Apple MacBook Black Friday Deals Reviews USA Sale

Apple MacBook Pro (13-Inch, 2011 Version)
With Apple having an ever-increasing presence in the the homes of everyday users, the company has recently been making aggressive moves in terms of affordability versus performance in its desktops and laptops. Apple continues that trend with its latest line of MacBook Pros. Unlike the last makeover of this line, the 13.3-inch MacBook Pro, which is the entry-level version, gets a huge internal overhaul this time, receiving boosted processor power, as well as a larger hard drive, without raising the price tag. Some of the standout features from previous generations are here as well: The battery life is still unbeatable, and the design remains stark and gorgeous. In fact, aesthetically, it didn't change at all. The MacBook Pro line was already well ahead of its competition in terms of performance and style, and it takes another step ahead with this next generation.

The entry-level $1,199 13-inch MacBook Pro that we reviewed was built around a Second-Generation 2.3GHz Intel Core i5 processor (also known as Sandy Bridge), a 320GB hard drive, and a 13.3-inch screen. This is the base model of the group. For $300 more, you can bump up your processor to a 2.7GHz Core i7 and your hard drive to 500GB. The 15-inch models start at $1,799, and the 17-inchers at $2,499. The 15-inch and 17-inch models now come standard with Core i7 processors and advanced switchable graphics technology. The 13-inch offers only integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 in both its models. All of the new MacBook Pros use Second-Generation Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processors.


On the outside, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is almost exactly the same as the previous version. Design-wise, we think Apple was smart to approach the new line with the attitude that if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. The previous line of MacBook Pros was as stunning as it was stark, and the new line carries that torch onward. The silver case, dominated by an aluminum shell with just one seam around the underside, feels plenty solid. Nothing much mars the design of the MacBook’s body: On the top of the lid is a simple white Apple logo that lights up when the laptop is in use. And, well, that’s about it. The case snaps shut with a magnetic latch, making opening the lid easy without compromising the durability of the body.

As with the previous version, all the ports are located on the left side of the chassis and include an Ethernet jack, a FireWire 800 port (backward-compatible with FireWire 400, 200, and 100), the new Thunderbolt connector (more on that in a moment), two USB 2.0 ports, an SDXC-card slot, and a headphone jack. Toward the front left of the chassis are indicator lights that allow for a quick look at remaining battery power. On the right side of the body are a security-lock slot and the opening for the slot-loading optical drive, which is a dual-layer DVD burner. As with previous MacBook lines, it doesn’t support Blu-ray discs, a feature we keep hoping will come with every new iteration of MacBook Pros.

These MacBook Pros are the first laptops to feature the Thunderbolt port (which replaces the mini-DisplayPort connector from previous MacBook Pros), based on Intel's Light Peak technology, which supports both high-performance peripherals and high-resolution displays. Apple claims the technology can provide data transfer at 20 times the speed of a USB 2.0 port. And, from what we saw during our demonstration, we believe it. (We'd test it ourselves, but no cable is currently available.) It's compatible with USB 2.0 and 3.0, FireWire, Gigabit Ethernet, Fibre Channel, VGA, DVI, and HDMI. It also allows you to daisy-chain up to six devices. Apple does not include a Thunderbolt cord in the box, though. Then again, there aren't many peripherals for it just yet, either.

Once you open the lid, you’ll notice that little has changed in the design of the keyboard and touch pad (which Apple terms its "Trackpad"). The full-size keyboard comes with backlit keys, and it remains perfectly spaced and nicely responsive to the touch. An ambient-light sensor adjusts the key backlighting according to the brightness of the area where you’re working. The speaker is above the keyboard, and although it's adequate for personal use while using the MacBook Pro, you won't want to try and fill a room with it.


On the keyboard deck is the generously sized, buttonless multi-touch Trackpad, which has a glass surface. Instead of the two-button pad you’ll find on most other laptops, the entire pad on the MacBook Pro acts as a button, allowing you to press anywhere to enact a function; you use two fingers to right-click. The Trackpad features inertia-based scrolling, meaning that if you swipe up or down on the pad with two fingers, you’ll continue to scroll through the page until it reaches the top or bottom, just as an iPad or iPhone works. This is the same as the previous versions. As always, we found the Trackpad very easy to use, especially since it functions much like the touch screen on an iPad or iPhone.

As with previous MacBook Pros, the pad also allows you to use a four-finger swipe to show your desktop, view all open windows, or change programs. Of course, the now-requisite multi-touch functionality is built in here as well. (This is the same as the touch features on an Apple iPhone or iPad, allowing you to zoom, rotate, and slide images around with two fingers.)


Inside the latest MacBook Pros is where you'll find all the major new goodies, though. The CPU gets an excellent bump from a Core 2 Duo to a Second-Generation 2.3GHz Intel Core i5 processor. (For those of you who have been following Intel's problems with the supporting chipsets for some of its Sandy Bridge processors, worry not. Apple waited for the problem to be resolved before acquiring the chips.) Graphics, however, take a step down from an Nvidia GeForce 320M card to an Intel HD Graphics 3000 chipset.

To put the CPU (and 4GB of DDR3 RAM) through its paces, we started with our Cinebench test, which stresses all the cores of a given processor to gauge raw CPU performance. Compared both with the previous MacBook Pro and the average for thin-and-light laptops, this 13-inch MacBook Pro far exceeded expectations, with a score of 8,707. That score is higher than every other thin-and-light notebook we have tested. (Although it's worth noting, none of those laptops used Intel's Sandy Bridge technology, so it's not a huge surprise to see these high numbers here, and in fact, we expect to see them on PCs in the near future.) The current average for the thin-and-light category is 5,942, and the previous 13-inch MacBook Pro managed a still-noteworthy score of 5,039. To compare, the $1,779 Lenovo ThinkPad T410s scored 7,340 on this same test. Other similar thin-and-lights didn't fare even that well, including the Samsung QX410 (6,737) and HP Envy 14 (6,862).

Next, we ran our standard iTunes test to further stress the CPU. (In this, we encode 11 standard audio tracks from MP3 to AAC format.) Once again, the 13-inch MacBook Pro blew every other thin-and-light out of the water with a score of 2 minutes and 38 seconds. This beat the thin-and-light category average of 4:07 and the previous 13-inch MacBook Pro by over a minute. The ThinkPad T410s almost matched the MacBook's score here, though, with a time of 2:43. The MacBook handily beat the QX410 and Envy 14 in this test.

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