,

    I believe the post mentioned above did mainly speak about the price/performance of the aforementioned laptop, so that is why Curnel made light of said point.
  • dwhizzle
    dwhizzleRacheal,I believe the post mentioned above did mainly speak about the price/performance of the aforementioned laptop, so that is why Curnel made light of said point.


    I still wouldn't consider that a large amount of people; most photographers/designers aren't going to be using a laptop for "on the go" editing. That is probably a niche, which again, can be better filled by other laptops.
  • dwhizzle
    Wrong quote on above message, sorry about that.
  • Tomsguiderachel
    dwhizzleI still wouldn't consider that a large amount of people; most photographers/designers aren't going to be using a laptop for "on the go" editing. That is probably a niche, which again, can be better filled by other laptops.

    I've worked with quite a few photographers. Each one has owned a Mac Laptop and done editing for me on the fly, as they do every day for each client. Maybe it is a tiny niche, but what are the odds that every single one did the same thing? I don't mean to belabor the point, but there is an established trend amongst media professionals to use macs for their graphic needs. You'd probably say that they're just wrong--plain and simple--but I think it is probably a bit more complicated than that.
  • Tomsguiderachel
    dwhizzleRacheal,I believe the post mentioned above did mainly speak about the price/performance of the aforementioned laptop, so that is why Curnel made light of said point.

    Not sure what you're referring to--to Bill Lake's article? It most definitely did not focus on price/performance--that's why it was so controversial ;). By the way, the name's Rachel.
  • dwhizzle
    TomsguiderachelI've worked with quite a few photographers. Each one has owned a Mac Laptop and done editing for me on the fly, as they do every day for each client. Maybe it is a tiny niche, but what are the odds that every single one did the same thing? I don't mean to belabor the point, but there is an established trend amongst media professionals to use macs for their graphic needs. You'd probably say that they're just wrong--plain and simple--but I think it is probably a bit more complicated than that.


    I think that some people, as you've mentioned, use macs for on-the-go photo editing, but how many honestly use it for the screen (which is the point that was mentioned)?

    I dont care if they want to do their editing on an Atari 2600; if they like it, go for it. But to say they chose that laptop for its screen (which again, isn't the best by far) sounds odd to me. If it is personal preference, fine. But don't veil it as the screen is the main reason.
  • dwhizzle
    TomsguiderachelNot sure what you're referring to--to Bill Lake's article? It most definitely did not focus on price/performance--that's why it was so controversial . By the way, the name's Rachel.


    Ahh.... sorry about that RachEl ^_^ I noticed too late to change it.

    Well, to me it seemed like he was trying to give an alternative view to a mac, making it cheaper, while matching performance. What would the gist of the article be from your standpoint as editor?
  • dwhizzle
    Oh, and i was referring to Pauls article, sorry about the confusion.