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

    You don't dismiss my point. "Obnoxious" SC2 players REACT to their Apple branded brethren. Being the veteran gamers that they are, they remember always being falsely told how crappy windows on their beige boxes was :).
    The Mac userbase, small part of it nowadays but nonetheless significant, is "cultured". So the obnoxious part of it is also "cultured". OSX SC2 users should ask questions on the mac support part of gaming forums and not in "broad daylight" :).
  • KoolAidMan1 - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    "OSX SC2 users should ask questions on the mac support part of gaming forums and not in "broad daylight" :)"

    What a garbage fanboy apartheid attitude you have.

    My main desktop is a PC, but I wouldn't hesitate for a second to help someone on a Mac if they wanted a hand. Hell, one of my Mac friends is Masters league, the last thing he needs from me is advice.

    I bet you're also a bronze/silver/gold league scrub. ;)
  • ananduser - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    Never did I point at you in my ramblings. Present persons are always excluded. Think of it, how can the majority of SC2 players which are PC gamers can possibly know OSX related issues.
    Good luck in your SC2 matches...for me SC2 was a disappointment(personal opinion).
  • KoolAidMan1 - Monday, November 21, 2011 - link

    It isn't about Windows users not knowing how to help, its about them going out of their way to be negative for no reason. I know it's the internet and you should expect people to be jerks, but meh.

    Also, SC2 is the best game presently out there. Spent a lot of the weekend watching MLG Providence (AMAZING) and will soon break from Skyrim to get back on the ladder. :D
  • MacTheSpoon - Thursday, November 17, 2011 - link

    This is very good to know! I know some people actually resorted to filing down their laptops. Thanks for the info.
  • zsero - Friday, November 18, 2011 - link

    Anand, please review the Sony SE!

    It is the most interesting laptop for me in 2011 and no one is talking about it!

    - 15 inch matte 1920x1080 IPS-like display
    - 2.0 kg
    - dedicated graphics 6670M
    - OK, not quad core
    - quiet
    - slice battery for 12 hours
    - around 1000 dollar for i5 + 6670M

    I believe it could be one of the most interesting laptops to be reviewed on Anandtech in 2011!
  • ananduser - Friday, November 18, 2011 - link

    Anand does not get Vaios for review.
  • zsero - Friday, November 18, 2011 - link

    Google: vaio
  • ananduser - Friday, November 18, 2011 - link

    Did not search thoroughly enough. I remember that Anand was denied a review unit of the 2010 VaioZ.
  • kevith - Friday, November 18, 2011 - link

    It's always depressing to read the comments when ever there has been a Mac review in these pages.

    Almost every post is so filled with HATE.

    Why? Every other review has lots and lots of interesting and clever comments, sometimes ranging to expert analysis. Lots of good points are made, even the reviewers sometimes get enlightened with points they didn't think of during the review. And all of it is kept in a civil and friendly tone.

    But when it comes to Mac reviews, it's quite the opposite: Sarcastic remarks, only trying to make the reviewer or other commentators look idiotic. Ironically ending up being pretty idiotic themselves. Remarks like "I don give a s... about your opinion", "bug off, fanboy,.. you make me laugh", "you spew crap", "nice trollin'", "wow, so mad!", "I am sure all the pathetic apple cultboys, like Anand,..." are all a disgrace to all of you who posted them.

    OF COURSE you care about others opinion, otherwise you wouldn't read them! Or answer for that matter.

    Please drop it, it's not welcome in serious sites like this, it doesn't do ANYONE any good.


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