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Apple MacBook Pro 15in (2011) review

Verdict

Blisteringly quick, beautifully designed and with Thunderbolt technology, but at this huge price we’d expect a full set of features

Review Date: 2 Mar 2011

Reviewed By: David Bayon

Price when reviewed: £1,541 (£1,849 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
3 stars out of 6

Performance
6 stars out of 6

Apple pulled a bit of a surprise when it launched its 2011 update to the MacBook Pro family. While we all expected Sandy Bridge to make an appearance, rumours also began to surface of Intel’s Light Peak technology playing a part. Light Peak hadn’t previously been seen beyond Intel’s tech labs, yet those rumours turned out to be true: now officially renamed Thunderbolt, it makes its debut in all three MacBook Pros.

That’s a heady combination of technologies in one cutting-edge laptop, and Apple has made sure every model feels as future-proof as possible by choosing some powerful processors. Even the 13in models use dual-core Core i5 and i7 CPUs, while it’s quad-core across the board from 15in upwards, with added support from some high-end discrete AMD graphics chips.

Apple MacBook Pro 15in (2011)

The sample on test here is the dearer of the two MacBook Pro 15in specifications, with a quad-core 2.2GHz Core i7-2720QM and 4GB of DDR3 RAM at its heart. Graphical tasks are handled by Intel’s integrated HD Graphics 3000 chip for light work, and an AMD Radeon HD 6750M for more intensive jobs. That’s all backed up by a 750GB 5,400rpm hard disk and a slot-loading DVD writer.

It’s a fast all-round specification, and it proved as much in our brand-new benchmarks. An overall score of 0.85 (where the reference point of 1.00 is a Core i7-2600K desktop PC) shows just how much power is available from these Sandy Bridge laptop processors, and it managed an impressive 0.80 in the Multitasking segment too.

In our Crysis gaming benchmark, the MacBook Pro raced to an average frame rate of 53fps at the screen’s native 1,440 x 900 and Medium quality settings. Even upping that to High settings still saw an average of 29fps, meaning it’s a very capable gaming laptop.

The physical design of the MacBook Pro hasn’t changed one jot, though. It’s in the same aluminium unibody, with its multitouch touchpad that’s essentially all-button. Whether you stick with Mac OS X or use Boot Camp to get Windows, all the shortcut keys work and the backlit keyboard is a joy to use: comfortable, spacious and with just the right level of key travel.

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User comments

will you be reviewing the 13 inch model?

By TimoGunt on 2 Mar 2011

I'm scrapping with several other Dennis titles to get my time with both that and the 17in. Should hopefully get them within the next few days.

David Bayon

By DavidBayon on 2 Mar 2011

yeah it's just that I want to see how much those integrated graphics hurt the performance.

By TimoGunt on 2 Mar 2011

Finally...

After the last 3 years or so, with high end prices, they finally have some high end hardware inside as well...

My last upgrade, I was looking for a quad core i7 17" laptop, but Apple couldn't deliver. I ended up with a Sony, with quad core and 8GB for half the price of a dual core 17" MBP...

I'm lucky, I don't need OS X (or Windows or Linux), so I can shop around for a good deal.

When I bought my iMac 24" (1st generation), it was excellent value for money, but Apple have gone back to their old ways of over priced and under powered in recent years, I hope that they will offer good value again now.

By big_D on 3 Mar 2011

@big_D

The first generation iMac came out in 1998 and had 15" CRT screens. Maybe you mean the 2007 Core 2 Duo iMacs?

By drspa44 on 3 Mar 2011

So what?!

I am leaving this comment from a Thunderbolt MacBook Pro and there are a few things to note. This thing is stupidly fast. Batch Processing a bunch of photos took half the time it did on my previous MacBook Pro (which was no slouch either!)

I know that its an expensive beast, but people should remember that we are firmly outside of consumer territory with the machine. It is a pro machine- aimed a creative types like me. Business types can do everything they need on a MacBook Air. The Lack of a Blu-Ray Player is fine. Blu-Ray has sapped battery out of every other laptop PC Pro has tested. In fact- I wish the drive could be built to order as a RAID hard drive!

The lack of 1080p is no problem either. I dont see why this is a feature missing. You cannot visibly see the difference between 720p and 1080p on a 15 inch screen! The pixels are far too densely packed together! More importantly, the MacBook Pro is able to output 1080p to a screen where you can see the difference- so its not a big deal.

The removable battery thing... @DavidBayon, is 8 hours normal for the battery in this sort of computer- i don't know... Are there any figures for this? Thats the only possible downside I see.

This is a fantastic laptop. No doubts. But it should be reviewed as a Professional laptop for a creative professional, not a business user or a consumer.

By willdamien on 3 Mar 2011

i agree with verdict

Where is the full HD screen, where is the SSD (at least 256GB), you give it i7 but only 4GB of ram, more is needed.
@willdamien i might be mistaken but i did not see in specs that it can output full hd. and i don;t know about you but i can see the difference between 720p and 1080p, 720p is 2.25 time less pixels, the difference should be noticeable on a 15inch models, but i agree on small screens it is difficult to see. also apple is famous for their use of square battery cells increase the battery life a lot, as seen in the specs here. to be honest i am thinking of buying this not really much to consider, i do not know anything else that can advertise 7 hours and actually do it. (probably do dual boot though, love Windows 7 too much)Maybe the screen can actually do 1080p, D

By mobilegnet on 3 Mar 2011

This is not a Toy

I see this in a large number of reviews when it comes to Mac
the cost, well in my opinion you pay for what you get.
If you want an all round PC you buy a windows based machine,
but if you want a dedicated work horse buy a Mac.
I own Mac and Windows Based PC's and there is no comparison when it comes to
productivity when dealing with graphics and web development,
Mac wins all of the time.
As for speed Mac's have always been quick, use this as a comparison comparing two computers I own.
Mac book G4 Aluminium 1.2ghz with 512 Megs ram from cold boot on Osx leopard around 30 Seconds.
Quad core 2.6ghz desktop with 8 gigs ram from cold boot on windows 7 around 1 min 15 seconds.
As for the cost of a Mac 9 times out of 10 Mac owners only change their Mac out of necessity,
not because the operating system dictates that the hardware is not up to the required level.
Sure there is a time in everything when technology dictates a change is needed, but with A Mac especially hardware like a laptop you are looking at around 4 or 5 years even more.
So I feel that the cost is justifiable.

By Lord_West on 3 Mar 2011

@mobilegnet

The MacBook Pro can support upto 2560x1600 output from its thunderbolt port. Theoretically, It can support 2 high resolutions as long as the second display can be daisy chained from the first display.

By willdamien on 4 Mar 2011

Re the conclusion

How many laptops with removable batteries have an eight hour battery life? Not counting the ones that make the laptop look like it has a cancerous growth. Personally I prefer to have a fixed battery with lots of capacity rather than a smaller removable one.

If you have a blu-ray player (or PS3) attached to your TV, then I really can't see the point of one in a computer yet. The writeable media doesn't offer enough space for most backups and it just pushes the price of computers higher for no tangible benefits.

I agree with the resolution comments, the 15" should have 1680x1050 by default and 1920x1200 as an option. The 13" should also have 1440x900 as the default, yet it isn't even an option. If it did I would've probably upgraded, but 1280x800 just feels too constrained.

By weiran on 9 Mar 2011

What I would like to see in the next one

I've just bought the 15" 2.3Ghz i7, with the high-res anti-glare screen and it's a great machine. I wanted a 'pro' machine and as such only compared it to other professional laptops - Lenovo W520, Dell M4600.

What struck me most when comparing against similar laptops however is the lack of RAM options. Both the Dell and M4600 support 32GB - it's expensive, but you can get it - 16GB however is v. cheap and if you buy it 3rd party is around £100! Apple only support 8GB, or 16GB unofficially but that will set you back around £1200! I use my machine as a portable test lab and run multiple VM's in Parallels, so the more memory the better. It just seems odd to me that a workstation-class laptop can only accommodate 2 memory modules.

Others have called for Blu-Ray, but I would sooner ditch the optical drive completely in favour of a second HDD, more memory slots and more USB ports, preferably USB 3. A Blu-Ray drive could always be added externally, personally I wouldn't bother with one at all. Actually how many people actually need one these days - maybe PC Pro could do a survey on that? It would be good feedback for the manufacturers.

By shaunpugh on 9 Aug 2011

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