The MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch is a powerful pro notebook with a fantastic design. However, in its bid to appeal to the mass market, it might turn off some professionals.
- Fantastic design
- True Tone works well when you want it
- Touch Bar is improving
- Very good performance
- Lack of ports
- Keyboard still feels a little flat
When you look back on all the pomp and circumstance that Apple typically surrounds its device launches with, the unveiling of the new MacBook Pro was downright subdued by comparison, despite the fact that the MacBook Pro 15 2018 offers a serious upgrade over previous iterations.
Rather than having its own launch event, like iPhones typically do, or taking center stage at the popular WWDC event, Apple showed off the new MacBook Pro in a more intimate setting. And, like in previous generations, the new MacBook Pro comes in two flavors: 13-inch and 15-inch.
And, despite the quieter announcement, Apple is still excited about the MacBook Pro 2018. While iPads and iPhones, as well as the MacBook Air and the 12-inch MacBook are aimed at regular consumers – the MacBook Pro traditionally focuses on creatives and professionals with a level of performance (and a price tag) to match.
Despite its professional appeal, Apple is aiming to make the MacBook Pro an ambitious device that can appeal to regular users, too, and if you’re after the most powerful MacBook Apple has ever created, you’re going to love the MacBook Pro 2018.
There’s enough of a difference between the two sizes when it comes to components to warrant two separate reviews, and here we’ll be looking at the flagship 15-inch MacBook Pro.
Price and availability
As with previous versions of the MacBook Pro, the 2018 version comes in a variety of configurations and prices. The base configuration comes with a 2.2GHz, 6-core Intel Core i7 processor, Radeon Pro 555X graphics card, 16GB of DDR4 memory and 256GB SSD storage for $2,399 (£2,349, AU3,499).
This can be configured to add a 2.9GHz 6-core Intel Core i9 processor for $400 (£350, AU$600) more, 32GB of RAM for $400 (£360, AU$640) more, and an upgrade to the AMD Radeon Pro 560X for an additional $100 (£90, AU$160).
You can also upgrade the storage to a 512GB SSD for $200/£180/AU$320, 1TB SSD for $600/£540/AU$960, 2TB SSD for $1,400/£1,260/AU$2,240 and a 4TB SSD for $3,400/£3,060/AU$5,440.
This gives you plenty of options to mix and match components to get the MacBook Pro 2018 that best suits your needs and budget. So, if you do a lot of video editing, you can upgrade the graphics card, while saving money by sticking to a smaller SSD if you save your work to an external hard drive.
Yeah, this is an expensive piece of kit, but you can’t knock the hardware. It’s also to Apple’s credit that the base configuration of the MacBook Pro 15-inch 2018 is the same price as the base configuration of the 2017 version when it launched. So, you’re getting a nice upgrade in specs without an upgrade in cash.
If you’re looking for a Windows 10 alternative, then the new Dell XPS 15 2018offers similar spec options, with an option for an Intel Core i9-8950HK, 32GB of DDR4 RAM and a 2TB of PCIe NVMe SSD costing $3,299 (about £2,460, AU$4,303). While this is a lot of money, it’s still cheaper than a similarly-specced MacBook Pro 2018, which costs $4,699 (£4,409, AU$7,139). That’s enough of a price gap to make you seriously consider the Dell, unless you’re wedded to macOS.
Apple’s MacBook Pros have been long lauded for their attractive designs, which fit powerful components into slim and light chassis, and Apple has taken a ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’ approach with the MacBook Pro 2018.
This means the new MacBook Pro is almost the same design last year, right down to the same dimensions and weight. The height when closed is 1.55cm (0.61 inches), and it weighs just 1.83kg (4.02 pounds).
That’s great news for anyone who loves the design of previous MacBook Pros, and the dimensions and weight remain impressive for a powerful laptop with a 15-inch screen. It’s a touch thinner than Dell’s XPS 15, and weighs less than Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 (which tips the scales at 4.2 pounds/1.9kg). These are arguably the MacBook Pro’s biggest Windows-based competitors, and the fact that the MacBook Pro 2018 comfortably beats them on power, while being thinner and lighter, is a big win for Apple.
All 15-inch models of the MacBook Pro 2018 also feature the Touch Bar. This is a thin glass touchscreen that runs along the top of the keyboard, and it displays context-sensitive buttons on its 2,170 x 60 resolution screen. These buttons change depending on the application or task that you’re performing, and they are designed to give you quick shortcuts to help speed up your workflow.
When the Touch Bar first showed up on the MacBook Pro 2016, not everyone was convinced by its use, though we were quite enamored with it. Over the years, Touch Bar compatibility has grown, so not only does basically every Apple app benefit from Touch Bar utility, many popular third party apps, like Adobe Photoshop and Google Chrome, take advantage of the Touch Bar in the MacBook Pro 2018.
This can be genuinely useful, and once you get used to the new Touch Bar buttons, they can help speed up your workflow. However, there are a few drawbacks. Because they are context-sensitive, they change depending on what app you’re using, which means you’ll never really be able to use them without checking where they are – unlike physical buttons where you can memorize their location. It’s a small complaint, but one that might make sticking to keyboard shortcuts for your most-used tasks faster.
Next to the Touch Bar is a fingerprint scanner for logging into the MacBook Pro (and authorising payments). It’s quick and easy to set up, and accurately reads your fingerprint and logs you in without fuss – something that some fingerprint readers on laptops fail to manage.
Not everything is exactly the same, however. The keyboard has had a revision, which will be good news for many people, though some will complain that the update doesn’t go far enough. The keyboards of previous MacBook Pros with the ‘butterfly’ switch have been criticized for having higher than usual failure rates, and experiencing issues such as ‘sticky keys,’ which is where a key remains active even after it has been pressed and released. Apple was even forced to admit that some of its keyboards break too easily.
While Apple has boasted that the MacBook Pro 2018 comes with an improved keyboard, it didn’t specifically mention that the revisions were aimed at fixing these issues, instead highlighting the fact that it is quieter to type on. If you’re a fast typer who likes to hammer keys while working, this improvement will be welcome (to you and your co-workers).
We certainly find the keyboard to be less noisy when in use, though that shallow key travel remains. This means the keys don’t feel quite as tactile or responsive when typing. Depending on your preferences, you may prefer a low travel, however.
A silicone membrane helps keep the keys quiet, and it could also help stop dust from interfering with the keyboard – a complaint some people have had with previous models.
The screen has also had a revamp. While it keeps the 2,880 x 1,800 resolution and 220ppi (pixels per inch) pixel density of previous 15-inch MacBook Pros, it now also features Apple’s True Tone display technology, which debuted on the iPad Pro, and also features on the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X.
This technology senses the ambient light of the environment you’re working in and adjust the display so that you get a bright and vibrant image, no matter where you’re working.
You can switch this mode on and off in the Display section of System Preferences in macOS, and the difference is quite striking, giving the screen a warmer feel. This is a nice feature if you mainly work with word processing, spreadsheets or coding applications. However, if your job involves work were color accuracy is essential, such as photo and video editing, then you’ll need to turn this feature off. It’s a welcome feature, but one that will be aimed more at consumers rather than professionals.
How thin is too thin?
There’s no doubt that the MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch’s thin and light design makes for a very attractive and desirable design. However, we need to remember that Apple is marketing the MacBook Pro 2018 at professionals first and foremost, and it’s here that we have to wonder if it’s thinness may be a hindrance.
This is because professional devices need to put workflow above all else – including aesthetics. Because of it’s thin design, the MacBook Pro 2018 comes with just four USB-C ports, and one headphone jack port.
To be fair, these are all Thunderbolt 3, which means data transfer is extremely fast if you have compatible devices. However, if you’re trying to use legacy hardware with the MacBook Pro, like anything that requires a standard USB A port, you’ll need to use an adapter – which you’ll have to buy separately.
If you want to plug it into an Ethernet cable, again you’ll need an adapter. Are you a photographer who needs to transfer photos from a memory card? Again, you’ll need an adapter.
While some people will say that the lack of ports is a price to pay for the thin and light design, if you’re after a workstation that handles everything you need with a minimum of fuss, then you’ll soon get frustrated with the MacBook Pro.
If you look at other professional-centered laptops, like Lenovo’s ThinkPad, they are good examples of putting usability above svelte design. They have workman-like appearances and can be big and bulky – but you’ll be able to plug your hardware in quickly and easily. If compatibility and ease of use is your top priority, you may want to look at a less flashy pro laptop that supports legacy hardware rather than the MacBook Pro.
However, the gorgeously-thin design of the MacBook Pro means it’s a professional notebook that appeals to consumers as well. If you love Apple’s device and want the most powerful MacBook ever made, then the MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch is going to be incredibly tempting.
However, Apple’s pursuit of thinness with the MacBook Pro does have other implications. There’s some very powerful hardware crammed into the MacBook Pro’s diminutive body, and the more powerful the hardware, the hotter it runs. With a thin and light body, this means there needs to be a very good cooling solution that can keep it from overheating.
While on the whole the cooling solution of the MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch does a good job – there’s not much annoying fan noise whirring up when performing intensive tasks like some laptops, there have been worrying reports that the MacBook Pro 2018 throttles the performance of its processor when it gets too hot.
This is the process of limiting the performance of the processor to stop it overheating. While this does happen with other laptops, the worrying thing here is how quickly the MacBook Pro 2018 seems to throttle the processor. It means that a cheaper MacBook Pro, with a core i7 processor, rather than a core i9 chip, can actually perform better during intensive tasks.
We’ll look into this further later on in this review, but the implication is that Apple’s thin design of the MacBook Pro may actually hamper its performance. If that is indeed the case, then you may want to think carefully about how important a thin and light design is when looking for a laptop to help you with your professional work.
While the outside of the MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch is pretty similar to last year’s model, inside, things have been drastically improved.
The new MacBook Pro comes with a choice of Intel 8th-generation Core processors, with the 15-inch model giving users a choice between a 6-core Intel core i7 with a 2.2GHz base clock and Turbo Boost speed of up to 4.1 GHz, or a Core i9 CPU with a base clock of 2.9GHz, that can turbo up to 4.8GHz.
This new generation of Intel processors offer up to 70% faster performance over the MacBook Pro 2017, according to Apple. Intel has also been touting the performance benefits of the new generation, which also promises better power efficiency for longer battery life.
In our tests, along with day-to-day use, we found the MacBook Pro to be a brilliant performer, with the new processor making the whole device feel fast and responsive. Apple sent us the highest specification MacBook Pro 15-inch for testing, so more affordable models will not quite hit the performance highs we saw.
Looking at the benchmark results, our MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch scored much higher than last year’s 13-inch MacBook Pro, which came with a seventh generation, dual core 3.1GHz Intel Core i5-7267U processor.
Where the 2017 model scored 383 points in the Cinebench CPU benchmark, the 2018 15-inch model scored 1,057 points, which shows how the increase in core count has positively impacted on performance.
The Geekbench 4 benchmark also highlighted the performance difference with a single core score of 4,383 for the 2017 model, and 5,542 with the 2018 15-inch model. When it came to multi-core scores, the difference was even more stark, thanks to the 2018 model’s six cores, compared to the two cores of the 2017 model – scoring 9,313 and 23,431, respectively.
The performance of the MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch versus the 13-inch 2018 version was closer, with the Cinebench CPU benchmark returning 621 points for the 13-incher, and the Geekbench 4 scores of 5,320 single-core and 18,135 multi-core.
Still, if you want the absolute best CPU performance, the 15-inch MacBook Pro is the one to go for.
If you’re looking to get the MacBook Pro for graphic-intensive tasks, such as video and image editing, or 3D rendering, then you’ll be pleased with the discrete graphics cards that come with the 15-inch model. You get the choice of either the AMD Radeon Pro 555X or the Radeon Pro 560X, and both come with 4GB of GDDR5 memory. These are both formidable professional graphics cards that do a very good job of powering intensive programs with high-resolution images, such as Photoshop.
As you can see from the Cinebench graphics test, it’s a powerful GPU that handily beats the Surface Book 2, which has an Nvidia GTX 1060 graphics card, and managed 94fps (frames per second) compared to the MacBook Pro’s 102.28 fps.
Apple has also addressed complaints about the MacBook Pro 2017 only supporting up to 16GB of RAM, with the MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch now supporting up to 32GB of DDR4 memory. This is great news, as the boost in RAM makes this an excellent notebook for multitasking.
While using the MacBook Pro 2018 we can have numerous apps open, including Handbrake while transcoding video files, and the device remains fast and responsive. While many people may find 16GB of RAM to be more than enough, the ability to add up to 32GB is welcome for more intensive users.
Addressing the Throttling issue
As with the 13-inch MacBook Pro 2018, we also transcoded a 57-minute, 1080p video to HEVC using HandBrake’s Apple 1080p30 Surround preset, with the video encoder switch to ‘H.265 (x265)’.
This is where things got interesting considering the accusations of extreme throttling for the MacBook Pro. The video transcode is a very CPU-intensive task, and we watched the clock speeds during this test. While almost 100% of the CPU was being used, the clock speeds of the processor started at around 2.82GHz, then dropped to 2.34GHz on average, sometimes going as low as 1.94GHz.
This is a long way off the 2.90GHz base clock and 4.8GHz boost clock advertised. CPU temperatures, meanwhile hit a maximum of 97c. That’s very hot, and it’s clear that’s why the clock speeds were lowered.
However, Apple has since explained that there was “a missing digital key in the firmware that impacts the thermal management system and could drive clock speeds down under heavy thermal loads on the new MacBook Pro. A bug fix is included in […] macOS High Sierra 10.13.6 Supplemental Update and is recommended.”
So, we downloaded and installed the update and ran the tests again. It completed in 1 hour, 13 minutes. During the test clock speeds were much more stable at around 2.99GHz, dropping to 2.50GHz at the lowest.
This is faster than the 13-inch MacBook Pro, which finished the same test in 1 hour 33 minutes. This also had the new patch installed.
Meanwhile, the 15-inch MacBook pro from late 2016, with an older 2.7GHz, quad-core i7 CPU, took 1 hour 40 minutes. So, that new, powerful Core i9 chip in the 15-inch 2018 MacBook Pro really does make a difference to performance. It also shows that it’s well worth installing the latest macOS update to get the full performance potential of the MacBook Pro 2018.
We also tested out the battery life of the MacBook Pro 2018. Apple claims ‘up to 10 hours’ of battery life, but of course that depends on the tasks your running. Apple’s battery life tests may not be as rigorous as ours, which is why we found the MacBook Pro 2018 to come quite a bit under that figure in our battery tests. This involved looping 1080p video at 50% brightness and volume – with all backlighting and radios (but Wi-Fi) disabled – until it dies.
The 2018 MacBook Pro lasted 9 hours and 58 minutes before it shut down, which isn’t a bad amount compared to its rivals, and close to Apple’s promised 10 hours (Apple runs its tests at 75% screen brightness). If you’re working on something more intensive, such as video rendering, expect an even more reduced battery life.
In our review of the MacBook Pro 2018 13-inch, we lamented the fact that this year’s model of the smaller MacBook Pro was a more iterative upgrade, rather than a dramatic leap forward. The MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch is a more impressive upgrade over last year’s model, with the revised processor and increased RAM amount making a big difference in performance. If you’re a professional looking for a portable Apple device, then the MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch will be very tempting.
However, this still doesn’t feel like a machine designed to tempt Windows users, who will likely be frustrated by some of Apple’s quirks (and high price tag). Limiting the number of ports to a handful of USB-C connections is fine in modern consumer devices, but for professionals who require legacy connections, having to use an adapter (which isn’t included despite the high price) won’t cut it.
And, while we do love the thin and light design of the MacBook Pro 2018, we are concerned that it’s too much at the expense of power users and professionals – the very people Apple are supposed to be targeting with the MacBook Pro.
There’s no doubt that the MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch is a powerful and desirable notebook that has a gorgeous design that’s pretty much peerless when it comes to workstations. If you’re an Apple fan and have the budget, you’ll love this device. However, as a purely professional notebook, we still feel that Apple has lost sight of what pro users really want.