Friday, 25 February 2011 08:36

2011 MacBook Pro: Thunderbolt arrives, FireWire survives


Apple's new MacBook Pro range puts the emphasis on performance. In addition to faster processors and graphics chips, the new models mark the arrival of Thunderbolt, a new I/O technology.

The revised MacBook Pro range comes in three basic versions: 13in, 15in and 17in. Apple claims the new models are up to two times faster than their predecessors on application benchmarks, and that the 15in and 17in versions are up to three times faster in terms of graphics performance.


Image: Courtesy of Apple

The 13in model comes with a dual-core CPU, either a 2.3GHz Core i5 and a 320GB hard drive, or a 2.7GHz Core i7 and a 500GB hard drive.  and Intel HD 3000 graphics are standard, and prices start at $1399 for the i5 and $1698 for the i7.

The 15in version gives the choice of a 2.0GHz quad-core Core i7 processor and a 500GB hard drive, or 2.2GHz processor and a 750GB drive. The Intel HD 3000 graphics are supplemented with an AMD Radeon HD 6750 with automatic switching.

At the high end, the 17in comes in one standard configuration with a 2.2GHz quad-core Core i7 and a 750GB hard drive. A 2.3GHz processor is available as a built-to-order (BTO) option. Unlike the smaller models, the 17in MacBook Pro also includes an ExpressCard/34 slot.

Nominal battery life is seven hours. The 13in model weighs 2.04kg, the 15in is 2.54kg, and the 17in model weighs 2.99kg.

Various hard disks and solid state drives are available as BTO options across the range, and the 15in and 17in models provide the option of an antiglare display. 4GB of RAM is standard on all models, along with one FireWire 800 and two USB 2.0 ports (three on the 17in), 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1 +EDR, and a 'Facetime HD' video camera with triple the resolution of the cameras on the previous MacBook Pro range (the exact resolution is not mentioned in the spec sheet or in Apple's announcement).

But the biggest news on the I/O front is the new Thunderbolt port - see page 2.

Thunderbolt is the new name for Intel's Light Peak interconnect technology, and Apple is the first vendor to include it in a product. Originally presented in 2009 as an optical technology, the first generation of Thunderbolt uses copper instead.

The Thunderbolt port on the MacBook Pros provides two 10Gbps channels, and carries DisplayPort and PCI Express signals. According to Apple, it can be used to daisy-chain up to six devices, including one or two high-res displays (only one display on the 13in MacBook Pro).

The Thunderbolt connector accepts existing Mini DisplayPort adapters for HDMI, DVI and VGA displays. In addition to PCI Express connections to devices such as RAID arrays, the Thunderbolt port can also be connected to FireWire, USB and Gigabit Ethernet via adaptors.

"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 10G and can support every important I/O standard which is ideal for the new MacBook Pro," he added.


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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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