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The MacBook Pro's Mystery Mix

By John P. Mello Jr. MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
May 16, 2012 9:09 AM PT

With the expected unveiling of new MacBook Pros just weeks away, rumor mongers have begun to solidify their predictions about the new notebooks.

The MacBook Pro's Mystery Mix

Most Apple prognosticators seem to agree that the MacBook Pros will be thinner, run Intel's new Ivy Bridge chip, and sport an eye-popping Retina Display.

Of course, the public won't know for sure what the new MacBook Pros will look like until Apple wants it to know -- which could be as soon as the company's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) June 11 in San Francisco -- but once the speculators reach a critical consensus on a future Apple product, their predictions can be very accurate.

Thin Is In

Making the new MacBook Pros thinner to compete with the new crop of Ultrabooks from PC makers could be a design imperative for Apple. Compared to something like the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, which, at 18.8mm Lenovo claims is the thinnest notebook in the market, present MacBooks, at 24mm, look like fatties.

There will be limits, though, on any tradeoffs that Apple will make to slim down its flagship notebook, observed Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies.

"There may be some cosmetic changes, but they're not going to make it much thinner," he told MacNewsWorld. "What you care about is getting a more powerful processor in it."

Bridge to Ivy Waters

That processor, by most accounts, will be Intel's Ivy Bridge chip. "It's got to be Ivy Bridge," Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group, told MacNewsWorld.

What version of Ivy Bridge Apple will use, though, remains up in the air, and it could depend on how thin the company wants to make the device. As devices slim down, heat dissipation challenges arise. To use more powerful Ivy Bridge chips, thinness may have to be sacrificed.

Without a doubt, the MacBook would benefit from a processor upgrade. Recent performance tests by Geekbench of a MacBook with an Ivy Bridge chip, the quad Core i7-3820QM at 2.7 GHz, showed the notebook running 17 percent faster than current models.

Discrete Graphics

In addition to faster processors, the new MacBooks should have discrete graphics, asserted Enderle. "That would differentiate them from the average Ultrabook," he explained.

"There has to be a premium feel to a MacBook Pro," he continued, "so they're undoubtedly going to need to have not only Ivy Bridge but a discrete graphics system, too."

"If they do just Intel graphics and Ivy Bridge, they'll just be an expensive version of an Ultrabook, and I'm not sure the market is going to accept that," he said.

One graphics processor mentioned as a candidate for the new MacBook pros is the Nvidia GeForce GT 650M.

Retina Display

Some MacBook speculators also believe the new version of the notebook will have a Retina Display. "That sounds plausible, but we have no clue that Apple is doing that," Bajarin said.

One of the challenges of moving Retina Displays from mobile devices to notebooks will be price. "A nine-inch iPad screen is one thing, but putting it on a 13, 15-inch MacBook could be a much more pricey proposition," Bajarin observed.

Nevertheless, expectations are high that Retina Displays will crossover from the iOS to the OS X world. "The display has got to be at least as good as what's on the iPad," Enderle maintained.

If the rumors are on the mark, the new MacBook's display will be better than the one on Apple's tablet. One spec bandied about is a resolution of 2,880 by 1,800 and 220 PPI.

However, resolution numbers may be absent from the final models of the notebook, replaced by comparative selections like "big," "small" and "optimal."

Scrapping 17-inch MacBook?

What will be left out of the new MacBooks is also steak for speculators. For instance, some say Apple will eliminate the 13- and 17-inch versions of the notebook.

"The 17-inch has always been a niche and for a 13-inch, they have the MacBook Air," Enderle noted. "By making the Pro as thin of the MacBook Air, they have no need for a redundant 13-inch product."

Niche or not, there is demand for the 17-inch MacBook Pro, especially among creative professionals, argued Bajarin. "I would be surprised if they got rid of it because there is real demand for it in high-end graphics markets," he said.

Ethernet ports, Firewire ports and optical drives could also be omitted from the next MacBook line, according to some Apple watchers. However, USB 3.0 ports and WiFi 802.11ac may be added.

Another possible addition for the line could be a hybrid drive that combines flash and magnetic storage. "You can expect to see more hybrid drives with Windows 8, so Apple could get ahead of the curve if its new MacBooks had hybrid drives," Enderle noted.

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