By Neil Bennett | on April 19, 2011
Price When Reviewed: 13-inch model from £833; 15-inch from £1,290; 17-inch from £1,749. All prices exclude VAT.
Pros: Notable speed bump; Thunderbolt port offers faster storage.
Cons: No Thunderbolt drives available yet; 13-inch not much faster.
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Apple’s MacBook Pros are the laptop of choice for many creatives – sometimes purely thanks to the sleek aesthetics. Nothing has changed design-wise in the new models, and there’s still much to like if you want maximum power on the move.
As before, the MacBook Pro is available in 13-inch, 15-inch and 17-inch configurations. The 13-inch is instantly appealing if you often work on board the average train or plane – but with a screen resolution of 1,280 x 800 pixels, there’s little room left over for actual work once the expansive panels used by most creative apps start littering the screen.
The MacBook Pro’s Mini DisplayPort is now a Thunderbolt port, allowing torrentially fast connections to a wide range of devices
Conversely, the 17-inch is too big to use comfortably unless you regularly travel first or business class. The 15-inch model is the best travel companion – it’s small enough to carry conveniently, and its 1,440 x 900-pixel screen suits apps well (though we’d still recommend connecting a hi-res screen in your studio).
This new line is the first to feature Intel’s initially flawed (but now fixed) Sandy Bridge chips and architecture. All models feature 4GB of RAM as standard and a choice of hard or solid-state drives. Our 13-inch review model had a 2.7GHz dual core Core i7 processor (2.3GHz is also an option) and a 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive. Both the 15-inch and 17-inch models have a quad-core Core i7 clocked at 2.2GHz (2GHz is an added option on the 15-inch, and on both models you can upgrade to a 2.3GHz processor with a bigger L3 cache).
With the new 13-inch model, our usual test apps – Photoshop, After Effects and Cinebench – saw a performance boost of only 15 to 20 per cent over its predecessor. But the other two models were more than 30 per cent faster than those they replace.
The 15-inch model (centre) is the one with the most appeal – not too big to use on the move and not too small that your tools feel cramped on screen
A major addition is the Thunderbolt port, which has the same socket as the Mini Displayport (and can thus be used as one). It offers data transfer at speeds 20 times that of USB 2.0, and Apple has demoed a prototype Thunderbolt drive delivering four streams of uncompressed HD video simultaneously for editing in Final Cut. It can supply power, too, so we expect to see displays using it soon.
The new MacBook Pros remains a very desirable line of laptops. The 15- and 17-inch models will be a worthy upgrade, especially when Thunderbolt drives come on the market.