Apple unveiled a series of notebook refreshes and changes to its overall portable lineup Thursday. First, the 2012-era non-Retina MacBook Pro — the only non-Retina Pro left in Apple’s entire product lineup — has quietly shuffled off the mortal coil, killed without fanfare or even an announcement. Apple didn’t announce a new MacBook Air, or cut the price on the existing model, but at least it updated the underlying hardware stack in 2015.
Buyers who are looking for a MacBook Pro at a price that won’t break the bank have the option to buy a 13-inch MacBook Pro from 2015 with CPU options ranging from 2.9GHz to 3.1GHz, 8GB of RAM, up to a 1TB SSD, and Intel Iris 6100 Graphics. This system starts at $1,299. On the other hand, the three new 13-inch MacBook Pros range from $1,499 to $1,999.
First, the $1,499 system, which lacks Apple’s new Touch Bar. It’s rather interesting to compare its pros and cons against the $1,299 system. You can view the blow-by-blow here, but we’ll summarize. The older, $1,299 MacBook Pro has a much faster CPU (2.7-2.9GHz versus 2.0-2.4GHz), weighs roughly half a pound more (3.48 lbs versus 3.02lbs), and has a less-advanced display. While both machines offer 2560×1440 panels, the old MacBook Pro has a maximum brightness of 300nits with an SRGB color gamut. The new, $1,499 MacBook Pro has a maximum brightness of 500 nits and a wide color (P3) color gamut. Advantage to the newer MacBook Pro on that score.
Where the older system shines is connectivity. The $1,299 system has two USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt 2 ports, and an HDMI port. The new MacBook Pro at $1,499 has two Thunderbolt 3 ports that support USB-C — and that’s all. It also supports Bluetooth 4.2 where the older system is limited to Bluetooth 4.0, but if you care about port availability and don’t want to carry a dongle or USB hub, the $1,299 MacBook Pro is the better fit.
Apple also launched new MacBook Pros with its Touch Bar and Touch ID technology. Apple normally showcases its 13-inch and 15-inch systems on different web pages; we’ve edited screenshots to compare the entire lineup of new products, shown below:
It’s interesting to see Apple putting such a premium on 15-inch technology — either those systems really don’t sell well, or laptop users have come to enjoy squinting at tiny screens.
Apple may have invested in building a new smartphone and tablet GPU for itself, but it’s never cared much about gaming performance on its laptops and desktops, and these new systems are a perfect example its lackluster attitude. The good news, for AMD anyway, is that it scored design wins in both of the 15-inch MacBook Pros. The bad news is that the GPUs in these systems are ludicrously underpowered compared with what you can buy for the same amount of money in the PC space. There are PC laptops available for $2,000 that weigh 4 lbs (equivalent to the new MacBook Pro 15-inch) and offer a GTX 1060.
The GPU inside the new MacBook Pro is either a Radeon Pro 450 or 455 by default (buyers have the option to upgrade to the Radeon Pro 460 for an extra $100-$200 depending on which model you choose as a starting point). The Radeon Pro 460 is a full implementation of the RX 460 we’ve seen on the desktop, with 1,024 GPU cores (the RX 460 packs 896) and 4GB of RAM. Memory performance is down sharply in these laptop models, to 80GB/s as compared to 112GB/s for the desktop card. The Pro 455 has 768 GPU cores (85% of the desktop RX 460) while the Radeon Pro 450 has just 640 cores. These last two GPUs are also limited to a 2GB frame buffer.
I assume that these cards are at least as fast as the integrated graphics shipping in the lower-cost MacBook 13-inch systems, if not faster. But I can’t recommend anyone who cares about gaming actually buy one. It’s ludicrous to imagine anyone paying $2,400 for a weaker variant of the RX 460, and Apple has imposed a huge surcharge on 15-inch systems that didn’t previously exist.
If you’re going to buy a Mac and you care about gaming, these 15-inch models probably offer “better than nothing” performance, but be aware that you’re paying a huge premium for a significantly worse solution compared with what’s available on the PC side of things. These systems are being marketed towards content creation, not for gaming. As a result, we’d have to see benchmarks of content creation software to determine how well they compare with Intel and Nvidia solutions, and third-party reviews aren’t available yet.
Earlier this year, pundits criticized Apple for its lackluster update schedule. This is clear with the iMac and even more so with the Mac Pro, which hasn’t been updated since it launched nearly 3.5 years ago. There was some speculation that the company might announce a new Mac Pro this year, but that’s apparently been dashed. As we discussed earlier this year, the Mac Pro’s Ivy Bridge CPU is still as fast (in terms of MHz) as the current Intel Xeons that Intel is shipping, though it does lack certain features like support for AVX2 or Intel’s TSX extensions. Its dual GPUs are both based on older 28nm tech from AMD, with GCN 1.0 feature support. The product line is due for an overhaul, and the lack of attention from Apple suggests the company either intends to bide its time and update only when a newer chip like Kaby Lake is available in Xeon flavors, or that it could discontinue the segment altogether.
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