"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" seems to be Apple's mantra for the design of its MacBook Pro line, which has remained the same for several years now. That's not a bad thing -- clean lines and a strong unibody construction have long been hallmarks of the series, as have a slender profile (less than an inch thick), an expansive multitouch glass trackpad and a backlit chiclet keyboard. And the 1440 x 900 LED-backlit display on the 15.4-in. MacBook Pro is as crisp, bright and gorgeous as ever.
But inside the aluminum chassis, Apple has quietly added several key improvements, most notably Intel's second-generation Core i-series processors, built on the Sandy Bridge architecture. In the 15-inch models, that means the latest quad-core Core i7 CPUs at basic clock speeds of 2.2, 2.4 or 2.5GHz and Turbo Boost speeds of up to 3.5GHz.
As Computerworld's Ken Mingis explains, however, there's more to Sandy Bridge processors than clock speeds:
The biggest advance is that everything is integrated in one place: the processor itself, the Intel integrated graphics, the memory controller and cache. That allows the sum to work faster than the parts. And Intel's Hyper-Threading technology adds even more speed: It allows two threads of work to run at the same time across four cores, essentially giving you four real processor cores and four virtual processor cores. (Read the full review.)
The entry-level 15-in. model is $1,799 and includes a 500GB, 5400rpm HDD; a 2.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor; 4GB of RAM and an AMD Radeon HD 6750M GPU with 512MB of memory. The higher-end model starts at $2,199 for a 750GB, 5400rpm HDD; 2.4GHz quad-core Core i7 CPU; 4GB of RAM and an AMD Radeon HD 6770M GPU with 1GB of memory.
Those dedicated Radeon graphics processors, for intensive graphics work, are in addition to the integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 subsystem, which handles most tasks and uses less energy. You don't need to switch between the integrated and dedicated graphics; the system knows what's needed and switches automatically.
You can upgrade the RAM on either model to 8GB and the storage to a 750GB, 7200rpm HDD or a 128GB, 256GB or 512GB SSD, and the higher-end model can be upgraded with a 2.5GHz quad-core Core i7 processor. Be careful, though: Opting for the highest level of all these upgrades brings the price up to a shocking $3,749.