The Apple MacBook Pro 15in (Early 2011) makes many breakthroughs, none visible from the outside - yet one of those revisions alone may transform personal computing thanks to a welcome boost in connectivity speeds. We take a closer look at the quad-core 15in MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt connector

It’s been heralded for years now, but Apple is the first to market with the fastest computing technology we’ve ever seen.

And we’re not talking about the Intel Sandy Bridge processor inside, even if this is also the first notebook with a second-gen Intel Core Series processor to pass through the PC Advisor Test Centre.

No, what makes this laptop a true pathfinder is its connectivity.

Joining the ubiquitous USB 2.0 and the faster FireWire ports is a new connector, now dubbed Thunderbolt.

This is the electrical incarnation of Intel’s Light Peak technology, conceived as a hyper-fast optical connection standard for uniting computers and their peripherals. It may not be ready in its optical form just yet, but we’re already promised technology here  to deliver 10 gigabit per second (Gbps) transfers.

Rock that Unibody

Externally to the casual eye, there’s nothing that will differentiate this new MacBook Pro from the last. It uses exactly the same industrial design, based on a monocoque chassis milled from solid aluminium.

There’s the same backlit keyboard assembled from Scrabble pieces, large multi-touch trackpad, and edge-to-edge glass-fronted display. Those holding out for a redesign of the casework may have to wait for the succeeding series.

But why count down those days anyway? Well, aside from the ill-conceived reflective glass screen, this Unibody generation of Mac portable bucks a common trend almost set in stone by modern computing.

That is, the current Apple MacBook Pro design is bigger and heavier than its predecessor.

Before Apple launched this shape of MacBook Pro in late 2008, the 15in model measured 357 x 242mm, was 25mm thick and weighed 2.45kg.

With the Unibody revision of autumn 2008, the 15in Apple portable gained weight and girth, now up at 2.54kg and 364 x 249 mm.

It’s no heavier than much of the Windows competition though; and importantly, stronger. Considerably stronger, not to say more elegant.

Two versions of MacBook Pro are offered prêt á porter - both taking quad-core Intel Core i7 chips, running at either 2.0GHz or 2.2GHz. This is the controversial 32nm Sandy Bridge series, which early tests have already established is a marked step-up in performance from the previous processor generation.

Out goes nVidia graphics processors, replaced with AMD cards in the 15in model, while falling back to a revised integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics solution when high-calibre horsepower is not required.

As with the last generation, this MacBook Pro will switch between GPUs without user intervention. But this system is not without its issues.

NEXT PAGE: Graphics switching issues and performance benchmarks >>

See also:

More Apple Mac notebook reviews

Last year's Apple MacBook Pro 15in review

Thunderbolt demonstrated at CeBIT by Promise Technology

What is Thunderbolt?