Display Quality

The display hasn't changed since earlier this year, although this is the first 15-inch 2011 MacBook Pro that I've tested with the standard resolution (1440 x 900), glossy panel. Aesthetically I prefer this panel (I'm the rare case that isn't bothered by gloss) and the lower resolution is easier on my eyes, but for productivity I do feel the 1680 x 1050 upgrade is worth it. If this is going to be a workhorse, and you have good eyesight, get the high-res version.

As always, Apple calibrates its panels at the factory. Note the out-of-the-box white point across the 11-inch MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Air and 15-inch MacBook Pro:

Apple Display Comparison - White Point Color Temperature

Apple wants to deliver as consistent of an experience as possible across its product line. While the Air models still don't have quite as high quality a panel as the Pro, at least there aren't any wide variations in what constitutes white on these panels.

Notebook LCD Quality - White

Notebook LCD Quality - Black

Brightness is down a bit compared to the high-res panel we looked at earlier this year, but so are black levels. The combination of the two actually results in a slightly higher contrast ratio than what we measured on the early 2011 models. In practice the panel looks just as good and seems to get just as blindingly bright as my personal 15-inch.

Notebook LCD Quality - Contrast

Color quality and gamut are virtually identical as well, no surprises here:

Notebook LCD Quality - Color Accuracy

Notebook LCD Quality - Color Gamut

Hard Drive

The more traditional Macs (MBP, Mac Pro, iMac) continue to ship with mechanical hard drives by default, the late 2011 update is no different. My review sample came with a 5400RPM Toshiba MK5064GSXF. The drive features two 320GB platters (obviously not all in use for the 500GB capacity), and an 8MB cache.

All of my personal systems use SSDs and in testing the new MBP with a hard drive I can only say that the move back is more painful than ever. It's most noticeable when multitasking. Installing applications while browsing the web and copying files just seems to slow to a crawl compared to my SSD equipped MacBook Pro. If you're going to buy any new machine, especially if you're paying top dollar for something you expect to feel fast, you definitely need an SSD.

The good news is Apple's SSD pricing isn't horribly unreasonable, at least at the beginning. For $200 you can upgrade the 15-inch MacBook Pro to a 128GB drive (most likely a 3Gbps Samsung based SSD). It's when you look at the 256GB or larger drives that you're probably better off buying your own. You can buy a 256GB Crucial m4 for under $400 today, and a 240GB Vertex 3 will set you back around $460. Both options are cheaper (and faster) than Apple's $600 256GB upgrade. If you get the high-end 15-inch MBP model however, the upgrade prices drop by $100 - making the Apple route much more cost competitive. You don't get the same performance you would from an aftermarket drive, but with less headaches and potential for issues it's possibly a better route.

The 512GB drives are most definitely not a bargain from Apple. To equip a 15-inch MBP with a 512GB SSD, Apple wants $1200. You're much better off buying a 512GB Samsung SSD 830 for under $800 and pocketing the difference.

Apple SSD Upgrade Pricing
  128GB 256GB 512GB
13-inch 2011 MacBook Pro $200 $600 $1200
13-inch 2011 MacBook Pro (high end) $100 $500 $1100
15-inch 2011 MacBook Pro $200 $600 $1200
15-inch 2011 MacBook Pro (high end) $100 $500 $1100
17-inch 2011 MacBook Pro $100 $500 $1100

What aftermarket SSD should you buy? If you want to play it safe and hang on to TRIM support, go with Apple. Ever since I've been reviewed SSDs however I've run aftermarket SSDs in my Macs, mostly without any major issues. I can vouch for the Intel SSD 510, Samsung SSD 830 and OCZ Vertex 3. At one point or another I've used all of them in my 2011 MacBook Pro. My current setup is a Samsung 830 in the primary drive bay and an Intel SSD 510 in place of my optical drive, the combination works wonderfully.

Still Great WiFi

Apple continues to quietly focus on delivering excellent WiFi performance with the MacBook Pro. In the late 2011 models WiFi is still powered by Broadcom's BCM4331 3x3 solution. A quick test with a 3rd generation Time Capsule showed us peak transfer rates of 154Mbps, in line with what we've seen with the first generation Sandy Bridge MacBook Pro.

Despite Apple's move to Bluetooth 4.0 support on some of its other platforms, the MacBook Pro remains at 2.1 with the same BCM2070 controller.

The GPU: Faster Final Words
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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: http://kotaku.com/5676077/meet-garry-the-guy-who-r...

    "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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