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Apple Brings Intel Core i5/i7 to MacBook Pro

Showing that it still pays attention to the Macintosh side of its business, Apple has updated the entire MacBook Pro line at once, a welcome change from previous updates that have focused on a particular model to the exclusion of the others. Significant changes include new CPU options, better battery life, seamless integration of dual graphics processors, optional high-resolution displays, inertial scrolling on the Multi-Touch trackpad, and the option of higher-capacity solid-state drives. The changes aren't evenly distributed across the line though.

The new 13-inch MacBook Pro continues to rely on the Intel Core 2 Duo processor, speed-bumped to either 2.4 GHz or 2.66 GHz. However, Apple claims that the 13-inch MacBook Pro's new 48-core Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics processor will provide up to 80 percent faster graphics performance. The new graphics processor should be especially welcome for graphics-intensive applications and high-performance games. The other notable change that will be welcome across the board is the new model's purported 10-hour battery life. The battery is built-in and cannot be swapped by the user, but it can be replaced by Apple.

While the 13-inch MacBook Pro is relatively unchanged, the 15-inch and 17-inch models see more significant improvements. They rely on either the Intel Core i5 (at 2.4 or 2.53 GHz for the 15-inch and 2.53 GHz for the 17-inch) or the Intel Core i7 (at 2.66 GHz) processor, for what Apple claims is up to 50 percent faster performance than previous models. Some improvements stem from how the Intel Core i5 and i7 processors integrate the memory controller and Level 3 cache to speed access to system memory. Apple says that additional performance improvements come from Hyper-Threading technology that improves data throughput by creating virtual processing cores. Then there's Turbo Boost, which optimizes performance between the two processor cores, essentially accelerating the system from 2.66 GHz to 3.06 GHz for intensive dual-core tasks and up to 3.33 GHz for single-core tasks. How all this will play out in real-world usage remains to be seen.

Also improved in the 15- and 17-inch models is the graphics subsystem, which features a pair of graphics processors, the Nvidia GeForce GT 330M for top performance and the Intel HD Graphics for reduced energy usage. A welcome change from the performance split in previous generations is that the new MacBook Pro models switch between them automatically; you don't need to choose a specific graphics mode, log out, and then log back in to apply the change. (Apple has already released MacBook Pro Software Update 1.3 to improve graphics stability for high-performance video and gaming applications. It's a 258.32 MB update and is presumably available via Software Update to purchasers of these new Macs.)

Apple is also claiming better battery life on the new 15- and 17-inch models, with 8 to 9 hours per charge (up from the previous claim of 7 to 8 hours), thanks to tightly integrated hardware and software. The fact that the 15-inch model's battery went from 73 watt-hours to 77.5 watt-hours probably helps, too (the 17-inch model's battery remains at 95 watt-hours).

During a briefing with Apple, we learned more about how Apple calculates battery life numbers. The top end of Apple's claims is rooted more in real-world usage than the "ideal circumstances" estimates of years past. On a device with the screen brightness set at 50 percent, Apple runs a battery test called Wireless Web. A script loads Web pages via Wi-Fi, creates and saves text documents, and otherwise emulates "light duty" usage.

Another test is designed to put the ultimate strain on the battery: screen brightness is set to 100 percent, the volume is cranked up to maximum, and a DVD is played (introducing the physical drive-spinning mechanism as well as on-the-fly MPEG decoding and playback). In this test, the 15-inch MacBook Pro averaged about 4.5 hours of battery life - a span that not too long ago represented good longevity in light usage conditions.

Something we're looking forward to experiencing in person is the new "inertial scrolling" feature of the Multi-Touch trackpad. Apple mentions it only briefly, but we're guessing the trackpad - and software that recognizes it - can scroll items with the same simulated physics found in the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. We have to admit there are times when we switch between using an Apple touch device and a Mac and expect the same behavior in both environments. (Adobe Photoshop CS4 implemented this type of scrolling, making it easier to "throw" a zoomed-in image around its window and reduce the amount of scrolling required.)

Base Features and Options -- The standard features should sound familiar. All models come with a MagSafe power port, Gigabit Ethernet port, Mini DisplayPort for video out, one FireWire 800 port, and two USB 2.0 ports (three on the 17-inch model). The 13-inch model offers a single audio in/out port, whereas the 15- and 17-inch models have separate audio line in and audio line out ports. The 13-inch and 15-inch models feature an SD card slot, and the 17-inch model replaces it with an ExpressCard/34 slot. In terms of wireless networking, all of them have AirPort Extreme Wi-Fi wireless networking based on 802.11n, along with Bluetooth 2.1+EDR. And all models have a built-in iSight video camera.

4 GB of RAM is standard on each model, but each can be upgraded to 8 GB. Hard drive options are available up to 500 GB, and solid-state drives are available in 128 GB, 256 GB, and 512 GB sizes for a $200, $650, or $1,300 premium over the 500 GB hard drive.

More Screen Resolution -- All MacBook Pro models include glossy LED-backlit screens, but some custom configurations are available. The 13-inch model's screen is glossy with a resolution of 1280 by 800 pixels, with no option for an antiglare screen. The standard configuration for the 15-inch model is glossy with a resolution of 1440 by 900 pixels. For an extra fee, you can order a higher-resolution 1680-by-1050-pixel display with either a glossy ($100 more) or antiglare ($150 more) surface. The antiglare option is available only at the higher resolution, not the default resolution. The screen on the 17-inch model is 1920 by 1200 pixels, and an antiglare version is available for an extra $50.

Greener MacBooks -- With the latest batch of MacBook Pros, Apple continues to demonstrate a commitment to producing environmentally friendly products. Each MacBook Pro in the new lineup has been awarded EPEAT Gold status (meaning it meets all of EPEAT's required criteria and at least 75 percent of the optional criteria), and each one satisfies the requirements for the Energy Star 5.0 rating.

Features contributing to those achievements include the highly recyclable aluminum unibody enclosure, a mercury- and arsenic-free LED-backlit display, and the lack of any components containing brominated flame retardants (BFRs) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Additionally, the new graphics switching technology that enables the MacBook Pro to switch automatically between the powerful Nvidia GeForce GT 330M for heavy workloads and the energy efficient Intel HD Graphics processor for less intense operations increases battery life. Coupling that with a lifetime expectancy of 1,000 charges (roughly 5 years by Apple's estimation) should result in less battery waste. When a battery is finally used up, Apple also provides an environmentally responsible program to deal with its removal and disposal, and the installation of a new battery - priced at either $129 or $179, depending on your model.

Pricing and Availability -- All models of the new MacBook Pro are available now, in the following base configurations (the final 17-inch configuration isn't actually a base configuration, but it seemed odd to leave it out of a list that was otherwise differentiated largely by CPU type):

  • 13-inch ($1,199): 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 250 GB hard drive
  • 13-inch ($1,499): 2.66 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 320 GB hard drive
  • 15-inch ($1,799): 2.4 GHz Intel Core i5, 320 GB hard drive
  • 15-inch ($1,999): 2.53 GHz Intel Core i5, 500 GB hard drive
  • 15-inch ($2,299): 2.66 GHz Intel Core i7, 500 GB hard drive
  • 17-inch ($2,299): 2.53 GHz Intel Core i5, 500 GB hard drive
  • 17-inch ($2,499): 2.66 GHz Intel Core i7, 500 GB hard drive

Of Timing and Performance -- It's easy to see these new configurations as a specifications speed bump, but we think a larger leap has occurred, and at a fortuitous time. Reports from owners of the latest iMac models with Core i5 or i7 processors indicate a dramatic performance boost over the Intel Core 2 Duo. Given that Apple's notebooks significantly outsell the company's desktop models, the MacBook Pro needs the highest performance it can get. The fact that Apple has improved battery life, instead of sacrificing it for speed, and has eliminated the awkward method of switching between graphics modes indicates that the company is still expending the resources needed to improve its Mac products, and isn't just tossing in slightly better components. We're fans of the MacBook Pro, and these new models just improve our already positive feelings.


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Comments about Apple Brings Intel Core i5/i7 to MacBook Pro
(Comments are closed.)

Lynn Ryan  2010-04-19 21:09
I really would like to have the option of purchasing a new anti-glare non HI-RES 15 inch MacBook Pro.
The anti-glare films that one can buy are a very poor substitute for Apple's implementation of this feature.

I think most people of my generation would find it a challenge to use the Hi-Res screen and the glossy option is only available on the 15 inch laptop.
Glenn Fleishman  2010-04-19 21:46
I'm not sure what you mean: I purchased a high-res, anti-glare 15-inch MacBook Pro last week, which is what I am typing on today (it just arrived).
Jeff Carlson  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-04-19 22:01
Lynn means an option to get normal resolution but non-glossy.
I agree and have the same issue - I was waiting for the model updates to buy a new 15" MBP. My eyesight is not good enough now to cope with the higher resolution - was planning to get a non-glare 15" :-(
Brian S.  2010-04-19 21:37
It is my understanding the MBP i5/i7 are the notebook versions of the chips and therefore not the same as those in the iMac i5/i7
Jeff Carlson  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-04-19 22:07
That's correct. These are dual-core and not quad-core (which generate much more heat). Macworld wrote an article about the chips here:

Brian S.  2010-04-20 07:45
Thanks for the confirmation Jeff. The Tidbits article mentioned i5/i7 for the MBP and compared to the iMac i5/i7 without mentioning this important difference. Some reading the article might believe the MBP has the same CPUs as the iMac
I was all set to buy a non-glare 15-inch today ... unfortunately, the keyboard was a real deal breaker. I tried it out at the local Apple Store and it's really horrible. No heft, no spring, and it's recessed too much. Plus, the trackpad and space bar are far too close. It's definitely NOT a computer for anyone who types a lot.

I wish Apple returned to making more ergonomic designs. The Powerbook G4 has a great feeling keyboard (the only problem is the letters fade after heavy use).

Most of the Apple keyboards on display for their desktop computers were also small, cramped and with a very low profile. I think they've tipped the balance away from usability.
Jeff Carlson  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-04-19 22:07
For me, my impression is just the opposite. The new 15-inch model's keyboard has more spring than my 2006-model MacBook Pro. I'm surprised at how good it feels.
Do you miss the enter key? I see Apple took away the separate one and left only the function-enter on the Return key.
I have trouble seeing the letters on the keys on my not-unibody MBP 15" when the light is fading towards the end of the day - even with the backlight. The reverse colours on the keytops on the unibody would help a lot - I'm just disappointed I can't get a non-glare in the standard resolution as my eyes are not good enough now (I'm 57) for the higher resolution
Grover  2010-04-20 07:57
Something we're looking forward to experiencing in person is the new "inertial scrolling" feature of the Multi-Touch trackpad.

Not me. They added this "feature" to Photoshop CS4 and it drives me nuts. Intertial scrolling makes sense in a touch environment where precision is impossible with our pudgy fingers and scrollbars are impractical, but when you're scrolling around trying to find a particular set of pixels in a 800% zoomed document, it's maddening.
Jeff Carlson  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-04-20 10:54

Go to Photoshop > Preferences, click General, and turn off Enable Flick Panning.

On the new MacBook Pros, choose System Preferences > Trackpad, and set Scrolling to Without Momentum.

I have a review unit now, and I like the inertial scrolling quite a lot.
Howard  2010-04-21 15:23
I have to say that these sealed-in batteries make me hesitate. In the past, Apple has discontinued its own batteries after just a few years. I typically keep my notebooks 5+ years. If I'm going to have to buy new batteries eventually from some other mfr. *and* pay to have the case opened and the battery installed, I anticipate some dismally expensive options--assuming there even will be options.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-04-22 06:42
Unless there's something I'm missing, California law requires all electronics manufacturers to maintain service literature and repair parts for 7 years after the product was manufactured. See California Civil Code section 1793.03.

you'd be fine for at least 7 years after the last MacBook Pro with this particular battery configuration is manufactured.
Curtis Wilcox  An apple icon for a Friend of TidBITS 2010-04-22 13:37
2 things: as early Xserve RAID owners can attest, that law didn't keep their drive modules from suddenly disappearing from the market. Also, since it's a California law, perhaps they only keep enough parts for all "Californian" products and deal only with Californian "service and repair facilities." With the number of Apple Stores that exist, perhaps they can limit them to Californian Apple Stores only.

I'm not concerned about these batteries. If anything, internal batteries should be easier for 3rd parties to manufacturer than the swappable batteries in previous 'Books.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-04-22 15:17
Interesting points... I wonder if anyone tried to sue Apple based on this apparent violation? Or if the Xserve RAID drive modules weren't considered consumer gear and thus weren't covered? Certainly there weren't very many of them made in comparison with something like the iPad, so perhaps Apple felt it was cheaper to risk a lawsuit than to stock the parts.
Jim Redelfs  2010-05-25 06:28
I discovered my beloved G4 Windtunnel dead one morning last week. (It's DEAD, Jim) Not wanting to be down for days (weeks, probably) waiting for a build-to-order model, I bought the ready-made 15-inch MBP Core i7. I'm loving it as it drives my Apple Cinema HD 23-inch display with a look-and-feel that is almost exactly like Leopard on the G4 but a WHOLE LOT more responsive (wicked fast). Operating my CanoScan 8800F flatbed scanner has been like a breath of fresh air.

For a short while after the major purchase, I lamented that I did not get the higher-res, matte display. However, within one day, I dispelled that thought: While sitting on the floor, showing the new laptop to my young grandkids, I did not have to scold the two times fingers connected with the screen. Such an assault on a matte display would be of more concern. At home, docked in my office, it will be used as a secondary display so now I'm perfectly OK with the glossy screen.

Today, my first day off work since the purchase, it's time to integrate the new computer into the space intended. This will require disconnecting from all tethers and a lot of crawling around under the workstation - a lot of effort for this sort-of-pudgy, >56-year-old. Wish me luck. I'd rather just sit here listening to fabulous music (iTunes) and mess with my photos.

Oh, yeah: I have over 20k items in my iPhoto library. You can imagine how FAST it is now - or how SLOW it must've been. I've been waiting for this.

Thanks for all the support, TidBITS!

Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-05-25 06:51
Oh man, going from a G4 to a new MacBook Pro is a huge jump - enjoy the speed!