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Introduction to the MacBook Pro Quad-Core

Last updated 2011-03-09 - Send Feedback
Related: laptop, MacBook, MacBook Pro, Macs, memory, Thunderbolt

The February 2011 MacBook Pro offers two break-through features, or three for the user for whom high speed graphics are actually important:

  • Quad-core processor with claimed high speed Turbo Boost;
  • Thunderbolt (formerly known as Light Peak) for high speed I/O (more potential than usefulness until late 2011).
  • Faster graphics support (of no importance to most users). HD video users and gamers and 3D rendering users will like this, but nobody else should care.

Upgrading

My 2010 MacBook Pro 2.66Ghz Intel Core i7 model is more than sufficient for anything I do in the field (see review), where it functions as a glorifed storage device for downloading digital camera images (most of the time). I just don’t use it for any serious work in the field. Nevertheless, I’m selling it, because the 2011 model is so much better.

For anyone doing real work on the MacBook Pro, the 2011 quad-core model is compelling for its much faster CPU, and the ability to use 16GB of memory.

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High speed I/O remains a promise

The high speed Thunderbolt I/O solves some real problems for some users in the field. However, there are no available Thunderbolt external drives as of February 2011.

There is no hurry to buy a 2011 MacBook Pro for Thunderbolt, because storage peripherals are unlikely to appear until summer 2011. Remember, there could also be growing pains, so use caution even when devices become available.

Features in detail

13" model is a win

The 13" model is a big step up compared to the previous model. If you want a small and fast laptop, the 13" model looks great.

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Battery

I hope the “longer lasting battery” lasts longer than the pathetic ~2 hours I get on my 2010 model, which was also claimed to last 7 hours. This is a particularly irritating claim having just returned from my trip, where the battery performed miserably, and that’s with a low-power-draw SSD.

CPU speed — 2.2 GHz vs 2.3Ghz + more cache

Note that by upgrading to the 2.3GHz processor for the 15" and 17" models, the clock speed increases only 5% over 2.2GHz, but the on-chip cache size also increases from 6MB to 8MB.

The extra on-chip cache memory can help with software that actually uses all four cores, because it reduces contention for memory access. But typically this gain is at best a few percent faster— it all depends on the particular task.

Hits

Good stuff.

  • Quad-core processor with Turbo Boost, a feature whereby the clock speed hits up to 3.4GHz;
  • Thunderbolt (formerly known as Light Peak) for high speed I/O (more promise than usefulness at present). A daisy-chain approach with the display last in the chain means re-plugging other devices to remove or add a device, hardly elegant, and which means a system shutdown (think active drives in the chain). Not very useful in general until the Mac Pro and other Macs gain the same capability. Still, it's a leap forward that should solve a huge number of performance problems as soon as it makes its way into other Macs (and PCs).
  • Much faster graphics (of no importance for most users);
  • Full-screen HD video for Apple FaceTime (cool, but of no value to many users);
  • The 13" model now offers the fast (but dual core) Intel Core i7, so you can now have a both fast and compact laptop.

Misses

Almost perfect.

  • Single internal drive— no option to have dual internal drives and ditch the internal optical/DVD drive, which serves no useful purpose for many users.
  • Still no way to read CompactFlash cards directly, and the 17" model has no SDXC slot, retaining an ExpressCard/34 slot which is now obsolete and woefully slow with the advent of Thunderbolt.

 


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