MacBook Pro 15″ Teardown

The Thunderbolt port—or the “Thunderport,” as we started calling it around iFixit—is the latest evolutionary change from the folks at 1 Infinite Loop. We were super-excited to try out the port itself, but had to first peek at it from the inside.

MacBook Pro teardown

The Thunderbolt port (we keep wanting to type “Thunderport”—it just feels so natural) has its own controller IC. The IC is quite prominent on the logic board, being the fourth-largest chip after the CPU, GPU, and logic board controller. We’ll have to wait until a company like Chipworks places an SEM on the puppy to see what’s *really* inside, but we believe the chip’s footprint is a testament to the potential of this port.

The MacBook Pro earned a very respectable 7 out of 10 repairability score. This revision allows you to disconnect the battery without removing it from the laptop. It’s a nice design choice since you *should* remove all power before performing any repairs. The unibody design also allows for easy access to most of the other components, so it won’t be terribly hard to replace things on the machine. The only tricky repair is LCD replacement, which could easily result in shattering the front glass panel.

Thundering highlights:

  • You can chain up to six Thunderbolt devices. That’s not a problem today as we’re not even aware of six products that support Thunderbolt yet. But if the connection becomes widespread, the six device limit might be a problem for some people. In comparison, FireWire supports 63 devices and USB supports up to 127 devices.
  • The lower case is secured by Phillips #00 screws, while the battery is secured by Tri-Wing screws — just like the predecessor. Thankfully there were no pesky Pentalobe screws inside or outside. Apple still considers the battery to be not user-replaceable, and we still disagree.
  • This machine boasts the same 77.5 watt-hour battery as the earlier model, but Apple has decreased their run-time estimate from 8-9 hours to 7 hours. Either Apple’s being more realistic with their battery testing, or the new quad-core i7 is more power-hungry than its predecessor.
  • We’re a tad concerned about Apple’s quality control. We found a stripped screw holding the subwoofer enclosure in place, and an unlocked ZIF socket connecting the IR sensor. They’re not huge issues, but they’re not fitting for an $1800 machine.
  • RAM has been upgraded to PC3-10600. That’s the same RAM used in the 2010 revision of the 21.5″ and 27″ iMacs, but faster than earlier MacBook Pros.
  • The wireless card received a make-over and now includes four antennas instead of three. Wireless connectivity is provided by a Broadcom BCM4331 “wireless solution.”
  • The wireless card bracket is aluminum, rather than the plastic found in earlier MacBook Pro revisions. We believe this change was made for thermal reasons, as a pink thermal pad is visible and used to transfer heat from the Broadcom chip to the aluminum bracket.
  • The logic board features four primary chips:
    • Intel i7 Quad-Core Processor
    • AMD Radeon HD 6490M GPU
    • Intel BD82HM65 Platform Controller Hub
    • Intel L051NB32 EFL (which seems to be the Thunderbolt port controller)
  • We uncovered gobs of thermal paste on the CPU and GPU when we removed the main heat sink. The excess paste may cause overheating issues down the road, but only time will tell.
  • This machine is still designated Model A1286. Apple’s been using that same model number since October 2008. That’s why we still need to come up with creative names — such as MacBook Pro 15″ Unibody Early 2011 — in order to differentiate between machines. Thanks Apple!