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Apple's next-generation Macbook Pro drops Ethernet, optical drive

Apple's next-generation MacBook Pro lacks an Ethernet port or optical drive. Bill Detwiler explains why one missing feature will add $29 to laptop's already high cost.

(Credit: Apple)

At WWDC 2012 on Monday, Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller unveiled hardware updates to the existing MacBook Air and MacBook Pro lines along with a brand new next-generation MacBook Pro. The new Pro sports an Intel Core i7 (Ivy Bridge) processor, a Retina display, and ultra-thin design. But, it lacks two features that until now, have separated the Pro and Air product lines--an Ethernet port and optical drive.

With the next-generation MacBook Pro, Apple is further merging the Air and Pro lines (or at least their feature set) and moving us closer to a disc-free, wireless future. Just to be clear, this trend didn't start with the new MacBook, nor is Apple the only company to move in this direction. Many Windows-based ultrabooks lack Ethernet ports and optical drives. Ditching these components makes the machine thinner, lighter, and frees up space inside the case.

And, many won't miss the optical drive. Web-based tools, cloud/network storage, downloadable apps, and cheap USB flash drives have eliminated the need for discs. I haven't used a CD or DVD on my laptop in years. The Ethernet port is another story.

(Credit: Apple)

Wireless Internet is more available today than it was five years ago, but it's not universal. The office where I work has a public Wi-Fi hotspot, but no behind-the-firewall wireless network. I could use our VPN, but that connection doesn't give me complete access to my network shares. It's also very slow. Given the comments on CNET's first take on the MacBook Pro with Retina display, many people are in the same boat. One person wrote the following:

"optical i can see, and it's reasonable, but there are still a lot of places where wireless simply can't do the job, especially when u are in a neighborhood that has too many wireless interfering with each other, having that Ethernet port saves a lot of grief"

In the next few years, I have no doubt that wired Ethernet will go the way of the optical disc. But for now, those who want a next-generation MacBook Pro and still need a wired Ethernet port will just have to cough up another $29 (US) for the Apple Thunderbolt to Ethernet adapter.

For a rundown on all the highlights Apple WWDC 2012 keynote announcements, read Selena Frye's TechRepublic article, "Apple WWDC: MacBook Pro with Retina, iOS 6 this fall, updated Siri, and more."

And for even more information on the keynote announcements, check out the following:

CNET ZDNet

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

89 comments
Slayer_
Slayer_

Since most commercial software still comes on a disc, and many games still want the disc inserted while playing. Your not exactly mobile if you have to walk around with a CD drive.

lostnsavd
lostnsavd

Just think for a minute! (A raise of hands please.) How many people still use Ethernet as a reliable faster connection? Okay then (raise your hand) how many of you are willing to "pay" for the Thunderbolt adapter? Well now... lets take the number of hands times the $$ for the adapter and... whoa! Apple will take a big bite out of that one. (no pun intended) :)

gregory
gregory

This stupid move would have lost connectivity for my daughter attending college. In the dorms The IT Dept. says Ethernet only because the crush of wireless for thousands of students at once just doesn't work. Needless to say I bought the previous generation MacBook Pro for her grad gift.

DJMorais
DJMorais

Ethernet is still faster and more secure. WiFi is not available in all places yet. Especially SAFE WiFi. Need the Eternet port. Optical drive? I can hang an external one if I HAVE to I guess.

ZacM
ZacM

As most people should know, WiFi exists in most places, but it's not something everyone has! Apple must remember that WiFi does not, will not, and has never replaced Ethernet, in fact, WiFi, while more convenient, does have it's own set of problems, mostly interference from other RF sources, whereas Ethernet only has a few problems, such as a loose, frayed, or otherwise damaged cable. Apple, you have taken a step in the wrong direction!

awilson77584
awilson77584

Wireless is fine for web browsing. I typically have at least 1 VM running all of the time. The idea of a quad core i7 with 16GB of ram was very attractive. I don't need the retina screen. The video I watch is fine at 1400/900. As mentioned above, many companies don't allow wireless behind the firewall. They are moving their market to college students and web browsing moms. I use OS X because it is a desktop unix that works. A little sad. Anyone that believes that market forces are best is nuts. The market favors the market makers, not the customers. The customers get what ever the market makers think they can sell to the most people. //cheers

deltadan
deltadan

Apple didn't "drop" any features -- they chose to make some less-frequently used features optional, so that they could offer new technology more-desired by their target audiences. So,if you're thinking that they got it wrong, then consider that thousands of 15" MacBook Pro /Retina on hand for the announcement, sold-out in a few of hours and by the next morning, the wait for back-orders stretched-out to nearly a month... Mebbe YOU just ain't their "Target!" (Wanna buy a barely-used 8-track player?)

deltadan
deltadan

Hopefully, this discussion can be re-pointed to consider that the target audience for this computer (photo-journalists) will benefit far-more from a 2nd Thunderbolt port rather than pining for the missing tethered Gigabit. On the other hand, compulsive Bling-buyers shouldn't find that extra $29 outlay for an adapter to be much of an obstacle; it actually adds to the aura...

Don1958
Don1958

I have the good fortune to use a Thunderbolt display connected to a 13" Macbook Air (current gen) at work. Not having an Ethernet port hasn't been an issue for me since the port is on the back of the display. When I am not connected to the display I'm traveling so I can use WiFi most of the time. I do carry a Ethernet adapter though, because in some places I go there is a wired connection only in the rooms. In the six months I've had this setup, I have not been hampered by not having an Ethernet port at all. That said, I realize I am very fortunate that my company allowed me to "dock" my laptop with a new Thunderbolt display so it eliminated the need . That won't be the case for everyone, so it may hamper initial sales.

savatovic
savatovic

RJ11 (modem) and DB9 (RS232).

jc@dshs
jc@dshs

"Let's drop the optical drive and Ethernet port out of the machine, hike the price up and then slug the mugs extra to buy back those features." Give that man a promotion.

h4rb1ng3r
h4rb1ng3r

You could buy an Airport Express for a portable wireless access point that is always ready to go. =]

Gisabun
Gisabun

By dropping the ethernet port, real cheap of them. An ethernet port is way more secure, reliable and faster than a wireless connection. If I am sitting in front of a router, of course I'll use a wired connection. An optical drive is still of use. So someone who needs one needs to buy one. A non-Apple brand for $30 or probably $75+ for an Apple branded drive made by Foxconn and was manufactured for $10. Now of course what Apple wants you to do is buy the 512GB SSD drive. Buy one of these puppies on their own costs between $600 and $1200 [depending on the speed and brand]. I can imagine what Apple would charge! Oh. Who the frack needs TWO thunderbolt ports. Anyone here has more than one? Just one?

mac021
mac021

We STILL need Ethernet because it's a lot more stable (at least where I live) than WiFi connectivity, and we somehow manage to get up to 3mbps than WiFi which promises only 1mbps. They shouldn't be eliminating Ethernet just yet when only a few countries have satisfactory wireless services. This is too early a move and it's unfair to us users who can't do anything about it.

vinnyjits
vinnyjits

For apple to sell you another adapter...

da philster
da philster

I can see the rationale behind dropping the optical drive. But to drop the ethernet port seems to me like a "nickel and dime" bean-counters' (with all due respect to the accounting profession) decision. At the end of the day, a wired connection is faster and more secure. At what Apple is charging for these machines, leave the port in and let the buyers decide on its use. My $0.02

tmac9182
tmac9182

This is just one more example of Apple "Knowing what is best for us". (Think no FTP, or SMBv1 file sharing in OSX 10.7) I have had to explain to clients several times why their shiny new Mac will not work with any of their old network devices, whether NAS's, MFD's, or scanners. I honestly think Apple could care less about playing in the Enterprise business space, and moves like this prove it. Also, Wireless is an inferior technology to Wired Ethernet when it comes to reliability, data transfer speeds, and scaling. The thing people do not seem to remember is that Wireless is a "convenience" technology. There have been great improvements, but it still is not as good as Wired. For most consumers wireless is sufficient, some times substantially so. However, when it comes to reliable business communications, Wired is still the best way, unless it is not physically possible to do so.

tkejlboom
tkejlboom

For the money, I'd like to have seen 10GbE. Sure, it's expensive, but so is $3k for a laptop. In fairness, their 27" monitor/docking station does have the gig ethernet port, and that's clearly what they were going for... still, I'll miss it.

gscratchtr
gscratchtr

wasn't Apple the first company to offer a PC without a diskette drive ? This is just more innovation Glen

jayohem
jayohem

In the DOD there is an ongoing ban on linking any USB devices like thumb drives, smart phones, digital cameras that can collect data to a PC or laptop. Apple products had been an exception, but now that the hackers and crackers have figured out how to poison that well the ban probably will be extended to Apple products too. Good timing on Apple's part.

MAM@ONCFARI.COM
MAM@ONCFARI.COM

If you must have Ethernet (in a LAPTOP, that is!) there are any number of devices that take care of the problem, but it's really fading fast, so I don't see this as an issue. Moreover, I suspect that a large portion of those saying that Enet is still important are using laptops as desktops in households where they probably still have a slow connection and lots of 'legacy' Enet devices. This is a "PRO" machine, folks, and as such -- despite the apparent iPad look & feel -- it is NOT targeted to casual users!

Steve117
Steve117

I thought that Apple said that we have moved pass the age of personal computers... Sounds like PC's are still doing most of the work to me. Apple will start loosing market share with "innovation" like this.

mmerrick
mmerrick

Our graphic and pub staff travel often but also use their MACs laptops in the office. They have very large graphics files that need to be uploaded to the company's network. Not having an ethernet port stinks and using dongles is a pain. I think richard.moore4 hit the nail on the head - - you need an ethernet port with a smaller profile that will work on these ultra-thin laptops.

hawkeye96
hawkeye96

"(O)ur VPN . . . doesn???t give me complete access to my network shares." What? What does that mean, exactly? Your audience (especially me) doesn't comprehend your jargon.

sujit_z
sujit_z

... and the voting pattern appears not to agree with Apple!

frd1963
frd1963

At first I agreed completely and wondered how such a huge design mistake (assumption) could be made. Then I realized that the ability to add ethernet using a thunderbolt adapter is a great idea. For the < 10% of users who will need wired ethernet, a small investment (1% of total price) and minor inconvenience gives them that ability. Same goes for the optical drive.

dl_wraith
dl_wraith

A well designed case can take a normal ethernet adaptor quite easily. I've seen plenty of thin and sleek designs with ethernet ports over the years. Sure, the Air is far too thin to carry one but the pro should be able to manage it. Given that Ethernet is the principal networking technology right now, pervading every home and business with a network the question I have here is 'why'? Are Apple designing gear for coffee-shop posers again? I don't think any (non-Apple fanboy) IT tech would happily choose one of these for work - there's to many hurdles and crappy adaptor breakages to be had here. Ethernet is far from dead yet.

bjorn
bjorn

If you have ever set up a new router or required the ethernet connection to troubleshoot current wifi issues the missing ethernet port is almost a deal breaker. You can go with the adapter from thunderbolt but my guess is that trying to find it flying around your bag somewhere or loosing it will cause headaches. Apple should at leaste throw one adapter in to help ease the pain! - Come on! everything else you do makes sense so just put it in the box and be done with the negative views. ...just my opinion.

GSG
GSG

The worst malware I've ever gotten was when I was using hotel wireless. I went to the same sites as I usually go to, and they were reputable sites. After that, I always take a long cable with me and go wired instead of wireless. In some businesses, you need a backup plan, and where wireless is concerned, that's ethernet cables. Case in point: When the tornado came through in February, we were on Generator for most of the day. We can't just shut down when there's no electricity as we still have to take care of our patients and keep essential services up and running. Wireless is not on generator as we power only essential services, like medical equipment, switches, etc.. on generator to ensure that it is not overloaded. Sure, we could have hauled a bunch of workstations and monitors up the stairs and set them up, but we all have laptops and it's easy to grab the laptop and a cable.

zd
zd

"The office where I work [only] has a public Wi-Fi hotspot" !!! Wow! That's amazing. Fire your IT Manager and get someone competent!

anil_g
anil_g

Wifi is not always fine. Connectivity / reliability poor for some reason. Many offices still run cable because the wireless is not fine. Wireless authentication is also sometimes tricky. However, dongle should be adequate to solve that problem, it seems to me. Still, not really fair to say wireless fine. We've haven't dispensed with cable altogether yet, but focus seems to be should be on whether the dongle is an inconvenience. You can still get ethernet, which you should, but you just need the dongle.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

It's been at least three since I've seen a DB9 port on a new business-class laptop, and even longer since we've need a modem where I work. Both are available as USB dongles; our field techs use the serial dongles, but no one has asked for a modem.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Maybe you just need a better router?

tkejlboom
tkejlboom

They can't make a rule that will create security. Government needs to retrain their workforce and hold them individually responsible for when they do something stupid.

Jordon
Jordon

This year alone I've stayed in one hotel in Japan and three hotels in the states that didn't have WiFi in the rooms. Ethernet only. "Big Name" hotels too. Without that cable I would have needed to go down to the lobby to get any work done.

tmac9182
tmac9182

I work a second job at a retail computer store, and almost every day, someone is coming in trying to "boost" their Wi-Fi signal. Sometimes they have a computer sitting 3 feet from the router, and they do not have it plugged in!!! I explain to them about half-duplex communications, half-speed stepdowns, and CSMA/CA of Wi-Fi vs. CSMA/CD of Wired. Essentially Wi-Fi is a half duplex logical Token Ring. How many of you would trade in your Gigabit infrastructure (or even your 10/100 for that matter) for a Token Ring, no matter how fast the media speed was? No many I would guess. If wired Ethernet is "Fading fast" why is there NO option for it on any server I see? Just my $.02

jlaincz
jlaincz

I'm guessing you must not work in a corporate IT environment. Fading fast? Maybe with general consumers for network connectivity in their homes, at coffee shops and hotels, but not with corporate networks. Here are a few reasons why wired network connections are still used on corporate networks: Security Reliability Transferring large files The corporate network doesn't have wireless, or it is segregated from the rest of the network Configuring network equipment Troubleshooting network equipment As a "PRO" machine, these are reasons why a wired network port should be included.

tkejlboom
tkejlboom

You leave the dongle attached to the gig ethernet. It's not something you have to carry around or "keep track of".

dave
dave

Virtual Private Network is a tunnel (encrypted) over the Internet that effectively places your PC on to your corporate network even though you are thousands of miles away. Your device gets an IP address from your corporate LAN and makes it actually on the corp LAN. However not all VPNs are created equal. Some are completely transparent and you can run any application/port/protocol over the connection as if you were in the office. Other implementations only allow some ports such as HTTP (43), TELNET, etc. We use Juniper's SA as it allows us to get a local dial tone (port 5000 but in the tunnel) on our PBX's back home when Mexico usually blocks other Internet phone applications. They want you to use their more expensive telephone system.

tkejlboom
tkejlboom

Gigabit ports pay my bills! I love gigabit ports! Maybe if HP had put a gigabit port on their Envys instead of 100Mb. Gigabit is fantastic, but realistically, it can stay at the desk. Why would you bring a Macbook for a netbook job anyway? That's like getting an F-350 to go to the end of the driveway and picking up your mail.

zd
zd

For the watts an AP uses up, design wireless with proper gen backup.

dl_wraith
dl_wraith

Wireless is a risk and causes a lot of design and security headaches, particularly in arenas that are heavily regulated (such as the Financial services sector). I chose to take our wireless access points out of my network design deliberately, saving us time, money and stress in return for a minor inconvenience for our laptop and mobile handset users - does that make me "incompetent"? take a breath before you spout judgmental commentary at other people. each network is different and it's requirements unique. Wireless is not a given in a work environment for a multitude of very good reasons - not just because some IT bod doesn't know how to safely deploy it or simply can't be bothered to. Shall I brand you 'incompetent' for your opinion because you've failed to make the reasons for your opinion apparent? No? Didn't think so.

tmac9182
tmac9182

I am currently using a Latitude E5500 which has a DB9, and Dell is still selling them on it's site for $699. Maybe you don't consider it a "business-class" laptop, but it is a current model, and it does have a DB9. Also some of the Thinkpads in the Core2Duo era still had RJ11 modems, and that has been within the last 3 years. You can still find Reconditioned versions of them currently available for sale. I agree that modems can likely be retired as a standard option, but DB9 is still used by a lot of things, (hence the overabundance of USB-Serial adapters) and there are hardware platforms that require it for communication that will likely still be around for years.

GSG
GSG

The generator is for essentials, like the medical equipment. While it would be nice to run everything on generator, it's just not feasible. We need to keep the medical equipment running first.

dl_wraith
dl_wraith

......you should make some sort of continuity plans to keep the service (or an alternative) available. This applies to any system or service, not just Wireless access. The fact of it is that wireless is very rarely categorised as 'important', let along 'essential' to the functions of a business. Ergo, why go through the hassle and cost of "design[ing] wireless with proper gen backup"? Yes if essential, otherwise probably not. Out of interest, how many network managers or techs here have their APs on UPS backed sockets or protected by genny backup? How many of your businesses actually do consider wi-fi and essential service for your business that holds priority for your DR or Business Continuity plans? I ask as I can only really think of Hospitals myself and even then I think I'm wrong.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

someone high up in our IT department has decide we will have NO public hotspot. Our closed wireless requires an encryption key, doesn't broadcast it's availability, and requires our VPN client. Don't show up expecting us to provide your access; be prepared to slave off your cell phone or use one of our public desktops.

GSG
GSG

We had a town-wide disaster in February and ran on generator for over 8 hours. My whole building was shut down, so we moved to the command center. Luckily (or not luck so much as good DR planning) our critical servers were in our primary server room deep in the bowels of a mountain on a different power grid. We would have been up sooner but the power company thought that getting residential areas on power were more important than the hospital, EMS, police station... at least until someone figured out what they were doing and "suggested" they refocus their efforts.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

put all the APs on POE switches. The additional load on the generator for the switches and the APs was less than a kilowatt. But retail is a much different environment from medical. We're talking only three or four switches and access points, not the dozens or more it takes to keep a hospital on line.