Thunderbolt MacBook Pro: The last notebook you'll ever need
If the new MacBook Pro and its amazing Thunderbolt don't blow your mind, you're not paying attention
From the outset, Apple's MacBook Pro has been the standard-bearer for professional notebook computers. Apple's extra-mile engineering sets the bar for performance, durability, build quality, longevity, ergonomics, battery life, and connectivity. For the past several years, Apple has had only itself to outdo with each new generation of MacBook Pro, yet Apple has still managed to set the pace, mostly with upgrades to materials, graphics, disk size, and battery life.
Not to take such advances for granted -- after all, the one-piece machined aluminum frame and dynamic GPU switching were among many unique and jaw-dropping innovations -- but where's the ultimate to-die-for model year leap, the upgrade so substantial that we may not see its like again for five years? As tight as money is now, buyers want to see double, triple, and order-of-magnitude level improvements to justify spending $1,799 to $2,499 on a notebook.
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With the new Thunderbolt MacBook Pro, so nicknamed for its revolutionary high-speed I/O port, that's just what you'll get. The 15- and 17-inch quad-core models deliver twice the CPU performance of Core 2 Duo, three times the graphics performance of the previous generation's Nvidia GeForce GT 330M, and more than ten times the external I/O bandwidth of 800MHz FireWire. Even with a base price of just $1,199 and dual-core instead of quad-core CPUs, the new 13-inch MacBook Pro still outpaces prior Mac notebooks in terms of CPU and I/O performance.
This brand of magic can't be conjured by Apple's competitors. Sustained innovations like the MagSafe quick-disconnect charge port, the industrial-grade frame machined from a solid block of aluminum, digital optical audio input and output, automatic integrated/discrete GPU (graphics processing unit) switching, and a five-year battery already have no equal.
Now Apple has integrated Intel's just-released second-generation Core i5 (13-inch MacBook Pro) and Core i7 (15-inch and 17-inch models) into its popular commercial notebooks. By doing so, MacBook Pro has picked up the power of Intel's Turbo Boost dynamic overclocking, Hyper-Threading thread acceleration, 1,333MHz of DDR3 RAM, large Level 3 cache, and integrated memory controller. Intel's speedy new silicon and enlightened bus design, combined with Apple's full-custom motherboard and software, delivers those 2X CPU performance gains bragged about by Apple and proven in my benchmarks.
In the 15- and 17-inch models, Intel's stellar CPU is married with the most powerful and power-efficient mobile GPUs on the planet, AMD's Radeon HD 6000M series. The 17-inch MacBook Pro and the 2.2GHz 15-inch model feature AMD's Radeon HD 6750M GPU with 1GB of GDDR5 RAM, while the base 15-inch model uses the Radeon HD 6490M with 256MB of GDDR5 RAM. Apple uses a clever and simple technique to switch between low-power Intel integrated graphics and the gaming-grade AMD GPU on the fly. This is central to achieving a verified seven-hour battery life across all models, and that's without cheating: wireless networking active, display at midlevel brightness, and even battery-draining Flash Player running in the browser.
If, in all of this, you can't see a reason to upgrade your notebook, maybe I can bring the point home: This might be the last notebook computer you'll ever need or want. After more than two weeks of continuous testing, it's hard for me to imagine what I'd want in a notebook in three to five years that MacBook Pro doesn't deliver right now. Whatever I want, I'll plug into Thunderbolt, the game-changing 10-gigabit peripheral interconnect that deserves (and gets) its own section in this review. I have no lingering doubt that a PC notebook maker might trump MacBook Pro. What Apple has done requires metal, glass, genius, and OS X. It can't be replicated with plastic and Windows.