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Laptops Reviews
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Apple MacBook Pro 13in (Early 2011) review

£1299 inc VAT

Manufacturer: Apple

Our Rating: We rate this 4 out of 5

The Apple MacBook Pro 13in may look outwardly identical to last year's model, but it's received some substantial internal revisions - making it faster... yet also slower and shorter-lived.

The Apple MacBook Pro 13in may look outwardly identical to last year's model, but it has received some substantial internal changes - some to make faster, some that make it slower and shorter-lived

Like most notebook makers, Apple is rolling out Sandy Bridge-powered portables, with measurable speed bumps across the board. In fact, at this point in late March 2011, Apple is one of very few companies that is actually supplying laptops with the significant Intel update.

Like the recently reviewed 15in version of the Apple MacBook Pro (Early 2011), the 13in is cosmetically identical to the Mid-2010 model we tested with 2.66GHz processor.

The only way you’d tell them apart externally is from  the little lightning-flash logo above the Mini DisplayPort. That signifies the Thunderbolt capability, a high-speed interface that may prove useful in the future.

We say future, because in the two months since this revision’s release there is still nothing you can plug into the unassuming little port, except an external display. Promise, LaCie and Western Digital have all threatened storage products with Thunderbolt but these won’t be available until later in the year.

Until then, we must dwell on the other running changes: namely, main processor, its integrated graphics processor, and a couple of other small yet highly significant changes.

Assaulted battery

Last year’s 13in MacBook Pro was given an estimated battery runtime of 10 hours by Apple. This year, the company says, it has a new ‘more rigorous’ battery test, and now only gives 7 hours as the battery runtime.

In this new test, Apple has the MacBook browsing 25 popular websites over a wireless connection, with display brightness set to 50%. As far as we can see, this only differs slightly from Apple’s previous methodology, which additionally added text editing in a word processor to the wireless web surfing.

At PC Advisor, we use the industry-standard MobileMark 2007 Productivity test. Sadly, this is a Windows-only benchmark so we must first install Windows 7 (Apple no longer supports Windows XP in the Boot Camp dual-boot setup).

In our tests, the 2011 MacBook Pro 13in lasted considerably less time on battery in Windows than last year’s 13in model.

Where last year’s MacBook Pro 13in with 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo ran for 381 minutes (6 hrs 21 mins), the 2.7GHz Sandy Bridge-equipped MBP lasted just 282 mins (4 hrs 42 mins).

That appears to be a considerable drop in unplugged runtime, but is in line with Apple’s own estimate for battey life in Mac OS X, from 10 hours down to 7 hours.

This is even more remarkable given that both models have exactly the same 67.5Wh lithium-ion polymer battery - and the new model has a weaker graphics processor.

Graphics slowdown

Previously, the Apple MacBook Pro 13in had a modest nVidia GeForce 320M graphics processor which propelled the portable to a reasonably slick framerate in our usual FEAR game test – 27 frames per second at Maximum detail settings.

The new Intel HD Graphics 3000 is integrated into the main processor, and while it easily usurps Intel’s earlier anaemic offerings, this solution could only average 19fps in the same test.

Dropping the detail to High resulted in 55fps - on both generations of MacBook Pro.

Luckily then, the general speed of the MacBook Pro 13in has at least increased. In our WorldBench 6 real-world test (again in Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit), the new model earned 115 points, against last year’s 100 points.

The webcam is now set to provide high-definition video capture, to the tune of 1280 x 800 pixels; and the SD card slot can now accept SDXC cards.

These are similar in principle to the SDHC format, allowing for larger capacities, up to a 2TB theoretical limit. Current cards max out at 64GB.

Followers of high-performance computing will be more interested in the upgrade of the SATA bus. The new series of MacBook Pro now features a SATA 6Gb/s connection for the internal drive.

While Apple doesn’t currently offer any SSDs with the faster interface from its build-to-order menu, there are now several solid-state drives available that could potentially add a significant overall performance lift.

NEXT PAGE: Our expert verdict >>

See also:

More Apple Mac notebook reviews

Last year's Apple MacBook Pro 15in review

Thunderbolt demonstrated at CeBIT by Promise Technology

What is Thunderbolt?

Apple MacBook Pro 13in (Early 2011) Expert Verdict »

Apple MacBook Pro MC724B/A (Early 2011) Scores 9.3 out of 10 based on 23 reviews
2.7GHz Intel Core i7-2620M (dual-core)
4MB L3 cache
13in (1280 x 800) LED-backlit glossy display
Mac OS X 10.6.6 Snow Leopard
500GB 2.5in 5400rpm SATA HDD
4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1333 RAM
Intel HD Graphics 3000 with 384MB DDR3 shared memory
2 x USB 2.0
FireWire 800
Mini DisplayPort/Thunderbolt port
gigabit ethernet
slot-load 8x DVD±RW DL drive
SD/SDXC card slot
dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n
Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
FaceTime HD webcam
combo audio in/out jack
60W MagSafe power adaptor
63.5Wh li-ion polymer battery
227 x 325 x 24mm
2.03kg
  • Build Quality: We give this item 9 of 10 for build quality
  • Features: We give this item 8 of 10 for features
  • Value for Money: We give this item 7 of 10 for value for money
  • Overall: We give this item 8 of 10 overall

The MacBook Pro 13in (Early 2011) is very much a swings-and-roundabouts revision to the smallest of Apple’s metal-bodied notebook line. Overall performance is higher – by exactly 15% in our WorldBench 6 test – but graphics performance and battery life seem to have suffered and are below last year’s model. Other running changes such as webcam and SDXC card slot, and the faster SATA bus, are immediately useful; but the Thunderbolt port is more a futureproofing addition until Thunderbolt devices eventually become available.

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