Apple has just announced that it is updating its Macbook Pro line of laptops with some features that were long overdue, like the Sandy Bridge and FaceTime HD, and others that were a bit more surprising, like the Thunderbolt I/O port and AMD GPUs.
New CPU: It took a while, but Apple has finally integrated Intel’s Sandy Bridge processor in its latest Macbook Pro computers (other OEMs had done so already – to some extent) and that will make a lot of potential Mac buyers very happy. If you’re not familiar with Sandy Bridge, check our CES Sandy Bridge coverage. Sandy Bridge, sold under the Intel Core i5 and i7 names is a faster central processor that also contains a graphics core, and dedicated video encode/decode hardware. The latter is the juicy part for Mac users: video hobbyist on a clock won’t have to buy a USB dongle to get uber-fast video encode – that’s assuming that drivers and apps are ready to support the hardware.
AMD graphics: AMD has completely displaced NVIDIA in this round. While it’s not unusual to have a mix from both vendors, AMD was previously completely out. This time, the tables have been turned and AMD can enjoy being the sole discrete graphics supplier for Macbook Pro laptops, until the next revision. For Apple, this is not only a great way to have a single set of drivers to create/support (Apple creates its own drivers based on the reference code provided by AMD or NVIDIA) their procurement department can also apply greater “incentives” to get discounts.
Thunderbolt: this is the “real” new stuff: Intel has demonstrated this technology at IDF under the Lightpeak name. It’s an input/output port (and protocol) that leapfrogs the theoretical speed of USB 3.0 (5Gbps) to 10Gbps. In theory, this port can be used for a number of things, from storage to displays. It is also compatible with the PCI-Express protocol, which makes it compatible with a bunch of existing technologies, including USB and Firewire (adapter required). Finally, it can provide 10W of power, which will enable a new class of Thunderbolt-powered devices. This is really cool. More info at Intel
FaceTime HD: Finally, Apple is upgrading FaceTime to HD, thanks to a new webcam that is said to have 3X the resolution of the older Macbook Pro ones. We don’t think that a new Mac is needed to “receive” HD, but the new camera is required to send HD. We’ll have to try that for ourselves.
Configurations: this evolution is not that far away from the previous one. it brings some important improvements, but basically the whole line gets the latest that technology can offer. It’s too bad that the MBP 13 can’t get a 7200rpm hard disk option (why?). Also, if you get the $1799 Macbook Pro 15 with 256MB of graphics memory, it’s OK for imaging, but for gaming, you’ll have to opt for the one with 1GB of video RAM, which is much more expensive. Finally, notice that the Macbook Pro 13 battery life has gone from 10hrs down to 7hrs. As always, I recommend taking a good look at using SSD technology, even if that means going for a slower CPU.