Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display (15in, 2.5GHz, mid 2015)
The new 15in MacBook Pro for 2015 has arrived, picking up a trio of component upgrades on the way. Apple’s best laptop features the same design and layout as the first Retina notebook that launched in 2012, and once again two models are available – here we focus on the top model with 2.5GHz processor and AMD graphics.
Apple pioneered the trackpad on laptops back in the early 1990s, when Windows laptop factories were still fitting upside-downmouse trackballs or little rubber pointing sticks in the middle of the keyboard. The trackpad is now all but ubiquitous as the way to interact with every notebook computer of any faith.
Under Apple’s stewardship, the concept has seen trackpads grow larger in size, increase in precision and sensitivity, and notably gain multi-point touch recognition to allow new hand gestures to guide the user through a computer’s GUI.
The new Force Touch trackpad is something of a departure though, and even though the trackpad looks identical on the surface, it is now a fixed unmoving construct, relying on strain gauges, electromagnet solenoids and additional processors and algorithms to do its work. Superficially, the same as it was in the first Unibody MacBook of 2008 it may be, but still waters run deep.
As we found with first the 13in MacBook Pro and then the new little MacBook, the Force Touch trackpad allows you to control the strength of the ‘click’ for normal clicks (Light, Medium, Firm); and additionally to register an extra, deeper click when you press slightly longer and more firmly.
The Force Touch concept works well on the MacBook Pro, allowing you to deep click on the fast-forward and rewind buttons in QuickTime Player, for example. The harder you press, the faster the speedup. Another useful benefit, if one that takes some mental training to get used to if you’ve been driving trackpads for years, is that you can press anywhere on the trackpad surface with equal pressure to elicit a click, rather than along just the front edge.
Apple does not seem too partisan when it comes to favouring either of today’s two makers of PC graphics processors, tending to oscillate between fitting either nVidia or AMD’s graphics adaptors. Since the 15in MacBook Pro with Retina display was introduced back in 2012, there has been a build using discrete nVidia graphics in addition to low-power integrated Intel graphics, starting with the nVidia GeForce GTX 650M for the Mark I; and for the past two refreshes, the slightly better GTX 750M.
Now we see the pendulum swing back to AMD, with the inclusion of a Radeon R9 M370X graphics processing unit. It is fitted with 2GB of GDDR5 video memory, the same quota as the outgoing nVidia part.
You won’t find this AMD graphics processor on other laptops though as the part seems to be custombuilt for Apple. Note that like all GPUs that Apple has fitted to its professional-label MacBook Pro notebooks ever since the line was launched in 2006, the 2015 MacBook Pro takes a consumer-grade graphics adaptor, here bearing the Radeon name.
The AMD Radeon R9 M370X looks to be based on a 28nm architecture codenamed Cape Verde that dates back to 2012, and this particular version runs an 800MHz GPU clock, 1125MHz memory clock (4500MHz effective speed, after the quadrupling properties of GDDR5 RAM) and 128-bit memory bus. It has 640 stream processors for parallel processing and 40 texture mapping units.
Comparing the AMD chip with nVidia’s graphics is not easy, as its architecture is slightly different, with a specification listing shading units (384) and render output processors (16) besides a count of 32 texture mapping units. However, the previous nVidia GTX 750M did have a slightly faster core-clock speed of 926MHz, the same size 128-bit memory bus, and a faster memory clock of 1254MHz.
Apple reports that the new AMD graphics are faster than the outgoing nVidia solution, and these claims were borne out in our testing in every instance, up to and including a 70 percent performance increase in one game.
Before the graphics benchmark results, it’s worth reiterating that the CPU is the same as when we last tested the breed in summer 2014. We ran the usual processor tests anyway as part of our comprehensive routine to ensure nothing unexpected had arisen, and found figures that were within 1 percent tolerance of last year’s results. This means a single-core Geekbench 3 score of 3717 points, rising to 14,325 points in multi-core mode; Cinebench 11.5 with results of 1.54- and 6.41 points respectively for the two modes; while Cinebench 15 reported 132- and 602 points.
For reference, Dell’s comparable copycat computer is the Precision M3800, which runs an Intel Core i7-4712HQ at 2.3GHz, and gives benchmark scores around 5 percent slower in Cinebench, and up to 18 percent slower in Geekbench.
Cinebench will also test graphics rendering performance with an OpenGL routine, and in our tests of the mid-2015