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What to Expect From the New MacBook Pro

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The buzz surrounding a new MacBook Pro release from Apple (s aapl) is reaching a crescendo, and there’s reason to suspect a new model is just around the corner. So what can you expect from Apple’s next generation of power-packing portable?

The MacBook Air Inheritance

Apple finally updated the long-neglected MacBook Air last fall, and the changes the update brought turned the ultra-portable from red-headed stepchild to starring player. Apple would be crazy not to try injecting some of that magic back into the Pro lineup. Here’s a look at what Air-inspired changes might make their way into the new MacBook Pro.

Flash Storage

Some have speculated Apple will move to flash storage for the MacBook Pro, just like it did with the MacBook Air. Flash storage would save space inside the case, and help the computer run faster and more efficiently. The most recent rumors (via BGR) suggest that while new MacBook Pro base models won’t include only SSD storage by default, they will offer small, separate SSD drives (between 8-16 GB in capacity) to exclusively house the operating system, while remaining system storage will still be handled by a regular hard-disk drive. Pricier upgrade options will allow users to choose to use SSDs exclusively for internal storage.

It’s a rumor that makes a lot of sense, actually, since it lets Apple offer the large storage capacities Pro users often look for in their notebooks while still providing the instant-on advantages of a flash-based OS X installation. Going with a hybrid model will keep costs low for base configurations, allowing Apple to hold on to its margins.

Lighter and Smaller

The MacBook Air also lost weight and girth with its last update, and we saw the introduction of an 11-inch model. I don’t think a smaller screen size is in the cards for a Pro refresh, but we’ll definitely see weight savings.

Apple managed to fit its multi-touch glass trackpad and new, long-lasting battery tech in the MacBook Air, which suggests it learned lessons about how to make those components much smaller and lighter than they had been before. The new MacBook Pro will reap the benefit of these advances, getting lighter in the process. Rumors suggest we’ll see a half-pound weight savings, which wouldn’t surprise me.

I doubt we’ll see a dramatic change in the overall physical footprint of the Pro models, since Apple will want to keep up the product differentiation between the Air and the Pro. We might see a tapered design, but changes to overall thickness will be minimal. In terms of outward appearance, some rumors also suggest we’ll see a larger trackpad, which could make sense if Apple has found a way to save internal space on that component’s design.

Better Display

The MacBook Air introduced a high-resolution display that many designers I’ve spoken with say more than makes up for its diminutive screen size. Since it introduced the Retina Display in the iPhone 4, Apple has seemed intent on distinguishing itself even further from its competitors when it comes to screen quality, although the company has always prided itself on its success in that area.

New MacBook Pros will likely leverage the same screen technology introduced with the MacBook Air to bring slight but visible improvements to resolution and pixel density. The same sort of step-up resolution is a good possibility. (The 11-inch Air provides the resolution typically associated with a 13-inch screen.)

Of Ports and Processors

Inside and out, the new MacBook Pro is expected to be a new machine. Rumors suggest the Pro will use Intel’s new Sandy Bridge family of processors, which were initially delayed when Intel (s intc) discovered a flaw in the chipset’s design. With those problems reportedly ironed out, Apple could introduce the new generation of chips, which provide new Pros with better processing speeds and energy consumption.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro is especially in need of a processor refresh, since it still uses an Intel Core 2 Duo chip, while the 15- and 17-inch models have moved on to Intel’s i5 and i7 series processors. Improved graphics cards are also a likely bet for all models.

Some rumors suggest Apple will be adopting Light Peak technology in the new Pro notebooks. Light Peak is an Intel-developed connection interface that provides more than double the transfer rates of USB 3.0. Apple worked with Intel to develop the technology as a means of replacing USB and FireWire. Light Peak is capable of transferring an entire Blu-ray movie in less than 30 seconds.

The possibility of Light Peak’s introduction with this round of MacBook Pro updates is far from a sure thing. On one hand, Apple introduced FireWire soon after it was completed, and before it was widely adopted. On the other hand, the company was slow to introduce USB to its products, and might be reluctant to add a port that as yet, means little or nothing to most consumers. Our own Liam Cassidy thinks it’s very unlikely we’ll see Light Peak this time around.

Not Long to Wait

We should find out soon enough what Apple has in store for this round of updates. Reports of Apple employee briefings and delayed shipments put a release date at sometime within a week, possibly even Thursday, which also happens to be Steve Jobs’ birthday. What are you hoping to see?

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7 Responses to “What to Expect From the New MacBook Pro”

  1. Hamranhansenhansen

    Do you mean to say Apple was slow with USB 2 or USB 3? Because they were first with USB by a long shot. The iMac had USB at least a year before it was supported by Windows, and even then it was not popular on Windows for years more because it was buggy and the old ports were still there. That’s why the first few years of USB devices were all translucent blue. They were Mac peripherals.