A revised MacBook Pro line has been rumoured for a long time and with Intel officially unveiling its new Sandy Bridge Core processors it was all but inevitable that Apple would include them sooner or later. And the revised line of portables does indeed use the Sandy Bridge platform. The 13-inch model has Dual-Core Intel Core i5 or i7 and the 15 and 17-inch models feature Quad-Core i7. This means quite a bit more power in these portable Macs. Graphics are also improved with processor graphics HD 3000 built-in to the Core chips on the 13-inch models. You get the processor graphics as well on the two larger MacBook Pros with the addition of AMD Radeon discrete graphics as well for improved performance. Another addition to the new Mac is the HD webcam for FaceTime.
Apple did not touch the design of the computers nor did they make any changes to the displays. The aluminium unibody design stays the same as does internal, non-user-exchangeable batteries, glass trackpads, etc. Battery life also doesn’t seem to have changed, with all models sporting “up to 7 hours” according to Apple. Clearly Apple focused on getting the new processor chips into the latest MacBook Pros rather than physical design.
All those things are nice and should provide for a better user experience but longer-term it’s the addition of Thunderbolt that is of interest. Called Light Peak by Intel and dubbed Thunderbolt by Apple, it’s a technology co-developed by the two companies that in many ways does what USB and Firewire does today. The main difference is that Thunderbolt is much faster, two channels of a maximum rate of 10Gbps (yes, that’s gigabits). It uses a port that looks exactly like the Mini DisplayPort we’ve seen in Macs for some years now, which so far has been used only for plugging in external displays and projectors. Now it’ll be used for all kinds of things like hard drives and more. With Thunderbolt devices can also be daisy-chained, meaning plugged into one another instead of a hub, like with USB. For those who remember SCSI you get the idea.
Although a handful of manufacturers already have announced products working with Thunderbolt it will take a while for peripherals to be widely available. And don’t think USB is going anywhere anytime soon. With the amount of computers, accessories and other devices supporting USB we’ll live with that for a very long time. Thunderbolt opens up a whole new set of exciting opportunities for users and manufacturers alike and I think we’ll see innovation flourish over the coming months and years. It’s good to see Apple once again at the forefront of introducing and pushing new technology. They’ve been there before and Thunderbolt sure won’t be the last time.
· Magnus Nystedt is a frequent technology commentator and blogger. You can read more of Magnus’ work at www.nystedt.org
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