Sssh, Apple silently upgrades MacBook Pros ahead of Intel's Ivy Bridge

Facing increasing competitive pressure, Apple silently pushed performance enhancements to the MacBook Pro line of laptops. The changes include better processors and additional storage, and on higher-end models better graphics cards.

The base level 13-inch MacBook Pro now sports a 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 dual-core processor with a 500GB hard drive, but remains at $1,199. The faster $1,499 13-inch model now includes a 2.8GHz i7 dual-core CPU with a 750GB HDD.

Apple's previous 13-inch models -- launched in February -- included a 2.3GHz i5 processor with 320GB hard drive, and 2.7GHz i7 processor with 500GB of storage space respectively.

Both 15-inch models got faster processors and upgraded graphics cards. On the $1,799 model, the 2.2GHz quad-core i7 CPU replaces the 2GHz chip, and the AMD Radeon HD 6490M graphics card has been swapped out with the 6750M. The higher-end $2,199 version goes from 2.2GHz to 2.4GHz, and now sports the AMD Radeon HD 6770M as opposed to the 6750M.

For the top-of-the-line 17-inch laptop, a 2.4GHz quad-core i7 replaces the 2.2GHz, and the graphics card is now the AMD Radeon HD 6770M. The retail price remains the same at $2,499.

Specs other than what's listed here stay the same as when the updated line first hit shelves earlier this year.

Even with the enhancements, Apple's flagship laptop line remains priced above its competitors. For example, Dell's XPS 14z -- announced Monday -- is priced about $200 less than the cheapest MacBook Pro, and includes an additional 2GB of RAM.

(All of Apple's MacBook Pros come standard with 4GB of DDR3 1333MHz RAM.)

Monday's performance boost is likely an effort by Apple to remain competitive while it waits for Intel's Ivy Bridge chips to ship in the spring of next year. The microprocessors are expected to ship in March or April, which means a major update to the line might not come until May or June.

That could put the debut of next-generation MacBook Pros around WWDC, Apple's annual developers conference. It wouldn't be unusual: the company debuted an update to the line there in 2009.

Ivy Bridge chips should provide significant performance enhancements through integrated GPUs, according to statements from the company.

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