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Review: Apple's early 2010 MacBook Pros

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The Arrandale advantage

Looking just at their clock speeds, it appears that the new Core i5 and i7 MacBook Pros are slightly slower than the Core 2 Duo machines they replaced. However, clock speed isn't a level measure of performance when you're comparing different chip architectures.

The previous 15 inch model offered Core 2 Duo CPUs in 2.53, 2.66 and 2.80GHz versions with a 3.06GHz option. The new 15 inch model offers a 2.4 or 2.53GHz Core i5 or a 2.66 GHz Core i7 (the 17 inch model offers the top two options only).

While they're not clocked quite as fast, the new Arrandale chips perform better because they do more in each clock cycle. One reason for this is that the new chips include a memory controller in the die (it's actually bundled into the Intel HD Graphics chip, which sits next to the CPU in the same package).

This integrated memory controller prevents the CPU from having to communicate with an external chipset to access RAM, offering new efficiency in how the processor can keep itself saturated with data. This in turn makes every cycle of the clock more productive.

Additionally, the new Arrandale chips use Intel's HyperThreading to virtualize four core performance on the two core processors. This technology schedules tasks in such a way to efficiently pack in as much work as possible into the available cores. An actual mobile four core processor would not deliver the same efficiency; HyperThreading can enable a two core part to achieve greater performance without actually using any more energy.

At the same time, the Arrandale parts can also do the opposite when there are not multiple threads available to run at the same time, thanks to a feature called Turbo Boost. The chips will effectively shut down the idle processor core and devote its power to the primary, enabling it to increase its clock speed to finish what it has available to do a little faster. This allows the 2.66GHz Core i5 to ramp up to 2.66, 2.8 or 2.93GHz depending on the workload available.

It's a bummer the 13 inch MacBook Pro takes no advantage of the Arrandale features with its Core 2 Duo design. Either Apple was trying to make sure its entry level professional model could still sneak in under $1200, or it perhaps thought that using the Core i3 or i5 might result in constrained supplies for its popular entry level model due to the newness of the Arrandale components.

The New MacBook Pros in Review

The new MacBook Pros are the same thin, strong and attractive models as last year but now deliver a nice jump in processing and graphics performance while still holding on to the impressive battery life introduced with integrated batteries last year.

The 13 inch model now offers a more definitive performance edge over the entry level white plastic MacBook, while the mainstream 15 inch model debuts both fast new chips and an option for a great looking high density screen. The 17 inch model might be slightly more attractive now that it can be paired with the highly mobile iPad, making it less necessary to lug it around in its full sized glory.

MacBook Pro and iPad

On the downside: the 13 inch version doesn't offer a high resolution screen option nor a matte finish, nor speedier processor options, although it does now come standard with 4GB of RAM, which is the minimum a "Pro" machine should deliver. None of the models offer low priced options for SDD, which is partly because the parts are still expensive. It would be nice to see Apple push SDD more aggressively, as it makes a big, visible difference in disk performance.

Unlike most PC notebooks, Apple's offerings don't include support for Blu-Ray nor HDMI output connectors, although the new machines now support audio output through the Mini DisplayPort, meaning users only need a cheap dongle to route both HDMI video and high quality audio out through the Mini DisplayPort to an HDMI TV.

For more on the features of the MacBook Pro that have not changed since Apple introduced the unibody construction of the notebooks, please refer to AppleInsider's: Apple's unibody MacBook Pro: an in-depth review with video. Also recently published was a first look at the new MacBook Pros entitled: First Look: Pairing the new 2010 17 inch MacBook Pro with iPad.

Rating 4 out of 5


Solid construction
Great battery life
Strong CPU and GPU update for 15 and 17 inch models
New audio out support for Mini DisplayPort

No built-in HDMI port or Blu-Ray playback
Limited reasonably priced BTO upgrade options for SDD, RAM
No Arrandale CPU options on 13 inch model

Where to Buy

Several Apple Authorized Resellers are offering discounts of up to $250 on Apple's new MacBook Pros through the addition of rebates and instant discount coupons exclusively for AppleInsider readers, all of which can be seen in our Mac Price Guide. The segment of the price guide listing the current MacBook Pros can be seen below, though resellers are also offering up to $450 off previous-generation models as detailed in the Previous Generation Macs (2009) section of the guide.