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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  • ananduser - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    MBP's combination is good but not the best. Some traits could be better. Across the board it is a reasonable machine, no one denies that. And it better be considering the asking price. But that still does not make it the best combination as people are subjective and your best combination might be different from another one's best combination.
  • KoolAidMan1 - Monday, November 21, 2011 - link

    Absolutely, if you want a better GPU then it means a larger laptop with less battery life. Laptops should be evaluated based on their usage.

    That said, many people want light laptops with lots of battery life. The fact that such a light laptop has enough horsepower to run most games I play (SC2, TF2, DOTA2, LoL) perfectly is great.

    Outside of balance, there are very few with displays and trackpads as good, and that's something I really wish more PC laptops would tackle in a meaningful way. Most outside of some custom Lenovos and $$$ Elitebooks don't come anywhere close.

    One of the Asus gaming laptops with a better screen and better multitouch trackpad would be AMAZING.
  • Beenthere - Thursday, November 17, 2011 - link

    It turns out that this Mac Air was suppose to have an AMD APU but GloFo let AMD and Apple customers down. I would have definitely considered a Mac Air with an AMD APU.
  • dave_the_nerd - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    Considering that the Air got an i7 instead... I'm glad the deal fell through.

  • MacTheSpoon - Thursday, November 17, 2011 - link

    Any chance of adding speaker tests to your Mac laptop (and every laptop) reviews? I am leery of getting a new Mac laptop ever since dealing with my 2007 MBP and it would be nice to know how the maximum volume compares to other laptops now--whether they've improved at all. My particular model is so quiet that many people had to buy Audio Hijack Pro in order to boost their applications' volumes to acceptable levels--a workaround that sadly now fails with most browsers, as the browsers changed their architecture with current versions (some sort of sandboxing thing, I think).
  • iSayuSay - Thursday, November 17, 2011 - link

    I don't know what's wrong with Mac review, there will always fanboys fighting over them.

    On one side, people called Apple fanboys defend it so rigorously and blindly.

    On the other side, Apple hater .. or actually PC FANBOYS bash Apple and making fun of it.

    Moral of the story: One way or another, we're all just a bunch of fanboys. Why feeling so right about yourself?

    What's wrong with: "My money, my business!" thing?
    I have PC, I have iMac, I have Macbook Air .. so what's the point here?

    You're not willing to spend money to buy a Mac?Fine
    You're too poor to shell out cash for a Mac? Fine

    I'm a Mac user, and when necessary .. I don't want to be nitpicky and compromise with quality. I love Mac quality, it's like buying a built up sports car, looks nice and fast too

    I like Pc too .. just like buying a modded out Japanese car and of course it could be faster than Mac, if you know how to do it. But it aint exactly cheaper too. It could be in fact, more expensive than Mac itself for the same performance AND quality. Not all 6990 cards created equally either.

    So, I think it's just between people who care about performance, quality and appearance (the one who can appreciate Mac and also hi end PC for what it is) .. and people who only care about number, spec sheet and considering a PC just a tool (Strong apple hater, and since you don't care about appearance, Hyundai will get you in place just like Aston Martin, it's just a tool, remember?)
  • ananduser - Friday, November 18, 2011 - link

    Reasonable words, only that it would be an insult for Aston Martin to associate it with a mainstream MBP. If you were talking about the superlative VaioZ, that would be more like it.
  • KoolAidMan1 - Friday, November 18, 2011 - link

    You'd think that people can be reasonable. I also use both PCs and Macs, and the fanboys are ridiculous. None are as shrill as the PC fanboys at the moment though, they've gotten really bad over the last two years.
  • ananduser - Friday, November 18, 2011 - link

    Historically speaking it is the other way around. The PC fanbois appeared as a reaction to constant naggin' on the early interwebs by the Apple fanbois. Now that Apple is much more mainstream, and in light of iphone's stellar success, Apple fanbois are even more open and brazen in their flaming. The fact that Apple gear ownership is pretty much a cultural thing in the States certainly "helps" them.
  • KoolAidMan1 - Friday, November 18, 2011 - link

    I completely disagree. Go so any gaming forum, the moment someone playing TF2 or SC2 asking for help lets out that they play it on an iMac gets responses like "lol get a real computer". I play on a PC but I also know that the response is obnoxious.

    Garry of Garry's Mod put it best:

    "Garry's Mod launched on the Mac last month. Mac users are creating stuff as well, though Garry isn't spotting any differences between Mac and Windows users' creativity. "If there's someone in the server on a Mac they're indistinguishable from PC players," he says. "Which is the way it's got to stay since PC gamers are assholes to Mac gamers for some reason.""

    Perhaps the Mac userbase used to be more obnoxious. That hasn't been the case for two or three years now, the anti-fanboys are way more annoying these days.

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