MacBook Pro teardown reveals first peek of Thunderbolt

The iFixit crew dismantled the MacBook Pro for a glimpse at the lightning fast Thunderbolt technology

The teardown experts at iFixit turned their attention this week to Apple's latest version of the 15-inch Unibody MacBook Pro. The Early 2011 edition looks a lot like its predecessors, with two new features on the logic board. It's the first Apple portable with a quad-core processor, Intel's 2.0 or 2.2 GHz Core i7, and it includes the shiny-new Thunderbolt I/O connection for screaming data and display transfers.

(See Related: Intel Thunderbolt Bolts Through Data Transfers)

According to Intel, Thunderbolt allows you to transfer a full-length HD movie in less than 30 seconds. It puts PCI Express and DisplayPort into a single, bi-directional connector, with what appears to be a dedicated 10 Gbps data channel for each. "That's nice, as you don't want your display competing with your external hard drive for bandwidth," iFixit notes.

As many as six Thunderbolt devices can chain to a single port. "That's not a problem today as we're not even aware of six products that support Thunderbolt yet," although if the I/O standard takes off, it could become an issue, iFixit notes.

What else is new?

· Upgraded wireless connectivity via Broadcom's BCM 4331 chip and a fourth antenna on the wireless card.

· Though battery capacity is still 77.5 watt-hours, estimated battery life has fallen to seven hours from a previously reported eight to nine. "Has performance really decreased, or is Apple being more realistic with their estimates?" iFixit muses. "We don't have 7 hours to wait and find out."

· Regular tinkerers may be startled to find an AMD-branded Radeon HD 6490M graphics chip. AMD acquired ATi in 2006 but took five years to replace the ATi brand with its own.

"Aside from the logic board differences, there really isn't much else that makes this machine different from its 15" Unibody ancestors," iFixit concludes, giving the MacBook Pro Unibody 15" Early 2011 a repairability score of 7 out of 10, 10 being easiest. Most components are easy to access, though Apple doesn't consider the battery to be user-replaceable, and LCD repair is still "very tricky."

A caveat worth noting: "One thing that has us a little concerned about the new models is their quality control. A stripped screw near the subwoofer enclosure and an unlocked ZIF socket for the IR sensor should not be things found inside a completely unmolested computer with an $1,800 base price."

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Lisa Greim

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