Rumors of a MacBook Pro update from Apple have been floating around for the past few weeks, so it was no surprise to see this morning’s launch of a fully refreshed line (including 13-inch, 15-inch and 17-inch versions).
The highlights? New, faster processors, more powerful graphics processors, a new FaceTime-enabled HD camera and a new port for a technology that Apple is calling Thunderbolt.
Cosmetically, the new Pros look very similar to their predecessors. There are still 13-, 15- and 17-inch models (starting at $1,199, $1,799 and $2,499, respectively), and they still have the same aluminum unibody construction and full-width glass across the display. To look at them, you wouldn’t notice a whole lot that’s different.
It’s under the hood where things change. The new Intel processors, the Core i5 and Core i7, are dual- and quad-core chips that promise up to twice the performance of the chips in the earlier models.
One of the new features of the Intel chips is an integrated graphics processor. But in the 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pros, Apple doubled down on graphics by adding a discrete AMD Radeon graphics chip. Models with both chips seamlessly and automatically switch between the two processors, depending on performance needs.
There is also a new FaceTime HD camera, which can stream video in 720p resolution and display it in a new widescreen format. However, the biggest news is the inclusion of Thunderbolt (Light Peak) technology, which Intel developed. The MacBook Pros are the first computers to feature the technology, but it will roll out across manufacturers next year.
In practice, it’s a dual Thunderbolt/DisplayPort I/O port (marked by a lightning icon) that provides two bi-directional channels with data transfer speeds up to 10 Gbps.
The performance specs of Thunderbolt are striking: At 10 Gbps, it’s twice as fast as USB 3.0, 12 times as fast as FireWire 800 and 20 times faster than USB 2.0. As Intel calculated in their press release, a Thunderbolt connection can transfer a full-length high-definition movie in 30 seconds.
Thunderbolt is also a native Mini DisplayPort, so any display with that connection can hook up easily. HDMI, DVI, DisplayPort and VGA displays can use adapters. Thunderbolt also provides up to 10 watts of power to peripherals and can be daisy-chained to up to six peripherals.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1,199, with a 2.3 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 CPU, Intel’s HD graphics 3000, and a 320 GB hard drive, and can be upgraded to a 2.7 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 CPU and a 500 GB hard drive for $1,499.
The 15-inch MacBook Pro is also available as two models: One starts at $1,799 with a 2.0 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 CPU, AMD Radeon HD 6490M and a 500 GB hard drive, and the other has a 2.2 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 CPU, AMD Radeon HD 6750M and 750 GB hard drive starting at $2,199.
The 17-inch model starts at $2,499 and features a 2.2 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 CPU, AMD Radeon HD 6750M graphics and a 750 GB hard drive.
Apple has also released a preview for software developers of the forthcoming version of its new operating system, Lion. New features include “Mission Control”, allowing users to view all currently running apps, a new home for Mac Apps called Launchpad and new multitouch gestures.