Apple MacBook Pro 13in (2011) review

A very desirable laptop, but it's too expensive for most consumers and not highly-specified enough for multimedia work on the go.

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Page 1 of 4Apple MacBook Pro 13in (2011) review


13.3 in 1,280x800 display, 2.0kg, 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-2620M, 4.00GB RAM, 500GB disk, MacOS X 10.6

Updated with battery test scores, see below

There used to be a time when Apple's lovingly-designed, if expensive, range of laptops would lag behind those from other manufacturers, at least when it came to the latest processor technology. Now, thanks to a little unexpected help from Intel, Apple is ahead of the pack. This may not be the first Sandy Bridge-based laptop we've seen, but due to the chipset problems that have beset many new models, the refreshed MacBook Pro line up is in the vanguard for a change. Here we look at the 13in model, with reviews of the larger 15in and 17in models to follow shortly.

The new Sandy Bridge chips, or 2nd Generation Core Processors as Intel would have it, are the main draw here. Apple likes to differentiate its products from others on the market and so doesn't use Intel's usual naming scheme for the chip fitted. Our review model has the faster Intel Core i7 processor, which has dual cores with Hyper-Threading, so it can execute four instructions simultaneously. It runs at a speedy 2.7GHz, Turbo Boosts up to 3.4GHz and has 4MB of cache. A quick bit of research at Intel's website shows that this is directly comparable to what the chip manufacturer calls the Core i7-2620M.

Naming policies aside, this is a very fast processor, and it scored 118 overall in our soon-to-be-retired application benchmarks. We fired up our new benchmarks, which run across PC, Mac and Linux using open-source applications available for all three operating systems, and got some impressive results. Our test scores are still measured in seconds, as we haven't yet decided on a reference PC to base them on, but you can get a good idea of how it stacks up compared to other devices in our table below.


CLICK TABLE TO ZOOM - The fast Sandy Bridge processor in our top-end test model compares favourably with recent iMacs and blows the MacBook Air away.

The new processor architecture is accompanied by a change in the graphics chipset. The previous 13in MacBook Pro used an Nvidia 320M chipset, while the new one instead relies upon the Intel HD 3000 graphics integrated into the processor itself.

The switch to a processor-integrated graphics core has certainly improved this MacBook Pro's battery life. In our light-usage test it ran for an incredible ten hours and 12 minutes, around an hour and-a-half longer than the previous model.

We ran our casual gaming test on it - Call of Duty 4 at a 1,280x800 resolution with no anti-aliasing - and got 33fps. It's a very respectable result for an integrated chip, and you'll be fine playing the odd round of PGA golf or less graphically demanding online games.

Intel HD Graphics are listed under supported video chipsets for Adobe Photoshop CS5, so that should keep mobile digital photographers happy. However, this 13in model doesn't benefit from the AMD 6000-series chipsets in the 15in and 17in iterations, and so won't please anyone who wants to do serious work in 3D

Apple MacBook Pro side

Physically the new MacBook Pro 13in is practically identical to the old one in every detail, but that's no bad thing. It's still one of the most desirable pieces of portable computing kit ever made. For example, while the unibody aluminium chassis doesn't make it the lightest laptop ever at a shade over two kilograms, it's very sturdy feeling and lovely to hold. The keyboard is responsive, the giant touchpad with its clever multi-touch gesture inputs is great once you get used to it, and the screen is crisp, bright and colourful - though the 1,280x800 resolution isn't great for detailed image editing.

There are two new additions, however. A HD webcam above the screen captures 1,280x720 video, and comes ready for Apple's FaceTime service for online video chat. The video quality is about what you'd expect from a tiny webcam, and certainly nowhere near what you get from a proper HD camcorder, such as a Flip Ultra. Still, it's a useful extra and one that those with iPhone 4-owning friends will appreciate.

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