July 16, 2018

The MacBook Pro Gets a Serious Upgrade

Apple has rolled out a top-of-the-line upgrade to its MacBook Pro line.

It's no secret we weren't huge fans of the 2016 MacBook Pro. Barely faster at some tasks than our 2013 model, slower at others, with a loud keyboard, only USB-C ports, and no more volume keys, it failed to offer a compelling reason to upgrade. A mild 2017 refresh didn't help, but now with the 2018 refresh, we get a few key things that we have been waiting for from Apple for a while.  If nothing else, seeing a real spec bump that will have noticeable benefits is major enough. That it seems to be happening on a regular cycle (something that isn't happening with the full sized pro, for instance), is huge. 

This release ups the top-of-the line specs all around, with a 4GB VRAM Graphics Card, a 6-core processor from the latest generation of Intel CPU's that has been testing very well in the PC units that have hit the streets, and the option of upgrading to 32GB of RAM. It's not cheap, but if you make your living with these machines as many of us do, the power will be appreciated.  Honestly, the 13" is even starting to seem appealing.

Apple's timing is even pretty good, since a lot of back-to-school shopping happens in August, and while they are pricey, you do sometimes see families splurge on a Macbook Pro as a "going to college" purchase, especially for the creative set. The 2016 upgrade started shipping in November, making them ill-timed with the academic year but woefully out-of-date by the time the next September rolled around.  November is a time for Christmas rollouts, and the Macbook Pro is a bit steep for a Christmas splurge.

What still bothers us?  We probably still hate the touchbar (we haven't used the 2018 one yet, but even if the bar is faster and better integrated it still seems worse than useless).  Direct volume control is something we used constantly all day every day and giving that up for a touch menu just seems crazy.  We're open to the idea that someone has created an app that makes a shortcut (Command +/- & delete?) for direct volume control.  If not, someone, please do so right away.  We hear some grumblings that the keys still aren't going to be dustproof, but since so many of us now use KB Covers or Logic Keyboard Covers, dust doesn't worry us too much. Beyond having a handy view of commonly used shortcuts, keyboard covers offer some (but not total) protection from spills, so we've gotten in the habit of just leaving ours on full time.  Apple is claiming the keys are much quieter than the 2016 generation, which is a good sign, and we also heard that those keys got quieter over the lifecycle of the laptop as they were broken in.

One specification that some filmmakers will be annoyed by—but we are wholeheartedly in support of—is True Tone. Rolling over from the iPad, True Tone is the Apple technology for using sensors to automatically detect the ambient lighting conditions of brightness and color balance and adjust your screen display accordingly.  As a filmmaker, this will be frustrating since it can lead to your image looking differently at different times of day, and it will especially drive you nuts if you get client emails at 2 am that they watched your review link and it looked darker than it did in the afternoon on their laptop with True Tone enabled.  The technology is supposed to be so good that you don't notice it, but we aren't sure if is there yet.  We don't hate it, actually, since we always encourage filmmakers and clients to find a way to watch the image on a properly calibrated monitor.  The computer screen is a great way to watch edits for timing and framing, but not a great place to see color and brightness accurately.  Thus, we aren't obsessed with the accuracy of the computer display itself and appreciate what True Tone is trying to do in terms of paying attention to how ambient light affects perception.  We just hope it doesn't use the webcam camera, since we keep ours covered up.  If it does, maybe someone will make a frosted sticker that still allows brightness and color to get through but its too diffused to invade your privacy.

We aren't going to get a multi-port Macbook Pro no matter how much we dream of life without dongles.  And it seems like the Touchbar is here to stay at least another generation.  Maybe it'll prove itself useful.  In the meantime, the spec upgrades are so robust that it might be worth learning to live with those frustrations.  If you don't need the latest and greatest horsepower, Apple is selling off the last of its 2015 inventory of Macbook Pro units with all the ports except Thunderbolt 3, and hardware volume buttons, with the top unit going for $2199, and Applecare+ available, giving you a powerful unit that would be under warranty until 2021.  But without Thunderbolt 3 it won't work with things like the fancy new Blackmagic Resolve EGPU expander (officially, anyway; we're eager to see if someone figures out a workaround). 

If you do go new, and it seems like the 2018 might be the revision worth the upgrade, 32GB of RAM is $400. While that is pricey for a 16GB of RAM upgrade, it ought to be well worth it as video files get bigger and bigger.

Buy it now at Apple.

Tech Specs

  • Radeon Pro 560X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory and automatic graphics switching
  • Intel UHD Graphics 630
  • 15.4-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit display with IPS technology; 2880-by-1800 native resolution at 220 pixels per inch with support for millions of colors
  • 500 Nits Brightness
  • True Tone
  • Configurable to 2.9GHz 6-core Intel Core i9, Turbo Boost up to 4.8GHz, with 12MB shared L3 cache
  • Up to 4TB SSD
  • 16GB of 2400MHz DDR4  standard, configurable to 32GB
  • 4x USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports

Your Comment

19 Comments

no thanks. they throw a few bones to the professional user, and charge through the nose. forget it ... most of us would want and need the ram upgrade, and the storage upgrade. so up here in canada land .... add those upgrades, and tax, and we're getting close to five thousand bucks.

July 16, 2018 at 12:11PM

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stephen knifton
owner / creative director
336

You know, I'm actually ok with this. I know these computers are super expensive and I wish they weren't, but I paid $3,000 for a tricked out MacBook Pro four years ago and it still runs like new today. I've edited countless projects on it and it still sings, even with 4K and some effects. I also purchased a tricked out 5K iMac nearly three years ago and it too still runs like new. So to me, I'm willing to pay for that kind of durability and reliability. My machines are never down and never crash and to me that's priceless.

As far as these new MacBooks go, you can get a 15" model with an i9 processor, a 4GB graphics card, 32GB of RAM and a 2TB SSD for $4,700 which is not too much more that what my iMac cost, yet my iMac was only an i7 and had only 1TB of SSD. That's not too shabby if you ask me, not for a portable editing machine that won't ever fail. The only thing it's missing is an SD card slot and the USB-3 ports. I wish it still had those to go with the Thunderbolt ports like my MacBook Pro has. Otherwise, it's impressive.

July 16, 2018 at 12:54PM

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That's been my experience, the high end PC laptops are worthless in three years and the macs just keep going and going. Worth that extra cost if you ask me.

July 16, 2018 at 1:30PM

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Brad Jones
Director/Producer/Writer/Editor
593

My 5K iMac lasted 2 years before the logicboard crapped out. Definitely didn't keep going and going.

July 16, 2018 at 7:27PM

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That sucks! But something like that is pretty rare though. I know a ton of Mac guys who's computers won't die no matter how old they are. I think what you experienced was an anomaly.

July 16, 2018 at 7:36PM

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Still editing and grading on the 2013 Base Model Mac Pro. I’ve never had to think about the system. Like ever.

July 17, 2018 at 10:57AM

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Sahit Anand
Director and Co-Founder of DO. Creative Labs
357

Fine for FCP, but for Premiere? No Nvidia, no way.

July 16, 2018 at 1:00PM

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Josh.R
Motion Designer/Predator
926

I love it for Premiere.

July 16, 2018 at 1:22PM

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Premiere works with Open CL just as well as it does with Cuda.

July 16, 2018 at 1:29PM

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Brad Jones
Director/Producer/Writer/Editor
593

>"We're open to the idea that someone has created an app that makes a shortcut (Command +/- & delete?) for direct volume control. If not, someone, please do so right away."

Have a try of BetterTouchTool https://folivora.ai/

You can assign anything to various gestures across a wide range of input devices.

July 16, 2018 at 7:56PM, Edited July 16, 7:56PM

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Eh... I left the Apple platform about 2 years ago and I haven't seen anything that makes me want to go back other than a few exclusive video plugins. I'm sure that they work (because it's supposed to) but for me personally, Apple doesn't have what I want in a laptop or desktop anymore. Something as simple as ports is very important to some people. I don't hate Macs, I just don't feel the need to pay more for a computer If I feel the value isn't there.

July 16, 2018 at 8:40PM

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Dantly Wyatt
Musical Comedy & Content Creator.
762

I can respect that. I felt the same way for a long time myself.

July 17, 2018 at 12:36AM

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I despise the touchbar on my 2017 MacBook Pro so, so, so much and I curse it on a weekly basis. I'm sure many people love it but I've never gotten used to it. I don't know how many times my pinky finger has lightly brushed the poorly positioned escape key resulting in erased text, closed windows, etc. In the Mac OS Mail app the touchbar places a "send" button next to the escape key and just yesterday I sent off an email to a client that I hadn't finished. I am also constantly triggering Siri for no reason. I really wish Apple would offer a non-touchbar 15" model.

July 17, 2018 at 2:45AM

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Derek Doublin
Director, Cinematographer, Large Scale Artist
642

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njmcdirect |
njcourtsonline

July 17, 2018 at 8:26AM

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DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT BUYING THIS. The cooling on the laptop doesn't even let it reach the max core speed. You're literally wasting money by purchasing it.

https://www.pcmag.com/news/362580/core-i9-macbook-pro-cooling-problems-k...

https://youtu.be/Dx8J125s4cg
The render time in the freezer is crazy...

Apple makes overpriced under engineered products now. Do some research and don't waste your money on the new i9 model.

July 19, 2018 at 11:12AM, Edited July 19, 11:18AM

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I own an early 2009 MacBook Pro 19". Have replaced the battery and a new hard drive - that's it.
So, almost 9 years ago...
Love the MB 19" and wish...they would make another (version) MB Pro in 19"...
You get what you pay for...

July 20, 2018 at 1:06PM

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Ruurd M. Fenenga, NSC
Cinematographer | Videographer | Instructor
81

Exactly right, Apple will never let you use the full power of this machine as it will throttle down. They went for form over function.

July 20, 2018 at 1:32PM

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so apparently not so much under engineered ... as much as ... it needed a better test plan .... https://www.cnet.com/news/apple-macbook-pro-speed-throttling-patch-tested/
I just love all of you "idiots" ... and i mean that in a good christian way, or the southern ...bless your pumpkin heart way .....who think that some how the largest Company on the planet (by Market Cap) doesn't engineer their products correctly

July 27, 2018 at 2:13PM

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As an advice or review of some kind, everything seemed to be useful and interesting in this article. But as soon as I started to read more deeply, I think that there is no banana that fits you. And by the moment I read about you covering the camera for "privacy" issues, I just not simply laughed aloud, I realized it is time to cancel my subscription to this site. For me, it is becoming useless anyway.

July 20, 2018 at 9:07PM

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Saul Moreno
Producer
79