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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  • tipoo - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    I was hoping for liquidmetal and ditching the optical drive, like in this render

    http://cultofmac.cultofmaccom.netdna-cdn.com/wordp...

    A man can dream, can't he? A man can dream...

    Anyways, I agree that they should have went with 7200RPM drives. In the grand scheme of things they only make a minute or two difference in battery life (pretty much nothing), aren't necessarily hotter running with newer drives, and some are just as quiet as 5200RPM. There was that rumor that the OS would be on a 8 or 16GB SSD like the MBA's SSD form factor, so the hard drives are even more disappointing.
    Reply
  • ImSpartacus - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    If we had 16GB boot SSDs, the drive wouldn't've been a problem. It's a real bummer.

    But I guess if you can afford a MBP, you can afford a nice SSD for it.
    Reply
  • BSMonitor - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    Wish they'd tell us which manufacturer's SSD it is.. Tiz crucial. I'd pay the $250 if the SSD is the OCZ Vertex 3 Anand just reviewed!! Reply
  • tipoo - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    Yeah, its moronic to pay Apple for a mystery SSD, they don't name the brand or the series. Reply
  • quiksilvr - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    It's moronic to buy these laptops in the first place. The prices are a complete joke. Why would I even touch a MBP 13" with the vastly superior ENVY 14? Reply
  • zemek1s - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    As a envy 14 owner picking up a MBP 13 tonight, I can help here.
    First, the envy 14 has horrid battery life (about 3 hours, less if I'm running anything harder than chrome).

    Coming from a Santa Rosa generation MBP 15, I took a real hit on resolution and screen nice-ness by going for the envy. As a desktop replacement (I use it at work docked to two monitors) - its very nice, but I'll take the better virtualization (Fusion) in order to ditch this heavy envy and its miles-long power brick thing.
    Reply
  • halcyon - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    What's with all the hating?

    Some people actually *like* using OS X without hackintosh.

    If you don't like it, move along.

    Live and let live.

    By making hateful comments like that, you only show your own emotional reaction to something that is only a personal preference and not a war of the worlds :)
    Reply
  • akula2 - Thursday, March 03, 2011 - link

    I agree with you. Haters must STFU and cry elsewhere. People who are interested in Apple products will continue to buy them. Period. Reply
  • MrBrownSound - Thursday, February 24, 2011 - link

    Our minds wouldn't be able to handle it; it's better that we don't know. Don't you agree. Sure I would drop a tri-deuce grand for a MBP with that luscious vertex 3. Reply
  • TypeS - Friday, February 25, 2011 - link

    What OEM ever informs of you brand and model of HDD/ODD/Memory and so forth. . .?

    This is nothing new and questioning is just shows your ignorance. If you want to know what part you using, you either 1) buy with base options and upgrade with retail parts or 2) go build your own notebook/macbook.

    Good luck if you go with option 2.
    Reply

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