As expected, Apple today unveiled a range of speed and functionality improvements for its MacBook Pro lineup. The update was unusually quiet for Apple. There was no scheduled press event and nothing more than a press release announcing the specs and availability. Apple retail stores received stock prior to today and began selling product immediately. The Apple online store also has immediate availability.

No mere speed bump, these new MacBooks bring Intel’s new Sandy Bridge processors chipsets to the entire line, replacing the previous Arrandale processors and finally retiring the aging Core 2 Duo from service in the 13-inch model.

Contrary to earlier reports, there are no default SSD configurations although the solid state offerings are still optional. The big new feature (outside of Sandy Bridge) is support for the first incarnation of Intel’s Light Peak interface technology, now called Thunderbolt.

The Facts

 

2011 MacBook Pro Lineup
  13-inch (low end) 13-inch (high end) 15-inch (low end) 15-inch (high end) 17-inch
Dimensions 0.95 H x 12.78 W x 8.94 D 0.95 H x 12.78 W x 8.94 D 0.95 H x 14.35 W x 9.82 D 0.95 H x 14.35 W x 9.82 D 0.98 H x 15.47 W x 10.51 D
Weight 4.5 lbs (2.04 kg) 4.5 lbs (2.04 kg) 5.6 lbs (2.54 kg) 5.6 lbs (2.54 kg) 6.6 lbs (2.99 kg)
CPU 2.3 GHz dual-core Core i5 2.7 GHz dual-core Core i7 2.0 GHz quad-core Core i7 2.2 GHz quad-core Core i7 2.2 GHz quad-core Core i7
GPU Intel HD 3000 Graphics Intel HD 3000 Graphics Intel HD 3000 + AMD Radeon HD 6490M (256MB) Intel HD 3000 + AMD Radeon HD 6750M (1GB) Intel HD 3000 + AMD Radeon HD 6750M (1GB)
RAM 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 (8GB max) 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 (8GB max) 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 (8GB max) 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 (8GB max) 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 (8GB max)
HDD 320GB 5400 RPM 500GB 5400 RPM 500GB 5400 RPM 750GB 5400 RPM 750GB 5400 RPM
Display Resolution 1280x800 1280x800 1440x900 (1680x1050 optional) 1440x900 (1680x1050 optional) 1920x1200
Ports Gigabit LAN, Firewire 800, Thunderbolt, 2x USB 2.0, SDHC slot, combined audio in/out jack Gigabit LAN, Firewire 800, Thunderbolt, 2x USB 2.0, SDHC slot, combined audio in/out jack Gigabit LAN, Firewire 800, Thunderbolt, 2x USB 2.0, SDHC slot, separate audio in/out jacks Gigabit LAN, Firewire 800, Thunderbolt, 2x USB 2.0, SDHC slot, separate audio in/out jacks Gigabit LAN, Firewire 800, Thunderbolt, 3x USB 2.0, separate audio in/out jacks, ExpressCard 34 slot
Price $1,199 $1,499 $1,799 $2,199 $2,499

 

When Apple moved its MacBook Pro lineup to Arrandale, the poor 13-inch model lost out - it remained with an older Core 2 Duo CPU. The move to Sandy Bridge is different - all models got an upgrade.

Sandy Bridge is used across the board and interestingly enough only the 13-inch model uses a dual-core CPU. Both the 15-inch and 17-inch MacBook Pros now feature quad-core CPUs. This makes these two MacBook Pros ripe for a desktop replacement usage model, particularly if paired with an SSD.

Sandy Bridge obviously integrates Intel’s HD 3000 graphics on die, which is used by all of the new MBPs by default. The 15-inch model and 17-inch model add switchable dedicated graphics from AMD, ousting the NVIDIA chips that powered the previous lineup. I wouldn’t read too much into this – Apple is always going back and forth between NVIDIA and AMD graphics, usually based on whoever happens to be offering the best or most efficient chip at the time of refresh.

Per usual, this refresh sees Apple offering customers more computer for the same money, rather than giving out any substantial price cuts. This is nothing specific to Apple but rather a benefit of buying in an industry driven by Moore's Law.

One number on this spec sheet sticks out like a sore thumb from the rest, and that is Apple's decision to offer 5400RPM SATA hard drives as the default storage option across the line. The price differential between 5400 RPM drives and 7200 RPM drives is negligible these days, and for these prices, the company could certainly afford to address this performance bottleneck. I would hope that Apple would at least consider Seagate’s hybrid drive as an alternative until we get Intel enabled SSD caching.

Upgrades to 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB solid state drives available but predictably costly ($250, $650, and a whopping $1,250, respectively). It is worth noting that at $250 for a 128GB SSD, Apple’s upgrade pricing isn’t too far off what the market value is for the lowest end SSD. The 256GB pricing is a bit insane. 

Apple has finally standardized on 4GB of memory across the board, although I would’ve liked to have seen 8GB offered on the higher end configurations.

Also new is what Apple calls a "FaceTime HD camera," which looks to be a high definition version of Apple's standard webcam - not much more that's noteworthy about this, except that the iSight moniker is continuing its slow disappearance from Apple's spec sheet one model at a time. 

It is disappointing that Apple makes no mention of QuickSync in its announcement. The hardware video transcoding engine is a key part of Sandy Bridge, however it looks like OS X support for the technology may not be ready quite yet.

It’s worth noting that Apple’s new laptops were apparently not delayed much by the SATA bug discovered in the 6-series chipsets last month – this likely means that Apple is shipping the affected B2 stepping parts but only using the 6Gbps ports.

There’s no change in chassis size or weight with the new MacBook Pros, this is an internal upgrade. Well, mostly...

Thunderbolt & Conclusions
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  • pukemon - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    Depends on what your definition of "functional" is - I'm thinking most people who ran a 64-bit OS on early Socket 940, 754, and 939 boxes were running some flavor of Linux or BSD, maybe Solaris, or WinXP (64-bit edition) possibly as servers more than as desktops.

    If you go back eight years or so, remember how expensive 4GB of DDR RAM was...
    Reply
  • MonkeyPaw - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    You have to start somewhere, and it's with the PCs. Why would any manufacturer make a Thunderbolt device if there were no PCs available? They wouldn't.

    While I don't care for the name "Thunderbolt" one bit (can't even be abbreviated well), the technology looks good to me. Long range, high speed, multiple use. If it can replace firewire, USB, HDMI, Display Port, and eSATA, good. Imagine having 6 of these on a notebook, or better yet, having to plug only one cable into your notebook that is daisy chained to everything else.
    Reply
  • Penti - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    Thunderbolt is Intels brand and spec, but it's basically just a chip so you can connect PCI-E devices externally. It doesn't replace DisplayPort it's actually a DisplayPort which is connected to a chip that can talk pci-e over the cables to none display devices. It replaces expresscard in other words. It doesn't really replace eSATA, but it's an alternative (the box needs an sata-controller in the device) PCI-Express hardly replaces USB. It's only dual protocol, DP/HDMI/DVI/VGA-video or PCI-express.

    It's a important feature and it will show up in PC laptops under the same brand. Professional users certainly will use it. Btw, there's nothing stopping anyone from even producing Thunderbolt > eSATA devices. Even Thunderbolt > USB3 devices. So its a good replacement for Expresscard. Not more magical then that though.

    You won't see Thunderbolt memory-sticks.
    Reply
  • Penti - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    If you pay 2500 USD you get 8GB!

    At least with the 15" unit. The upgrade to the 500GB 7200 rpm drive is also free. Add in anti-glare though and it's $2549 for the high-end 15 inch with 8GB ram. $2249 for the low-end version configured the same. With the 17 inch it's the same with the 7200 rpm upgrade (500GB) drive is free to choice.
    Reply
  • cotak - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    Are you a current Mac user?

    4GB is quite enough for OS X. To give you an idea at work at one point I was using a secondar white plastic iMac with a C2D inside and 256 megs of ram. And you know what? It was usable as a websurfing and outlook machine. It kinda sucked for the real work task that I was using it for but it worked just fine for play. It wasn't any slower than those netbooks out there anyhow and most of them have 1 to 2 gigs of ram.

    So 4 gigs for a lot of people will be enough. If you do anything media heavy yeah you'll want more ram but it's not a big chore to buy it yourself and put it in. All OEM RAM upgrades are rip offs anyhow be it apple's or Dell's or HP's.
    Reply
  • tipoo - Friday, March 04, 2011 - link

    A Core 2 Duo paired with only 256MB?! Reply
  • TypeS - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    And how fast was USB3 adoption again. . .? Reply
  • Exelius - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    I'd also like to see them ditch the optical drive. I haven't used the one I have in my MBP in the 9 months I've owned it; and the reduction in weight/size would be appreciated. USB optical drives are cheap if people really miss the feature that much. Reply
  • tomoyo - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    Uh isn't that basically the macbook air right there? Except for needing some upgrades to sandy bridge. Reply
  • zhill - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    Want more power than the meager MBA but don't need an optical drive?

    I found this OWC "Data Doubler" adapter to replace the optical with any HDD/SSD and it looks promising:
    http://eshop.macsales.com/item/Other+World+Computi...

    for a while, seems like a perfect solution. I'd rather have an SSD + HDD than an optical drive, and this kit seems to be fairly decent.

    Anyone used one? Are they worth the $75 (or more with Sandforce SSD)?
    Reply

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