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2/24/2011
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Apple Updates MacBook Pro Laptops

Intel's high-speed Thunderbolt technology and second-generation Core processors, along with faster graphics cards and high-def FaceTime Webcams, are among the upgrades.

Apple MacBook Pro
(click image for larger view)
Apple MacBook Pro

Apple has upgraded the MacBook Pro line, betting that Intel's new high-speed technology for connecting a PC with other devices will help make the high-end laptops a winner among creative professionals.

Apple released its latest MacBooks Thursday, the same day that Intel launched Thunderbolt. Formerly codenamed Light Peak, the interface is said to allow files to be transferred between compatible devices far faster than existing consumer connection protocols, like USB 2.0 or emerging standards like USB 3.0.

Apple is the first electronics maker to release products with Thunderbolt, which means there won't be any other products to connect to for a while. LaCie and Promise Technology say they will release in the second quarter Thunderbolt-enabled storage devices called the Little Big Disk and Pegasus, respectively. Other vendors that have promised supporting products include Aja, Apogee, Avid, Blackmagic, and Western Digital. Other major computers makers, such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard, have not announced their plans.

Thunderbolt's starting data transfer rate is 10 Gb per second, about twice as fast as USB 3.0, according to Intel. The technology is expected to scale to 100 Gb per second of the next decade.

Those numbers were enough to convince Apple to make the technology a standard within the MacBook Pro line. The new systems also include Intel's second-generation Core processors, a faster graphics card, and a high-definition FaceTime Webcam.

"The new MacBook Pro brings next generation dual and quad Core processors, high performance graphics, Thunderbolt technology, and FaceTime HD to the great design loved by our pro customers," said Philip Schiller, senior VP of product marketing for Apple, said in a statement.

Apple has made the quad-core Core i7 processor standard within the 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pros. The larger system comes with Advanced Micro Devices' Radeon HD 6750M graphics card with 1GB of GDDR5 memory, while smaller model comes standard with the Radeon HD 6490M with 256 MB of memory. Prices start at $1,799 and $2,499, respectively.

Apple is selling the 13-inch MacBook Pro with a dual-core processor. The starting configuration comes with a Core i5 processor and Intel's HD Graphics 3000 integrated graphics. Prices start at $1,199.

Apple is including two USB 2.0 ports and one FireWire 800 port with the new systems, along with Thunderbolt. If the latter takes off in the market, then professionals should find it useful in transferring large files from video or still cameras to the MacBook or from the laptop to storage devices and other gadgets. Consumers make a lot of home movies or have large music files will also find the technology useful.

Apple has been the first out of the gate before with a high-speed interface. The company introduced FireWire, officially called IEEE 1394, in 1986. The technology has not gone much beyond professional audio and video equipment. Within computers, the technology is mostly used in Apple and Sony systems.

Apple also released Thursday a developer preview of Mac OS X Lion. The eighth major release of Mac OS X borrows a number of features from the Apple iPad, such as the ability to have applications operate with full-screen user interfaces.

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