Apple's Refreshed MacBook Pros Boast Intel Thunderbolt

Apple updated its MacBook Pro notebooks with Intel Thunderbolt technology, next-generation Intel and AMD Radeon processors, and HD FaceTime cameras.

Apple has updated its line of MacBook Pro notebooks in four major ways, adding next-generation processors from Intel; graphics technology from Advanced Micro Devices; Intel's new Thunderbolt connectivity solution, which is debuting on the Apple devices; and a wide-screen high-definition FaceTime camera.

Apple unveiled the new MacBook Pros Feb. 24, and Intel made an accompanying announcement about Thunderbolt, which had been referred to as "Light Peak." Along with Thunderbolt, the new Apple notebooks offer Intel's next-generation Core i5 and i7 "Sandy Bridge" processors, AMD Radeon graphics.

Apple is offering two new 13-inch MacBook Pros, starting at $1,199; two new 15-inch models, starting at $1,799; and a new 17-incher, starting at $2,499.

Thunderbolt, on which Apple collaborated with Intel, is an I/O technology based on PCI Express and DisplayPort and is envisioned as a way of connecting just about anything to your notebook. It enables high-performance peripherals and high-resolution displays to connect via a single port and can transfer data at speeds up to 10G bps. According to Apple, "The Thunderbolt pipeline is more than 12 times faster than FireWire 800 and up to 20 times faster than USB 2.0. ... It changes what you can do on a notebook."

Users can daisy-chain up to six devices, and with support for video and eight-channel audio, users can connect HDMI-compatible devices, like HDTVs, using their current High-Definition Multimedia Interface adapters. Current VGA, DVI and DisplayPort adapters are also supported. (Thunderbolt also isn't exclusive to Apple, so expect to see it offered by third-party device and cable makers.

On the processor front, the 13-inch MacBook Pro now comes with a choice of a 2.3GHz Intel Core i5 or a 2.7GHz Intel Core i7. If you currently own a MacBook Pro, the sad news is that these new models-with Intel Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.4GHz-are twice as fast.

In addition, the 15- and 17-inch models are speedier still, decked out with 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processors with Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.4GHz and with up to 8MB of shared L3 cache. According to Apple, this translates to the ability to run the application at twice the speed of their competitors.

Even demanding tasks like editing HD video or rendering a multi-layered image file are now a breeze, Apple explained, thanks to efficiencies in the notebooks' Mac OS X Snow Leopard; Intel's single-chip microarchitecture (since, on a single chip data doesn't have to travel far, things get done more quickly); Turbo Boost 2.0, which most efficiently manages processor performance; and Hyper-Threading technology, which enables two threads to run simultaneously on each core, more evenly distributing across the cores the work to be done.

Regarding graphics, the 13-inch MacBook Pro has an integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 processor, but the 15- and 17-inch models have been treated to AMD Radeon graphics processors, equipping these notebooks with three times the performance of their predecessors.

The new FaceTime HD camera offers three times the resolution of the MacBook Pro's previous camera, enables video calls at up 720p and supports a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio. It also performs better in low-light environments. Plus, users can now make video calls to other Intel-based Mac computers, friends with iPhone 4 smartphones or the new iPod touch. When someone wants to call you, FaceTime makes it possible for the call to ring on every Mac product you own.

The full new MacBook Pro lineup is now available through Apple's online and retail stores. The 13-inch MacBook Pro is available in two configurations: with a 2.3GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i5 and a 320GB hard drive starting at $1,199, or with a 2.7GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i5 and a 500GB hard drive starting at $1,499.

A version of 15-inch MacBook Pro with a 2.0GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7, an AMD Radeon HD 6490M processor and 500GB hard drive starts at $1,799, while a model with a 2.2GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7, an AMD Radeon HD 6750M and a 750GB hard drive starts at $2,199.

Finally, the new 17-inch MacBook Pro, with a 2.2GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7 processor, an AMD Radeon HD 6750M and a 750GB hard drive is priced at $2,499.

All five new models promise a battery life of 7 hours.

On Jan. 18, Apple announced the financial results of its fiscal 2011 first quarter, which included record sales of Macs, iPads and iPhones, as well as its highest-ever earnings and revenue. Apple also led the worldwide mobile PC market during the fourth quarter of 2010, research firm Display Search announced in a Feb. 16 report-which included sales of tablets in the PC calculations.