15-inch Apple MacBook Pro review

Processor and graphics upgrades for 15-inch MacBook Pro

Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch review
Apple's 15-inch laptop features a welcome refresh with faster processing and OS X 10.7 Lion

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Next to the design revolution that is the MacBook Pro with Retina display, the regular 15-inch MacBook Pro refresh appears very minor. But looks can be deceptive.

Processors have been updated to the latest version of Intel's Core i series of chips, with an integrated graphics chipset that's up to 60% more powerful than its predecessor. The discrete graphics processor has also been upgraded, and is again up to 60% better than before.

The 2012 notebook refresh introduces USB 3.0 to Macs for the first time. Faster onboard memory has been used, too, with 1600MHz RAM replacing the previous generation's 1333MHz memory.

We liked

Although the regular 15-inch MacBook Pros lack the raw sex appeal of the Retina display model, there's plenty to commend them over their high-end stable mates. The standard 15-inch MacBook Pro is far easier to repair or customise than the Retina version; you can add memory or change the hard drive yourself.

If you've no wish to open up your notebook, a range of upgrade options are available on the Apple Online Store, including swapping the HDD for a solid state drive. And unlike the Retina MacBook Pros, the regular notebooks retain the in-built optical drive, Gigabit Ethernet port and FireWire 800 port.

Although the processors are only slightly faster than the last generation's, faster memory and better internal and discrete graphics give the new MacBook Pros a considerable performance boost. Gamers will appreciate the extra graphical power, as will video editors and those who deal with large images.

Early adopters who buy before the release of Mountain Lion - the next version of OS X, due in July 2012 - get a free upgrade.

We disliked

We haven't got much cause for complaint here. There's no online option to upgrade the screen to a Retina display, but that would probably be too much to ask. The optical drive is long overdue an update. Given Apple's well documented hostility to Blu-ray's licensing terms, a high density drive was never on the cards. But surely we could do better than the 8x SuperDrive, which hasn't been upgraded for years?

We wish the regular 15-inch MacBook Pros had a second Thunderbolt port like the Retina display models, and although it's not unduly heavy by 15-inch notebook standards, it's pretty weighty for a portable Mac.

Final verdict

Although not a massive update, the mid-2012 refresh sees the 15-inch MacBook Pro take a solid, confident step forwards. In many of our tests, the cheaper 2012 15-inch MacBook Pro outperformed the more expensive late 2011 model.

It's possible the new 15-inch MacBook Pros could fall between two stools. It lacks the Retina screen beloved by creative professionals, is more expensive than the MacBook Airs or the 13-inch MacBook Pros and is less portable than any other model in Apple's notebook range.

But fast processors and discrete graphics give it more power than smaller 13-inch MacBook Pros, without losing the optical drive, high-capacity storage options and upgradeability like the Retina MacBook Pros.

The 15-inch regular MacBook Pro still has a place in the pantheon of Apple notebooks, especially for those who hook it up to a Thunderbolt Display to use it as a desktop machine most of the time, but carry it around when necessary.