Midway through the year, Apple has released a rare mid-cycle graphics upgrade option for the 16" MacBook Pro that offers hefty power for a hefty price.
The 2019 MacBook Pro was designed to woo back filmmakers who moved over to PC units, and it seems to have successfully done so with many readers having reported they invested in the unit. While brute power improved with better GPU and CPU specs, Apple put most of its effort into the rest of the machine, with a large focus on an improved keyboard, speakers, microphones, and other small details that should make a filmmakers life easier on the go. While we were initially reluctant about some of the features, the pandemic has shown us all that we often need to create in less than ideal circumstances.
Since Apple generally avoids mid-cycle upgrades, it was a bit of a surprise when Apple announced that they have released an upgraded graphics option for the 2019 MacBook Pro. Previously you could pay an extra $100 to go from the base Radeon Pro 5500M with 4GB of memory to 8GB of memory. This was a no-brainer for filmmakers as you should always get the best graphics card you can. Now, you can upgrade to 5600M with 8GB of HBM2 memory.
My suspicion is that this graphics card was just not available at the time release. In fact, AMD, maker of the Radeon chip, announced the card the same day Apple did. It seems that Apple would've offered this upgrade upon release, but the chips weren't available. While Apple could obviously wait until the 2020 release rather than make users who want more graphics power wait, they are offering it now. Considering the tremendous demand for power needs at home, it's an appreciated option. This actually happened during the 2018 MacBook Pro release cycle, and then the same graphics options rolled over into the 2019 MacBook release. While an extra $600 seems like a steep price over the 5500M with 8GB of memory, the key feature to pay attention to is the move from GDDR6 to HBM2 memory. HBM stands for "high bandwidth memory," which allows for large files to move into and out of memory faster. As filmmakers working with 4K, and increasingly 6K and 8K files, it's vital to speed up our render times.
So, is the upgrade worth it? Apple is promoting more than 3X speed increases for Resolve renders over the base 5500M with 4GB of memory. If you are an offline editor working at home on 1080p ProRes LT files, maybe the upgrade isn't worth it. In fact, we discovered a few weeks ago that even the 13" with it's integrated graphics should have enough power for 1080p and even limited 4K workflows. But if you do any dailies processing, use any graphics accelerated plugins, or tend to do noise correction in your cuts, you are likely to see a lot of benefit from this particular upgrade.
While the extra cost may seem like a lot, the math I always try to do in these situations is to predict how much time it might save me on a job. If I think it might realistically cut a feature render down by an hour, that's an hour I get to leave the office early. As noise correction and other processing become habitual in color grading, this is an upgrade that most filmmakers should go for if they can afford it.
Apple also released a rather interesting update for the 2019 Mac Pro. Ugradeable storage modules. While Apple has a reputation for not being easy to upgrade, the Mac Pro is putting effort into becoming a flexible, easy to upgrade platform. It's nice to see that Apple is releasing official upgrade options for users who want more storage after purchase. So if you only bought 1TB when it was released, but now want to upgrade to 2TB, 4TB or even 8TB, it's possible.
Check out more about the new MacBook Pro.