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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  • PubicTheHare - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    Anand,

    In your preview review of the 15" MBP, you said to wait for the next revision of Arrandale with a smaller die size. Would this latest refresh be what you were referring to?

    I want to know a few things:

    1) WHEN can we expect TRIM in OSX and is the OCZ Vertex 3 the drive to get for Mac?
    2) Is there hardware acceleration of Flash in the AMD gfx card drivers for the 15" MBP?
    3) How hot does the chassis get under heavy use?
    4) How easy is it to replace RAM, HDD/SDD?

    You guys always do the best reviews of Mac stuff!

    Thanks, man. Hope the jetlag is gone.

    Regards,

    -O
    Reply
  • PubicTheHare - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    Sorry, I meant "previous review" !

    I'm fried from the gym :(
    Reply
  • KPOM - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    I've read that developers who have installed OS X 10.7 report that it includes TRIM support. Reply
  • kevith - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    I find it great, when companies cut the corners in the storage department, i.e. RAM and physical drive, since these are the only parts you can upgrade in a laptop on your own.

    Which is always cheaper, and especially in the case of Apple hardware.

    Take the cheaper 15", put in a decent SDD and another 4 GB of RAM, and you're much better off.
    Reply
  • rachenbrazil - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    Will Intel HD 3000 be better than Nvidia 320M ? Reply
  • erple2 - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    Based on Anand's review of the "new" mobile Sandy bridge:

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4084/intels-sandy-br...

    It appears as though the HD 3000 is a little bit faster than the 320m in the MBP 13" Core2Duo P8600 model. At least, when paired with the 2820QM variant. The MBP 13" refresh includes up to a 2620M (dual core) processor, it looks like, which has the same integrated graphics card as the 2820QM chip.

    However, the processor in the 2620M is, I think, substantially faster than the P8600 included in the older MBP 13".

    BTW, I'd LOVE to have a 13 foot MBP! Though I think that "Book" would have to be dropped from the name...
    Reply
  • tipoo - Saturday, February 26, 2011 - link

    MacTable Pro! Reply
  • Zensen - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    the worse thing about this upgrade is the blatant arrogance of leaving out USB 3.0. I love the lightpeak technology now known as thunderbolt but with usb 3.0 being backwards compatible its just a bloody shame really.

    Physically this laptop looks exactly the same as the last iteration.
    Reply
  • johnspierce - Saturday, February 26, 2011 - link

    Since Intel is not supporting USB 3.0, I'm betting it will die. If this was just Apple pushing lightpeak I would be in agreement with you, but with Intel pushing it I think we just heard the death nell for USB 3.0.

    I personally cannot wait for a Thunderbolt Compact Flash reader so I can get my 16gb of photos from my D300 to my computer in 20 seconds instead of 5 minutes!
    Reply
  • Penti - Sunday, February 27, 2011 - link

    They is with the 7-series chipset with Ivy Bridge sometime next year or so.

    I don't think all devices will move to a PCIe interface. And your CF card isn't going to pull 820MiB/s :D The fastest ones are specced at 90MB/s. You ~50MB/s card should not have that much of a problem with USB 2.0 =P
    Reply

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