The MacBook Pro family is reportedly preparing for a refresh this week.  (Source: Apple)
Other likely improvements include a bump to the latest line of Intel processors and higher capacity hard drives

It appears that the rumors of an impending MacBook Pro refresh were accurate.  On Monday, as noted by 9 to 5 Mac, Apple's online store posted a wait time of "3-5 business days" on new orders of the MacBook Pro.  Typically Apple has plenty of stock on hand and ships immediately; the only time there's a delay is when it's preparing for a refresh.

Shipping delays tend to signal Apple refreshes for two reasons.  First, Apple appears to use them to prevent customers who might not have heard the rumors from accidentally ordering the old version, which would leave both Apple and the customer with the headache of returns, etc.  Second, Apple typically begins paring down orders in the months and weeks before a refresh, so it often actually is out of stock by the time the week of the refresh rolls around.

More telltale evidence of the refresh can be found at Engadget, which discovered that Best Buy's Laptop Configuration tool is listing five new Apple MacBook Pro SKUs (Best Buy is Apple's primary U.S. retail partner, outside of Apple's own retail stores).

It appears that Apple plans to cut the number of starting model SKUs from six (two 13" models, three 15" models, and a 17" model) down to five (two 13" models, two 15" models, and a 17" model).  

While the prices for the 13" ($1,199, $1,499 USD) low and high starting models and the 15" ($1,799, $2,199 USD) low and high starting models remain the same, the price of the 17" model jumps $200 USD from $2,299 to $2,499 USD.  It's unclear what is driving this price increase -- new features or merely Apple looking to capitalize on demand, further padding its already impressive profit margins.

The cut model is the $1,999 15" configuration.  That cut seems more straightforward, at least.  Customers can always custom order improvements to the base configuration, so the third 15" configuration was slightly superfluous.

CNET also has some interesting news on the impending launch.  Its source expects the company to announce a "new high-speed connection technology".  It appears that Apple may be picking up Intel's much touted Light Peak connector scheme.  CNET says the timing of the news could mean that the MacBook Pros will carry a first-generation version of Light Peak -- or could be purely coincidental.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs already rejected the idea of using USB 3.0 in current products, stating that the standard was too immature.

Light Peak in its initial form is a bit of a misnomer, as it will likely use copper, rather than fiber optics as originally proposed.  Intel has promised Light Peak products in the first half of 2011.  It appears that Intel may be following through on its concerted effort to bury the open USB 3.0 standard and replace it with its own proprietary standard.

Other than Light Peak, no one is certain what might be in the new MacBook Pros, but a bump to the latest second generation i-Series Intel processors seems likely, assuming that Intel has its Sandy Bridge SATA issues under control.  A GPU refresh and hard drive capacity bump also seem quite possible.

For those unfamiliar, the MacBook Pro is Apple's flagship premium laptop model.  It is instantly recognizable as it sports Apple's proprietary aluminum unibody design, which was first implemented in the MacBook Air.  Apple also sells two other laptop lines -- the ultra-portable Macbook Air, which lacks built in optical drives, and the MacBook, Apple's entry level offering.

Apple last updated the MacBook Pro in July, 2010.  Apple typically announces its spring updates at a special event in January, but uncharacteristically no such event was held.  Part of this may be due to Apple CEO Steve Jobs being on medical leave, and part of it may be due to delays in launch the second generation iPad.  Apple typically refreshes its i-devices every year, so the iPad 2 is slightly overdue.

"Death Is Very Likely The Single Best Invention Of Life" -- Steve Jobs

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