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Apple Refreshes MacBook Pro - With ThunderBolt

David Gilbert


Apple Refreshes MacBook Pro - With ThunderBolt

While we were all but certain that Apple was going to refresh its MacBook Pro line today, the updates that it has brought are very interesting indeed.

The new MacBook Pros will bring Sandy Bridge, Thunderbolt I/O and FaceTime HD cameras claiming the new systems will be up to twice as fast as the previous iteration of the line. Thunderbolt, for those who don't know, is Apple implementation of Intel's Light Peak, which promises 10Gb/second transfer rates - and that's both ways people, so you get 10Gb/second to and from your device. There will be two versions or the 13in and 15.4in models with just one new 17incher. What was also rumoured and has proven to be true, is that graphics will now be handled by AMD silicon which means it's the end of the road for Nvidia.

"The new MacBook Pro brings next generation dual and quad Core processors, high performance graphics, Thunderbolt technology and FaceTime HD to the great design loved by our pro customers," said Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. "Thunderbolt is a revolutionary new I/O technology that delivers an amazing 10 gigabits per second and can support every important I/O standard which is ideal for the new MacBook Pro."

The 13in models, can be customized with Intel's second generation Core i5 or i7 dual core processors up to 2.7 GHz and Intel HD Graphics 3000. The 15in and 17in MacBook Pro models feature quad-core Core i7 processors up to 2.3 GHz and AMD Radeon HD graphics processors with up to 1GB of video memory. Thunderbolt I/O will be available on all the new models and Apple says it could be used for peripherals such as RAID arrays, and can support FireWire and USB consumer devices and Gigabit Ethernet networks via adapters. Thunderbolt also supports DisplayPort for high resolution displays and works with existing adapters for HDMI, DVI and VGA displays.

The integrated FaceTime HD cameras replace the iSight versions of old and claim triple the resolution. FaceTime's video-calling software is included in all new models and can be downloaded to other Intel-based Macs for 59p.

The 13in model is available in two configurations: one with a 2.3 GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i5 and 320GB hard drive starting at £999; and one with a 2.7 GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i5 and 500GB hard drive starting at £1299. The new 15in version is also available in two models: one with a 2.0 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7, AMD Radeon HD 6490M and 500GB hard drive starting at £1549.00 and one with a 2.2 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7, AMD Radeon HD 6750M and 750GB hard drive starting at £1849. The new 17-inch MacBook Pro features a 2.2 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7, AMD Radeon HD 6750M and 750GB hard drive and is priced at £2099.

Source: Apple


February 24, 2011, 8:03 pm

So much for those rumoured SSDs used as boot drives. Upping the HDD to 750gigs is welcomed, but £2099 for the 17" stings. I'm still surprised they're using exactly the same cases as before. No attempt to slim things down a little further, knock off a bit of weight - all exactly the same. Also sad to see battery life take a hit across all models but there you go. Some nice changes, many not so nice.


February 24, 2011, 8:47 pm

"While we were all but certain that Apple was going to refresh its MacBook Pro line today, the updates that it has brought are very interesting indeed."

I don't see much that's interesting, let alone "very interesting". The switch from Nvidia to AMD is interesting for them, but as for the PCs themselves, just expected seasonal updates that everyone does. Lightpeak (about time), does that mean Apple are ignoring USB3?

Agree with you @GG, would expect them to slim these down with a bit of Air technology in the same way Dell has put Adamo DNA into their new laptops and HP with their Envy. Still decent machines (though damn pricey) but with more conventional PC manufacturers improving their designs it's a shame Apple haven't improved their line at all. I guess most people will say they don't need to but I think a little thinning down and a bit more flair would have been welcome this time around.


February 24, 2011, 9:02 pm

I'm looking forward to seeing what the integrated graphics performance is like with Sandy Bridge, plus a comparison of battery life with the old model.

Shame they didn't sneak a higher res screen into the mix, there are 15" laptops out there with 1080P screens.....

I'm probably going to hold off till next year to upgrade my '09 model 13" macbook pro. Sandy Bridge is tempting, however my current pro is still ticking away nicely.....


February 24, 2011, 10:02 pm

@ gingerbreadman85

My sneaking suspicion is that it's hard for them to find new 16:10 ratio screens this late in the game when the industry's moved to 16:9. Like the 11" Air they could have opted for a whole new redesign, but they've been a bit stingy. Upgraded internals - but same cases, same screens, and even Thunderbolt is through the old MiniDisplayPort. A 3GS like update. Disappointing really - some of those mock ups of a new black metal design had me hoping for something fresh.


February 24, 2011, 10:21 pm

@HK - Well, it's kind of interesting that Apple/Intel are debuting this new optical interconnect. That isn't optical. But should help disrupt adoption of USB3, and then by the time the actual optical version arrives we'll enjoy a degree of fragmentation that will scare off consumers and manufacturers completely. :)


February 24, 2011, 10:49 pm

Firewire vs. USB2 part 2.

Who won that round, simonm?



February 24, 2011, 11:12 pm


Hmm. Firewire/USB2 never felt to me like they were competing in the same space. Firewire was Apple-y and on DV camcorders. USB2 was on hard drives and anything non-Apple.

Maybe by that token ThunderBolt might stay in the Apple domain, but I don't imagine that's Intel's intention.

And I'm *really* confused by how Intel can put out a pile of press about the new optical interconnect they're developing because of the limitations of copper, and then release it(*) as a copper interconnect. Although not ruling out the possibility that it will go optical in the future!

Yesterday I knew my next laptop had to have USB3 to interface with fast USB3 hard drives. Today I know nothing. :)

(*) Well, I say 'it', but it can't be the same technology... the point of LightPeak as I remember was that they'd achieved a cost breakthrough by doing the lasers and controller all as one piece of lithography.


February 25, 2011, 2:17 pm

Remember when Apple said that the 2010 MacBook Air was the future of MacBooks? I'm expecting a total chassis redesign when Lion launches.

I'd put money on the removal of the optical drives too, allowing Apple to slim the machines down and save weight and accommodate a larger battery. Hopefully SSD's as standard...

Smithfield Building

February 25, 2011, 2:24 pm

Yesterday was never going to see redesigned Macbook Pros as it was a refresh. Most Apple products follow a pretty consistent life-cycle.


February 25, 2011, 2:36 pm

I'm a bit confused. Apple says Thunderbolt can be used to support USB devices. What does that mean? That if you buy a connector you will be able to get the benefits of existing USB3 devices? Are the actual USB sockets on the MBP USB3 too? Or are they USB2 too?!

And will generic external HD manufacturers etc be making devices with a Thunderbolt connection, or is it going to be an Apple only affair?

David Gilbert

February 25, 2011, 2:54 pm

@Bluepork The USB socekts on the MBP are USB 2.0 not 3.0. As regards Thunderbolt, Intel say they will eventually integrate USB 3.0 into Thunderbolt but that could be quite a long way down the line and depend on which technology gains most market share.

Regarding hard drive manufacturers, only LaCie and Promise have announced specific Thunderbolt devices so far but other PC manufacturers are expected to roll it out in their machines by late 2011/early 2012 so you would imagine more external storage manufacturers would jump on board the standard.


February 25, 2011, 3:11 pm

I was hoping to do the PC to Mac switch with this refresh and get the base 15" model. I have serious doubts now and I am unlikely to do it now since the changes are terribly disappointing for me. Although I am not a gamer, I would play the occasional Starcraft II or WoW and as a result some semi decent graphics is what I would look for in a £1500 laptop.

AMD 6490 256MB in base 15" is worse than Nvidia 330m 256MB in previous generation 15". I geniunely cannot see the logic behind this strange "upgrade"

First of all is there really much difference between AMD 6490 and Intel HD3000 that'll make the graphics switching any meaningful?

And secondly why didn't Apple put something like AMD 6730 into base 15"? It would make much much more sense. Even leaving 330m in the base model rather than downgrading it with AMD 6490 would be better than this.

Furthermore, there is no point in using the faster and more expensive GDDR5 with a slow GPU like 6490.

BTW, I am talking about only the base 15" model. I think the rest of the Macbook Pro range all benefited nicely from their upgrades.

I wonder TrustedReviews will review the base or the high end 15" model here. I'd like to see the graphics performance of the base model compared to last generation 15" MBP.

Luan Bach

February 25, 2011, 3:58 pm

Would have been nice if they've made the 13" MBP a little lighter, it feel surprisingly heavy in the hands.


February 25, 2011, 7:21 pm

Only later realised that even the 750GB "upgrade" isn't that sweet a deal either - there's been no attempt to take the speed up to 7200rpm. So you can have the slower drive with more capacity, or stick with the smaller but faster 500GB HDD at no extra cost (which given my inability to afford 512GB of Solid State Storage is what I'd plump for).


February 25, 2011, 11:11 pm

I'd say that Apple hasn't integrated USB3 as it would need another chip on the motherboard, which is already cramped (especially now with the thunderbolt controller on it.

A simple way of explaining thunderbolt (I'm tired of the name already...) is that it bundles a Displayport and PCI express x4 interface into a single external interface. You could connect to a usb 3 device by having a thunderbolt to usb 3 adaptor in much the same way as you have a PCI express USB 3 card now. This could be in the form of a separate dongle or integrated into devices.

Having an external PCI express interface should open up some interesting expansion possibilities, and is much more flexible than USB3 is.

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