Apple Refreshes MacBooks With Thunderbolt, Sandy Bridge, AMD Radeon GPUs

Apple on Thursday added Intel's Sandy Bridge integrated graphics processors along with new Thunderbolt optical cable technology to its updated MacBook Pro line.

Apple has added a Thunderbolt port featuring two bi-directional channels to its MacBook Pro line. Thunderbolt is a new technology Intel unveiled on Thursday and is based on the Light Peak optical cable technology Apple developed jointly with Intel in order to offer high-speed data transfer and HD display connectivity on a single cable. Thunderbolt runs at 10 Gbps, allowing users to transfer a full-length HD movie in less than 30 seconds.

Thunderbolt aims to replace an existing plethora of incompatible interfaces such as SATA, eSATA, USB, FireWire, PCI Express and DisplayPort by supporting some existing options including FireWire and DisplayPort while accelerating the transfer of data. The MacBook Pro is the first PC product to feature Thunderbolt, but it will roll out across manufacturers in the coming year.

"We're thrilled to collaborate with Intel to bring the groundbreaking Thunderbolt technology to Mac users," said Bob Mansfield, Apple's senior vice president of Mac Hardware Engineering, in a statement. "With ultra-fast transfer speeds, support for high-resolution displays and compatibility with existing I/O technologies, Thunderbolt is a breakthrough for the entire industry and we think developers are going to have a blast with it."

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As expected, Apple also refreshed its MacBooks with Core i5 and i7 Sandy Bridge integrated graphics processors, paired with a GPU from rival AMD. The 13-inch model features a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5 dual-core Sandy Bridge processor, four gigabytes of RAM, and a 320-gigabyte hard drive.The 17-inch version comes with a 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7 quad-core Sandy Bridge chip, four gigabytes of RAM, 750-gigabyte hard drive, and an AMD Radeon HD 6750M graphics chip with one gigabyte of memory. Apple's MacBooks can also be upgraded with up to eight gigabytes of optional RAM, and 128-, 256- or 512-gigabyte solid state hard drives.

The refreshed 15-inch and 17-inch MacBook Pro systems include a discrete AMD Radeon graphics card running alongside Intel's Sandy Bridge platform. Nvidia previously had its GeForce discrete graphics in the 13-inch version, but Apple has replaced Nvidia's GPUs with Intel's integrated graphics with 384 MB of shared memory.

According to analyst Chris Caso of Susquehanna Financial, Apple's latest move will push Nvidia technology out of the picture for the Mac platform, and will severely affect Nvidia's future earnings. "We think the magnitude of the revenue shift is on the order of $100 million in annual revenue," Caso wrote in a note to clients on Thursday. "Following this change, Nvidia's only remaining exposure to Apple will be on the MacBook Air - and once that business moves to Sandy Bridge, Nvidia will have zero remaining exposure to Apple."

Next: Updated MacBook Pro Specs

The 13-inch MacBook Pro running on a Core i3 Intel processor at 2.0 GHz is available for a starting price of $1,199. The 13-inch model running on a Core i5 Intel processor at 2.7 GHz with a 500 GB drive starts at $1,499. The 15-inch MacBook Pro running at 2.0 GHz on a quad-core i7 Sandy Bridge chip and a 500-GB drive starts at $1,799. The 15-inch model running at 2.2 GHz on a quad-core i7 and a 750-GB drive starts at $2,199. Finally, the 17-inch version running at 2.2 GHz i7 with a 750-GB drive starts at $2,499.

The new 13-inch, 15-inch, and 17-inch MacBook Pro models still include an aluminum unibody design, measure less than an inch thick and weigh 4.5 pounds, 5.6 pounds, and 6.6 pounds respectively. Apple has added a new FaceTime camera allowing users to stream 720p resolution video and display it in newly available widescreen format. The updated MacBooks also come with four gigabytes of RAM, slot-loading DVD burners, integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 with 384 MB DDR3 SDRAM shared with main memory, and seven hours of battery life.