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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  • kmmatney - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    I used something similar in my Dell laptop, with an SSD boot drive, and a 320GB drive in the CD-ROM bay. The idea worked great - the only problem was my adapter was a little flaky, and sometimes I'd have to reboot several times to see the drive. I bought my adapter for $15 on Ebay, though. The general idea of doing this is great, IMO. Reply
  • ViperV990 - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    Would I be able to hook up more than one external display to this? Reply
  • Penti - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    HD6000 series support daisy-chaining. If it works as advertised and in the mobile series I have no idea. It should.

    Which might even be one of the reasons for it being chosen for the Mac, nVidias gpus don't support daisy-chaining DP yet.

    You can't daisy-chain two dp 1.1a displays though. But there's really no reason why there shouldn't come converters so you can connect multiple dual-link dvi displays. Apple provides none though.
    Reply
  • relentlessfocus - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    I've read that the graphics card only supports 2 monitors, one being the built in display so, no, I don't believe so. Reply
  • Rasterman - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    Since this is a standard feature in sandy systems its like they went out of their way to not include it. Reply
  • Cat - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    This is almost a deal breaker for me. Reply
  • nikclev - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    USB 3.0 is only standard because motherboard/laptop OEM's chose to add a discrete USB 3.0 controller. There is no USB 3.0 support in any of the sandybridge chipsets.

    That having been said, I don't see why Apple didn't do the same and add in a 3.0 controller. USB 3.0 is backwards compatible, so it doesn't even require any additional ports, they could still advertise two USB ports, with one being 3.0 and one being 2.0. I don't believe the cost is very much, and no apple product is "low margin" where a dollar or two makes or breaks profitability.

    There isn't a lot of devices for USB 3.0 yet, but that will come with time.

    But, Apple is big on deciding what to offer based on something other than what people like us think is nice to have.
    Reply
  • solipsism - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    I don’t expect Apple to use the Toshiba controller for USB3.0, but they could have just made multiple Thunderbolt ports with 2 of 3 being internal USB ports so it could have USB3.0 on new MBPs. Probably the fastest USB3.0 out there due to the Thunderbolt advantages.

    However, this does go against Apple’s desire to push Thunderbolt as the next generation high-speed tech when they are making USB on their Macs run at 3.0 speeds.
    Reply
  • Penti - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    Don't really know what your writing, Thunderbolt is daisy-chainable, but there is nothing stopping a third party releasing a Thunderbolt to USB 3.0 converter that uses the NEC controller, or whatever connected to one x1 lanes (pci-express). It's what it's for. Macs will get native USB3.0 with Intels 7-series chipset with Ivy Bridge. Reply
  • seapeople - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    Maybe it seems like they went out of their way to exclude it because... they did? Apple doesn't like USB, it's no secret. It's why their 15" laptop only has 2 USB ports and the 17" only has 3. It's why they are the first to move to this new light peak type interface. Reply

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