Apple's MacBook Pro Update: What's New

Apple refreshed its MacBook Pro laptop line Thursday, and it's not just about speeds and feeds this time. With the addition of Intel's Sandy Bridge processor, AMD graphics, Facetime-enabled HD camera and a new high-speed Thunderbolt I/O port (reportedly 12 times faster than Firewire), this year's MacBook Pro update is a significant revamp. Let's take a closer look at what's new in the 2011 MacBook Pro:

Spec Boosts

As you might expect, the new MacBook Pros have better basic specs than their predecessors. Get ready for some number soup:

The 13-inch MacBook Pro ditches Intel's Core 2 Duo processor in favor of either a 2.3 GHz Core i5 or 2.7 GHz Core i7 on Intel's Sandy Bridge platform. Hard drives start at 320 GB instead of 250 GB. You still get 4 GB of DDR3 RAM, as with last year's models, but it's a little faster at 1333 MHz instead of 1066 MHz.

The basic 15-inch model jumps from last year's dual-core Intel Core i5 processor to a quad-core 2.0 GHz Core i7 Sandy Bridge processor. The smallest available hard drive is now 500 GB instead of 320 GB. As with the 13-inch model, the base RAM is only slightly different.

The 17-inch model also goes quad-core with a 2.2 GHz Core i7 Sandy Bridge processor in the standard configuration. Basic storage capacity jumps from 500 GB to 750 GB. Same story on RAM as the other MacBook models.

See Apple's Website for a full spec comparison.

Facetime Camera

Apple launched Facetime for Mac in October, but the latest MacBook Pros come with better cameras for video chat. Apple doesn't specify the resolution of its so-called "Facetime HD" camera, but says it's three times the resolution of last year's models.

Thunderbolt

The rumors were right: New MacBook Pros come with Thunderbolt, an I/O technology that Intel developed under the code name Light Peak. Apple says Thunderbolt can support transfer speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second and supports PCI Express, Firewire, USB and gigabit Ethernet using adapters. The jack itself looks like DisplayPort and can connect to external monitors. Again, adapters are required for HDMI, DVI and VGA formats. The goal for Apple and Intel is to have other devices implement Thunderbolt to take advantage of those fast speeds.

Nvidia Out, Intel and AMD In

Sandy Bridge is the first Intel chip architecture to integrate graphics and the CPU on a single piece of silicon, and it looks like Apple's happy enough with the platform to make Intel HD 3000 graphics available on all three new MacBook Pro models. The 15- and 17-inch models automatically switch to AMD's Radeon HD graphics when more power is necessary. Nvidia, which had provided the graphics processing on previous MacBook Pros, is out of the picture.

SDXC

The MacBook Pro now includes an SDXC memory card slot. SDXC is an SD card standard that supports up to 2 TB of storage (these days we're seeing 128 GB) and theoretical transfer rates of 104 MB per second. The cards are extremely expensive -- Lexar's 64 GB version costs $400, and the 128 GB card costs $700 -- and for now are meant for professionals. Don't worry; the SDXC slot can support existing SD memory cards as well.

Pricing: The Same

Apple hasn't budged on pricing this year. The 13-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1,199, the 15-inch model starts at $1,799 and the 17-inch model starts at $2,499.

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