To assess today's MacBook Pro upgrades from a technical perspective, here we compare the new 2011 MacBook Pros against their 2010 predecessors, blow-by-blow and spec-by-spec.
Today Apple announced a sweeping update
of their entire MacBook Pro range, improving it dramatically by including Intel’s second-generation Core (Sandy Bridge) processors. Below is a blow-by-blow comparison of the 2011 models compared against the previous 2010 models. Please note that the regular MacBook 13in model (ie. the non-Pro model) is not included in this new lineup.
MacBook Pro 13in: 2010 vs 2011 models
Last year’s Apple MacBook Pro 13in came with high-end Intel Core 2 Duo processors and the low-end dedicated NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics card. With the inclusion of the Sandy Bridge Intel Core i5 and Sandy Bridge Intel Core i7, not only is there a significant improvement in processor power, but the onboard graphics are powerful enough to remove the need for the battery-draining, heat-generating dedicated graphics card.
The onboard Intel HD Graphics 3000 aren’t quite as powerful as the former dedicated graphics card, but the benefits easily outweigh the small loss in graphics processing power. The amount of storage has also improved. There’s still a healthy 4GB of RAM, and physically the 2011 model is unchanged; it still weighs just 2.04kg and measures a very slim 24.1mm thick, 227mm deep and 325mm wide. The prices have dropped by as much as $100, so you’re getting more for less.
MacBook Pro 15in: 2010 vs 2011 models
In the MacBook Pro 15in range, last year’s three 15in machines are consolidated into two, with the high-end 2011 MacBook Pro 15in replacing two models from last year. In the 2011 versions, gone are the first-generation Intel Core i5s and Intel Core i7s, replaced by the second-gen Intel Core i7s. Although not as massive an improvement as compared to the processor swap in the Apple MacBook Pro 13in range, the Sandy Bridge Intel Core i7s are still significantly more powerful than the processors they’re replacing.
The NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M dedicated graphics card in the 2010 models has also been replaced by the somewhat weaker AMD Radeon HD 6490M in the less expensive 2011 MacBook Pro 15 (which comes with the Intel Core i7-2630QM) and by the much more powerful AMD Radeon HD 6750M in the more expensive 2011 MacBook Pro 15in (which comes with the Intel Core i7-2720QM). For the base model MacBook Pro 15, the trade-off is still comfortably in the consumer’s favour, since the processor is distinctly faster even though the graphics card is a bit weaker.
There’s also more storage overall, while the connectivity, RAM, screen and physical specs remain unchanged. While the base 2011 model has the same price as its predecessor, the high-end 2011 model is an incredible $200 less than it used to be.
MacBook Pro 17in: 2010 vs 2011 model
The improvements to the top-end Apple MacBook Pro 17in have transformed what was previously a large-screen all-rounder notebook into a borderline gaming notebook. The new Sandy Bridge Intel Core i7 outclasses the previous-generation Intel Core i5 in every way. Also, the dedicated graphics card is now a powerful AMD Radeon HD 6750M, easily thrashing the NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M in the 2010 model.
A 750GB hard drive outshines last year’s 500GB models, but otherwise the specs remain unchanged. There’s still Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g/n wireless, a 17in screen, 4GB of RAM and the surprisingly light weight of 2.99kg. Apple has improved what needed improving, and left the excellent stuff exactly as it was. While the 2011 model is $101 more expensive, the improvements are easily worth every single dollar.
In short, if you decide to snag one of the new 2011 MacBook Pro models you’re going to get a distinctly superior machine. Apple seems to be making waves these days for all sorts of reasons not directly related to Macs themselves (iPhone, iPad, the App Store, subscription policies etc.), but today's comprehensive update to the core tech powering their mainstream notebook line puts a strong step forward for their historical product: the personal computer.