Review: Apple MacBook Pro 13.3" (2011)

 
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Published: March 17, 2011 11:00 PM
By Alexandre Botella
So, here we have it, the MacBook Pro 2011, 13.3 inch! The Macbook Air is also available at this screen size. While the Pro can't rival the Air's weight or slim line, it will stand or fall on the muscle afforded by its components.

Design and build: a good looker but lacking somewhat in connectivity.

There's been no major design change since the 2010 series. It's still just as simple and pared down and gives an impression of quality straight off the bat. The aluminium unibody chassis is irreproachable.

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The keyboard with separated keys has backlighting that can be deactivated to preserve battery life. The keys offer supple and extremely quiet keying. Their positioning makes for instinctive typing that's great for word processing.
 
The touchpad is still better than anything else on the market. Multi-touch (zoom, rotation, scrolling with several fingers and so on), wide and clickable, it has a very fluid, comfortable and precise glide. Activating the 'tap to click' option in 'system preferences' means you don't have to push the touchpad in to click and this makes the action quieter and slightly faster.  

Compaq Mini 311cThe webcam (1280 x 720 pixels) gives an excellent quality image and it captures movement very well. The image is detailed in light areas but you do lose a certain amount of detail in darker areas, as you do on many models. It is however perfectly okay for everyday use.  

Connectivity isn't very extensive however. On the right, there's a slot-in DVD rewriter. On the left, the power socket, an RJ45 port, a Firewire 800 port, two USB 2.0 ports, an SDXC card reader and a Thunderbolt port.

Remember, Thunderbolt is the name of the new high-speed connection Apple are now using. An Intel technology, it mixes the DisplayPort connector with Light Peak technology. Along the lines of FireWire, this all-in-one connection can link up up to 6 peripherals of any type, including those dedicated to video. Backwards compatibility with DisplayPort is assured, as long as the screen is the last link in the chain. As we didn't have any compatible peripherals in editorial, we haven't yet been able to test performance speeds and display but we'll be getting to this as soon as possible.

Perfectly quiet on start-up, the MacBook Pro 13.3 inch surprised us when it came to the processor tests: when we ran it through various processor heavy tasks, the fan noise went up a notch before dropping back down a few minutes later. This is unusual for a model in this range - they're normally thought to be quieter.

Temperatures however remained low, so we can at least say that the fan is doing its job, though of course we would have liked it to do so more quietly.


MacBook Pro 13.3-inch temperature readings when you push the components hard
Readings taken using a Fluke Ti25 (Distrame) camera

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Underneath, no direct access to components

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  Power supply, ethernet port, FireWire 800, thunderbolt port, USB 2.0 (x2), SDXC card reader, headphones out
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DVD rewriter


Processor power: excellent performance

We didn't receive the basic version but rather one with an Intel Core-i7-2620M (Sandy Bridge) processor, while the cheapest configuration model has an Intel i5-2410M. The results on the basic model will be slightly down on those in this test.

In the configuration we received, this MacBook Pro 13.3 inch can do pretty much whatever you like in reasonable time. It is effective both when it comes to video encoding and photo editing. Office documents, internet navigation and other less demanding tasks are no problem at all. It scores 130 on our processor index.

HD 1080p video playback (Blu-ray equivalent) is a walk in the park for such a machine. Although the processor can easily handle this task itself, it is preferable to let the graphics card handle it (QuickTime passes the task over automatically). That way, the CPU is freed up and energy consumption falls to keep battery life to a max.

Mac OS X takes 34 seconds to boot. It turns off in under five seconds. These are excellent scores, which reflect the machine's overall responsiveness.

Gaming: a single integrated graphics chipset

The 13.3 inch model is the only model in the 2011 range that doesn't have a dedicated graphics card. It has to make do with the Intel GMA HD 3000 graphics chipset instead. This will allow you to run a few recent games such as Starcraft 2 or Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 at minimum graphics settings, but won't set any self-respecting gamer's pulse racing.

Audio: still just as clean

On the audio side, no change from Apple, but, at the same time, what's not to like? With the speakers under the keyboard, Apple does better here than 95% of current PC laptops. The sound is never saturated and there's a comfortable range of power. The headphones out is as clean as ever and it's just a shame that the entry line is now included on the same connector as the headphones out. This isn't very practical so it's a good thing that the built-in mic works well.

Battery life: 8h!

While Apple was aiming at seven hours battery life on all its MacBook Pro 2011 generation, this 13.3 inch lasted for eight hours video playback. This is really excellent when you think that the MacBook Air 13.3 inch - less powerful and therefore less power hungry - lasted under six hours under the same conditions (video playback, headphones plugged in, screen at 100 nits, wi-fi and bluetooth deactivated).
With better battery life than the MacBook Air 13.3 inch, it's also heavier (2.04 Kg against 1.32 Kg) and stouter. It remains however, sufficiently light and small to allow you to carry it around in a rucksack.
4/5 Apple MacBook Pro 13.3" (2011) DigitalVersus 2011-03-18 00:00:00

Pros

  • Good quality panel
  • Strong CPU performance
  • Nice finish
  • Good audio
  • 8h battery life

Cons

  • Glossy panel
  • Noisy fan when you push the processor
  • Very limited gaming capacity

Conclusion

A high-performance processor, irreproachable finish, excellent battery life, good audio, that's what you're getting with this MacBook Pro. The only area where it really suffers is in gaming.

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