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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.

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By JasonMick on 2/21/2011 12:23:18 PM , Rating: 4
I had to chuckle about this article. The exorbitant prices Apple is charging those twits (my opinion only) who are so easily parted with their money. Except for the 'light' technology (which may go the way of Beta), apples new laptops will be selling todays current technology thats been available in other laptops since last year. The shells are very cool looking...granted...

The problem is lack of competition in the low-weight/high-performance category, which is a highly desirable one for some users.

Searching Newegg for laptops under 5 lb, I could only find one acceptable alternative:

Sony Vaio VPCZ134GX/B ($1,899, 3.04 lb Intel i5, NVIDIA 330M GT)

For a 13-inch, that is priced HIGHER than Apple's comparable model. Granted, the GPU is a bit better than Apple's current gen 13-inch, I believe.

Further, there were no 15-inch or 17-inch models that met the criteria of under 5 lbs, with discrete GPU.

I bought a previous generation 15-inch MacBook Pro. I didn't love it -- I hate OS X (used it plenty, just think it does most things in an awkward and poorly designed manner) so I had to install Windows 7, and the aluminum unibody while it looks nice attracts dirt and grime more than any other laptop I've owned.

I'd love to buy a competitor's model, but my priorities are:
1. Weight (< 5 lb)
2. Power (Discrete GPU, dual core or better are MUSTs)
3. Size (I need at least a 15-inch screen, preferably a 17-inch one)

Price is less of an issue.

For me, Apple still fits my criteria the best, so I'll probably be stuck buying another, in about a year unless someone can release an alternative.

Sure Apple is making a pretty penny, but they've wisely given users a product they can't get elsewhere.

I would qualify my statement, though in that while some users may find themselves in a situation like mine, if you DON'T game on your laptop or do graphics editing (both of which I do), and are okay with a smaller notebook, the $630 11.6-inch Sony Vaio VPCYB15KX/S, based on AMD's Fusion looks pretty sweet (it does have a discrete GPU, but is too small for me...).

I do really hope other manufacturers start offering laptops with better portability....

By acer905 on 2/21/2011 12:37:11 PM , Rating: 2
By captainBOB on 2/21/2011 12:49:33 PM , Rating: 1
Very nice specs, lets dig a little further shall we?

14" screen @ 1366x768.....ummmmm, the 13" Macbook Air has a higher res than this, the 15" starts at 1440x900 but can be upgraded.

battery life - "industry leading battery life with up to 24 hours on a properly configured HP EliteBook 8440p with Ultra Capacity Battery" says the description

actual battery life: 6.5 hours, source: the specs just underneath the description

Actually, looking at this the only thing that makes this better than a MBP is the processor clockspeed (an extra 200 Mhz wooo!), graphics, and the ungodly number of connections. Everything else is either the same or worse.

By JasonMick on 2/21/2011 1:26:20 PM , Rating: 3
That's actually a pretty decent option... didn't see that.

The one thing that's a bit of the turn-off is the NVIDIA NVS 3100 mobile graphics. It's built on the same chip as the GeForce 210/310M, which is a slight step back from the 330M on the current MBP, I believe. Considering that I already push my GPU to the limit, with photoshop, gaming, etc., that's a concern.

Also, one thing I forgot to mention in my original discussion was the strong battery life of the MBP... I'm not sure how this model would fare in that regard versus it.

The price is almost $700 less than the core i7 MBP variant, so that's attractive at least.

It'd definitely given me something to think about. Hopefully they can offer a new version with a better GPU.

By Parhel on 2/21/2011 1:38:58 PM , Rating: 3
What about the HP Envy 14? It starts at $999 when not on sale. It's a 14.5" screen, but it's also a tad smaller and lighter than the 15" Macbook.

By Drag0nFire on 2/21/2011 4:01:53 PM , Rating: 3
Hey buddy. The 15in MacBook Pro doesn't fit your priorities. It weighs in at 5.6 lbs! For comparison, the Lenovo T510 weighs in at a scant .3 lbs heavier (and half the price for a similar build). Granted, the T510 is a bit thicker, but that wasn't on your priority list.

This is the thing about Apple products. Somehow, it makes otherwise rational people ignore their own logic...

I've considered a MacBook from time to time, but I have to keep asking myself what I actually like about the mac. It's not the weight or the power, since similar options are available elsewhere. It's not the one button touch pad or the keyboard, neither of which I like. It's not the OS, since I'd run Windows anyways. It's not the price, since the Apple tax ranges from 50-100% against an identical build. It's simply that it looks prettier, and I'm not willing to pay for that.

Other people may be willing to pony up the extra $$, and I don't begrudge them that. I just wish you'd put "pretty" or "cool" on your priority list.

By invidious on 2/21/2011 4:57:05 PM , Rating: 1
You go on and on about weight as if its some gold standard of quality. The reason he didn't mention it in his comparison is because the vast majority of able bodied consumers don't careabout the 20 ounces of extra weight on their laptop. Apple tells you that weight is important and that you should pay them extra money because their product is the lightest. That doesn't make them right.

Explain to us why you can't carry that extra weight. Most techies are either fat or really scrawny, either way I would bet that most mac users could use the workout.

By BruceLeet on 2/21/2011 7:24:57 PM , Rating: 3
Newegg is a good store for PARTS but never for a true selection on Laptops, as someone in the tech industry I'd expect you know this beforehand or stop using dodgy methods to try and force a one sided view on things.

See, unlike Apple, you don't have to stick to ONE store when choosing a PC laptop, you have the luxury of searching many different retailers/etailers.

By BSMonitor on 2/22/2011 12:14:56 PM , Rating: 2
Well, is that really a luxury? Yeah, you have choices, but even within a brand you have 14 different base 15" configurations. They'll give you 4GB and a great processor paired with a crap discreet GPU. Or vice versa. Great LCD in one and crap in another. It becomes such a process toave to weed out the bad ones.

Too many choices is actually not the greatest in laptops as you cannot simply swap out the video card or CPU for something better/more suitable like in a desktop situation.

By Conficio on 2/21/2011 12:28:22 PM , Rating: 3
Not sure if you ever worked with a Mac Pro laptop. If you exclude laptops with crappy (flexing and screaking) keyboards, exclude laptops with crappy pads and exclude laptops with lousy LCD displays and exclude laptops with less than 7h battery life (or ven 5h for that matter), the "real" competition is quite small and also the price difference is in the ~$100 range. For ~$100 on top of $1,500 anyway I'd consider good design worth the cost.

I still understand that you can get easily for half the expense a laptop where the processor speed is the same. And if that is all that matters to your laptop use, that is fine with me. But if you look at your screen 10h+ a day and use your keyboards accordingly and use the entire machine while unplugged for hours, then there MacBook Pro's are what you want (and are likely willing to pay the price for).

By KoolAidMan1 on 2/21/2011 11:08:06 PM , Rating: 2
Well said. There is a lot to be said for getting uber battery life, low weight, slim chassis. one of the best keyboards out there, and the absolute best trackpad out there, all in a laptop with really good performance. Then there are things like the great display, Magsafe connector, tiny international and airline seat power adapters, the list goes on. The thing is so logically designed for portability.

I myself am be waiting for a 15" Macbook Air. Some people don't seem to mind going with a big laptop. I want a slimmer 15" without the now useless DVD drive, and with 100% SSD storage. It'll happen, and the anti-Apple brigade in their basements will have nerdrage tears running down their neckbeards. Can't wait. >:)

By Alexstarfire on 2/21/2011 11:53:55 PM , Rating: 2
I'd love an SSD in my laptop, but they are still too expensive to me.

By jimhsu on 2/22/2011 12:32:51 AM , Rating: 2
I haven't been keeping track of the MBP, but are there any improvements to battery life IN WINDOWS? My last experience with a 2006-era Macbook pro and 1 hour battery life didn't make that positive of an impression.

By Aenslead on 2/24/2011 12:47:47 AM , Rating: 2
Acer Timeline X + 8GB RAM upgrade + 128GB Intel SSD = $~900usd. That's pretty much as awesome as it gets. LED display, lightweight, etc, etc, etc.

By artemicion on 2/21/2011 12:39:00 PM , Rating: 2
Here's hoping that Apple puts an IPS panel on the 17" MBP to justify the +$200 price increase. I'd actually buy that.

By serkol on 2/21/2011 2:43:28 PM , Rating: 2
The price increase is most likely for a SSD as the standard (and maybe the only) configuration.

MBP are like Audis
By vision33r on 2/22/2011 10:10:43 AM , Rating: 1
Like them or hate them, not one PC notebook maker that has a consistent solid reliability record and good features.

One look at the PC laptop makers:

- HP, poor reliability yet people buy them because they are cheap and they're copying Apple's alum look.

- Dell, even at the high end they suck. Adamo cost the same as MBP yet shoddy craftmanship.

- Toshiba, high gloss chasis are fingerprint magnets.

RE: MBP are like Audis
By erple2 on 2/22/2011 6:43:14 PM , Rating: 2
- HP, poor reliability yet people buy them because they are cheap and they're copying Apple's alum look.

Is that also true of the higher end HP models? The studies I saw suggested in the fine print that the failure rates of the "higher end" laptops from each of the companies listed was much lower than the average listed for the company.

I haven't had problems with the Elitebook line, nor the nicer consumer line.

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