The early 2011 MacBook Pro is honestly Apple's best effort to date. Only using quad-core CPUs on the 15 and 17-inch models, and offering an optional Thunderbolt Display that can act as a modern day dock makes this platform, particularly the 15-inch model, the perfect candidate for users who want the power and flexibility of a desktop with the portability of a notebook. Apple gets the mobile revolution in more ways than one, and its MacBook Pro/Thunderbolt Display combo is the perfect example of that.

It's this very combination that I've been using, partially since the introduction of the Sandy Bridge MacBook Pro earlier this year (the Thunderbolt Display didn't arrive until later). I've been quite happy with the setup. With the exception of lackluster Quick Sync adoption by Apple and obviously limited GPU options, I have very few major complaints.

Late last month, Apple updated its 2011 MacBook Pro lineup - likely the first and last update before Apple adopts Ivy Bridge in Q2 next year. We got our hands on the new base 15-inch MacBook Pro configuration, which received one of the more substantial upgrades over the previous model. As this is still a fairly minor upgrade, be sure to read our original review of the platform for a deeper dive into all of the aspects of the system.

Late 2011 MacBook Pro Lineup
  13-inch (low end) 13-inch (high end) 15-inch (low end) 15-inch (high end) 17-inch
0.95 H x 12.78 W x 8.94 D
0.95 H x 14.35 W x 9.82 D
0.98 H x 15.47 W x 10.51 D
4.5 lbs (2.04 kg)
5.6 lbs (2.54 kg)
6.6 lbs (2.99 kg)
2.4 GHz dual-core Core i5
2.8 GHz dual-core Core i7
2.2 GHz quad-core Core i7
2.4 GHz quad-core Core i7
2.4 GHz quad-core Core i7
Intel HD 3000 Graphics
Intel HD 3000 + AMD Radeon HD 6750M (512MB)
Intel HD 3000 + AMD Radeon HD 6770M (1GB)
Intel HD 3000 + AMD Radeon HD 6770M (1GB)
4GB 1333MHz DDR3 (8GB max)
500GB 5400 RPM
750GB 5400 RPM
500GB 5400 RPM
750GB 5400 RPM
750GB 5400 RPM
Display Resolution
1440x900 (1680x1050 optional)
Gigabit LAN, Firewire 800, Thunderbolt, 2x USB 2.0, SDHC slot, combined audio in/out jack
Gigabit LAN, Firewire 800, Thunderbolt, 2x USB 2.0, SDHC slot, separate audio in/out jacks
Gigabit LAN, Firewire 800, Thunderbolt, 3x USB 2.0, separate audio in/out jacks, ExpressCard 34 slot
Battery Capacity
Price $1,199 $1,499 $1,799 $2,199 $2,499

Silicon Updates

The focus of Apple's late 2011 update, despite rumors to the contrary, was on the silicon inside the platform. As the Mac business is a relatively mature one, we can expect a slower pace of chassis and design upgrades compared to the iPhone/iPad businesses for example.

We'll start with the CPU, the lesser updated chip in the new MacBook Pro. System pricing hasn't changed, but CPU speeds have all gone up.

Just as before the 15-inch MacBook Pro is only available with a quad-core Intel Core i7 CPU (codename Sandy Bridge). The $1799 configuration goes from a 2.0GHz i7 to a 2.2GHz model. Be warned, this isn't the same 2.2GHz model that was available as an upgrade earlier this year though.

A quick run of Cinebench points out that the 2.2GHz i7 in our system may be a Core i7 2675QM. The original 2.2GHz option was a Core i7 2720QM. What's the difference between the two? Not a whole lot.

Max turbo is down a bit on the 2675QM. It was 3.3GHz on the 2720, but now it's 3.1GHz. The two, three and four core turbo limits are also down by 200MHz compared to what they were in early 2011. If you didn't have a 2.2GHz early 2011 15-inch MacBook Pro, these differences likely don't mean anything. If for whatever reason you're comparing to an early 2011 2.2GHz model, you'll see a slight regression in CPU bound performance.

The on-die GPU is a hair slower as well. You still get an Intel HD 3000 GPU (12 EUs) but the max turbo moves from 1.3GHz down to 1.2GHz. Or if you prefer another way of looking at it, the 2675QM is the same as the 2670QM, except the GPU is able to clock 100MHz higher (1.2GHz vs. 1.1GHz).

Apple 15-inch Late 2011 MacBook Pro CPU Comparison
  2.2GHz quad-core 2.4GHz quad-core 2.5GHz quad-core
Intel Model Core i7-2675QM Intel Core i7-2760QM Intel Core i7-2860QM
Base Clock Speed 2.2GHz 2.4GHz 2.4GHz
Max SC Turbo 3.1GHz 3.5GHz 3.6GHz
Max DC Turbo 3.0GHz 3.4GHz 3.5GHz
Max QC Turbo 2.8GHz 3.2GHz 3.3GHz
L3 Cache 6MB 6MB 8MB
AES-NI Yes Yes Yes
VT-x Yes Yes Yes
VT-d No Yes Yes
TDP 45W 45W 45W

The upgraded 15-inch configuration comes with an all new Sandy Bridge SKU: the Core i7 2760QM running at 2.4GHz. Unlike the old 2.3GHz part, the 2760QM still only has a 6MB L3 cache. You do get higher base and turbo speeds. There's also a new 2.5GHz quad-core option that can run at up to 3.6GHz with a single core active. That's an absolutely insane frequency for a notebook. Notebook-as-a-desktop users will appreciate the flexibility here.

All of the new CPUs support AES-NI, although once again Apple is the victim of Intel's silly segmentation. The entry level 2.2GHz part does not support VT-d (Virtualization Technology for Directed I/O), which allows virtual machines to have direct access to I/O devices (including PCIe GPUs). I'm not sure if any current virtualization software for OS X supports VT-d, but the absence of the feature is important to note nonetheless. The rest of the CPU lineup supports VT-d.

Adobe Photoshop CS4 Performance

3D Rendering Performance - Cinebench R10

3D Rendering Performance - Cinebench R10

3D Rendering Performance - Cinebench R11.5

3D Rendering Performance - Cinebench R11.5

Battery Life

TDPs haven't changed, nor has the MacBook Pro's battery capacity, so overall battery life should (and does) remain relatively unchanged from the early 2011 models. Worst case scenario you can expect around 2.5 hours of battery life under load. With moderate load expect 4 - 5 hours of use on a single charge. And under a very light load you can easily exceed 7 hours.

I ran our normal battery life suite, however Lion has made some of the numbers a little less comparable than I would've liked. The lighter use cases (e.g. our web browsing tests) see a drop compared to our older Snow Leopard results. Under full load the new platform, even while running Lion, actually did a bit better than its predecessor. All in all I'd say the new MacBook Pro is pretty consistent with its predecessor - Lion just threw a wrench in a lot of our battery life comparisons so we'll be starting over from scratch in building our new database.

Flash Web Browsing Battery Life

Multitasking Battery Life

The GPU: Faster
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  • KoolAidMan1 - Friday, November 18, 2011 - link

    "there are plenty of laptops that are designed to do real work for people that has real jobs"

  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 18, 2011 - link

    No one has Jobs any more. RIP. ;-)
  • Corland - Tuesday, November 22, 2011 - link

    Too soon Jarred.
  • robco - Friday, November 18, 2011 - link

    Your G73 is a 17" laptop and weighs over a kilo more (3.85 vs 2.54). Of course it's going to be faster. Many users are quite happy to have a thinner, lighter machine. If you care more about raw performance then the MBP is not for you. There's more to performance than fps numbers in games. Gaming has never been OS X's strong suit. For your needs, a Windows laptop is a much better choice.

    Personally, I wouldn't want to lug the ASUS around, but that's just me.
  • GotThumbs - Monday, November 21, 2011 - link

    I think the key thing to keep in mind, is that you CAN obtain (minus TB Port) an equally impressive PC based laptop for significantly less cash. With the $aving$ of purchasing a PC over a MBP, you can then upgrade to 8Gigs of ram (for less than Apple charges) and load a decent SSD as well.

    The real question most general consumers ask themselves is.... Do you want to be seen with an Apple product or not, and how much am I willing to pay for that fashion accessory?

    I'd be willing to bet that most MBP users (Include PC users as well) are not using even 50% of the systems capabilities. FB, Tweater, email, ITUNES do not utilize/need much processing power. In a society where woman can easily spend thousands on a purse, Apple has become somewhat of an accessory for women and men. I'm not saying ALL MPB users are motivated by fashion, but we all know a majority of users probably are. Just ask them about the specs and why thy chose an Apple laptop.

    It's an individual choice of how one spends their hard earned money. Personally I choose to avoid Apples controlling environment and do not own a single Apple product.

    Best Wishes,
  • Mystermask - Monday, November 28, 2011 - link

    "Just ask them about the specs"

    Because specs tell so much about usability, productivity, TCO and value?

    Personally I choose to avoid arrogant, narrow minded people.
  • CharonPDX - Thursday, November 17, 2011 - link

    The Early 2011 model is the upgraded model, the Late 2011 model is the entry-level. So basically you're getting 99% of the prior "Upgraded" for the same price as the prior "Entry".
  • gradjoh - Thursday, November 17, 2011 - link

    Okay, thanks, that makes sense.
  • zhill - Thursday, November 17, 2011 - link

    The model he is reviewing is the "low end" 15" MBP, the other in the charts is the 2.3GHz upgraded "high end" MBP, so they aren't exactly apples-to-apples. Basically, the previous high end is still faster than the new low-end. It's a somewhat confusing comparison since he doesn't have numbers for the "low end" 2.0Ghz config of "early 2011". For the same $1799 you get a faster machine now, but the $2199 config from the last iteration is still faster.
  • sigmatau - Friday, November 18, 2011 - link

    Why would they use a $100 GPU in a $2500 laptop? Wow, now that is a ripoff.

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