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Apple boosts MacBook Pro speeds in 'ho-hum' refresh

Gregg Keizer | Feb. 24, 2011
Moves to dual- and quad-core 'Sandy Bridge' processors, debuts Intel's Thunderbolt I/O technology

All MacBook Pros also now sport a new I/O (input/output) technology developed by Intel, which formerly called it Light Peak but has renamed it Thunderbolt.

Thunderbolt offers direct bi-directional connections to high-speed peripherals such as data drives, and using optional adapters, to other technologies, including FireWire, USB, Gigabit Ethernet and Apple's DisplayPort.

Apple's notebooks were the first to launch with the Thunderbolt technology.

One rumored change -- a move to solid-state drives (SSD) to mimic the MacBook Air -- didn't come to pass, something that irked Gottheil.

"I'm deeply disappointed," he said. "I thought that at the least, [the new MacBook Pros] would use a clever hybrid drive that put the OS and apps on a solid-state drive."

Customers can swap out the traditional platter-based hard drive with a SSD, but the prices run from $100 for a 128GB SSD to $1,250 for a 512GB. (The prices vary by the original configuration of the MacBook, with lower swap-out prices for models that come standard with larger hard drives.)

"Yikes, yikes, yikes," Gottheil said of the SSD prices.

Apple last revamped the MacBook Pro in April 2010, and today's refresh looks to Gottheil like a return to the line's roots.

"They're returning to the original definition of the line, where the [MacBook] Pros are for pros," Gottheil said. "And they may be trying to get back some of the margins they lost during the recession," he added. "They have come back some, but they're still not at the point they were before the recession."

Even with the increased processor, graphics and connectivity horsepower in the new MacBook Pros, Gottheil still thought that the aged MacBook and the four-month-old MacBook Air, both available for $999, is the "sweet spot" for most consumers.

He was especially high on the MacBook Air, which eschews a hard drive for an SSD. "An SSD addresses real people's performance issues, getting stuff off the disk," he maintained.

Last month, analysts disagreed over whether a design gaffe by Intel would delay the MacBook Pro relaunch. On Jan. 31, Intel acknowledged that a supporting chipset for the next-generation Sandy Bridge processors contained a flaw in the Serial-ATA (SATA) controller. The bug could cause poor hard drive performance or even make the drive invisible to the system, Intel confirmed.

Apple may have been able to sidestep the problem, and utilize flawed versions of the Intel chipset, since its notebooks could tap into the two unaffected ports to connect to systems' hard and optical drives.

The new MacBook Pros are available immediately at Apple's retail stores, some authorized resellers and via the company's online store. At the latter, the new models currently indicate a 1-to-2 day shipping delay.


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