MacBook Pro rumor roundup: Sandy Bridge, Thunderbolt, SSD boot drives & more

By AppleInsider Staff

With the expected release of Apple's new MacBook Pro lineup on Thursday, onlookers have been inundated with rumored hardware specifications and new features. AppleInsider offers a recap of what's expected in the imminent product refresh slated for tomorrow.

Sandy Bridge

Apple's new MacBook Pro models will sport the latest-generation processors from Intel, known as Sandy Bridge. The chipmaker has called Sandy Bridge the "biggest advance in computing performance and capabilities over any other previous generation."

The new notebooks are expected to feature Core i7, Core i5 and Core i3 processors from Intel, with leaked specifications showing that the 13-inch MacBook Pro will sport a 2.3GHz Core i5 with integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000.

The timing of the release of new MacBook Pros came into question earlier this year, when Intel revealed it discovered a design error in its new Sandy Bridge processors. Specifically, the chipsets accompanying the processors, known as Cougar Point, were found to have issues with four serial-ATA ports for connecting devices like hard disk drives.

A source informed AppleInsider that the error did in fact disrupt Apple's plans, but the impact was largely immaterial and caused only minor delays.

A full comparison of Sandy Bridge processors rumored to make their way into the next generation of MacBook Pros is included below:

Integrated, ATI graphics options

Leaked specifications show that Apple's 13-inch MacBook Pro will not feature a discrete graphics processor. Instead, it will rely on the integrated GPU found in Intel's new Sandy Bridge processors, which features 384MB of shared memory.

Back in December it was claimed that Apple's larger, high-end MacBook Pro models, with screen sizes of 15 and 17 inches, will rely on graphics processors from AMD. It was said that none of the new MacBook Pros will feature Nvidia graphics.

Thunderbolt, Light Peak

A Thursday debut for hardware is unique for Apple, but it's possible that the date was chosen in part because it's when Intel plans to formally debut its new Light Peak technology for high-speed data connections. Viewed as a successor to USB, the first generation of Light Peak cables and devices are expected to be able to support 10Gbps data transfers over copper wire.

Leaked photos of Apple's next-generation MacBook Pros show that the devices will offer a unique implementation of Light Peak dubbed "Thunderbolt." Apple's Thunderbolt connector is expected to be the same shape as existing Mini DisplayPort devices, but in addition to audio and video, it will also offer high-speed data transfer.

AppleInsider's sources teased earlier this month that Apple's new MacBook Pros would feature additional surprise enhancements, likely referring to Thunderbolt.

Solid-state storage

So far, none of the leaked photos give any indication of a solid-state boot drive, at least in the 13-inch model. But there have been a handful of rumors suggesting that Apple could preinstall Mac OS X on an integrated high-speed 16GB flash memory-based boot disk.

It was also said that Apple will offer customers a build-to-order configuration of the new MacBook Pro models, replacing the SuperDrive with a solid-state drive.

The lack of evidence of a flash boot drive in photos of the 13-inch model also does not align with a separate report, which claimed that the alleged hybrid solid-state configuration would be used for Mac OS X startup even in base models of the Mac lineup.

End of the line for white MacBook?

With the new 11.6-inch MacBook Air priced at $999 and selling strongly, it has been rumored that Apple could discontinue its entry-level polycarbonate MacBook, which carries the same $999 price.

Last fall, Apple redesigned its MacBook Air and added the second screen size of 11.6 inches, in addition to the 13.3-inch model. The diminutive notebook was instantly in demand, and it features only solid-state flash memory for its internal storage.

Trackpad, displays, pricing and more

Reports have also claimed that the new MacBook Pro hardware will feature larger glass trackpads. This change could be made in anticipation of Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, scheduled for release this summer.

Apple has revealed its plans to bring iOS features to the Mac with the release of Lion, and among those features are new multi-touch gestures. The expansion of the trackpad area could make invoking those gestures easier for some users.

Retailer Best Buy over the weekend also over the weekend listed five new MacBook Pro models and SKUs. The listings suggest that Apple will continue to offer two configurations of the 13-inch MacBooks, two 15-inch models, and a single 17-inch configuration.

Leaked specifications from the 13-inch MacBook Pro also showed that the notebook will feature a "high-definition camera" for FaceTime video chat, suggesting the forward-facing lens above the computer's display could be upgraded. The 13.3-inch display was also listed as having a resolution of 1,280 by 800 pixels.

Those same specs also show the notebook with an SDXC port for the latest Secure Digital cards. SDXC supports cards with storage up to 2TB of data.

For more, see AppleInsider's comprehensive coverage of the MacBook Pro.