In an unexpected move, Apple has updated its notebook offerings with slightly faster processors and graphics cores. The 13-inch MacBook Pro has received a 100MHz bump with a 2.4GHz Core i5 or 2.8GHz Core i7, while the heftier 15- and 17-inch machines get a 200MHz boost to 2.2GHz and 2.4GHz parts. Meanwhile, the lower-end 15-inch MacBook Pro has dropped the AMD Radeon HD 6490M 256MB in favor of the quicker HD 6750M 512MB. Higher-specced versions of the 15- and 17-inchers get an HD 6770M 1GB.

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Apple has also tweaked its storage options on the 13-inch system, which now starts with a 500GB 5400RPM hard drive instead of 320GB and can be equipped with up to 750GB. All of the systems ship with 4GB of DDR3 1333MHz RAM, a backlit keyboard and multitouch trackpad, a Thunderbolt port, a Mini DisplayPort output, and have an estimated seven-hour battery life. Pricing for the 13-inchers is set at $1,199 to $1,499, the 15-inch model goes for $1,799 to $2,199 and the 17-inch MacBook Pro starts at $2,499.

Coinciding with this refresh, Dell has announced what is perceived as its MacBook Pro competitor, the XPS 14z. It offers a sleek aluminum shell, a backlit keyboard and according Engadget's timely review, solid ergonomics and thermal dissipation. Dell's system weighs slightly less than the smaller 13-inch MacBook Pro (4.36lbs versus 4.5lbs), though Engadget notes that it lacks the classy feel of its rival. This is partly attributed to the lack of a unibody chassis, a plasticky coating on the palm rest and tons of bloatware.

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The XPS 14z starts at $999 and has a 14-inch 1366x768 display, a 2.4GHz Core i5-2430M, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB 7200RPM hard drive and offers a battery life that's comparable to the MacBook Pro. Configurations scale up to a $1,600 with a Core i7, 8GB of RAM, an Nvidia GeForce GT 520M 1GB, a 750GB HDD or 256GB SSD, and a slot-loading DVD burner (no Blu-ray). Based on the reviews we've seen, the XPS 14z seems like a reasonable compromise if you're shopping for a "premium" notebook on a budget.