Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch review: Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch

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The Good Fast Core i5 and Core i7 processors; great design; stunning display; good battery life.

The Bad No USB 3.0 port; no dedicated graphics card; very expensive.

The Bottom Line We have a few gripes with Apple's new 13-inch MacBook Pro for spring 2011, but we can't deny that it's still the slickest, coolest and most enjoyable laptop money can currently buy.

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8.3 Overall

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With the Earth having completed yet another celestial orbit, Apple has once again given its MacBook Pro line of laptops a refresh. This time the overhaul is largely internal, with Intel's Sandy Bridge processors the star of the show. There's also a new 'Thunderbolt' port drilled into the side of the aluminium chassis. The 13-inch model will set you back anywhere between about £1,000 and £2,400, depending on the configuration you opt for.

Go configure

The basic configurations for the 13-inch machine are as follows. For £1,000 you can nab yourself a model with a dual-core Intel Core i5 processor clocked at 2.3GHz, a 320GB 5,400rpm hard drive, Intel HD graphics and 4GB of RAM.

Splash out £1,300 on a slightly higher-end model and you'll get a dual-core Core i7 processor clocked at 2.7GHz, a 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive, Intel HD graphics and the same 4GB of RAM. The extra cash, then, buys you a more powerful processor, and an extra 180GB of storage space. 

Our review model is the more expensive version. We'll be assessing whether this upgrade is worthwhile, or whether you'd be better off with the cheaper, £1,000 model.

Intelligent design

Apple knows where its strength lies -- exquisite design. Time and time again we've been impressed by the style and build quality offered by MacBooks, and this latest version is no different. That's because it really is no different. Apple's made very few external changes to the previous Pro.

The solid 'unibody' aluminium chassis doesn't have any unsightly seams around the edges, and looks just as classy as ever. The Pro is probably the most reassuringly solid and well-constructed laptop on the market, and its minimalist, chic design hasn't gone out of fashion.

The downside of the robust aluminium shell is that the Pro is fairly heavy, weighing in at 2kg. It won't buckle your spine if you throw it in your satchel, but we've seen many lighter laptops. Its dimensions are a fairly elegant 325 by 24 by 227mm.

The Pro is still a great-looking machine, but we were hoping for a few design changes. There's nothing wrong with the existing models, but we like to see something new, if only to indicate that we're still travelling the merry road of progress.

The 13.3-inch display has a resolution of 1,280x800 pixels, and looks as sharp and bright as ever. The viewing angle is reasonably impressive too. The webcam above the display has been pumped up to a 720p resolution, so you can make high-definition FaceTime calls, and see every hideous feature of your best buddy's mangled mush.

The trackpad is large, supremely responsive and extremely comfortable. It supports intuitive multi-touch gestures that'll soon have you sliding your way around OS X like a slippery otter in a butter factory.

Thunderbolt explained

Thunderbolt is a new input/output port developed by Intel (under the code name 'Light Peak') and used by Apple. It's basically a PCI Express port and a DisplayPort in one, which makes it useful for really high-speed data transfer, and for exporting your MacBook Pro's video to an external monitor, for instance. You can link up to six Thunderbolt devices together.

The Thunderbolt port sits to the left of the first USB port.

Thunderbolt offers data-transfer speeds of up to 10Gbps, which is very fast indeed. We've seen Thunderbolt strutting its stuff in data-transfer demonstrations, and it really does make chucking data around at very high speeds entirely possible.

So what's Thunderbolt good for? Well, if you're a professional video editor who stores and transfers plenty of large video files, it could make a huge difference to your workflow. But, outside of professional applications, we can't really see too many benefits. Don't expect Thunderbolt-compatible products to appear until the summer either -- the technology is still in its early stages at the moment. Thunderbolt cabling will also probably be rather expensive.