Apple amps processor, graphics in new MacBook Pro

Raises price of mid-range 15-in. model by 6% as part of 'rebalancing' act, says expert

Apple today refreshed its MacBook Pro notebook line, adding faster dual-core CPUs, more powerful graphics processors and longer-life batteries.

The company also raised the price of one model and lowered the price of two others.

Apple's 13-in. MacBook Pros received a minor processor upgrade -- to 2.4GHz and 2.66GHz from 2.26GHz and 2.53GHz for the $1,199 and $1,499 models, respectively, but got a major graphics boost. Both configurations now come with the integrated Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics processor; Apple billed the 48-core 320M as 80% faster than the previous generation's GPU.

Both of the 13-in. models now feature a battery that Apple claimed provides 10 hours of power between charges, up from the seven hours the company boasted in June 2009, when it last revamped the MacBook Pro family. Apple estimates the battery life on the larger 15-in. and 17-in. models at eight to nine hours. The batteries cannot be easily replaced by the users; instead, Apple charges $129 or $179 to swap out an exhausted battery.

Prices for the 13-in. MacBook Pros did not change.

Apple, however, did increase the cost of the lowest-priced 15-in. MacBook Pro by $100, or 6%, from $1,699 to $1,799. But it dropped the price of the 15-in. model formerly tagged as $2,299 by $100, or 4%, and lowered the price of the top-end 17-in. MacBook Pro from $2,499 to $2,299, an 8% cut.

"They're rebalancing the product line," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "This is a good sign, as it shows Apple believes the recession is over."

Last June, Apple reduced MacBook Pro prices between 6% and 15%, but as a result, lowered the average sales price, or ASP, by about $100 in its notebook line, Gottheil said. It also crowded the line with comparable models that drove most buyers toward the lower-priced laptops, especially the $999 MacBook and the $1,199 MacBook Pro, both 13-in. notebooks.

"It was almost a no brainer for buyers," said Gottheil. "You got only a slightly-larger screen and a slightly-faster processor moving from the 13-in. to the 15-in. last year. Many customers just didn't see the value in the step up."

The combination of today's price tweaks and the inclusion of Intel's top-of-the-line Core i5 and i7 dual processors in the 15-in. heart of the MacBook Pro line, Gottheil said, is an attempt to redress that. "They've created a lot more differentiation in the lines. The 15-in. now has the new Core i5 and i7 processors, which are significantly faster than the Core Duo processors in the 13-in."

Apple today swapped out Core 2 Duo CPUs in the 15-in. MacBook Pro notebooks for the Core i5 running at 2.4GHz and 2.53GHz in the $1,799 and $1,999 configurations, respectively. The $2,199 15-in. version sports a Core i7 running at 2.66GHz, the same processor used in the 17-in. model. Intel's Core i5 and Core i7 support hyperthreading -- two hyperthreads per core -- letting Mac OS X recognize a total of four virtual cores, not just the two physical cores. The result, claimed Apple, is a 50% speed boost over the previous generation.

The Core i5 and i7 processors also support a turbo mode that kicks in when processor-intensive software demands more. The 2.66GHz Core i5, for example, can jump to a clock speed of 3.06GHz for short periods in dual-core mode, and to 3.33GHz in single-core mode.

The 15- and 17-in. MacBook Pros sports both integrated and discrete graphics processors -- as before -- but now the machines automatically switch between the two depending on application needs. Previously, users had to manually flip between integrated and discrete graphics by rebooting or logging out. Apple replaced the Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT discrete graphics with the newer Nvidia GeForce GT 330M in the two top 15-in. MacBook Pros as well as in the lone 17-in. model.

Apple also boosted the size of some MacBook Pro models' hard drives.

"This is classic product marketing," said Gottheil, referring to the price and hardware changes. "Apple doesn't want people to walk into a store and their decision to be a no brainer. They want them to look and compare, and hopefully buy the more expensive MacBook Pro."

The new MacBooks are available immediately at Apple's retail stores, some authorized resellers and via the company's online store. At the latter, however, the new 13-in. models currently indicate a 1-to-3 day shipping delay.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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