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

    I think a more legitimate gripe is: wouldn't it have made sense for Apple to just use the same panel from the 13" Macbook Air (which is 1440x900) instead of using the same screen they've been using for the last two years? That would be one less part they'd need to carry. Reply
  • robco - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    I find it odd that the base 15" still ships with a 256MB card in this day and age. You need 512 to run a large external display well. Not only that, but the integrated graphics have 384MB available, it will actually have more video memory running under the IGP than it does when it switches to the dedicated card. This lowballing by Apple is puzzling. As much as I love my current MBP, I couldn't justify the high cost again. Apple makes some nice gear, but if all you want is the larger display and dedicated graphics, it's just not worth the price premium. Reply
  • dagamer34 - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    IGP does not use VRAM as it is directly connected to the dedicated GPU. It isn't shared with the rest of the system. Reply
  • robco - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    Someone needs to explain this to Apple. On the specs page, they list the Intel IGP as sharing 384MB with the system. In any case, I find it frustrating that Apple wouldn't at least spring for 512. You can barely find even a low-end card that ships with less, much less an $1800 laptop. Reply
  • Surkov - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    If these MacBook Pros are running on the 6gbps ports, should I be able to throw a Vertex 3 in there and enjoy the fullest potential of its throughput?

    Also, I know there's no TRIM in OSX
    Reply
  • johnspierce - Saturday, February 26, 2011 - link

    Apple has announced OSX Lion 10.7 will have TRIM. It's about time! Reply
  • jamesst - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    It looks like Apple does indirectly mention Sandy Bridge's QuickSync capabilities. Under the details page for the processor they say the following (on Apple's MacBook Pro web page):

    "An integrated video encoder enables HD video calls with FaceTime, while an efficient decoder gives you long battery life when you’re watching DVDs or iTunes movies."

    That sounds like QuickSync to me.
    Reply
  • dagamer34 - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    QuickSync is an encoder, not a decoder. Intel's GPU's have had hardware H.264 decoding for quite some time. Reply
  • jamesst - Monday, February 28, 2011 - link

    No, sorry, you're completely wrong. Quick Sync is both an encoder and decoder. In fact, transcoding is one of the primary features of Quick Sync, it speeds up both the decoding and encoding. Reply
  • Heathmoor - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    How can Thunderbolt/Light/Peak support HDMI and DisplayPort if their max bandwidth of these other interfaces can exceed 10 Gb/s?
    Can the move from Mini DisplayPort to Thunderbolt compromise video performance?
    Reply

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