2011’s refresh of Apple’s MacBook Pro line-up has been quite a significant one, as far as processing power is concerned, since it finally brings Intel’s most awaited Sandy Bridge to the Mac platform. It also marks the point where Apple have switched to AMD from their long standing graphics partner, Nvidia. The second highlighted feature in the refreshed models is Thunderbolt, which is Apple’s answer to USB 3.0. Well, technically it’s Intel’s technology, but we’ll get more into that later.
Now, the model we are reviewing today is the ‘Early 2011’ series of the MacBook 15-inch and yes, we do realize it’s a bit old, but the ‘Late 2011’ merely brings with it a slight change in the CPU and GPU, while everything else remains the same, so this is just as good as a new one. We’ll be reviewing the ‘Late 2011’ models as well, but that’s another time, for now let’s focus on this.
Design and Build
Apple has barely made any changes to the chassis as it still uses the unibody aluminium construction. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ , right? Apple already have a good thing going with this design, which they introduced in 2008 and we’d be hard pressed to find any other notebook manufacturer who can come close to the fit and finish of the MacBook Pro. The notebook feels extremely sturdy and well built, which is not surprising, since it’s made from a single block of aluminium.
Excellent build quality, as always
All the ports are where we left them last. On the left, we have a Gigabit Ethernet jack, Firewire 800, Thunderbolt, two USB 2.0, SDHC slot, audio in/out jacks, while on the right we have the slot-loading DVD burner.
Thunderbolt is the only new addition
Coming to the keyboard and trackpad, it’s the same chiclet styled backlit keyboard and a massive glass trackpad with 5-finger gesture support. You can now FaceTime on the MacBook Pro in HD as the webcam supports 720p video.
Our review unit came with the current version of OS X Lion 10.7.1 along with the base configuration for the 15-inch model. Whether you like it or not, all the 15-inch and 17-inch MacBook Pros come with quad-core CPUs. Our unit was powered by an Intel Core i7 running at 2.2GHz, which is essentially a Core i7-2720QM with a max Turbo frequency of 3.3GHz, but only when one core is being used. The TDP has gone up a bit from 35W to 45W from last year models, mostly due to the two extra cores. To complement this, we have 4GB of DDR3 RAM at 1333MHz, 750GB hard drive and an AMD Radeon HD 6750M with 1GB of video memory. Apple supports dynamic switching between the onboard HD 3000 GPU and the discrete card depending on the activity being done.
The new gestures are super fun to use
The 15.4-inch screen sports the same 1440 x 900 resolution, which is really good. At moderate brightness levels, reflections can be a bit of a problem, but you can opt for an anti-glare screen as well. Just like their earlier models, the screen offers good viewing angles and the colour reproduction is spot on. Now coming to Thunderbolt, this is Apple’s take on Intel’s Light Peak technology sans the light. It’s capable of two channels of full duplex 10Gbps traffic, but here’s the problem, there just aren’t enough storage devices that use Thunderbolt, yet and those that do exist, don’t come cheap.
To see just how good Sandy Bridge performs on the Mac, we ran Cinebench R11.5, which gave us a CPU score of 4.42pts. When we compared this to a similar high-end Windows notebook with a Core i7-2630QM, which scored 5pts, we found the new MacBook Pro to be perfectly in tune with the times and it can take on other notebooks in this price range with ease.
An admirable performer
Our OpenGL score was 35.41fps, which is slightly lower compared to an Nvidia GTX 560M with a score of 39.2fps. It’s still faster compared to last year’s MacBook Pro 17-inch (Core i5 @ 2.5GHz, 4GB RAM, Nvidia GT 330M), which scored 17.25fps in the OpenGL test and 2.31pts in the CPU test.
OS X Lion is super smooth with barely any noticeable lags or freezes. The new OS brings with it new features like FaceTime, Launchpad, etc along with some new multi-touch gestures that make it even easier to switch between applications. When stressed, though, the notebook does tend to heat up, which makes it a bit uncomfortable to use on your lap after a while. This mainly happens due to the fact that the discrete GPU kicks in as soon as it encounters say, a Flash video in a browser. Normally, the GPU inside Sandy Bridge is more than capable of handling Flash video, but there isn’t any way for you to tell the OS not to use it like you can in Windows. The notebook remains silent for the most part with just a faint whirring sound when playing a video or doing anything graphically intensive.
The battery life is a bit of a mixed bag and it really depends on what you’re doing with the MacBook Pro. In our video drain test, which involved playing a 720p M4V video, we managed a battery life of 4hrs, which is not too bad. Under normal usage, you should be able to pull off about 6hrs, which is good for a notebook packing in a quad-core and a discrete graphics card.
At Rs.1,04,900, it makes a very tempting buy if you're looking for both battery life and solid performance, which let’s face it, is very difficult to find on a Windows-based notebook. The refresh continues the legacy of the MacBook Pros before it, by delivering excellent build quality, good performance and really good battery life. There’s no point comparing this to a Windows-based notebook, since it’s not targeted at the average joe anyways, so let’s not even go there. While this is still the early refresh, it’s no slouch and will perform all your tasks just as well as the ‘Late 2011’ model, which we are expecting to get our hands on soon.
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