The Bottom Line
May 24 2011 - The Spring 2011 refresh of the MacBook Pro 15 comes with some major internal changes that bring it a new level of performance thanks to the quad core processor compared to the past dual core model. Another new addition is the high speed Thunderbolt port that doubles for both high speed external storage and display duties. The graphics have improved for those doing media encoding work but have dropped for those looking to do 3D. On the whole, it still is one of the best performing, stylish and long running 15-inch laptops on the market, provided you can afford its high $1799 base price tag.
- Excellent Durable Aluminum Case
- Strong Performance With New Quad Core Processor
- Long Battery Life
- Limited Number Of USB Ports
- Glossy Display Hard To Use In Certain Light
- Intel Core i7-2630M Quad Core Mobile Processor
- 4GB PC3-10600 DDR3 Memory
- 320GB 5400rpm SATA Hard Drive
- 8x DVD+/-RW Dual Layer Burner
- 15.4" WXGA+ (1440x900) LED Backlit Display With 1.3 Megapixel Webcam
- Intel HD 3000 Graphics And AMD Radeon HD 6490M Graphics With 256MB
- Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11a/g/n Wireless, Bluetooth
- Two USB 2.0, FireWire 800, Thunderbolt, SDXC Slot
- 14.4" x 9.8" x 1" @ 5.6 lbs.
- Mac OS X 10.6, iLife
Guide Review - Apple 2011 MacBook Pro 15 15.4-inch Thin And Light Laptop PC
May 24 2011 - Apple's 2011 refresh of the MacBook Pro lineup made some major changes on the interior but kept much of the iconic aluminum chassis unchanged. In fact, the one exterior change wasn't much of a change as the Thunderbolt port uses the same physical size port as the previous mini-DisplayPort even though it adds some huge external peripheral possibilities. The port can be used for extremely high speed external storage as well as DisplayPort capable monitors. It would have been nice to see them also include USB 3.0 ports instead of the two USB 2.0 ports that is still fairly limited compared to most laptops that come with three total USB ports.
The big internal change is the move from the original Intel Core processor to the new 2011 models. This moves the 15-inch base MacBook Pro from a dual core processor to the Core i7-2630M quad core processor. This gives it a significant boost in performance especially from multitasking or very processor heavy tasks such as video editing. The 4GB of DDR3 memory should allow it to run smoothly but it would be nice to see Apple including 8GB with a system that is priced at $1799.
Storage has always been one of the weaker aspects of the Apple products and this hasn't changed with the latest MacBook Pro 15. The base setup comes with a modest 500GB hard drive that is typical to most system but similarly priced laptops now use 640 or 750GB drives. To compound the problem, it uses a slower 5400rpm spin rate which results in some mediocre performance. Apple continues to also not support the Blu-ray format leaving consumers with a standard dual layer DVD burner for playback and recording of CDs and DVDs. At least Apple's laptops due support the new high capacity SDXC flash cards.
The graphics system has also undergone some major changes with the new MacBook Pro. It still uses a hybrid graphics system that shares the integrated graphics with a dedicated processor. Both the integrated graphics and dedicated graphics have changed. In the case of the integrated graphics, it uses the new on processor Intel HD 3000 graphics. The major advantage here is that it can increase the speed with which media transcoding can be done with compatible applications. The dedicated graphics are now powered by AMD rather than NVIDIA. In the case of the base MacBook Pro 15, it is a fairly low end Radoen HD 6490 with just 256MB of memory. This gives it very limited 3D performance that frankly doesn't really do much beyond what the new Intel HD graphics can achieve. Those wanting higher 3D graphics will definitely want to upgrade to the $2199 version with its Radeon HD 6750 and 1GB of memory.
The displays for the MacBook Pro 15 still retains their glass coatings. While these make the systems very attractive, they can be extremely to use in difficult light conditions such as outdoors that produce a fare amount of reflections and glare. It does a very good job when used in a typical office situation with very nice color and viewing angles. It would be nice to see the base model use a bit higher resolution than 1440x900 but most 15-inch laptops still use a 1366x768 resolution so it is still higher than most.
Apple still uses its internal lithium polymer battery pack that it claims will yield over seven hours of running time. This is less than their past model with its eight hour claim but the system now does use a few more performance oriented parts that the past model. In DVD playback tests, the laptop easily achieves over five hours of running time which well exceeds that average 15-inch laptop. More typical usage should easily top seven hours of running time. The result is definitely a laptop that is great for anyone needing long running times but not wanting to sacrifice performance or features.