15in MacBook Pro (2018)


Macworld - - CONTENTS - Ro­man Loy­ola

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Since its in­tro­duc­tion in 2016, the MacBook Pro as we know it to­day has pro­duced mixed re­ac­tions. People love the com­bi­na­tion of size, weight, and per­for­mance. But there are is­sues that make people hes­i­tate or even re­gret buy­ing one: key­board prob­lems, the need to find ways to work with its Thun­der­bolt 3/USB-C ports, a low RAM ceil­ing.

With the 2018 MacBook Pro, Ap­ple has ad­dressed some of those is­sues. And if you’re

lament­ing that I didn’t say all of those is­sues, well, there are some things that, in an ef­fort to move to­wards a par­tic­u­lar tech­no­log­i­cal ideal, Ap­ple won’t change. But as a whole, the 2018 MacBook Pro is a bet­ter lap­top than its 2017 pre­de­ces­sor, and a vast im­prove­ment over the 2016 model.

This re­view takes a look at the 15in MacBook Pro, with a 2.9GHz Core i9 pro­ces­sor, 32GB of mem­ory, a 2TB SSD, and 4GB Radeon Pro 560X graph­ics. It’s a cus­tom­ized lap­top that will set you back £4,409.

Cof­fee Lake, the star of the MacBook Pro

Af­ter much an­tic­i­pa­tion, it’s here, the eighth gen­er­a­tion of In­tel’s Core pro­ces­sors. Fi­nally. Now, if you only pay at­ten­tion to Macs, you may not know that In­tel re­leased these pro­ces­sors last April, and it was a mys­tery as to when they would ap­pear in an Ap­ple lap­top. New PC lap­tops with these pro­ces­sors (code-named Cof­fee Lake) ap­peared, and the per­for­mance num­bers were im­pres­sive. So, for over three months – and over a year since the MacBook Pro was last up­dated – we’ve been left to imag­ine how Cof­fee Lake MacBooks would per­form.

The ma­jor difference be­tween the Core pro­ces­sor in the 2018 15in models and pre­vi­ous models is that it now has six pro­cess­ing cores, two more than be­fore. Apps that can take advantage of mul­ti­ple pro­cess­ing cores will ben­e­fit – pro­fes­sional-level apps, like high-end video, au­dio, and photo ed­i­tors. But even if all you use are pro­duc­tiv­ity apps that use only one pro­cess­ing

core (a spread­sheet, email, a browser), you’ll find a nice boost in this ma­chine.

The high-end CPU that you can get in the 15in MacBook Pro (and the one in this re­view) is a 6-core 2.9GHz Core i9 with Turbo Boost up to 4.8GHz and 12MB shared L3 cache. To get this pro­ces­sor, you need to cus­tom­ize the £2,699 stan­dard­con­fig­u­ra­tion model that has a 6-core 2.6GHz Core i7 CPU. (In ad­di­tion to the £2,699 model, Ap­ple offers a £2,349 stan­dard con­fig­u­ra­tion model with a 6-core 2.2GHz Core i7 pro­ces­sor.)

In an­other wel­comed up­grade, Ap­ple made the switch from DDR3 RAM in pre­vi­ous MacBook Pros to DDR4 RAM in the 2018 models. DDR4 is faster, but it de­mands more power, and to meet that

de­mand, Ap­ple in­creased the amount of bat­tery in the 2018 MacBook Pro. That in­crease meets DDR4’s re­quire­ments, and thus, you won’t see an more bat­tery life. There’s more good news about the mem­ory: the max­i­mum amount you can have in­stalled is now 32GB, dou­ble that of the pre­vi­ous 15in MacBook Pro. This is one change that users have been want­ing for a while.


We ran a set of bench­mark tests to mea­sure the speed of the 15in 6-core 2.9GHz Core i9 MacBook Pro. We com­pared the re­sults mainly to last year’s 2.9GHz quad-core 15in MacBook Pro, which has a sev­enth-gen­er­a­tion Kaby Lake Core pro­ces­sor. Other older MacBook Pro models were in­cluded

if their re­sults were avail­able. To get an idea of pro­cess­ing speed, we used Geek­bench 4’s CPU test. The 2018 MacBook Pro posted a 64-bit Multi-Core CPU Test score of 23140, the high­est score we’ve seen for a MacBook Pro in Geek­bench. That’s a whop­ping 44 per­cent in­crease over the 2017 MacBook Pro. The two ad­di­tional pro­cess­ing cores in the new lap­top make a big difference.

In the Geek­bench 4 64-bit Sin­gle-Core CPU Test, the 2018 MacBook Pro’s score of 5619 is 19 per­cent faster than the 4731 score by last year’s model. That’s con­sis­tent with the in­creases we’ve seen in the past.

We also ran a set of graph­ics bench­marks to gauge the speed of the MacBook Pro’s graph­ics. In the Geek­bench 4 OpenCL test, the 4GB Radeon Pro 560X in the new lap­top pro­vides a nice im­prove­ment over the 4GB Radeon Pro 560.

The Cinebench OpenGL Test is an­other graph­ics test, which in­volves ren­der­ing a com­pli­cated

3D scene. Here, we see more gains by the 2018 MacBook Pro.

Fol­low­ing the ini­tial post­ing of this re­view, other re­view­ers dis­cov­ered that the MacBook Pro had prob­lems with pro­ces­sor throt­tling. Upon fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion, we also ex­pe­ri­enced throt­tling, though we weren’t able to repli­cate some of the re­sults oth­ers found, such as a de­crease in per­for­mance com­pared to the 2017 MacBook Pro.

To ad­dress the problem, Ap­ple is­sued the macOS High Sierra 10.13.6 Sup­ple­men­tal Update, which up­dates a firmware bug and fixes the throt­tling problem. When we did ad­di­tional bench­marks, we saw an in­crease in per­for­mance. Read more about these on page 35.

The but­ter­fly key­board

Since Ap­ple in­tro­duced its low-pro­file but­ter­fly key­board a few years ago, it has made a lot of noise, lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively. With the 2018 MacBook

Pro, Ap­ple in­tro­duces the third-gen­er­a­tion of the but­ter­fly key­board, and the com­pany says that this key­board should be qui­eter than be­fore.

To my ears, that’s true. Pre­vi­ous but­ter­fly key­boards had a rec­og­niz­able pound­ing res­o­nance that bel­lowed as you typed. When­ever I’m in a room with other typ­ing people, I can tell who’s us­ing a but­ter­fly key­board just by the sound. Now the sound is def­i­nitely damp­ened, though it’s still dis­tinct. It prob­a­bly won’t draw at­ten­tion any more in a room of people, un­less you make an ef­fort to lis­ten for it.

Then there’s the other issue with the key­board: its dura­bil­ity. It’s not hard to find sto­ries on the web of people who have had their key­boards stop

work­ing, and there are, at the time of writ­ing, three class-ac­tion law­suits cen­tred on the key­board. Ap­ple has also in­sti­tuted a key­board ser­vice pro­gram for Mac lap­tops made be­tween 2015 and 2017. Dur­ing test­ing, I had no prob­lems with the key­board, but my test­ing pe­riod is only a few days. The only way to re­ally test the third-gen­er­a­tion but­ter­fly key­board is to con­tinue us­ing it over a long pe­riod of time.

A tear­down of the 2018 MacBook Pro by iFixit found that Ap­ple uses a thin layer of rub­ber to cover the but­ter­fly mech­a­nism. It con­cludes that this not only damp­ens sound, but it’s also a way to make the key­board less sus­cep­ti­ble to dust and other de­tri­tus that could cause mal­func­tions. Ap­ple said that the new key­board wasn’t de­signed to im­prove re­li­a­bil­ity, but if it was, they prob­a­bly wouldn’t ad­mit to that be­cause of the law­suits.

Over­all, the third-gen­er­a­tion but­ter­fly key­board pretty much feels the same as pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions. For me, that’s a neg­a­tive. I like key­boards with more key travel, like the key­board on the 2015 MacBook Pro. When I con­nect my lap­top to my desk at work (which prob­a­bly con­sti­tutes about 80 per­cent of the time I use my lap­top), I use a Thun­der­bolt dock and Ap­ple’s Magic Key­board (£99 from fave.co/2MqtiVy). That prob­a­bly hin­ders my abil­ity to adapt to the feel of the but­ter­fly key­board.

T2, Touch Bar, and True Tone

Ap­ple’s T se­ries of chips are used in the MacBook Pro to off­load some func­tions from the main

pro­ces­sor. Among other tasks, the T chips han­dle se­cu­rity func­tions such as se­cure boot, stor­age en­cryp­tion, and Touch ID. The 2018 MacBook Pro has the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of T chips, called the T2.

The T2 still acts as the se­cure en­clave, but it also now sup­ports the abil­ity to ac­ti­vate Siri when you say, “Hey Siri”. That’s right, on other Macs ex­cept this one, you can’t use Hey Siri un­less you set macOS’s Ac­ces­si­bil­ity fea­ture to trig­ger a key­board com­mand that launches Siri when you say the phrase (see page 102).

Siri func­tion­al­ity on the Mac is nice, and it’s bet­ter to have it avail­able than to not have it at all, but my per­cep­tion is that Siri isn’t used much on

the Mac. (I never use it.) In­ter­fac­ing with a Mac is much dif­fer­ent than an iPhone, iPad, Ap­ple Watch, or HomePod, so us­ing Siri doesn’t come to mind while I’m work­ing on a Mac. Though in this case, the Hey Siri im­ple­men­ta­tion is for­ward-think­ing: the next ver­sion of the Mac op­er­at­ing sys­tem, macOS Mo­jave, has the new Home app for con­trol­ling HomeKit-equipped equip­ment. Siri on the Mac will grow in use be­cause of the Home app.

The T2 chip also con­trols the Touch Bar, which hasn’t gained new func­tion­al­ity. In my re­view of 2017’s MacBook Pro, I hes­i­tated to say that the Touch Bar is wasted on me. A year later, I can say that without hes­i­ta­tion. My use of it is at a bare min­i­mum; I ad­just the vol­ume and screen bright­ness with it, and I think that’s about it. I haven’t been able to re­mind my­self that the Touch Bar is there. I don’t think it’s poorly im­ple­mented or that’s it’s a bad fea­ture; I’ve de­vel­oped a way of us­ing Macs over decades, and I’ve been able to adapt to new tools and fea­tures, but the Touch Bar just isn’t one of them.

The new True Tone fea­ture works with both the Touch Bar and the lap­top dis­play. True Tone makes sure that colours on your dis­play re­main con­sis­tent by ad­just­ing to the am­bi­ent light­ing of your room.

If you have an iPad Pro, iPhone X, or iPhone 8, you can try out True Tone to see if you like it.

What hasn’t changed

The rest of the 15in MacBook Pro hasn’t changed. It’s the same size and shape, and comes in Space

Grey or Silver. The Force Touch Track­pad is still huge and feels good. The 15.4in dis­play still has a 2,880x1,800 na­tive res­o­lu­tion, P3 colour gamut, and 500 nits of bright­ness.

And the 15in MacBook Pro still re­lies on four full speed (40Gb/s )Thun­der­bolt 3/USB-C ports for con­nec­tiv­ity. This ‘lim­i­ta­tion’ is the one point of con­tention that I’ve heard most fre­quently about the MacBook Pro, and it means that you ei­ther have to buy hubs and adap­tors in order to con­nect USB-A de­vices, or find an­other way to per­form a task like trans­fer a file. (The only other type of port on the MacBook Pro is a head­phone jack.)

Some­times, when ru­mours fly about up­com­ing Mac lap­tops, there will be spec­u­la­tion about Ap­ple

in­clud­ing a USB-A port. But let’s face it: Ap­ple isn’t go­ing back to USB-A on a lap­top. It’s been a cou­ple of years now since Ap­ple made the de­ci­sion to go with Thun­der­bolt 3/USB-C on the MacBook Pro, and this is the way it’s go­ing to be un­til the next thing comes around. With that in mind, you’ll need to fac­tor in the cost of a USB-C to USB-A adap­tor (£19 from fave.co/2ORwZp5).

Mac­world buy­ing ad­vice

I of­ten say in lap­top re­views that if you bought last year’s model, you prob­a­bly won’t find the speed re­sults com­pelling enough to up­grade. But speed weighs heav­ily in this year’s model, and this is an in­ter­est­ing buy for any­one who uses mul­ti­core apps. Six pro­cess­ing cores is, well, bet­ter than four, and the per­for­mance boost is deeply sat­is­fy­ing for pro app users. You’ll find that the in­vest­ment quickly pays for it­self.

The boost isn’t as big with sin­gle-core per­for­mance, though it’s still nice, and there are other fac­tors with the 2018 MacBook Pro to con­sider. It’s too soon to tell if Ap­ple has fixed the key­board prob­lems, but at least it’s qui­eter. True Tone is a nice fea­ture, but is it a must-have? The same can be said for Hey Siri. If you’re not a pro app user, work in iLife and in­ter­net apps, and bought a MacBook Pro within the past two years, you prob­a­bly don’t feel com­pelled to up­grade.

If you do, how­ever, you could opt for the £2,349 15in MacBook Pro with a 2.2GHz Core i7 pro­ces­sor and be happy.

The 2018 15in MacBook Pro uses 6-core Cof­fee Lake In­tel Core pro­ces­sors

Geek­bench 4 64-bit Sin­gle-Core and Multi-Core CPU Test

Geek­bench 4 OpenCL Test: Dis­crete graph­ics

Cinebench OpenGL Test

The MacBook Pro fea­tures Ap­ple’s third it­er­a­tion of the but­ter­fly key­board. The com­pany says this ver­sion shouldn’t be as loud as be­fore

The new T2 chip in the MacBook Pro con­trols the Touch Bar, which, like the main dis­play, sup­ports True Tone

Don­gles and adap­tors: it’s a way of life with the MacBook Pro

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