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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  • MrBrownSound - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    Is the intel i7 2.0 GHz quad core - so much different than the i7 2.2 GHz quad core?

    I mean it's a 250 difference, I know it's not a huge amount considering that your already going to spend a cool couple grand, but still.

    I'd would love to see some real world benchmarks ANANDTECH! thank you
    Reply
  • gc_ - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    http://ark.intel.com/Compare.aspx?ids=50067,53463,...

    Guess: higher enterprise demand for the 2.2GHz quad processor (Intel i7-2720QM ) means Intel prices it maybe $200+ more. Its virtual machine, encryption, and security features are not available on 2.0GHz quad processors (Intel i7-2630QM, Intel i7-2635QM).

    • Intel® Virtualization Technology for Directed I/O (VT-d)

    • AES New Instructions [encryption]

    • Intel® Anti-Theft Technology

    • Execute Disable Bit
    Reply
  • johnspierce - Saturday, February 26, 2011 - link

    The $250 is not just for the 2.2 i7 -- it also has a massively better video card in the AMD Radeon HD 6750M with 1GB GDDR5 memory vs. the AMD Radeon HD 6490M with 256MB GDDR5. Also comes with either the 750gb 5400 drive or the 500gb 7200 drive vs. the 500gb 5400 drive in the base model. $250 doesn't sound so bad with those 3 significant upgrades. Reply
  • gc_ - Sunday, February 27, 2011 - link

    Actually, looking at Apple's US website today,
    there is a $250 difference to upgrade from 2.2GHz to 2.3GHz, not 2.0GHz to 2.2GHz.
    (The 2.0Ghz version of the MBP15 is not offered with a CPU upgrade, and the difference to the 2.2GHz version of the MBP15 is $400, not $250, with additional features that johnspierce noted.)

    Intel's list price is difference is:
    US$568 for i7-2820QM (2.3GHz to 3.4GHz, 8MB cache, quantity 1000)
    US$378 for i7-2720QM (2.2GHz to 3.3GHz, 6MB cache, quantity 1000)
    ------------
    US$190 difference

    Apple's purchase price difference from Intel is likely even greater:
    The i7-2720QM is in the Apple standard models
    Apple will buy it in much greater quantity than the custom-only i7-2820QM.
    Thus, Apple probably gets a much better discount on the i7-2720QM than on the i7-2820QM.

    http://ark.intel.com/Compare.aspx?ids=52227,50067,...
    store.apple.com
    Reply
  • da585 - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    Hope Anandtech could give us more detail about the reviews. I have some questions as shown:
    • SATA 3 or SATA 2?
    • Battery life
    • Screen Quality…
    I feel sad that Apple doesn't shrink the MBP's weights.
    Reply
  • KPOM - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    On MacRumors, some buyers of the new Pro have confirmed it supports SATA 3. Reply
  • seapeople - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    It either supports SATA 3 or Apple is going to have to replace everyone's motherboard when Intel finally fixes their SB boards.

    I'm guessing it's SATA 3.
    Reply
  • jamesst - Monday, February 28, 2011 - link

    A marketing manager/head (apparently fairly high level) said that Apple isn't using the defective Intel Platform Hubs in any of the new MacBooks, so the SATA bug isn't an issue. Reply
  • johnspierce - Saturday, February 26, 2011 - link

    +1 on Battery life. Laptopmag already has a review out showing the new MBP has about 40% less battery life compared to last year's model, but CNET's review shows it having about 15% *better* battery life. Which is it?

    I will only trust the results when Anandtech does the review! :D
    Reply
  • TheUsual - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    I wish I'd known 9 months ago they would have the quad core sandy bridge in there, I would have held off. All the rumors led me to believe they would stay with dual cores. I'm still paying on my 2.6 dual core MBP. I'm sure it's worth much less now, oh well. It's still a great laptop. Reply

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