MacBook Pro Updated, Thunderbolt Included

Today Apple did a refresh of their MacBook Pro line, something that has been due for some time, as the previous refresh was in April of 2010.

Processors & Graphics

The entire MacBook Pro line is on the latest Intel processors. The 13-inch models have finally graduated from the Core 2 Duo processors to dual-core Core i5 on the low-end and Core i7 on the high end. Apple says the new 13-inch model is twice as fast as the previous generation. The 15- and 17-inch models all sport Core i7 processors instead of i5 processors, and they are quad-core!

All models have shifted to Intel HD 3000 integrated graphics. I am unsure how I feel about this as Intel's integrated graphics have never been known as fantastic. However, Intel blocked NVIDIA from making integrated chipsets for the Core i-Series of processors (this is why Apple stuck with the Core 2 Duo for so long on the 13-inch MacBook Pro. They preferred NVIDIA's chipsets).

Whereas the 13-inch model relies solely on the Intel graphics chip, the 15- and 17-inch models can automatically switch to higher-end AMD discrete graphics when some extra horsepower is needed. The low-end 15-inch sports the AMD Radeon HD 6490M with 256MB GDDR5, and the high-end 15-inch and the 17-inch models have the AMD Radeon HD 6750M with 1GB GDDR5. Nice.

FaceTime HD

The new MacBook Pro's have a new HD camera in the monitor bezel. These used to be called iSight's, but since the iPhone 4 was introduced, Apple has been rebranding with FaceTime. The MacBook Air was the first Mac to receive the FaceTime Camera moniker, and the MacBook Pro now has FaceTime HD.

Thunderbolt — One Port to Rule Them All

This section quite possibly deserves a post all in itself. Thunderbolt is a new port that handles, well, everything. It was a project by Intel to create a port that just about anything can plug into. Intel and Apple worked together to make this port, which has taken on the form-factor of Apple's mini-DisplayPort plug.

Thunderbolt can transfer data at 10 Gbps (USB 3.0 does 5 Gbps), connect storage devices, storage arrays, displays, and even connect to networks. It even supplies 10-watts of power to power devices.

So, what does this mean for future Macs? Well, one of the things I was hoping for in this refresh was that the MacBook Pro would become more like the MacBook Air. Especially in adopting the thin wedge profile. There are four main things that stand in the way of the MacBook Pro getting much thinner: hard drive, optical drive, Ethernet, and FireWire.

The hard drive will eventually go solely SSD in portable Macs, I am convinced of this. The optical drive can go the way of the floppy, and users who need it can have an external drive, like we see with the MacBook Air today.

But Ethernet and FireWire are large ports that aren't going away in the near future — or at least weren't, since there wasn't a viable replacement. Thunderbolt is that replacement.

Apple and Intel designed Thunderbolt to continue to support existing USB, FireWire, Gigabit Ethernet, and Fibre Channel networks using simple adapters. And since Thunderbolt is based on mini-DisplayPort, users can still use existing adapters to connect DisplayPort, DVI, HDMI, or VGA displays.

Thunderbolt literally wraps all the ports on the side of the MacBook Pro into one connector. This is just the first step.

As Thunderbolt takes off and is included with other devices natively, Apple (and other manufacturers) could offer a bunch of Thunderbolt ports on their computers, and retire ports such as Ethernet, FireWire, and maybe even USB.

Imagine if thumbdrives had a Thunderbolt plug instead of USB. This one port design could very well be the future.


This is an impressive update to the MacBook Pro line. If you've had your eye on a new MacBook Pro, now is the time to get one. Mine is doing fine, and I am honestly waiting for the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air to hook up. Not to mention that the inclusion of Thunderbolt has me waiting to see a simplified I/O and thinner designs.