Apple Updates MacBook Pro Lineup: Three Big Leaps Forward

As we’d expected for a few days, Thursday saw the release of a brand new MacBook Pro lineup. Though these machines look more or less identical on the outside, they come complete with upgraded processors, new graphics capabilities, and the all-new “Thunderbolt” I/O standard.

Today we’ll be providing a quick overview of what to expect in the new lineup, along with a few thoughts on hardware features we’re surprised to see left out!

The Story of the Day – Thunderbolt

As the original inventor of FireWire, Apple isn’t new to the idea of forging ahead with a new I/O technology. After extensive collaboration with Intel, they have today launched the first Apple product that includes the new “Thunderbolt” connector.

Thunderbolt Performance

Thunderbolt Performance

Not content with the speed and capability offered by FireWire and USB, Apple and Intel have created a new technology that far exceeds what we’ve come to expect from a humble notebook port. This replaces the old Mini DisplayPort socket on the side of the MacBook Pro, but don’t worry, you won’t need a new adapter.

Because Thunderbolt is based upon the DisplayPort technology, your existing peripheral or adapter will work just fine. Rather than just supporting a display, this new standard will also be able to connect to next generation devices, hard drives, and video capture hardware.

In terms of speed, it’s pretty spectacular. Thunderbolt is twenty times faster than USB 2.0, and over twelve times faster than FireWire 800. This is a huge step forward, and something that will revolutionise how we’ve come to interact with external hardware.

Just to put things in perspective, Intel states that this speed is quick enough to transfer a full-length HD movie (of around 10 – 20GB in size) in less than 30 seconds. If you’re interested in finding out more about the technical details, take a look at Intel’s information page which should explain everything you need to know.

It’ll be interesting to see how quickly Apple roll this new I/O standard out to their other devices – I’d expect we’ll see it become commonplace across the whole line-up within 12 months.

Supercharged Processors and Graphics

It’s time for the obligatory “multipliers” that make your existing machine feel old and tired. Today’s release sees new MacBook Pros that have “Up to 2x faster processors and 3x faster graphics.”

The majority of new models ship with quad-core Core i7 Intel Processors, with state of the art AMD Radeon HD graphics capabilities. If you opt for the 13″ device, you can choose either an Intel Code i5 or Core i7 dual-core processor.

Memory-wise, each model comes bundled with 4GB of RAM as standard, and there’s a build-to-order option for upgrading to 8GB if you feel the need.

It’s difficult to argue against the benefits of having a quad-core notebook, but I can’t help feeling that (for many of us, at least) we’ve reached a stage where processor speed is no longer the main factor on which to judge a machine…

If you’d like to find out more, take a look at the full specifications page and indulge in the obligatory “let me just price this up, out of interest” process.

FaceTime in HD

FaceTime in HD

FaceTime in HD

The new MacBook Pro models come with a much improved FaceTime HD camera, capable of capturing triple the resolution of the previous generation. This allows for 720p video calling to the iPhone 4, new iPod touch, or other Mac computers.

The updated 1.0 release of the FaceTime software comes bundled free with the new MacBook Pro models, but you’ll need to pay $0.99 to use it on your existing Mac. As you’d expect, it’s available now through the Mac App Store.

But Why 5400 RPM?

Something that myself, and many others, are surprised to see is the standard inclusion of a 5400 RPM hard drive. With all the hype about performance improvements and better processors, it’s a major oversight not to offer an SSD as standard (or at least a 7200 RPM drive).

I’m sure that Apple have their reasoning for this – hopefully not just to hold back the feature as a selling point for the next update a year from now.

Personally, I’ve found that upgrading to an SSD offered the single largest performance improvement I’ve ever seen on a notebook – far more than upgrading the processor (which, as we all know, never really makes your machine “twice as fast”).

Have You Been Holding Out?

On the whole, this new line-up of MacBook Pro hardware is certainly more of an evolution than anything else. I’m incredibly eager to see how Thunderbolt evolves, but there isn’t a huge deal else to get particularly excited about.

Not that this is necessarily a bad thing – I’m always pleased to see Apple stick with a successful formula for a few product revisions, rather than re-designing a machine from the ground up with each release. I love the form factor of my MacBook Pro, and don’t feel that it has dated one bit over the past two years.

Are you impressed with the announcement today? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!