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MacBook Pro

Apple Notes By Mike Watkinson
Published May 2011

Given the recent frenzy over the iPad 2, you'd be forgiven for missing one of the more significant updates for the musician — the new MacBook Pro.

The release of the MacBook Pro has been overshadowed, somewhat, by the release of the iPad 2. However, with significant upgrades to its processors and connectivity, it's deserving of a closer look.The release of the MacBook Pro has been overshadowed, somewhat, by the release of the iPad 2. However, with significant upgrades to its processors and connectivity, it's deserving of a closer look.Photo: Apple

Two new products in one month, have Apple gone crazy? Eclipsed somewhat in the regular press by the media darling that is the iPad 2, the MacBook Pro has also received a significant overhaul. I guess we shouldn't be surprised when the world's largest technology company updates more than one product in quick succession, especially as both the iPad and the MacBook Pro are refreshed every 10 months or so, on average.

Under The Hood

Although visually unchanged from the previous model, some significant under‑the‑hood tweaks have been made to the latest revision of Apple's flagship portable computer.

Finally, the Core 2 Duo processors have gone. The previous iteration of the MacBook Pro (April 2010) did feature first generation Nehalem Core i5 and i7 processors on some of the range, but these have now made way for Intel's second‑generation Sandy Bridge Core i5 and i7 technology across the entire range. This consists of dual‑core 2.3GHz i5 and 2.7GHz i7 chips in the 13‑inch model; quad‑core 2.0 and 2.2 GHz i7 chips in the 15‑inch model; and quad‑core 2.2GHz i7 chips in the 17‑inch model. Also, an optional upgrade to 2.3GHz is available for the 2.2GHz models — yes, that's 0.1GHz for £200$250!

These are some clever processors, however, as they have a 'Turbo Boost' feature that allows them to change their clock speed dynamically: up to around 2.9GHz for the Core i5 and 3.4GHz for the Core i7s. Lessons have been learnt from the bad old days when IBM couldn't supply a G5 chip cool enough to run in a laptop, and one of those lessons is that you don't need to have your processor running at its top speed if you are just checking your email! Performance should also be helped by the increase in memory speed to 1333MHz.

Other internal changes are that graphic performance has been improved with a swap from NVIDIA to AMD graphics hardware, and the FaceTime camera (as it is now called) is now capable of 720p video capture for HD video calls.

Four gigabytes of RAM is installed as standard, with 8GB as an option, although you would be advised to add this yourself after purchase, as Apple, as ever, charge quite a premium for this service. Interestingly, third‑party vendors are offering 16GB RAM upgrades (at quite a price, it has to be said), although this is not offered as an official upgrade option from the Apple Store.

A variety of hard‑drive storage options is available. For example, the 15‑inch 2.2GHz model comes with a 750GB 5400rpm mechanism, which can be swapped for a 500GB 7200rpm drive for no charge. SSD options are available, but the pricing is still relatively expensive (£1000$1250 to have a 512GB SSD option fitted in the 13‑inch MacBook Pro!).

There has probably been a term coined for the 'sport' of finding the most expensive version of a certain Mac ('maxing' maybe?), but I managed £3379$4099 for a 17‑inch MacBook Pro with a 2.3GHz processor, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD and an anti‑glare screen. Nice!

Thunderbolt & Lightning

Alongside the FireWire 800 socket sits the new Thunderbolt socket, which is a high‑speed input that offers data‑transfer rates of up to 10Gbps. [More on Thunderbolt can be found in this month's PC Notes.] Whether it's likely that we will see audio interfaces with a Thunderbolt connection in the near future is debatable. It seems more likely, in the short term, that we'll see a range of adaptors appearing for connecting various peripherals.

For musicians, then, it's a win‑win situation. Where previously a MacBook Pro had but one 'high speed' connection (FireWire 800), this is now doubled with the addition of Thunderbolt and, at the very least, you will have separate ports for I/O and storage, subject to suitable adaptors becoming available.

Briefly, just briefly, the MacBook Air looked as if it was in the frame as a serious contender for musicians needing power and portability and, to a certain extent, that remains true. But with these improvements, the MacBook Pro has reclaimed its rightful place at the top of the portable pile.