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Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Early 2011) review:

Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Early 2011)

Review Sections

While most ports on the 13-inch MacBook Pro remain carbon-copy identical to those on last year's model, there are a few notable additions. The SD card slot now accepts SDXC cards. More importantly, the Mini-DisplayPort has subtly been transformed into the aforementioned Thunderbolt port. The Intel-developed data and audio/video port has extremely fast throughput at a maximum of 10Gbps, and compatible hard drives will be able to send files with blazing speeds. The tiny Thunderbolt port is powered, and will be able to daisy chain up to six connected devices, be they hard drives or even monitors. It's backward-compatible with old Mini-DisplayPort monitors or cables, and like with last year's Pros, it can output audio and video over HDMI with a Mini-DisplayPort-to-HDMI adapter.

Thunderbolt may be a rival to USB 3.0, but devices that can use the port won't even be available until spring. Most people will simply use the USB 2.0 and FireWire 800 ports on the 2011 MacBook Pro and be completely satisfied. Still, it's comforting to know that future port support is there. Is it necessary right now? No. In two years, however, it could be indispensable. Consider it future tech on your MacBook Pro — a perk, rather than a necessity.

Apple's laptops have always had limited upgrade and configuration options; the new Pros are no different. The 13-inch MacBook Pro comes in AU$1399 and AU$1698 configurations, with 2.3GHz Core i5 and 2.7GHz Core i7 dual-core CPUs, respectively. Our high-end AU$1698 Pro comes with a 500GB hard drive and 4GB of DDR3 RAM. RAM can be expanded up to 8GB for an extra AU$240; the hard drive can be expanded up to a 5400rpm 750GB drive for AU$130 or a solid-state drive at 128GB, 256GB or 512GB. Those aren't cheap: the 128GB upgrade costs AU$250, whereas the 512GB costs a whopping AU$1600. Pair this with Apple not mentioning the brand of the SSD, and you're better to go aftermarket.

That's it as far as configurations go. The 1280x800-pixel glossy screen can't be upgraded, unlike on the 15-inch Pro. There's no option to add discrete graphics, either. It's an odd disconnect: even the 13-inch MacBook Air has a higher-resolution screen, and the lack of higher-end graphics feels cheap for such an expensive laptop.

The new second-generation Sandy Bridge Intel Core i7 CPU is a huge improvement on last year's 13-inch Pro. Benchmark tests show that this model is nearly twice as fast in multitasking and the iTunes test. Start-up boot time is also zippy, although nowhere near as fast as on the MacBook Air. This is the processor upgrade we were hoping for last year, and then some. Though you should obviously keep in mind that the 15-inch Pro is even faster, for the price and the size, it's hard to beat what the 13-inch offers. Until other next-gen Intel Core i-series laptops arrive, aside from the new 15-inch quad-core MacBook Pro, this is the second-fastest Apple laptop we've ever reviewed. Though the 15-inch 2011 MacBook Pro has an edge in multitasking, the 13-inch Pro more than held its own at single-task benchmarks — in fact, it was nearly the equal of its more expensive sibling.

If there's one compromise on this year's 13-inch MacBook Pro, it's in the graphics. Instead of the Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics in last year's Pro, this year's models use integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000, part of the second-generation Core i-series' improvements. They're better than what we're used to from integrated graphics, but they're not ideal for hard-core gaming. We played Call of Duty 4 and got a reasonable 33.1fps at native resolution and anti-aliasing turned off, but only 18.2fps with 4x anti-aliasing turned on. Last year's MacBook Pro, with the same settings, achieved 36.3fps and 32.2fps, respectively.

However, for a normal, everyday user, the Intel integrated graphics are a success. They're effectively invisible; they "just work", to use Apple's words, ably running media and most casual 3D gaming. For those who want to seriously render or play upscale games, the 15-inch Pro's ATI Radeon graphics offer a major step up. Honestly, the Mac landscape is devoid of many big games, and the 13-inch Pro can at least play most of what's out there (Bejeweled 3, for instance, ran silkily smooth).

For the second year in a row, the 13-inch MacBook Pro has made another leap in battery life. Matching the promises made by Apple, the 13-inch Pro's integrated battery lasted six hours and 58 minutes using our video playback battery drain test. That's an amazing result — and is so good that you'll probably be able to carry your MacBook Pro for the day and leave your charger behind, if you're so bold. It's also an hour better than last year's 13-inch MacBook Pro.

Service and support from Apple has always been a bit of a mixed bag. Apple includes a one-year parts-and-labour warranty, but only 90 days of telephone support. Upgrading to a full three-year plan under AppleCare will cost an extra AU$329, and is pretty much a must-buy, considering the proprietary nature of Apple products and their sealed bodies. Support is also accessible through a well-stocked online knowledge base, video tutorials and email with customer service, or through in-person visits to Apple's retail store Genius Bars, which, in our personal experience, have always been fairly efficient, frustration-free encounters.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)

  • 130
    Apple MacBook Pro 15 - Core i7 Sandy Bridge 2.2GHz
  • 216
    Apple MacBook Pro 13 - Core i7 Sandy Bridge 2.7GHz
  • 437
    Apple MacBook Pro 13 - Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz
  • 656
    Lenovo ThinkPad T410
  • 662
    Acer Aspire TimelineX 4820TG-7805
  • 926
    Apple MacBook Air 13

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)

  • 63
    Apple MacBook Pro 15 - Core i7 Sandy Bridge 2.2GHz
  • 68
    Apple MacBook Pro 13 - Core i7 Sandy Bridge 2.7GHz
  • 105
    Lenovo ThinkPad T410
  • 105
    Acer Aspire TimelineX 4820TG-7805
  • 126
    Apple MacBook Pro 13 - Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz
  • 149
    Apple MacBook Air 13

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)

  • 90
    Apple MacBook Pro 15 - Core i7 Sandy Bridge 2.2GHz
  • 92
    Apple MacBook Pro 13 - Core i7 Sandy Bridge 2.7GHz
  • 135
    Lenovo ThinkPad T410
  • 137
    Acer Aspire TimelineX 4820TG-7805
  • 154
    Apple MacBook Pro 13 - Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz
  • 176
    Apple MacBook Air 13

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)

  • 425
    Apple MacBook Pro 15 - Core i7 Sandy Bridge 2.2GHz
  • 418
    Apple MacBook Pro 13 - Core i7 Sandy Bridge 2.7GHz
  • 360
    Apple MacBook Pro 13 - Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz
  • 346
    Lenovo ThinkPad T410
  • 298
    Apple MacBook Air 13
  • 229
    Acer Aspire TimelineX 4820TG-7805

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Via CNET

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