As well as introducing the MacBook Pro with Retina display, Apple updated its regular MacBook Pro range in mid-2012, including these exciting 15-inch models
Apple's mid-2012 MacBook Pro 15-inch model is essntially a refresh of the existing model (along with a 13-inch option) though the 17-inch MacBook Pro was discontinued.
The two 15-inch MacBook Pros covered here retain the form factor used in the previous generation. At £1,499 for the 2.3GHz model and £1,799 for the 2.6GHz version, the more expensive regular MacBook Pro is the same price as the entry-level MacBook Pro with Retina display.
If you’re looking for a similarly powered Windows machine, there’s the Sony Vaio F-Series], which unlike Apple’s notebooks has a Blu-ray drive. For ultrabook portability, there’s the Acer Aspire S3 or Apple’s own MacBook Air.
MacBook Pro 15-inch: Features
The new 2012 MacBook Pros have new processors. The cheaper model runs at 2.3GHz, up from 2.2GHz, and the more expensive version at 2.6GHz instead of 2.4GHz. But the step up is much more significant than their clock speeds imply. The new processors are Intel Core i7 Ivy Bridge chips, which are significantly more powerful than the Sandy Bridge CPUs used last year.
The MacBook Pros’ graphics have also been boosted, an NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M with 512MB or 1GB of GDDR5 memory replacing the AMD Radeon HD 6750M or 6770M used by the late 2011 15-inch MacBook Pros. They have 4GB and 8GB of 1600MHz memory, which is faster than the 1333MHz RAM used before.
The high-speed Thunderbolt data and video port is joined by two USB 3.0 ports, the first time the faster USB protocol has been used on a Mac. Unlike the Retina display MacBook Pros, these regular models retain their optical drives, FireWire and Ethernet ports and hard disc drives for storage.
MacBook Pro 15-inch: Screen
The regular MacBook Pros use the same screen as last year’s model. It’s obviously nowhere near as good as the incredible Retina display used in the top-of-the-range MacBook Pros, but it’s better than those used in most laptops.
The 15-inch MacBook Pros use a 15.4-inch LED-backlit glossy screen with a native resolution of 1440x900 pixels and support for millions of colours. If you order on Apple’s Online Store, you can upgrade to a glossy or antiglare 1680x1050 resolution display for an extra £80. Whichever you choose, you’ll be impressed by its fast refresh, deep, rich colours and excellent viewing angles.
MacBook Pro 15-inch: Performance
The Core i7 processors used in the 15-inch MacBook Pros have a Turbo Boost feature that temporarily increases their clock speed at times of high needs, by reallocating underused resources. The 2.3GHz model can Turbo Boost up to 3.3GHz, with the 2.6GHz chip reaching a maximum of 3.6GHz.
Order online from Apple and you can upgrade the 2.6GHz version to a 2.7GHz processor that can Turbo Boost at 3.7GHz for an extra £240, which seems very expensive for such a small speed increase.
The new Ivy Bridge processors use Intel HD Graphics 4000 integrated graphics chipsets, which are up to 60% more powerful than the Sandy Bridge CPU’s Intel HD Graphics 3000 chipsets.
The discrete graphics processor, automatically comes into play when graphical needs are high; you don't have to choose between more power or better battery life. The NVIDIA graphics processors also boast a performance increase of around 60% over the AMD GPUs used before.
MacBook Pro 15-inch: Battery
Like all recent Apple notebooks, the 15-inch MacBook Pros use an internal battery that can’t be removed and replaced by the end user. Although this makes it more expensive to replace when it reaches the end of its useful life, the space saved by dropping the hatches and connectors allows for a bigger, more powerful battery.
The 77.5-watt-hour, lithium-polymer battery used here lasts for around three times as many charges as a regular laptop battery before it wears out, and it can run for up to seven hours on a single charge.
We tested the 15-inch MacBook Pro’s battery by running the BBC iPlayer’s live news channel over a wireless internet connection, with the screen brightness set to 50%. On a full charge, it lasted approximately four hours, 45 minutes, which is excellent given such a tough test.
MacBook Pro 15-inch: Performance
The new 15-inch MacBook Pros aren’t without their disadvantages. They lack the Retina screen beloved by creative professionals. They’re also more expensive than the Airs or the 13-inch MacBook Pros, and the least portable notebook in Apple’s range.
But fast processors and discrete graphics give them much more power than the smaller MacBooks, and unlike the Retina MacBook Pros, they retain the optical drive, high-capacity storage options and the full range of connectivity ports. The 2012 refresh is a more significant upgrade than you might think.
The switch to Ivy Bridge processors, new NVIDIA graphics and faster onboard memory give the new 15-inch MacBook Pros a significant performance boost. In many of our tests, the cheaper 2012 15-inch MacBook Pro outperformed the more expensive late 2011 model.
MacBook 15-inch: Verdict
The 15-inch MacBook Pro is ideal for those that need more power than a MacBook Air or 13-inch Pro, and prefer an optical drive, hard drive and full range of connection options to the better screen and lighter weight offered by the more expensive MacBook Pro with Retina display.
Although the increase in clock speed over the previous generation is very small, the new Ivy Bridge Core i7 chips with their improved integrated graphics, great new NVIDIA discrete GPUs and faster onboard memory gives the 2012 MacBook Pros a very significant performance boost. It’s great to see USB 3.0 make its long-overdue Mac debut too.
MacBook Pro 15-inch availability: Out now
MacBook Pro 15-inch price: £1,499 (2.3GHz model), £1,799 (2.6GHz model)