Review: Apple's Thunderbolt MacBook Pro

 

Only the 13-inch device looks to deliver genuine value-for-money.

Apple sprung a surprise when it launched its 2011 update to the MacBook Pro family. Sandy Bridge processors were the main update, but we began to hear whispers that Intel’s Light Peak technology might play a part.

Light Peak’s high-speed data transfers hadn’t previously been seen beyond Intel’s tech demonstrations, yet those rumours turned out to be true. Now officially renamed Intel Thunderbolt, it makes its debut in all three new MacBook Pros.

That’s a heady combination of technologies, and Apple has gone for the jugular with some hugely powerful processors. Even the 13-inch models have dual-core Core i5 or i7 CPUs, while it’s quad-core across the board from 15-inch upwards, with support from high-end AMD graphics chips.

There’s no external redesign: the silver aluminium bodies are still exquisite; the edge-to-edge glass screens are gorgeous; and the batteries remain captive, as ever.

The only significant change is the replacement of the mini-DisplayPort with a connector that appears identical, but for a little lightning-bolt symbol. Thunderbolt allows your existing DisplayPort monitors and adapters to continue to function through the port, yet also makes it ready for the next wave of superfast peripherals. It isn’t of much use right now, but this will change in the near future.

MacBook Pro 17-inch

With a huge screen and a quad-core 2.2GHz Core i7-2720QM processor, the largest MacBook Pro is ideal for high-end graphics work. It can play the latest 3D games, managing 52fps in Crysis at 1600 x 900 and Medium settings; when we upped that to the native 1920 x 1200, it still averaged a playable 35fps.

As well as all this power, it has one of the few laptop displays we’ve seen recently to stick with that traditional resolution over 1080p, and it positively beams with quality. Measuring our sample with a colorimeter, we found a huge maximum luminance of 342cd/m2 and a contrast ratio of 760:1. As for colour accuracy, an average Delta E of 5.6 is good for a laptop.

You get a mere three USB 2 ports and one FireWire port, that DisplayPort-compatible Thunderbolt connector, along with Gigabit Ethernet, two 3.5mm jacks and, disappointingly, an ExpressCard/34 slot. Photographers may feel they’d get more use out of the SDXC slot present on the smaller models.

Possibly the most startling figure the MacBook Pro 17-inch produced, however, was its battery life. It may be sealed inside the chassis, but this can be forgiven when you consider that one of the fastest 17-inch laptops we’ve seen can survive for a minute shy of eight hours under light use in Mac OS X.

This is a huge figure, even though it falls considerably in Windows due to the Boot Camp drivers’ inability to switch to the integrated graphics.

Alas, despite all these strengths, the 17-inch model simply can’t justify its price. It’s a brilliant laptop that those with full wallets certainly won’t regret buying, but you can buy a Dell XPS 17 with the same processor and a slightly lesser all-round specification for a saving of $900. That’s one heck of a premium to pay for style and build quality.

MacBook Pro 15-inch

The 15-inch model we have on test is interesting, largely because it’s internally identical to its bigger brother. The same CPU and 4GB of RAM, albeit with a 1440 x 900 15.4in display, managed 53fps in Crysis at native resolution and Medium settings, and when we raised that to High settings, the score remained at a just-playable 29fps.

The differences come on the left flank: you get only two USB 2 ports to go with that Thunderbolt connector, and the ExpressCard slot has gone in favour of an SDXC slot for cards up to 64GB. As with all three models, you get the new 720p-capable FaceTime HD camera. The screen on our sample had a maximum measured brightness of 322cd/m2 and a contrast ratio of 800:1. Its Delta E measurement of 5.3 shows colour accuracy is superb.

Battery life was almost identical to the 17-inch model, making the MacBook Pro 15-inch an extremely capable mid-range professional laptop.

Whether it’s worth $2499 comes down to your view of Apple. There are better-specified laptops out there for the money, but few that can match the MacBook Pro’s near-perfect build and design.

MacBook Pro 13in

Of the three sizes, there’s no doubt that it’s the 13-inch MacBook Pro that turns the most heads. An exquisite piece of engineering, its slim, sleek and portable chassis packs in plenty of power while also lasting an astonishing 10 hours and 12 minutes of browsing time in Mac OS X.

The 1280 x 800 resolution is a touch disappointing, but the display itself is simply glorious. With our colorimeter we measured a maximum brightness of 312cd/m2 and a contrast ratio of 650:1, with an average Delta E rating of only 3.6 – about as colour accurate as we’ve seen from any laptop display.

However, the 13-inch has clearly been the trickiest model for Apple to craft successfully. On both variants, the CPU temperature hovers at over 90 degrees Celsius when running intensive applications, and at one point during our benchmarks we measured the aluminium underside at a scorching 60 degrees Celsius.

There’s also a peculiar quirk on the Core i7 model that means Turbo Boost appears to be disabled when running Windows, presumably to avoid overheating.

With this in mind, we’d steer clear of the $1698 model – the $300 saving on the Core i5 version loses you only a bit of speed and 180GB of hard disk space, and we suspect that if you intend to run Windows on it you may even get more application speed from the Turbo-Boosted Core i5.

If you’re looking for a portable workstation, it isn’t the winner it could have been; we’d avoid running intensive apps with it on your lap, for example. Of the three sizes, however, it holds the widest appeal. There’s something about paying less than $2000 for such an impressive piece of hardware that makes it feel like the best value of all the new MacBook Pros.

Copyright © PC Pro, Dennis Publishing


Review: Apple's Thunderbolt MacBook Pro
 
Overall Rating
Product Info
Supplier:
 
 
 
 
Top Stories
Frugality as a service: the Amazon story
Behind the scenes, Amazon Web Services is one lean machine.
 
Negotiating with the cloud email megavendors
[Blog post] Lessons from Woolworths’ mammoth migration.
 
Qld govt to move up to 149k staff onto Office 365
Australia's largest deployment, outside of the universities.
 
 
Sign up to receive iTnews email bulletins
   FOLLOW US...

Latest VideosSee all videos »

The great data centre opportunity on Australia's doorstep
The great data centre opportunity on Australia's doorstep
Scott Noteboom, CEO of LitBit speaking at The Australian Data Centre Strategy Summit 2014 in the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. http://bit.ly/1qpxVfV Scott Noteboom is a data centre engineer who led builds for Apple and Yahoo in the earliest days of the cloud, and who now eyes Asia as the next big opportunity. Read more: http://www.itnews.com.au/News/372482,how-do-we-serve-three-billion-new-internet-users.aspx#ixzz2yNLmMG5C
Interview: Karl Maftoum, CIO, ACMA
Interview: Karl Maftoum, CIO, ACMA
To COTS or not to COTS? iTnews asks Karl Maftoum, CIO of the ACMA, at the CIO Strategy Summit.
Susan Sly: What is the Role of the CIO?
Susan Sly: What is the Role of the CIO?
AEMO chief information officer Susan Sly calls for more collaboration among Australia's technology leaders at the CIO Strategy Summit.
Meet the 2014 Finance CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Finance CIO of the Year
Credit Union Australia's David Gee awarded Finance CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards.
Meet the 2014 Retail CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Retail CIO of the Year
Damon Rees named Retail CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at Woolworths.
Robyn Elliott named the 2014 Utilities CIO of the Year
Robyn Elliott named the 2014 Utilities CIO of the Year
Acting Foxtel CIO David Marks accepts an iTnews Benchmark Award on behalf of Robyn Elliott.
Meet the 2014 Industrial CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Industrial CIO of the Year
Sanjay Mehta named Industrial CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at ConocoPhillips.
Meet the 2014 Healthcare CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Healthcare CIO of the Year
Greg Wells named Healthcare CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at NSW Health.
Meet the 2014 Education CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Education CIO of the Year
William Confalonieri named Healthcare CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at Deakin University.
Meet the 2014 Government CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Government CIO of the Year
David Johnson named Government CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at the Queensland Police Service.
Q and A: Coalition Broadband Policy
Q and A: Coalition Broadband Policy
Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott discuss the Coalition's broadband policy with the press.
AFP scalps hacker 'leader' inside Australia's IT ranks.
AFP scalps hacker 'leader' inside Australia's IT ranks.
The Australian Federal Police have arrested a Sydney-based IT security professional for hacking a government website.
NBN Petition Delivered To Turnbull's Office
NBN Petition Delivered To Turnbull's Office
UTS CIO: IT teams of the future
UTS CIO: IT teams of the future
UTS CIO Chrissy Burns talks data.
New UTS Building: the IT within
New UTS Building: the IT within
The IT behind tomorrow's universities.
iTnews' NBN Panel
iTnews' NBN Panel
Is your enterprise NBN-ready?
Introducing iTnews Labs
Introducing iTnews Labs
See a timelapse of the iTnews labs being unboxed, set up and switched on! iTnews will produce independent testing of the latest enterprise software to hit the market after installing a purpose-built test lab in Sydney. Watch the installation of two DL380p servers, two HP StoreVirtual 4330 storage arrays and two HP ProCurve 2920 switches.
The True Cost of BYOD
The True Cost of BYOD
iTnews' Brett Winterford gives attendees of the first 'Touch Tomorrow' event in Brisbane a brief look at his research into enterprise mobility. What are the use cases and how can they be quantified? What price should you expect to pay for securing mobile access to corporate applications? What's coming around the corner?
Ghost clouds
Ghost clouds
ACMA chair Chris Chapman says there is uncertainty over whether certain classes of cloud service providers are caught by regulations.
Was the Snowden leak inevitable?
Was the Snowden leak inevitable?
Privacy experts David Vaile (UNSW Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre) and Craig Scroggie (CEO, NextDC) claim they were not surprised by the Snowden leaks about the NSA's PRISM program.
Latest articles on BIT Latest Articles from BIT
Another phone with Telstra's Blue Tick: The Samsung Galaxy S5
Apr 8, 2014
Samsung's latest flagship phone joins Telstra's list of recommended handsets for customers in ...
Run an online shop? This might be worth bookmarking
Mar 28, 2014
Things like Australian safety standards are probably the last thing on your mind, but just ...
Vodafone switches on 4G in Tasmania: list of locations
Mar 28, 2014
See a list of locations in Tasmania that now have access to 4G via Vodafone's network.
Samsung Galaxy S5 on sale from Telstra next month for $912
Mar 27, 2014
It's not cheap, but if you are looking to upgrade your phone then the Samsung Galaxy S5 could be ...
What Australian workplaces actually rely on tablet computers?
Mar 14, 2014
If you're curious about where tablets are being used at work, here are three examples.
Latest Comments
Polls
Which bank is most likely to suffer an RBS-style meltdown?





   |   View results
ANZ
  21%
 
Bankwest
  9%
 
CommBank
  11%
 
National Australia Bank
  17%
 
Suncorp
  24%
 
Westpac
  19%
TOTAL VOTES: 1455

Vote