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The 2011 Quad-Core Apple MacBook Pro

I was away on a week-long trip when Apple announced the new MacBook Pro.

I’m about to order one, and I’ll have a lot to say, including comparisons and tests against the 2010 model and the Mac Pro. But I’m torn— do I go for the larger 17" display, or keep it more manageable with the 15" model and get a useful SDXC card slot? With the advent of Thunderbolt, the ExpressCard/34 slot is a complete waste of space. I’d much rather have the SDXC slot, but the 17" model doesn't have one.

But the truth is I don’t really desire the new model, as my 2010 MacBook Pro 2.66Ghz Intel Core i7 model is more than sufficient for anything I do in the field (see review). But there are those for which the 4-core CPU will make a real difference— video for example. And the high speed Thunderbolt I/O solves some real problems for some users in the field.

OWC has an unboxing video of the new MacBook Pro.

Speed improved or not?

Some caution is advised— Apple’s claimed speed improvements for the 15" and 17" models all use software programs that the vast majority of users do not use. In fact, the graph shown does not include any program that the average user would use. Of the listed programs, the only one that I might conceivably use would be Aperture.

I’m skeptical of the claims for everyday software, but perhaps the Turbo Boost feature will mitigate the 17% loss of clock speed (2.8GHz down to 2.3GHz) and so everyday tasks will run at similar speeds to the 2010 model, hopefully not slower. Note that Apple compares the new models to the 2.66GHz prior model, and not the prior 2.8Ghz model, somewhat disingenuous.

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.

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.

Hits

Good stuff.

  • Quad-core processor with claimed high speed Turbo Boost;
  • 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

Not so good stuff.

  • Quad-core processor runs at a slooooow 2.0, 2.2 or 2.3 GHz, though Turbo Boost is claimed to help when not all cores are in use.
  • Pricey to go from 2.2 to 2.3 GHz, probably not worth it for most users, since it’s only 5% faster for $250 more. One can hardly notice 5%.
  • Memory remains limited to 8GB. This is a very serious limitation that cripples a quad-core machine for anyone hoping to work on more demanding tasks. One can only really use about 5.5GB for Photoshop CS5 (for example), plenty for many things, but woefully inadequate for big files.
  • 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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