Apple MacBook Pro 17 (Early 2011)

New this time: Intel's Thunderbolt I/O, Sandy Bridge processors, 4GB RAM across the range, Intel and AMD graphics and a FaceTime HD webcam.

Craig Simms Special to CNET News
Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.
Craig Simms
2 min read

Apple's newest MacBook Pros come equipped with Intel's newest I/O standard: Thunderbolt. This Mini DisplayPort-sized connector is essentially ExpressCard and DisplayPort in one, with a little bit more on the side. Plug in one or two DisplayPort-enabled monitors and they'll work no problems. It can also carry 8-channel audio, meaning HDMI adapters shouldn't be too hard. Existing adapters for Mini DisplayPort are expected to work just fine with Thunderbolt.

Hook in a storage device and you'll have direct access to the PCI-Express bus, with Thunderbolt offering a 10Gbps bi-directional connection. In its current form it also gives 10W of bus power, allowing you to run portable devices off the one port — although this option may not be supported with optical cables in the future.

What's that? Yes, Thunderbolt is expected to transition from copper wiring to optical by the end of the year, potentially pumping up speeds to 100Gbps bi-directionally.

Also new to the table is the expected Sandy Bridge processor update, an entry-level 4GB RAM across the range, and a switch to Intel HD graphics in the 13-inch MacBook Pros, while AMD gets a run in the 15- and 17-inch versions. Sadly, 5400rpm hard drives are standard across the range.

The webcam has been upgraded too, and is now being called the FaceTime HD camera. Offering three times the resolution found in previous MacBooks, as the name gives away, the MacBook is now able to use FaceTime to talk to iPhones and iPads. Bizarrely, this doesn't come free — it costs AU$1.19 from the Mac App Store.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro comes in two SKUs, both offering 1280x800 displays, 4GB RAM and Intel HD graphics. The AU$1399 model comes with a 2.3GHz Core i5 dual-core processor, while the AU$1698 model bumps up to a 2.7GHz Core i7 dual-core processor with a 500GB hard drive. Sadly, both hard drives are 5400rpm, with no 7200rpm hard drives available, although SSDs are available as upgrade options.

Unlike the 13- and 15-inch models, the 17-inch MacBook Pro is offered as a single SKU, including a 1920x1200 display in either matte or gloss, a 2.2GHz quad-core Core i7 processor, AMD Radeon HD 6750M paired with Intel HD graphics and 750GB hard drive. It is the only MacBook Pro to offer an ExpressCard 34 slot, and goes for AU$2899.