Apple updates MacBook Pro notebooks

The 15 and 17-inch models get Core i5 and i7 processors

APPLE’S LONG AWAITED and somewhat overdue overhaul of its MacBook Pro line has finally turned up and although the choice of CPUs is anything but surprising, the fact that Apple stuck with Nvidia for the graphics after all the bumpgate related problems was quite a surprise. Apple even offers its own version of Optimus, sans the Nvidia branding as Apple simply refers to it as auto switching graphics.

Let’s start with the really disappointing part, the 13-inch MacBook Pro, as it didn’t get much of an upgrade at all. It gets lumbered with a choice of two Core 2 Duo processors at either 2.4 or 2.66GHz. We can’t quite figure out why Apple didn’t upgrade the entire line-up to use the Core i5 processors, or even a Core i3 for the 13-inch model if cost is an issue here. We’re not sure why Apple has gone down this route and it would’ve made more sense if the Core 2 processers were reserved for the entry level MacBook’s instead.

The peculiar GeForce 320M integrated GPU is another “new” addition, although it appears to be just another name for the GeForce 9400 chipset, otherwise known as ION and so on, especially as the graphics memory is shared with the system memory. Nvidia doesn’t appear to have any details whatsoever on its website relating to the GeForce 320M, although Apple has a blurb about the 320M featuring 48 shaders which is three times as many as that of the 9400M suggesting that it’s another custom job for Apple. The only good news is that the battery life has been improved from a claimed 7 hours to 10 hours, which is a pretty decent boost even if it only translates to an hour or so of actual extra battery life.

Let’s move on to the new 15-incher’s. Apple offers three base models, all of which of course can be customized at the time of ordering. The choice of CPU comes down to a 2.4GHz or 2.53GHz Core i5 or a 2.66GHz Core i7. However, there’s no point in getting excited about the Core i7, as it’s not a quad core since, amazingly, Apple allows you to use the integrated Intel HD graphics. Unlike Windows based notebooks with switchable graphics, Apple only lets you chose between auto or discrete. Hopefully Apple will allow for a manual option to use just the Intel HD graphics in the future for improved battery life, although this is highly unlikely.

Speaking of battery life, the new models have been given a boost in terms of battery life from a claimed 6 hours to7 hours up to 8 hours or 9 hours, and this is supposedly with WiFi enabled as well. In terms of discrete GPU you’re looking at a GeForce GT 330M which is quite a bump up from the GeForce 9600M GT, as it has an additional 16 shaders and should offer a fairly decent performance increase. Only the high-end 15-inch model, as well as the 17-inch model, comes with 512MB of graphics memory, while the two more affordable 15-inch models get stuck with a paltry 256MB.

Two new display options are available in addition to the standard 1,440×900 resolution display, and you can chose between a glossy and an “anti glare” option, both with 1,680×1,050 resolution. Moving on to storage the default drive in the base model is a 320GB 5,400rpm unit while the more expensive machines get a 500GB drive as standard. Apple is also offering SSD’s up to 512GB as costly options.

Moving on to the 17-inch model, Apple offers a base specification with the same 2.53GHz Core i5 as on the mid-range 15-inch MacBook Pro and with the exception of the larger and higher resolution 1,920×1,200 pixel display, all of the other features remain the same with two exceptions. The 17-inch MacBook Pro features three rather than two USB 2.0 ports and it’s also the only MacBook Pro with an ExpressCard 34 slot, although you have to give up the SD card slot in exchange for it. Apple offers a CPU upgrade to the 2.66GHz Core i7 processor as well, as all the same upgrades that are available on the 15-inch model.

The “new” 13-inch MacBook Pro’s start at $1,199, with the faster model carrying a $300 price premium. The 15-incher starts at $1,799 and jumps $200 for each faster iteration. Finally the 17-inch model starts at $2,299 and again, if you want a faster CPU, you’re looking at a $200 price premium. The 512GB SSD will set you back an insane $1,300, but the 128GB SSD is close to being a bargain at a $200 price premium over the 500GB hard drive, although it’s not nearly as good a value at a $300 premium over the 320GB hard drive. Lastly Apple will finally offer a mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter, which will allow you to connect the new MacBook Pros to a wide range of flat screen TV’s and projectors.

Overall we feel Apple could have done more with its “refresh” and the 13-inch MacBook Pros are especially disappointing. The design of the new machines is identical and although many like Apple’s designs, it’s now about a year and a half since Apple introduced the 15-inch unibody design and we really did expect a few tweaks. But alas it looks like this won’t happen for a while yet. Many expected Apple to make a move away from Nvidia’s graphics, especially as the iMac’s are using AMD graphics, but it seems like the two companies have come to terms.

Most of the new MacPro models are actually cheaper than the previous generation products, although not by a huge amount of money. The MacBook Pros will never be referred to as being cheap, but then again, Apple products as a whole are rarely cheap. Overall the improved battery life is the most compelling feature alongside the auto switching graphics, although the extra CPU performance will be welcomed by some, alongside the higher resolution screen option on the 15-inch models. We just can’t shake the feeling of Apple just going through the motions with these new machines rather than delivering something really appealing.S|A

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