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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  • Shadowmaster625 - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    There is only $100 difference between the twoparts, yet crApple is charging an extra $300 for the upgrade. Oh, yeah it does include a hard drive upgrade also, but what's that worth, $10? Reply
  • Zebo - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    less vibration, less noise than 7200rpms IME ...But really I'd get an SSD for none of either.

    I'd like to see a review from anand
    Reply
  • tipoo - Saturday, February 26, 2011 - link

    In my experience the 7200RPM's of today can be as quiet, cool, and vibration free as the 5200's. This isn't 2005 where 7200RPM means a constant clacking machine. Reply
  • johnspierce - Saturday, February 26, 2011 - link

    Agreed. Apple must have bought a warehouse full of 5400 rpm drives. Reply
  • vision33r - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    I've owned maybe 20-30 PC notebooks in the past, very few hold resale value over time.

    Take a Dell XPS 16 that cost $1200 optioned out. Over a year, you have to put a ton of upgrades such as memory and SSD just to get rid of it for $700.

    My old Macbook Pro 15, over 3 years old bought for $1200 used, I've sold it recently for $1400. The only upgrade was a 500GB ($60) upgrade from 160GB.

    Not to mention the LED-backlit 1440x990 display was crisp and was one of the 1st notebooks at the time to have LED back-lit and back-lit keyboard and multi-touch touchpad.

    Not a single PC or laptop today can hold value this good.
    Reply
  • seapeople - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    You sold a 3-year-old MBP for $1400? Was it purchased by a blind boy in Rhode Island, by any chance? Reply
  • dav1dz - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    Umm.. I thought they upped the memory reader to SDXC? Reply
  • jcompagner - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    Apple is the only one (until now and maybe it stays the only one??) to have 16:10 screens!!

    17" with 1920x1200, why oh why can't i choose any where else that same screen... :(

    I want the same screen but not a apple.. But i think my 4 year old Dell Vostro 17" will still not really be replaced any time soon, and i really want to spend money on a new system, but i can't stand it to loose 10% of my vertical pixels! Vertical pixels are the most important pixels!
    Reply
  • Kahlman79 - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    I saw that on the 15" that I want there is a cpu upgrade for $250. This would boost the clock speed from 2.2 ghz. to 2.3 ghz. I was wondering if this is at all worth it or if I should just stay with the factory specs. Reply
  • tipoo - Saturday, February 26, 2011 - link

    The higher end model also has a much faster graphics chip (3x the shader cores) and 1GB video memory (4x the base) in addition to the processor bump. Reply

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