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2012 15-inch MacBook Pro Review

15-inch Models of the 2012 MacBook Pro Reviewed

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The new MacBook Pro is shown during the keynote address at the Apple 2012 World Wide Developers Conference.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

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The MacBook Pro lineup got a nice update in June, 2012, with the 15-inch model receiving new Ivy Bridge i7 processors from Intel. Beyond the processor updates, the MacBook Pro also got some other goodies, including USB 3.0. The most significant change in the product line may be the MacBook Pro with Retina display, but the 15-inch MacBook Pro models remain the workhorses of Mac notebooks.

The New Mac Notebook Lineup

In 2012, Apple made some distinctive changes in the MacBook lineup, with the 11-inch MacBook Air covering the low end, the 13-inch MacBook Air and MacBook Pro staking out the value position, the 15-inch MacBook Pro holding the middle ground, and the MacBook Pro with Retina display claiming the high end.

That lineup places the 15-inch model that we are reviewing here in the prosumer category. This model is designed to appeal to those who want a larger display and plenty of processing horsepower, but who don’t need the high-priced graphics delights of the MacBook Pro with Retina display. In addition, the 15-inch MacBook Pro offers one key feature not found in the Retina or Air models: expandability. You can still upgrade RAM or the hard drive whenever you wish. You're not stuck making long-term configuration decisions at the time of purchase. Nor are you stuck paying Apple's somewhat excessive prices for RAM. Just purchase the minimum and then upgrade it yourself.

Specifications

The MacBook Pro is available in two off-the-shelf configurations, as well as a build-to-order version that lets you configure the model with a faster quad-core processor.

15-inch MacBook Pro Models

$1,799.00

  • 2.3 GHz Quad-Core i7 processor (turbo boost to 3.3 GHz)

  • 6 MB L3 cache

  • 4 GB of 1600 MHz DDR3 RAM (upgradeable to 8 GB)

  • 500 GB 5400 rpm hard drive

  • 15.4-inch LED backlit glossy display (1440 x 900 pixels)

  • Intel HD Graphics 4000, NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M (512 MB graphics memory)

$2,199.00

  • 2.6 GHz Quad-Core i7 processor (turbo boost to 3.6 GHz)

  • 6 MB L3 cache

  • 8 GB of 1600 MHz DDR3 RAM (upgradeable to 8 GB)

  • 750 GB 5400 rpm hard drive

  • 15.4-inch LED backlit glossy display (1440 x 900 pixels)

  • Intel HD Graphics 4000, NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M (512 MB graphics memory)

Build-to Order Options

  • 15.4-inch LED backlit hi-res glossy display (1680 x 1050 pixels)

  • 15.4-inch LED backlit hi-res anti-glare display (1680 x 1050 pixels)

  • 2.7 GHz Quad-Core i7 (turbo boost to 3.7 GHz)

  • 750 GB 5400 rpm hard drive

  • 750 GB 7200 rpm hard drive

  • 1 TB 5400 rpm hard drive

  • 128 GB SSD (Solid State Drive)

  • 256 GB SSD

  • 512 GB SSD

Features Common to All Models

  • Thunderbolt port

  • FireWire 800 port

  • Two USB 3.0 ports

  • Audio line in

  • Audio line out

  • SDXC card slot

  • 8x SuperDrive (optical drive)

  • 802.11n (802.11a/b/g/n compatible)

  • Bluetooth 4.0

  • Gigabit Ethernet

  • Stereo speakers

  • Microphone

  • 720p FaceTime HD camera

Usage and Performance

The 15-inch MacBook Pro doesn't look much different than last year's model; the display, size, and appearance haven't changed much. The biggest change is the new Intel Ivy Bridge series of i7 processors. Across the board, the Ivy Bridge processors offer a slight increase in performance over last year's Sandy Bridge offerings. Because the processors themselves are clocked at a slightly higher rate, it's reasonable to expect a 5 to 15 percent processor performance increase.

Another change that helps performance is slightly faster memory; 1600 MHz vs. the older 1333 MHz. But the biggest winner is graphics performance. The MacBook Pro uses two new graphics systems: the onboard Intel HD Graphics 4000 and the NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M.

The MacBook Pro uses the built-in Intel Graphics system for most mundane tasks and switches to the NVIDIA chip when higher performance graphics processing is needed. Even the baseline Intel Graphics 4000 system is leaps and bounds ahead of the Intel Graphics 3000 used in last year's models. I haven't run benchmarks on this MacBook Pro yet, but some users report up to a 50 percent increase in frame rates in some games.

Battery performance is expected to be 7 hours, although Apple is quick to say that this figure is for web browsing and other simple tasks. When I take my MacBook Pro on the road, I don't get 7 hours of battery life, but then again I don't expect to; I watch movies and use a variety of apps, some of which demand a fair amount of processor performance. But even with improved processors and graphics systems, battery life should be roughly the same as last year's models.

15-inch MacBook Pro Wrap-Up and Advice

The 2012 version of the 15-inch MacBook Pro is an evolutionary update that primarily provides performance speed bumps and new support for USB 3.0. While USB 3.0, which has been on my wish list since before the 2011 models were introduced, is welcome, the real story here is not what was added, but what was not taken away.

Unlike the MacBook Pro with Retina display, which had to lose many features in order to fit into a slimmed-down case, the 15-inch MacBook Pro has a FireWire 800 port, wired Gigabit Ethernet, an optical drive, and, most importantly, user-serviceable parts. That's right; you can open up the 2012 MacBook Pro and add more memory, change hard drives, even pull out the optical drive and put another storage device in its place.

The only real tradeoff for this versatility is weight; the MacBook Pro weighs 5.6 lbs. while the Retina model only weighs 4.46 lbs. And of course it doesn't have a Retina display. But while the Retina display is impressive, it's not worth the cost and the loss of expandability.

The 2012 15-inch MacBook Pro is easily the best value if you're looking for a larger display in your Mac notebook. Its configuration options let you outfit it to suit your needs. Want faster performance? Choose an SSD as your startup drive. Need more RAM? Upgrade it yourself, and save money. Want dual drives? You can have that as well, although not as an option from Apple.

If you use FireWire external devices, the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pros are the only options in the notebook line with built-in FireWire support.

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Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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