New MacBook Pros include Lightpeak, Sandy Bridge but no major surprises

Apple unveiled the new lineup of MacBook Pro notebooks, which are worthy upgrades but somewhat incremental in nature.

Despite the assumption of several tech pundits (myself included), Apple isn't saving all its big news for next week's media event at the Yerba Buena center in California. The company somewhat quietly updated its MacBook Pro line of notebooks this morning and all made the first preview of its upcoming Mac OS X Lion release available to all registered Mac developers.

The specs of the new MacBook Pro models are pretty much exactly as rumors and leaked photos predicted including the addition of Lightpeak (which Apple has rebranded Thunderbolt), Sandy Bridge architectures, and an HD built-in camera. The lineup maintains the existing model sizes of 13", 15", and 17" with same enclosure, keyboard, and trackpad design as previous models.

The 13-inch models offer a low-end option with a 2.3GHz Core i5 processor and 320GB hard drive ($1199) and a higher end model with a 2.7GHz Core i7 processor with 500GB hard drive ($1499). Both include Intel HD Graphics 3000.

The 15-inch models also offer a low-end/high-end pair of option. The first has a 2.0GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7, AMD Radeon HD 6490M, and 500GB hard drive ($1,799), while the second includes a 2.2GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7, AMD Radeon HD 6750M and 750GB hard drive ($2,199).

The 17-inch MacBook Pro comes with a 2.2GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7, AMD Radeon HD 6750M, and 750GB hard drive ($2499).

All models and be customized and the 15" and 17" models can be ordered in configurations that include up to 1GB or video memory as well as 3GHz processors.

The entry level $999 while plastic MacBook remains available as a low-end device for Apple's overall notebook range (alongside the entry level MacBook Air with the same price).

The biggest addition to the lineup, aside from the new processors and graphics chipsets is Lightpeak. Apple has opted to replace the existing MiniDisplayPort with the Lightpeak (Thunderbolt) port and will provide adapters for use the port with existing display interfaces (including HDMI) as well for non-display technologies including connecting to a Fiber Channel network. USB and Firewire is supported over Lightpeak, though the MacBook Pro models continue to include both USB 2 and Firewire 800 ports.

Despite speculation that Apple would release the new models with a small built-in SSD boot volume that would increase startup times and provide some security by not being directly writeable by users, this turned out not to be the case. SSD replacements for the standard hard drives are an available build to order option, however.

At this point, the company isn't announcing any Lightpeak-specific peripherals. It seems clear that all Macs, or at least all "pro" level Macs, will get Lightpeak (just can't bring myself to call it Thunderbolt yet) as Apple refreshes them over the coming year or so.

Overall, the new MacBook Pros are a nice upgrade from the existing line, which was getting a bit long in the tooth. Aside from Lightpeak and Sandy Bridge being incorporated, however, they aren't all the much different from existing models.

Ryan Faas writes about personal technology for ITworld. Learn more about Faas' published works and training and consulting services at Follow him on Twitter @ryanfaas.

ITWorld DealPost: The best in tech deals and discounts.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon