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Rumor Roundup: The MacBook Pro Edition

Various rumors and web reports indicate that Apple will be releasing updates to its MacBook Pro line later this week, possibly as soon as Thursday. It’s about time, too — with the exception of the redesigned MacBook Air, Apple hasn’t updated its best-selling MacBook Pro lineup since April 2010.

The latest rumors of the new machines run the gamut — everything from faster processors and integrated SSDs to larger trackpads and support for Light Peak is on the table. Separating fact from fiction is tough — even the best Apple predictors have imperfect track records, but we’ve done what we can to tally up the big rumors. We’ll also offer up our own thoughts on how plausible or implausible something sounds.

Rumor 1: Launch Date This Week

Sources: iSpazio (Italian Mac blog), AppleInsider

Rumor: As the MacBook Pro supply chain tightens across the world, five new MacBook Pro models are set to debut this week, most likely on Thursday.

Plausibility: Almost guaranteed. The second-best indicator of new Apple products are fluctuations in supply chain availability for items that tend to sell at a regular pace. When estimated shipping dates start to to drift upward, it’s usually a good sign that a new model series is about to drop.

The best indicator of new Apple products is the inevitable leaking of SKU and model numbers. Best Buy inadvertently leaked five new Apple SKUs on Sunday.

Other Thoughts: There are currently six laptops in the MacBook Pro lineup and it isn’t clear what model has been dropped from the lineup. Our guess is one of the 15-inch variants or the 17-inch MacBook Pro is on its way out.

AppleInsider reports that the reason for the Thursday release date (Apple products usually come put on a Tuesday) is intentional — February 24, 2011 is Steve Jobs’s 56th birthday.

Rumor 2: New Models Will Use Intel’s Sandy Bridge

Sources: CNET (for MacBook Air), PCMag, AppleInsider

Rumor: Apple will be one of the first OEMs to ship laptops running on Intel’s new Sandy Bridge architecture.

Plausibility: 60%. Apple tends to be the first or the last OEM to jump on a major Intel platform. The Mac Pro line tends to be at the front-of-the-line with the latest chip architectures while Apple tends to wait a few cycles for its notebook systems. The big promise of Sandy Bridge, however, could indicate Apple wants to try to stay ahead of the curve.

Other Thoughts: Last month, Intel discovered a design flaw in Sandy Bridge’s companion chipset. This flaw required the company to recall shipments and delay production — it will also cost the company $1 billion in revenue and replacement costs. All reports indicate that Apple will not be affected by this delay.

Rumor 3: Bigger Trackpad and OS-only SSD

Sources: BGR

Rumor: The new MacBook Pro will feature glass trackpads that are even larger than those on current MacBook Pro units. Additionally, the OS will be loaded onto a separate integrated 8-16GB SSD drive for fast startups and access, but additional data will be stored on a traditional hard drive.

Plausibility: The larger trackpad rumor sounds quite possible — especially as Apple prepares to get more into gesture support with Mac OS X Lion. As for the separate SSD OS drive — a hybrid solution like this is certain appealing and if completely seamless, we think it could work. Still, we’re not completely convinced. We do think that Apple will be pushing SSD options or making the SSD standard on several MacBook Pro models, but we just don’t know about this hybrid approach.

Other Thoughts: We haven’t heard anything one way or another about the DVD drive in the MacBook Pro. We wonder if Apple will be adding the option to forego the drive as it does on the Mac mini with Snow Leopard Server.

Rumor 4: Liquidmetal MacBook Pro

Sources: MacTrust [Site is down] via Cult of Mac

Rumor: The next MacBook Pro will trade in the unibody aluminum design for a case made from Liquidmetal — a metal that has similar properties and processing abilities as plastic. Apple signed an exclusive agreement to use Liquidmetal in its products last year and MacTrust contends that the MacBook Pro will be where the technology makes its debut.

Plausibility: As cool as Liquidmetal sounds, we’re going to say this has only a 10% chance of actually being true. As Leader Kahney said, “this is Tony Stark stuff” — which makes us think that the first real implementations of the technology is still a few release cycles away.

Other Thoughts: Liquidmetal has amazing potential as a construction element. Purportedly stronger and lighter than aluminum, Liquidmetal could reduce the weight of a laptop while still making it more resilient to the nicks and dings that unibody MacBook Pro owners know all too well.

Rumor 5: Light Peak

Sources: CNET

Rumor: Apple is going to announce its adoption of Intel’s Light Peak technology and introduce its first products using the technology in the first half of 2011.

Plausibility: Again, as cool as this sounds, we’re going to say this has almost no chance of being true. With bi-directional speeds of 10 gigabits a second, Light Peak has the potential to be the next USB (that is, ubiquitous and on every device known to man). Of course, it could also wind up as the next FireWire (superior to the competition in every way but not ubiquitous or widely adopted outside of certain industries and manufacturers). Regardless, we don’t expect to see any shipping Light Peak products — let alone from Apple — for quite a few more months.

Other Thoughts: Intel has been working on Light Peak — which is basically a super connector cable that can be used for basically any type of computer component — monitor, hard drive, printer, etc. — for years. Because the technology was originally demonstrated on a machine running Mac OS X in 2009, it’s assumed Apple is at least tangentially interested in the technology.

CNET’s report — which itself was skeptical that Apple would launch the technology in the next MacBook Pro, indicates that Apple will be calling the technology something other than Light Peak. Additional reports have circulated today indicating that the next iPad could have Light Peak support. To us, the iPad rumors sound even less plausible than the MacBook Pro reports.

Hit Us With Your Rumors

With the understanding that absolutely no one can top the incredible John Moltz when it comes to Crazy Apple Rumors, let your craziest most outlandish predictions for the new MacBook Pro lineup be known in the comments. For our more mature readers, feel free to share what logical, well-reasoned predictions you have as well.

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