Thursday, February 24, 2011

Apple launches new MacBook Pros with faster processors and Thunderbolt high-speed interface

Last September, I wrote a post forecasting that Apple would announce a new generation of MacBook Pro notebook computers in Q1 2011 using Intel's Sandy Bridge-generation processors and Light Peak high-speed interface. Today, Apple did release its new generation of MacBook Pros, which use Sandy Bridge Core i5 and i7 dual- and quad-core processors. They're also the first products to implement Light Peak, which is now called Thunderbolt.

The new MacBook Pros range from $1,199 (U.S.) for the 13-inch model with a 2.3GHz Core i5 dual-core processor, to $2,499 for the 17-inch model with a 2.2GHz Core i7 quad-core processor. For the 15" and 17" models, Apple has shifted from the NVIDIA GPUs that it previously used to AMD's Radeon GPUs. The 13" model uses the improved GPU built into the latest generation of Intel's Core processors. All models are shipping as of today.

In addition, all of the new MacBook Pros implement the Thunderbolt interface, which shares the Mini DisplayPort connector for connecting external displays. As many as six devices can be daisy-chained on the Thunderbolt interface, which has a maximum throughput of 10 Gbps--twice that of USB 3.0, and more than 12 times more than FireWire 800. The Thunderbolt interface explains why Apple didn't implement USB 3.0 in last year's models and Intel didn't incorporate USB 3.0 in its chipsets for Sandy Bridge--both companies knew that a faster interface was coming.

The lack of a high-speed interface to external storage and video capture devices has been the biggest limitation when using MacBook Pros and iMacs for data-intensive applications such as video editing. Thunderbolt eliminates that problem, although it will take some time for peripheral vendors to ship Thunderbolt-compatible devices.

Update: Intel has made its own Thunderbolt announcement, with more technical details. Media creators will be excited by the list of companies that have already signed on to support the new interface:
  • External hard drives and storage arrays: LaCie, Promise Technology and Western Digital
  • Audio interfaces: Apogee, Avid
  • External audio processors: Universal Audio
  • Video interfaces: AJA, Avid and Blackmagic Design
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