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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  • tipoo - Saturday, February 26, 2011 - link

    I don't think the 15 is a step back in base GPU, its about even. And the HD3000 trades blows with the old 13 inch 320M, at least in Windows. I look forward to some Anandtech testing to see if its better or worse. Reply
  • Matt Campbell - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    I was quite glad to see the addition of the HD Facetime camera, this is great for frequent Skype users where the existing camera is pretty lackluster compared to the standalone options from e.g. Logitech. The 5400 rpm HDD has slightly less power consumption/battery draw, heat, and likely higher reliability than the 7200 rpm drives - not arguing that it impacts performance, but it's not that surprising Apple didn't go with it as a default. Hopefully the SSDs will continue to fall in price and increase in capacity.

    I would have liked to see a higher resolution screen on the 13" model and a discrete graphics option in the upgraded model.
    Reply
  • seapeople - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    Don't forget the 5400 rpm drive will be quieter.

    For a company that doesn't even like to use cooling fans due to the noise they create it's not mystery why they stuck with a 5400 rpm drive.
    Reply
  • Jumangi - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    1280 x 800 screen still...really? In 2011? Apple demands premium prices for their laptops yet in 2011 still sticks in a slow ass 5400 rpm HD and a low res screen like that? For a minimum of $1200?

    Apple users are suchs fools, seriously you guy are...
    Reply
  • seapeople - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    I find it amazing how many people will buy something like a new $35,000 Ford F150 for their suburban trek to work, or otherwise spend a minimum of $20,000 on a new car just because it looks nicer than the three-year old used version that sells for $10,000 and nobody gives a d@@m when people do this, and yet the moment someone drops an extra couple hundred bucks to get a nice-looking Apple laptop then the loonies pour out of the funny farm and start screaming bloody murder and claiming that Apple fan bois are the most wasteful scum of the earth etc...

    You could use some perspective here.
    Reply
  • Spazweasel - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    Seriously, yes. Green-eyed monsters, anyone?

    Apple buyers get their equipment to get things done, not to brag about. Fools? Yeah, the fools who are sufficiently grounded in the real world to be able to afford Apple products. The fools who think that you buy a computer is for computing with, not for filling with cold cathode tubes and LED-illuminated fans. The fools who think that Photoshop and Illustrator (purchased, not pirated) will get them farther in life than downloading a Crysis aim-bot. I have never seen a Mac owner dick-wagging about their computer, but come to a site like this and the e-peening about their PC's equipment list (or what they wish they could afford) is never-ending. I've lived in Silicon Valley since I finished college, some twenty-five years ago, and I've yet to see this mythical "Apple fanboi".

    And, before some 17-year-old who has yet to hold a job or pay for a computer with money they got from somewhere other than their parents goes off on "you're an Apple fanboi!", I don't currently own any Macs, but I do own several PCs and an iPhone 3G. It's just hardware, and no matter how cool someone may think bashing someone else's choice of computer is, the fact is that pretty women, studly guys (whatever you're into) and just about anyone worth respecting don't give a shit what someone thinks about nVidia vs. AMD.

    Until someone has actually worked at Intel, AMD, Apple, nVidia, or some similar company in a design or engineering position (i.e. actually contributed meaningfully to the products at hand), anything they have to say about how they themselves are cooler for choosing whatever is just being a poseur. Just like someone thinking a Harley t-shirt makes them into a big, bad biker that you'd better not mess with... yeah, sure, tough guy. Calling someone out for buying an Apple product doesn't make the fingerpointer's dick bigger. It just makes them a bigger dick.
    Reply
  • Griswold - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    To pick up on your car analogy - that may only be the case in the US. Everywhere else in the world, people laugh at you for this nonsense.

    Though, I'm not saying there arent wealthy clowns in, lets say cramped european cities, who will buy BMW, Audi, Porsche or Mercedes SUVs to drive from their villa to the downtown office.

    However, my point would be that there are obviously alot more people buying apple computers with often sub-par components for alot of money and nobody gives a damn than there are sane people who will buy oversized, gas guzzling trucks for no good reason. At least in the real world, outside forums.

    Its all a matter of common sense really.
    Reply
  • seapeople - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    I don't think there are more people buying Apple computers than there are buying pick-up trucks. Though even if there were, it only takes one unnecessary purchase of a truck to waste more money than ~50 people buying macbooks.

    And of course "wasting" money on a macbook is debatable, considering there are few other options that give you better performance, features, AND battery life. Of course a lot of this is due to Apple's optimization of OSX, but it's true all the same.
    Reply
  • NICOXIS - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    even my 2007 Dell Latitude D430 has a 12" 1280x800 display !!

    I really don't understand how Apple is screaming around about it's retina thing and it capable of "updating" its lineup with such a crappy display.
    Reply
  • seapeople - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    My new 15" thinkpad for work has a 1366x768 display with a definitely terrible contrast ratio and viewing angles. It's not like this should be surprising anymore, though it is definitely sad. Reply

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