The MacBook Pro 2011 lineup uses the first incarnation of the Sandy Bridge processor family, giving it a prodigious performance increase over previous models. Apple also changed out the graphics options, from the older NVIDIA series to new AMD offerings in the 15- and 17-inch models, and Intel integrated graphics in all models. The MacBook Pro 2011 series also marks the first time Apple has used the new Thunderbolt port, which supports very high performance data interconnects; it's also the preferred connection for driving an external display.
i5 and i7 Sandy Bridge Processors
Gone from the MacBook Pro 2011 models are any Intel Core 2 Duo options, or even Core i3 processors. Instead, Apple chose dual-core i5 or i7 processors for the 13-inch MacBook Pro, and quad-core i7s for the 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pros. These high-performance i5 and i7 processors put the 'pro' in MacBook Pro.
Even the base 2.3 GHz dual-core i5 option in the 13-inch MacBook Pro can outperform the 2.8 GHz dual-core i7 processor in the previous generation 17-inch MacBook Pro. Stepping up to one of the quad-core i7s in the 15- or 17-inch MacBook Pros brings performance gains that come close to high-end Mac desktops.
Intel HD Graphics 3000 Plus AMD Radeon HD 6490M or 6750M Graphics
All MacBook Pros have an integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 as the core graphics processor. The Intel HD Graphics 3000 is capable of handling all routine graphics needs, including full 1080P HD videos. The 15- and 17-inch models get a second graphics processor; either an AMD Radeon HD 6490M or the HD 6750M. When you're playing games with complex graphics, editing video, or using graphics applications, the MacBook can switch to the AMD graphics processors for faster frame rates and faster image rendering, then automatically switch back to conserve battery life.
Thunderbolt High-Speed I/O
The MacBook Pro 2011 marks the first use by any manufacturer of Intel's Thunderbolt technology, which provides high-speed data and video connections for computing devices. Thunderbolt runs at 10 Gbps bi-directionally per channel, and supports two channels in its initial specification. This means that Thunderbolt can send and receive data simultaneously at the 10 Gbps rate for each channel, which makes Thunderbolt one of the fastest data ports available for consumer devices.
Apple uses Thunderbolt as both a data port for adding peripherals and a DisplayPort for adding an external monitor.
MacBook Pro 2011 Memory Specifications
The MacBook Pro 2011 has two 204-pin SO-DIMM memory slots. The base configuration of all MacBook Pro 2011 models comes with 2 GB memory models in each of the memory slots, for a total of 4 GB of RAM.
Memory is user upgradable, and according to Apple, the MacBook Pro 2011 can handle two 4 GB modules, for a total of 8 GB of RAM.
The MacBook Pro 2011 requires PC3-10600s DDR3 1333 MHz memory modules.
MacBook Pro 2011 Storage
The MacBook Pro 2011 is configured with your choice of a 2.5-inch SATA hard drive or an SSD (Solid State Drive). The SATA hard drives are available in 320, 500, and 750 GB sizes, with rotation speeds of 5400 or 7200 rpm. The SSD options are 128 GB, 256 GB, and 512 GB drives.
Which MacBook Pro Is for Me?
The 13-inch MacBook Pro is a great general-purpose workhorse of a portable Mac. Its smaller display and good general performance make it a great choice for students and business people on the go.
The 15- and 17-inch models are essentially the same, except for screen size and a single port option; an SDCX card slot on the 15-inch MacBook Pro vs. an ExpressCard/34 slot on the 17-inch MacBook Pro. The 15- and 17-inch models deliver much better graphics performance and have quad processors, making them a great choice for creative professionals and avid game players.