Apple's new 15-in. MacBook Pro: Same look, more speed

Highlights include new Core i5 and i7 chips, improved graphics, high-def video chats

Let's get this out of the way first thing: Apple's new MacBook Pro line of laptops, unveiled late last month and almost lost in the din of publicity around the iPad 2 launch, do not -- repeat, do not -- use flawed Sandy Bridge processors.

If you follow these things, you may remember that back in January, Intel found a minor flaw in the Cougar Point chipset that's part of the latest Core series of processors. Intel stopped production, acknowledged the problem, and began shipping corrected chips by late February.

15.-in MacBook Pro
The new 15.-in MacBook Pro looks the same as the last generation, but has a slew of hardware changes under the hood.

Ever since, would-be laptop buyers, especially those who track the ins and outs of chip technology, have wondered whether any of those early processors found their way into Apple's newest MacBook Pros.

According to Apple: No.

Now, with that piece of business out of the way, we can turn our attention to what the new MacBook Pros did get: noticeably faster quad-core Core i5 and i7 processors in the 15-in. and 17-in. models and dual-core chips in the 13-inch models, an integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 processor (with a separate AMD Radeon graphics chip in higher-end models, some of which deliver 1GB of video RAM) and perhaps most notably, a new high-speed I/O technology that Apple and Intel have dubbed Thunderbolt. (It used to be called Light Peak; they're the same thing.)

There's also a new webcam, still built into the top of the black bezel surrounding the screen, that allows you to conduct high-definition, 720p video chats using FaceTime.

In other words, virtually all of the changes in the MacBook Pro family are under the hood. The latest generation looks just like the previous few versions: unibody aluminum case, black chicklet keys with white lettering, a phenomenally bright LED-backlit screen, and the usual retinue of peripheral ports: two USB, the aforementioned Thunderbolt (which now replaces the Mini DisplayPort and works for external monitors) and an SDXC card slot. (The 17-in. model soldiers on with an ExpressCard/34 slot.)

Clearly, Apple focused more on function instead of form this time around, but I'm still hoping that the next generation will take on the slimmer, more wedge-shaped look of the MacBook Air unveiled last fall.

The current line-up

The model Apple loaned me for this review is the pricier of the two 15-in. MacBook Pros Apple now sells. It has a quad-core Core i7 processor running at 2.2GHz, though that speed changes depending on what you're doing. There's an integrated Intel graphics chip plus an AMD Radeon HD 6750M discrete graphics processor for more intense work. (You don't have to switch between the two; the MacBook Pro does that for you depending on whether you're, say, surfing the Web or playing a graphics-rich game.) It also comes with a slow (5,400rpm) but rather roomy 750GB hard drive.

About this Mac
The high-end MacBook Pro has a 2.2GHz Core i7 processor and 4GB of RAM.

Price for this model: $2,199. That's $400 more than the slightly slower 15-in. model and $300 less than the biggest MacBook Pro, which offers the same components with a 17-in. screen. The 17-in. model now costs $2,499, $200 more than the last 17-in. model did -- a sign that Apple thinks the recession truly is over, at least for wannabe 17-in. laptop owners.

The line starts at $1,199 for a 13-in. MacBook Pro with a 2.3GHz dual-core Core i5 chip, the integrated graphics processor and a 320GB hard drive -- meaning there's a MacBook Pro for a range of pocketbooks.

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