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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  • jamesst - Monday, February 28, 2011 - link

    Thunderbolt is two channel and each channel can carry 10Gbps. In fact, I've read that one channel is dedicated to DisplayPort while the other is used just for PCIe transfers. They don't talk much about the channel used for DisplayPort since you can't use that for general-purpose peripherals, that's why they just say that it has 10Gbps for high-speed data transfer. Reply
  • n0othing - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    I remember buying my $2100 macbook pro back in 2007 (still running like a champ and overall nicer than a lot of laptops on the market today). 2.4Ghz c2duo, 4GB ddr2, 500GB/7200RPM, 256MB 8600M GT, and their first LED backlit LCDs to boot. I bought mine when they had just refreshed and I even got a free ipod nano + printer out of it.

    To be honest, the specs on this revision are pretty solid-- but they seem to lack the wow factor I like to see when apple does major refreshes (note: not every refresh makes my panties wet).

    I would have liked to see USB 3.0 ports, an nvidia gpu (completely fanboi based, the 6750 is solid, best bang for buck), 8GB of RAM standard on the upper tier models, and perhaps a modest price break (say, $100).
    Reply
  • AmdInside - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    I agree. Just not wowed. The only thing that these specs could have done to wow me would be if they dropped the MSRP by 25% or more which I know wasn't going to happen. Where's USB 3.0? Why can't Apple have a dedicated HDMI port? Expresscard slot? Blu-ray? Higher resolution screen? More memory (I picked up 8GB for $70 recently for my Dell XPS 14 and MBP so it can't be that expensive right now)? 7200RPM hard drive? Better speakers? More video memory? Reply
  • dagamer34 - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    HDMI port: http://www.amazon.com/Mini-DisplayPort-Adapter-fem...

    ExpressCard slot is only on the 17" because few people actually use it.
    Reply
  • KPOM - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    What I and a lot of Mac enthusiasts are most concerned about is how the Sandy Bridge graphics perform on basic gaming. A lot will depend on the drivers for the HD 3000. Most of us consider it a step backward from the 320m in the outgoing model, and there is actually a lot of opposition on Mac boards to the lack of a discrete GPU in the 13". Many would have given up a built-in optical drive to get a discrete GPU.

    The other disappointment is the low-res screen in the 13". The MacBook Air actually has a higher-res screen.
    Reply
  • tipoo - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    Agreed, I wish they would ditch the optical drive for room for a discreet card and a larger battery to balance it.

    I hope Anandtech extensively tests the 13 inch's graphics performance compared to the last one.
    Reply
  • shiznit - Sunday, February 27, 2011 - link

    As a mac enthusiast you should know that Apple resists to give lower end models of a particular line features that would make you less likely to purchase a more expensive model. For example a 13" MBP with the 1440x900 screen and a discrete gpu makes the 15" almost pointless, unless you really need 1680x1050 and a quad core. The 13" MBA can get the good screen because there is no better model. It's just good busines.

    Btw, Apple would have converted me if the 13" MBP had the MBA's screen.
    Reply
  • undermined - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    shouldn't it be 1680x1050 instead of 1650x1080 on the chart? Reply
  • AmdInside - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    I love Apple products but in this refresh, they could have done so much more and they didn't. I have little interest in upgrading mY MBP 13" not because I can't afford it but because the faster CPU speed alone is not enough reason to justify the upgrade. My next MBP purchase will likely be a 15". Hopefully next year, the laptop will be more interesting. Reply
  • erple2 - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    Hmm.. If not for a faster CPU and GPU (though I don't know if the integrated Intel HD 3000 is faster than the 320M, but I suspect it's at least on par), then what is the point of ever upgrading? The CPU upgrade is 2 generations newer - going from a Core 2 Duo to a Sandy Bridge based CPU is a pretty hefty bump in power.

    Ultimately, if your current MBP 13" handles all of the loads that you can throw at it without any problems, then you're right. However, that's true with any computer/thing.
    Reply

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