∞ Apple's new MacBook Pros feature 'Thunderbolt,' more capable processors

Apple on Thursday took the wraps off a refreshed line of MacBook Pro laptop computers that include a new “Thunderbolt” high-speed I/O port and more capable microprocessors based around Intel’s “Sandy Bridge” architecture. Availability starts today, with prices starting at $1,199.

[ad#Google Adsense 300×250 in story]Under the hoods of the new 13-inch MacBook Pros are Intel Core i5 and i7 dual-core microprocessors, available in 2.3 GHz and 2.7GHz models for $1,199 and $1,499 respectively. The new 15-inch models come with quad-core Intel Core i7 processors clocked at 2.0 GHz or 2.2 GHz, for $1,799 and $2,199 respectively. And the 17-inch model comes with a 2.2 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor and is priced at $2,499.

Gone are the Nvidia GeForce and GeForce GT graphics that permeated the previous lineup; the 13-inch model now sports Intel HD 3000 integrated graphics, but with a more robust 384MB of of shared memory for video (compared to 256MB in previous models), while the 15-inch and 17-inch models use AMD Radeon graphics instead. The low-end 15-inch model comes with Radeon HD 6490M graphics, while the higher-end 15-inch and 17-inch models ship with Radeon HD 6750M graphics. Hard drive sizes also vary depending on the model, ranging from 320 GB on the 13-inch to 750 GB on the 17-inch. Additional build-to-order customizations are available, including Solid State Disks (SSDs) up to 512GB.

The new Thunderbolt identification is used for the Mini DisplayPort interface. In addition to being used to support an external display, the Thunderbolt port also works as a high-speed data interface. Thunderbolt provides two bi-directional data channels with transfer speeds up to 10 gigabits per second (Gbps); it’s suitable for use with external high-performance peripherals like RAID arrays, and it supports DisplayPort for external displays. It can also support FireWire, USB and Gigabit Ethernet using adapters.

The video cameras built into these MacBook Pros also gets a makeover – it’s three times the resolution as its predecessor. Instead of referring to them as iSight video cameras, Apple now calls them FaceTime HD cameras, indicating that they’ve been positioned for use with Apple’s FaceTime video conferencing software – a key feature of the iPhone and iPod touch that Apple has also introduced for the Mac using a downloadable app. Included with these new MacBook Pros, the app can be purchased for other Macs from the Mac App Store for 99 cents starting today.