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Big Performance Leap
on February 27, 2011
I upgraded to this model (early 2011 Quad Core i7 17" MacBook Pro) from the first in Apple's series of "unibody" laptops (late 2008 Core 2 duo 15" MacBook Pro). Both have been excellent laptops and have remarkably similar features given the years between them. However, what makes the difference here is pure raw speed.
The i7 processor has four cores each running at 2.2Ghz and the ability to "hyperthread" to operate in a virtual eight core mode. Applications must be written in a specific way to take full advantage of the multiple cores, however the processor has another trick up its sleeve in such cases. If some of the cores are underutilized then the processing speed of the those in use are bumped up. This translates into blazing speed across the board.
Other improvements include automatic switching between the two included (and upgraded) video processors, one for high performance and the other for economic power consumption. A new "Thunderbolt" port is provided, which permits extremely high-speed data transmission to and from external devices (as soon as they become available with this new standard!). This is in addition to the more familiar set of ports, including gigabit ethernet, Firewire 800, USB2.0, digital audio in/out, analog audio in/out, magsafe power, etc.
While this laptop may not physically appear to be a new model, I feel this is an advantage unto itself. This being my second unibody mac, I can attest that Apple has a brilliant case design that needs no modification. One needs only to pick it up to immediately feel the solid build quality and ruggedness despite its thin and relatively lightweight specs. The body is carved from a solid block of aluminum, and save for the back plate there are no visible seams or screws. There is a world of difference between this and most other plastic laptops.
Unfortunately Apple has decided to saddlebag this wicked-fast tank with a relatively pokey 5400rpm hard drive, which ends up being a noticeable bottleneck in performance at startup and other disk-intensive times. I appreciate the capacity of the included 750GB drive, but swapping it out with my existing 500GB solid state hybrid drive provided an additional performance boost well worth the reduced storage space. Incidentally, changing just about any of the internal components appears to be relatively straight forward, as the back plate removes to expose all.
To conclude, this is one speedy machine who's only noticeable flaw is the included large but unimpressive hard drive. Swap it out for a faster drive (especially a SSD) and this is a laptop that cannot be topped.