I am something of a Windows fanboy I guess, and will make no bones about the fact that I have always thought of the 13" Apple MacBook Pro in the same way that I have about Military Intelligence, European Community and Advanced BASIC: it's an oxymoron. Given that the smallest of the MacBook Pro range has often been outperformed by non-Pro labelled Macs, not to mention the non-Apple competition, I was almost expecting Apple to see the folly of its ways and scrap the damn thing altogether. And I was half right.
With the launch of the 2011 MacBook Pro range, Apple has indeed seen just how stupid it was to have an underpowered, underspecced and underwhelming machine in the line up. But rather than scrap the 13" model, Apple has done the intelligent thing and brought it up to speed, literally.
I managed to get some time with the Sandy Bridge powered, Core i7 version of the 13" MacBook Pro although there is a much cheaper, and much less impressive, Core i5 version available for techno-masochists and people who just cannot let the oxymorons go. Sure, this Core i7 powered pocket rocket of a machine is not cheap at an eye watering base configuration of $1,499 but you sure do get a lot of bang for your buck packed into that to die for, hewn from a lump of aluminium, 325x227x24mm chassis weighing in at just 2kg. There's the 500GB (5,400rpm) hard drive, 4GB of RAM, 1280x800 13.3" screen, FireWire 800 and the brand high-speed 'Thunderbolt' I/O port for starters.
Erm, on a slightly less enthusiastic note there's also the integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 with 384MB RAM and a couple of, erm, USB 2.0 ports as well. Both the 15" and 17" machines in the 2011 MacBook Pro range get the brand new and stinkingly impressive AMD Radeon HD 6750M graphics cards in addition to the same integrated Intel graphics as the 13" machine. None of them, however, get a USB 3.0 port which is a shame and maybe an opportunity missed. I feel confident that the competition will not be missing that particular chance to get a little bit of spec oneupmanship.
Understandably, it is hard not to get stuck on the graphics issue when you see that the 13" MacBook Air can manage 1366x768 compared to the relatively meagre 1280x800 of the 13" MacBook Pro, but it is all relative at the end of the day. Especially when it is very hard indeed to find fault with the screen this little beauty sports, being crisp and smooth when viewing HD video and sharp and clear when viewing everything else. It's hard, therefore, to stay upset with Apple for too long: in fact my upset was turned around the moment I switched this thing on and got to appreciate the additional grunt under the hood provided by the Sandy Bridge leap.
Everything from firing up your applications to running the most processor intensive of them is notably faster, you would be forgiven for thinking that there is some kind of magic instant on technology at play when you open the lid of your machine as it just speeds straight into action. This is, and I am almost peeing my pants with joy as I write this, truly exciting stuff. Yes, I'm a geek and proud of it, but who wouldn't be moved to tears (and even urine) when confronted by a dual core baby MacBook which can outperform a quad core iMac? The Intel Sandy Bridge effect really cannot be underestimated, with the single chip design and hyper-threading, turbo boosting technologies thrown in. Not fast enough for you? No problem, the 2.7GHz Core i7 can run be beefed up to 3.4GHz with that Turbo Boost feature... Speed really is what this new MacBook Pro is all about, and not just from the Sandy Bridge upgrade either: there's also Thunderbolt to consider. The Thunderbolt I/O is a 10Gbps (both ways) port, which went by the less inspiring codename of Light Peak during development, that will enable a truly huge amount of data to be transferred at the same time - once suitable peripherals become available that is. And don't despair, those peripherals will be barrelling along by the bucketful in due course.
Yes, this is a very expensive little laptop, but what you are paying for is a thing of great beauty with enough grunt underneath the attractive outer appearance not to disappoint.