Along with the same compliments, the new MacBook Pro’s design also suffers the same criticisms as its predecessors. The placement of just the DVD drive and Kensington lock port on the right, with every other connector on the left isn’t the best use of available space. Moreover, the MacBook Pro’s provision of only two USB 2.0 ports remains stingy, even taking into account the presence of a FireWire 800 port not often seen on non-Apple laptops. A MagSafe power port, Gigabit Ethernet Port and SDXC card slot are also provided on the MacBook Pros left edge along with separate audio line-in and line-out jacks (the 13in model has a combined port, making it less than ideal for audio editing work).
The star of the show on the input front is found where the previous MacBook Pro’s mini-DisplayPort sat. The connector is the same, but it’s now a Thunderbolt port, Intel’s latest device interface that offers up to 10Gb/s transfer speeds bi-directionally – in addition to functioning as a DisplayPort. Up to six devices can be daisy chained off a single Thunderbolt port, one of which can be a monitor. Currently the display has to be the last device in the loop, but future monitors will be able to sit anywhere in the chain.
The biggest problem with Thunderbolt currently is that there are no devices on the market able to make use of it. A number of manufacturers have prototypes, though, including Promise, which has a 6-bay external hard drive in testing. At a demonstration at Apple’s London HQ this unit was able to deliver a raw throughput of close to 800MB/s, and the MacBook Pro connected to it had no problem streaming four raw 130MB/s video feeds from the storage device and outputting them to a Cinema Display daisy chained off the Promise unit.
It’s also worth noting that despite the criticisms that Apple has opted for Thunderbolt over USB 3.0 – a technology for which compatible devices are available now – it’s not entirely untrue to say the MacBook Pro doesn’t support anything but Thunderbolt. Internally the Thunderbolt port offers up a PCIe bus, so in theory an adaptor could be made to provide a USB 3.0 connection via the Thunderbolt port. Obviously using an adaptor isn’t the most elegant solution, but it’s better than having no solution at all. Apple being Apple, however, we’re not likely to see an official adaptor any time soon.
The physical construction may not have changed much, but internally the latest MacBook Pro is a much-improved affair. Foremost on the list of upgrades come Intel’s new Sandy Bridge CPUs. In the 13in system these are limited to dual-core variants, but in the 15in and 17in MacBook Pros it’s quad-core all the way. The MacBook Pro actually is the second laptop we’ve managed to get our hands on featuring Intel’s new line of Core i5 and i7 processors. However, unlike the MSI GT680, the MacBoo Pro isn’t a gaming system, and so while the basics aren’t much different, they are in a system with more universal appeal. Our sample system featured a 2.2GHz, quad-core Core i7. Thanks to an updated version of Intel’s Turbo Boost technology, this processor can run at up to 3.3GHz when a higher clock speed is more useful than having multiple cores active.