Apple Macbook Pro (15in, early 2011) notebook

Apple Macbook Pro revew: Apple's 2011 Macbook Pro adds extra processing, graphics grunt and a new connection standard

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Apple Macbook Pro (15in, early 2011)
  • Apple Macbook Pro (15in, early 2011)
  • Apple Macbook Pro (15in, early 2011)
  • Apple Macbook Pro (15in, early 2011)
  • Expert Rating

    4.00 / 5

Pros

  • Thunderbolt is theoretically an excellent connection standard
  • The extra processing power is noticeable

Cons

  • There aren't many other changes to write about
  • We can't do anything with Thunderbolt at the moment

Bottom Line

If you were considering a Macbook Pro recently but held off to see what the model refresh would bring, you might be disappointed. There aren't many innovative updates in the new Macbook Pro -- Thunderbolt is the only one worth writing home about, in our opinion -- but the extra processing power and graphics grunt are welcome. Apple's latest Macbook Pro improves on an already competent design but doesn't stand out significantly from competitors like Sony and Alienware.

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The new Core i7 Apple Macbook Pro is a very strong performer for productivity and general-purpose computing tasks, but it's no surprise that you can buy a cheaper Windows-based notebook that's more powerful.

Apple Macbook Pro: Design and features

The latest Macbook Pro from Apple looks identical to its predecessor. We lined up a 15in Macbook Pro from late 2010 alongside the latest model, and couldn't tell the differences while looking straight on. The only differences externally between the two models are in the new Macbook Pro's 'FaceTime HD' camera, which adds 720p high-definition recording, and the Thunderbolt port.

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Thunderbolt is the official release name for Intel's Light Peak technology, and it's effectively exclusive to Apple until 2012. Thunderbolt is an input/output port like USB — but much faster. It's twice the speed of USB 3.0, 20 times faster than USB 2.0, and about 12 times faster than FireWire 800. It employ the connector Apple has been using for Mini DisplayPort since late 2008 — a plug that looks similar to mini-USB but is slightly chunkier.

Thunderbolt is, theoretically, an excellent connection standard. It's very fast at up to 10Gbps transmission, supports bus power at up to 10W (on par with USB but only a quarter of what FireWire can handle), and has plenty of future potential — the standard supports optical data transmission not unlike optical digital audio, allowing cable runs of hundreds of metres. The specification allows for up to seven devices to be daisy-chained — think of six Full HD monitors and a very high-speed storage device linked in series, operating as fast as the computer's internal PCI-Express bus will allow.

The problem is that we can't really tell you anything about the real-world applications of Thunderbolt, because we don't have anything that can use it yet. Lacie, Western Digital and plenty of other companies are keen on the standard — we're expecting plenty of high-speed portable hard drives, DAS devices (a la Drobo) and external audio/video boxes, but when they will hit the market is another question altogether. If it's any consolation, we hooked up a 24in Dell U2410 monitor to the Thunderbolt port via a Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter, and the monitor detected the Mac and connected perfectly just the same as our older, non-Thunderbolt Macbook Pro did — all your old peripherals should be just fine.

The only other external difference is the new FaceTime HD camera, taking over from iSight. We compared pictures taken in Photo Booth with the 'old' and 'new' cameras and saw no difference — but then again, Photo Booth spits out images at 640x480 resolution, which both cameras can easily achieve. We also had an impromptu FaceTime chat between two Macbook Pros, which revealed a slight quality boost for the newer camera.

Apple Macbook Pro: Specs and performance

Our test unit was a top-spec 15in Macbook Pro, boasting a quad-core Intel Core i7-2720QM Sandy Bridge-based CPU running at 2.2GHz. It's got a zippy 7200rpm, 500GB hard drive. You can also spec up the system with a 128GB, 256GB or 512GB SSD, although the top option costs as much as the rest of the laptop itself. The graphics chipset automatically switches between the power-efficient integrated Intel GMA HD 3000 and the discrete Radeon HD 6750M.

Next page: Benchmarks and conclusion

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