Apple's next-generation MacBook Pro represents a marriage between the design of the whisper-thin MacBook Air and the power of the previous MacBook Pro. But it's the feature that sets this notebook apart — its high-resolution Retina display — that makes this new notebook decidedly more "Pro" than "Air."
Overview and design
The new MacBook Pro is priced starting at $2,200 for a machine with a 256 gigabyte flash memory drive, 8 gigabytes of RAM, and a 2.3 Ghz quad-core Intel Core i7 Ivy Bridge processor. Our test machine was upgraded to a 2.6 gigahertz processor, 16 gigabytes of RAM and a 512 gigabyte flash drive, which places the cost of this machine at over $3,000.
While the new Intel Ivy Bridge chip is the star of the show among the internal components, Apple didn't stop there. The new MacBook Pro has one USB 3.0 port on each side, two Thunderbolt ports on the left side, and an integrated HDMI port and SD card reader on the right side. The HDMI port in particular is a welcome addition, negating the need for users to carry a Thunderbolt adapter if they want to plug in their notebook to an external monitor on the go.
Even legacy FireWire users haven't been forgotten with this Pro machine, as Apple plans to offer a separate Thunderbolt to FireWire adapter that the company says will be available this July.
The forward-facing FaceTime camera has also been upgraded to 720p high definition, which is a nice improvement. The stereo speakers also sound great, and dual microphones allow for improved chat and noise cancelation capabilities.
The most glaring omission from the new MacBook Pro is the total absence of an optical drive. In our view, this subtraction is a positive. Ditching the optical drive has allowed the MacBook Pro to become thinner than ever, and Apple's built-in SuperDrives had a notorious reputation for failing. Those who still need an optical drive can plug one in via USB, or if its removal is too big an issue, MacBook Pros with the previous-generation design are still available with built-in SuperDrives.
While it is noticeably thinner than the previous-generation MacBook Pro, users upgrading from a MacBook Air will definitely feel the additional heft. The MacBook Air maxes out at 13 inches and features a tapered design that gets thinner, while the new MacBook Pro has a larger 15-inch display and a unibody design with a uniform thickness that equals the MacBook Air at its thickest point. But the next-generation MacBook Pro is also 4.46 pounds, compared to just 2.96 pounds for the 13-inch MacBook Air.
The reliance on flash memory makes this MacBook Pro a much quieter and cooler machine than its predecessors. Like with the MacBook Air, it's something of a surprise when the silent machine springs to life with the sound of a whirring fan. Apple has said new fan design in the latest MacBook Pro helps to mitigate some fan noise, but it's still noticeable to us when the whirring begins.
Another noteworthy change to the new MacBook Pro design: The product name is no longer displayed below the screen. Instead, it's just a black border around the Retina display. This is yet another design cue taken from the iPad and iPhone, where the front of the device's display has minimal needless distractions and no text, allowing the user to focus solely on what they are doing.
The rest of the design is what you'd expect if you've used any of Apple's modern MacBooks: The unibody construction is solid, the backlit keyboard feels great, and the multi-touch trackpad is the best in the business.