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Friday, February 25, 2011, 05:00 am PT (08:00 am ET)

Teardown of Apple's 15-inch MacBook Pro finds large Thunderbolt chip

The Thunderbolt port inside Apple's new MacBook Pro lineup has its own prominent integrated circuit controller that is the fourth-largest chip found inside the notebooks, a teardown of the 15-inch model has found.

iFixit wasted no time peeking into the new 15-inch MacBook Pro this week after it was released on Thursday. Internally, the new MacBook Pro features a few minor changes and design tweaks, but the addition of a Thunderbolt port for high-speed data connections and Mini DisplayPort video is arguably the highlight of the products unveiled this week.

In its teardown, the solutions provider found that the controller for Thunderbolt is the fourth largest chip on the logic board, after the CPU, GPU and logic board controller.

"We believe the chip's footprint is a testament to the potential of this port," they said.

iFixit ranked the new 2011 MacBook Pro a 7 out of 10 on its reparability scale. It noted that the new version allows for the battery to be disconnected without removing it from the laptop.

Teardown 1

The addition of a "spudger" makes disconnecting the battery easier.


"It's a nice design choice since you *should* remove all power before performing any repairs," they said. "The unibody design also allows for easy access to most of the other components, so it won't be terribly hard to replace things on the machine. The only tricky repair is LCD replacement, which could easily result in shattering the front glass panel."

Teardown 2

Apple added a fourth antenna to the wireless card.


Other noteworthy details from the teardown:
  • You can chain up to six Thunderbolt devices. In comparison, FireWire supports 63 devices and USB supports up to 127 devices.

  • The lower case is secured by Phillips #00 screws, while the battery is secured by Tri-Wing screws, just like the predecessor. There were no Pentalobe screws inside or outside.

  • The new MacBook Pro has the same 77.5 watt-hour battery as the earlier model, but Apple has decreased their run-time estimate from 8-9 hours to 7 hours, likely due to more stringent testing.

Teardown 3

The Thunderbolt controller is the fourth-largest chip in the new MacBook Pro.

  • iFixit said they're concerned about Apple's quality control, as they found a stripped screw holding the subwoofer enclosure in place, and an unlocked ZIF socket connecting the IR sensor.

  • RAM has been upgraded to PC3-10600. That's the same RAM used in the 2010 revision of the 21.5" and 27" iMacs, but faster than earlier MacBook Pros.

  • The wireless card received a make-over and now includes four antennas instead of three. Wireless connectivity is provided by a Broadcom BCM4331 "wireless solution."

Teardown 4

The new MacBook Pro received a 7 out of 10 for repairability.

  • The wireless card bracket is aluminum, rather than the plastic found in earlier MacBook Pro revisions. The change was likely made for thermal reasons, as a pink thermal pad is visible and used to transfer heat from the Broadcom chip to the aluminum bracket.

  • The logic board features four primary chips:
    • Intel i7 Quad-Core Processor
    • AMD Radeon HD 6490M GPU
    • Intel BD82HM65 Platform Controller Hub
    • Intel L051NB32 EFL (which seems to be the Thunderbolt port controller)

  • The teardown uncovered a great deal of thermal paste on the CPU and GPU when the main heat sink was removed. The excess paste may cause overheating issues down the road, iFixit said.

  • The new 15-inch MacBook Pro is still designated Model A1286. Apple has been using that same model number since October 2008.

For more details and photos, see the complete teardown at iFixit.