Apple MacBook Pro 15 (late 2011, 2.2GHz Core i7)

A MacBook Pro is a significant investment, especially when adding in optional upgrades. Cost aside, there's not a better choice (there are, however, some close ties) for an all-around powerhouse that will work in the home, the office and in between.


8.5
CNET Rating

View more from Apple »


The latest round of updates to Apple's popular MacBook Pro line were modest enough that they simply appeared on the Apple website with little fanfare beyond a basic press release. Rather than a generational jump, as we saw in February 2011 (when the Pro moved from Intel's original Core i-series CPUs to the latest second-generation chips, formerly code-named Sandy Bridge), this is perhaps better described as minor housekeeping.

The biggest change is that the AU$2099 model now has a 2.2GHz quad-core i7, and the AU$2499 model moves up to an even faster 2.4GHz CPU. The GPU options are now a 512MB AMD Radeon HD 6750M in the lower-priced version and a 1GB AMD Radeon HD 6770M in the more expensive one. Default storage remains the same for the 15-inch models, but the 13- and 17-inch MacBook Pros have their own set of CPU, GPU and HDD updates, the details of which are here.

Note that this time around, we tested the new AU$2099 15-inch MacBook Pro, whereas our previous 15-inch MacBook Pro review was the AU$2499 version, so we're effectively looking at the same CPU in both cases.

The iconic unibody aluminium construction remains the same, as does the large glass multi-touch track pad. Thunderbolt, Intel's new high-speed powered port for data transfers and displays, remains an interesting extra, but its promise is still hypothetical, with few available Thunderbolt-compatible peripherals.

The touch philosophy that informs the iPad/iPhone line of devices can be said to have its roots in the large multi-touch click pad-style track pad that's been a staple of the MacBook Pro for years. The multi-touch gestures, slightly revamped recently for OS X Lion, are incredibly useful. Once you get used to them, going back to a regular touch pad is difficult. Several Windows laptops have added larger click pads over the past year or so, with somewhat similar multi-touch gestures, but we can easily say that none can yet compete with the MacBook's implementation.

The 1440x900-pixel display is still higher resolution than many 15-inch laptops (which are 1366x768 pixels), and two screen upgrades are available: a 1680x1050-pixel version for an extra AU$110, or a 1680x1050-pixel "antiglare" version for AU$165. Of the current MacBook line-up, only the 11-inch Air has a 16:9 display; Apple is otherwise the only major computer maker still widely using 16:10 displays.

The big difference between MacBooks and other laptops in the ports and connections category is the recent port based on Intel's Thunderbolt high-speed I/O technology. If it looks a lot like the Mini DisplayPort connection on older MacBooks, that's because it is the same, except for the tiny lightning bolt logo next to it. It still functions as a DisplayPort output, and, in fact, you're able to daisy-chain up to six Thunderbolt devices or displays to that single port.

Thunderbolt is technically capable of 10Gbps bidirectional transfer, and if Intel and Apple have their way, it may replace many other kinds of ports and connections in the future, but only a handful of peripherals work with it currently.

Also notable on the 2011 MacBook Pro (including the version we tested earlier this year) is a 720p webcam, which works with the new Mac version of FaceTime, the same video-conferencing app found on the iPhone and the iPod Touch. With a solid Wi-Fi signal, jumping into full-screen mode was clear and mostly stutter-free. There's also an onscreen button for changing the video window from portrait mode to horizontal, and video calls can be made between MacBooks and iPhones, as well. You can read more about FaceTime for Mac here.

While Thunderbolt and FaceTime are interesting extras, the real muscle behind the new MacBook Pro is the quad-core Intel Core i7 CPU and AMD Radeon HD 6750M GPU. These parts were previously found on the higher-end 15-inch Pro, and now are the default load-out for the less-expensive base model. In our CNET benchmark tests, the new MacBook Pro performed impressively, and was almost exactly matched with the early 2011 MacBook Pro that we tested. Keep in mind that we're comparing the April 2011 high-end configuration with the October 2011 entry-level configuration.

The AMD Radeon HD 6750M in our review unit is a solid GPU, and a nice jump over the Radeon 6490M previously offered with the AU$2099 15-inch Pro. As with the previous few generations of MacBook Pros, the discrete graphics swap out with the integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics as needed, saving battery life as you go.

Mac gaming, no matter what anyone says, is still a pretty fallow field, with many big games still only available for Windows systems. In our older Modern Warfare Mac gaming benchmark, we got 41.3 frames per second at 1440x900 pixels, which was not quite as good as the 51.8 frames per second that we got with the high-end $2199 version of the 15-inch MacBook Pro earlier this year, which also had a 6750M card.

MacBooks are also known for offering long battery life, even in larger systems, such as the 15-inch Pro. In this case, the system ran for six hours and 54 minutes in our video playback battery drain test — essentially the same result as the previous version of the 15-inch MacBook Pro that we tested, which ran for seven hours and five minutes. In comparison, Dell's XPS 15z, clearly aimed at the same audience, ran for only three hours and 30 minutes in the same test.

Service and support from Apple has always been a mixed bag. Apple includes a one-year parts-and-labour warranty, but only 90 days of telephone support. Upgrading to a full three-year plan under AppleCare will cost an extra AU$449 (the US charges only US$349) and is pretty much a must-buy, considering the proprietary nature of Apple products and their sealed bodies. Support is also accessible through a well-stocked online knowledge base, video tutorials and email with customer service, or through in-person visits to Apple's retail store Genius Bars, which, in our experience, have always been fairly frustration-free encounters.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)

  • 130
    Apple MacBook Pro 15 inch (early 2011)
  • 137
    Apple MacBook Pro 15 inch (late 2011)
  • 233
    Apple MacBook Air 13.3 inch (mid 2011)
  • 407
    Sony Vaio VPCF215FX/BI
  • 503
    Dell XPS 15z

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)

  • 63
    Apple MacBook Pro 15 inch (early 2011)
  • 66
    Apple MacBook Pro 15 inch (late 2011)
  • 79
    Dell XPS 15z
  • 79
    Sony Vaio VPCF215FX/BI
  • 85
    Apple MacBook Air 13.3 inch (mid 2011)

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)

  • 84
    Apple MacBook Pro 15 inch (late 2011)
  • 90
    Apple MacBook Pro 15 inch (early 2011)
  • 98
    Apple MacBook Air 13.3 inch (mid 2011)
  • 102
    Dell XPS 15z
  • 128
    Sony Vaio VPCF215FX/BI

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)

  • 425
    Apple MacBook Pro 15 inch (early 2011)
  • 414
    Apple MacBook Pro 15 inch (late 2011)
  • 406
    Apple MacBook Air 13.3 inch (mid 2011)
  • 210
    Dell XPS 15z
  • 84
    Sony Vaio VPCF215FX/BI

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

System configurations

Apple MacBook Pro 15 inch (late 2011)
OS X 10.7.2 Lion; 2.2GHz Intel Core i7; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz; 512MB AMD Radeon HD 6750M/384MB (Shared) Intel HD 3000; 500GB Toshiba 5400rpm

Apple MacBook Air 13.3 inch (mid 2011)
OS X 10.7 Lion; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-2557M; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz; 384MB (Shared) Intel HD 3000; 128GB Apple SSD

Apple MacBook Pro 15 inch (early 2011)
OS X 10.6.6 Snow Leopard; Intel Core i7 2.2GHz; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 1GB AMD Radeon HD 6750M/384MB (Shared) Intel HD 3000; 750GB Toshiba 5400rpm

Alienware M14x
Windows 7 Ultimate (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-2820M; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 3GB Nvidia GeForce GT 555M + 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 3000; 720GB Seagate 7200rpm

Dell XPS 15z
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-2620M; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 525M/64MB (Shared) Intel HD 3000; 750GB Seagate 7200rpm

Via CNET



Add Your Review 2


* Below fields optional


Post comment as
 

MarkS7 posted a comment   

The 15 inch is a good compromise between the 13 and bulkier 17 inch. I would consider this as a serious tool for the mobile recording musician and will be picking one up in the next couple of months. The only addition would be a higher speed hard drive.

 

pereirapet posted a comment   
Australia

Noticed that you have the alienware 14x in the system configurations but have failed to include it in the comparison graphs. Would love to see its comparative performance.




Sponsored Links
CNET's latest

User Reviews / Comments  Apple MacBook Pro 15 (late 2011, 2.2GHz Core i7)

  • MarkS7

    MarkS7

    "The 15 inch is a good compromise between the 13 and bulkier 17 inch. I would consider this as a serious tool for the mobile recording musician and will be picking one up in the next couple of month..."

  • pereirapet

    pereirapet

    "Noticed that you have the alienware 14x in the system configurations but have failed to include it in the comparison graphs. Would love to see its comparative performance."

CNET Speedtest

Recently Viewed Products