Mac vs PC 2011: Who does the best Core i7 grunt in only 13 inches?

We recently kicked off our new Mac vs PC series to directly compare Apple’s upgraded Sandy Bridge MacBook Pro lineup against its Windows 7 Sandy Bridge competitors. Apple lost the first round to Samsung (Core i5 13in vs Core i5 13in) largely due to the inclusion of the Samsung’s dedicated graphics card but the story’s far from over. There’s an awful lot of scope in the revised MacBook Pro range and we’re eager to see where the best value power and style lie in the 2011-era Mac vs PC equation.

This time round we’re looking at one of the most impressive of the new MBPs; the Apple MacBook Pro 13in (MC724X/A). It’s one of a tiny handful of ultraportable notebooks that has a Sandy Bridge Intel Core i7 and many people are rightly excited by the combination of serious computing power and great portability. That being said other notebook manufacturers haven’t exactly been resting on their laurels…

Can Sony’s Core i7 VAIO trump the 13in i7 MBP?

Apple MacBook Pro 13in vs Sony VAIO S Series 13in

So you want a notebook to carry around with you but you also need the power of a full-sized all-rounder. The Apple MacBook Pro 13in (MC724X/A) for $1698 is one of a handful of ultraportable notebooks that meet the above requirements thanks to the usage of a Sandy Bridge Intel Core i7. But a challenger emerges: the Sony VAIO S Series VPCSB18GGB for $1899. These are both supremely stylish and powerful products but at the end of the day we need to decide which one is the better buy overall.

The MacBook Pro weighs a very light 2.04kg and measures just 24.1mm thick but the VAIO S Series weighs significantly less at 1.72kg and manages to be slightly thinner at 23.9mm. Both use 13.3in screens but Apple has opted for a resolution of 1280 x 800 (aspect ratio 16:10) whereas Sony has used a more typical resolution of 1366 x 768 (aspect ratio 16:9). For portability purposes the Sony’s clearly ahead of the Apple.

At this point the slugfest gets fairly close. Both the MacBook Pro and the VAIO S Series have the Sandy Bridge Intel Core i7-2620M (2.7GHz) a seriously fast processor by any measure. There’s also 4GB of RAM and 500GB of HDD storage in both which not long ago would be pretty much unheard of for any ultraportable notebook.

Apple’s MacBook Pro doesn’t include dedicated graphics in this matchup – but the price is hard to beat.

However just like last time there’s a big difference in the graphics card department. The MacBook Pro has the fairly reasonable onboard Intel HD Graphics 3000 but the VAIO S Series packs in an AMD Radeon HD 6470M. And again the dedicated graphics card trumps the onboard graphics.

Still what helps balance the playing field here is that Sony’s offering is a full $200 more expensive than Apple’s machine. The increase in graphics rendering is certainly there but for us the increase in price brings the notebooks neck and neck again the MacBook having clawed back to parity after Sony’s early lead due to its enhanced portability.

From here it gets a bit less exciting but in a race this close everything needs careful consideration. DVD burners along with Gigabit Ethernet are present in both the Apple and the Sony although the Apple has slightly better wireless connectivity. Ports provide a bit more difference; Sony has fast USB 3.0 ports that are currently more widely supported with peripherals but Apple has the much faster (though less widely supported) Thunderbolt ports.

But now that the specs are taken care of the appearance of both the Apple and the Sony needs to be taken into account. Both are extremely stylish but different avenues have been taken to achieve their respective looks. Apple’s MBP has a restrained elegant sleekness that is outright classy as far as we’re concerned. Sony’s VAIO on the other hand has a more angular modern appearance that is while appealing lacking the classic sophistication that Apple is offering. Yes this is a subjective area but for looks we’ve got to hand it to Apple; the VAIO S Series looks amazing but the MacBook Pro is outright spectacular.

All in all this is a very close competition; each offering is an excellent product and a shining example of the ultraportable category being done right. However for sheer value (at $200 cheaper) we’ve got to hand it to the MacBook Pro on this occasion. Although the VAIO S Series has superior portability and a dedicated graphics card (and can thus make a better claim to being a Core i7 all-rounder) the Apple’s lower price puts it ahead as far as we’re concerned (and it’s still no slouch in terms of power despite the absence of dedicated graphics).

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