The Bottom Line
The 13-inch MacBook Pro 2011 is Apple's entry-level pro notebook, but it may prove to be the most popular MacBook Pro model this year. Well-balanced performance and a reasonable price make the 13-inch MacBook Pro ideal for most business users, students, and home users.
On the other hand, if you're looking for a mobile gaming platform, you want to edit or create complex graphics, or you plan to use Final Cut to create video masterpieces, you should consider the 15-inch or 17-inch models, which have more robust graphics capabilities.
- i5 or i7 processors based on Intel's Sandy Bridge design.
- Thunderbolt port provides extremely high-speed data and video.
- 13-inch display is just right for many mobile users.
- Average graphics performance.
- 2.3 GHz Dual-Core i5 or 2.7 GHz Dual-Core i7 Intel (Sandy Bridge) processor
- 4 GB RAM upgradeable to 8 GB
- 320 GB, 500 GB, or 750 GB hard drive options
- 128 GB, 256 GB, or 512 GB SSD options
- Intel HD Graphics 3000 with 384 MB shared DDR3 RAM
- Thunderbolt high-speed data and video port
- FireWire 800 port and two USB 2.0 ports
- SDXC card slot
- 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
- 10/100/1000 Base-T Gigibit Ethernet
Guide Review - Review of the 13-inch MacBook Pro 2011
The 13-inch MacBook Pro is Apple's entry-level pro notebook, but don't let the 'entry-level' fool you. The new MacBook Pro for 2011 combines faster processors, a new ultra-fast I/O port, and a new integrated graphics chipset from Intel that performs on par with or better than the previous NVIDIA 320M offering.
I5 or i7 Dual-Core Intel Processors
The 13-inch MacBook Pro 2011 is available in two basic CPU configurations: a 2.3 GHz dual-core i5 and a 2.7 GHz dual-core i7. Gone are the older Core 2 Duo processors used in the previous generation, which Apple offered only because it couldn't get reasonable graphics performance out of Intel's integrated graphics offerings in the i3 processors. Apple has decided that the i5 and i7 versions of the new Sandy Bridge architecture, which includes a much improved graphics chipset, is the way to go for the MacBook Pro, and we couldn't agree more.
The base 2.3 GHz dual-core i5 outperforms the 2.8 GHz dual-core i7 used in the previous generation 17-inch MacBook Pro. That means that as far as raw processor performance goes, you can buy the cheapest MacBook Pro and it will still outperform one of the more expensive previous generation models.
Stepping up to the 2.7 GHz i7 produces roughly a 15% gain in processor performance.
Note: Processor performance is based on Geekbench results.
Intel HD Graphics 3000
Graphics options for the 13-inch MacBook Pro are limited to the integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000, which appears to be on par with the performance of the previous generation's NVIDIA 320M offering. As expected, the integrated Intel graphics perform reasonably well, but wouldn't be the best choice for graphics-intensive applications.
If you need a mobile graphics workhorse, the 15- or 17-inch MacBook Pros, with their dual graphics processors, are a better choice.
Thunderbolt is the new high-speed data port, capable of handling both video (using DisplayPort protocol) and data. Thunderbolt operates at up to 10 Gbps bidirectional; that is, it can send and receive data at the 10 Gbps speed simultaneously.
The Thunderbolt port, as supplied by Apple, will initially see the majority of its use as a port for connecting external displays.
Since Thunderbolt can be daisy chained, once third-party external drives and other peripherals become available, it will likely be used for high speed interconnects, such as RAID arrays and other data storage needs.
The 2011 13-inch MacBook Pro is a great choice for general use. Vastly improved processor performance, combined with the Thunderbolt port technology, ensures that the 13-inch MacBook Pro will handle just about any data intensive application you throw at it like a champ.
Its only real weakness is the average performance of its graphics. If you don't plan to use a laptop for graphics-intensive applications, the 13-inch MacBook Pro may be one of the best values ever.