MacBook Pro 15-inch (2017) review
The MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch is a powerful pro notebook with a fantastic design. However, in its bid to appeal to the mass market, it might turn off some professionals.
It’s always an event when Apple launches a MacBook, both literally and figuratively. This year though MacBook Pro fans will have to settle for an internal spec improvement rather than radical design overhaul.
Price and availability
As with previous versions of the MacBook Pro, the 2018 version comes in a variety of configurations and prices. The base configuration comes with a 2.2GHz, 6-core Intel Core i7 processor, Radeon Pro 555X graphics card, 16GB of DDR4 memory and 256GB SSD storage for $2,399 (£2,349, AU3,499).
This can be configured to add a 2.9GHz 6-core Intel Core i9 processor for $400 (£350, AU$600) more, 32GB of RAM for $400 (£360, AU$640) more, and an upgrade to the AMD Radeon Pro 560X for an additional $100 (£90, AU$160).
You can also upgrade the storage to a 512GB SSD for $200/£180/AU$320, 1TB SSD for $600/£540/AU$960, 2TB SSD for $1,400/£1,260/AU$2,240 and a 4TB SSD for $3,400/£3,060/AU$5,440.
This gives you plenty of options to mix and match components to get the MacBook Pro 2018 that best suits your needs and budget. So, if you do a lot of video editing, you can upgrade the graphics card, while saving money by sticking to a smaller SSD if you save your work to an external hard drive.
Sure, this is an expensive bit of kit, but you can’t knock the hardware. It’s also to Apple’s credit that the base configuration of the MacBook Pro 15-inch 2018 is the same price as the base configuration of the 2017 version when it launched. So, you’re getting a nice upgrade in specs for no extra money.
If you’re looking for a Windows 10 alternative, then the new Dell XPS 15 2018 offers similar spec options, with an option for an Intel Core i9-8950HK, 32GB of DDR4 RAM and a 2TB of PCIe NVMe SSD costing $3,299 (about £2,460, AU$4,303). While this is a lot of money, it’s still cheaper than a similarly-specced MacBook Pro 2018, which costs $4,699 (£4,409, AU$7,139). That’s enough of a price gap to make you seriously consider the Dell, unless you’re wedded to macOS.
I don’t mean to keep ragging on Intel in this review. Except, I do. Dropping the ball so always, from implementing the last couple of DisplayPort standards to getting LPDDR4 out the door, means companies like Apple have to come up with zany workarounds like a custom TCON — Timing Controller — to get 5K displays out the door for iMac, or going with less power efficient DDR4 memory just to cram more than 16GB into the new 15-inch MacBook Pro. And, ultimately, it’s we the customer people that end up paying the price in convenience and compromise.
Design and build quality
Reservations about the price aside, this is out and out a premium laptop. For a 15-inch device it is remarkably slim, keeping an identical profile to the 2016 model. Our review unit was Space Grey, our preferred colour, but you can go for the classic MacBook silver too.
This means you are faced with a stunning Retina display with pleasingly thin bezels a full size keyboard with Apple’s improved second-generation butterfly keys and that now famous (infamous?) Touch Bar. We’ll get more into that further in.
There is also a convenient Touch ID fingerprint reader worked into the Touch Bar, while the 15-inch design allows for symmetrical speaker grilles either side of the keyboard. As usual, Apple excels in its positioning of the trackpad; here it is huge but we never found our palms encroaching on it.
The Touch Bar itself remains, and it will again continue to divide opinion. From a purely design point of view, it’s great. It works well with no lag and the interface is surprisingly intuitive for such unique hardware.
At first it’s jarring, but over extended use you will start to enjoy its quirks – though if you use many programs that simply need function keys at all costs, it’s going to really annoy you.
The impressive slim form factor is largely possible thanks to Apple’s removal of some, debatably pro, ports. Long gone is the CD drive, but also carried over from last year’s model is the absence of any ports other than four USB-C (Thunderbolt 3, two on each side) and a solitary headphone jack.
Apple’s design here is commendable in how it is instantly recognisable as a MacBook. So far down the product line, it’s still exciting to open it up out the box and still be familiar with the lineage. If this turns out to be your first MacBook though, then you will be truly spoilt by the attention to detail, from the precise cut of the chassis to the minimalist cut keys.
While an improved keyboard, True Tone, and the T2 chip with Hey Siri are welcome additions, the focus of these new laptops is primarily on performance. Apple has increased the cores, upgraded to faster RAM, and increased the maximum RAM, among other things.
If you have a 2016 MacBook Pro, you probably don’t feel a pressing need to upgrade right now. And the 2017 model was only a modest bump. But with the 2018 model, we see marked performance improvements. Here are the specs for the machines whose benchmarks are included in this review.
|2018 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar||Intel Core i9-8950K at 2.9GHz (4.8GHz Turbo)||AMD Radeon Pro 560X 4GB GDDR5|
|2017 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar||Intel Core i7-7820HQ at 2.9GHz (3.8GHz Turbo)||AMD Radeon Pro 555 2GB GDDR5|
|2016 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar
||Intel Core i7-6820HQ at 2.7GHz (3.6GHz Turbo)||AMD Radeon Pro 460 4GB GDDR5|
|2017 iMac Pro||Intel Xeon W at 3GHz (4.5GHz Turbo)||AMD Radeon Pro Vega 64 16GB HMB2|
|2017 iMac (5K)||Intel Core i7-7700K at 4.2GHz (4.5GHz Turbo)||AMD Radeon Pro 580 8GB GDDR5|
|2018 Dell XPS 15 2-in-1||Intel Core i7-8705G at 3.1GHz (4.1GHz Turbo)||Radeon RX Vega M GL 4GB HMB2|
|2017 HP Spectre x360 15||Intel Core i7-6700K at 4GHz (4.2GHz Turbo)||NVIDIA GeForce MX150 2GB GDDR5|
MAC BOOK PRO 2018 STORAGE SPACE
Let’s focus on that memory part for a minute: For the last couple of years, the MacBook Pro has been limited to 16GB because the LPDDR3 memory it uses — the LP stands for Low Power — has been limited to 16GB and the next-generation version that supports more memory, LPDDR4, well, that’s apparently gone on a bender somewhere and is nowhere to be found.
For the 13-inch MacBook Pro, that story hasn’t changed:
- 8GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 memory
- 16GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 memory (+$200)
But, for the 15-inch MacBook Pro, there’s a whole new story:
- 16GB 2400MHz DDR4 memory
- 32GB 2400MHz DDR4 memory (+$400)
That’s right. Cradled in the fetal position of learned helplessness, Apple has had to give up on low power memory and go all in on full power. And, to feed it, Apple has increased the size of the battery. Combined with the extra cores, it all cancels out and you get the same battery life as previous generations. (For me, in my last week of tests, it’s been slightly less than advertised, but still enough to get me through a workday of web stuff or a few hours of Final Cut Pro X.)
In the age of memory compression and blisteringly fast swap, it’s arguable how many people really need 32GB of RAM. But, if running multiple virtual machines or keeping a ton of big media apps in memory is your thing and you have an extra $400 to spend, at least now you can get it. Enjoy.
Personally, for me, it’s the extra storage that caused my eyes to Anime pop. Not just because they’re fast. All recent Mac solid state drives have been fast. (So fast that some of my nerdier friends didn’t believe the numbers they were seeing until they slapped open Terminal and ran three kinds of tests four kinds of ways. They’re thatfast.) But because this year, they’re also BIG.
For the 13-inch MacBook Pro, you can get:
- 256GB SSD storage
- 512GB SSD storage (+$200)
- 1TB SSD storage (+$600)
- 2TB SSD storage (+$1,400)
For the 15-inch:
- 512GB SSD storage
- 1TB SSD storage (+$400)
- 2TB SSD storage (+$1,200)
- 4TB SSD storage (+$3,200)
Yeah, the gobsmacking number of zeroes behind those last few options burst my Anime eyes quick too. But, here’s the thing: Apple not only sticks near-religiously to the absolute highest-end parts but typically pays extra for the absolute best binned of those highest-end parts. And that extra gets passed down in the build-to-order (BTO) options. It confuses and even frustrates a lot of people, but the simple truth is, Macs are market-priced, Apple just doesn’t offer low-end alternatives with low-end parts the way other vendors do. With Apple, it’s premium all the way down.
That said, SSD has been my main bottleneck for a few years now. Blame it on Final Cut Pro X being so damn thirsty. No matter how much space I think I have left on my current, sub-1TB drive, within minutes I’ll start getting storage capacity errors.
Sure, I can and do fall back on optimized media, proxy files, and external drives. But, while they’re not as bad as, say, I don’t know, the stomach flew, they’re certainly inconvenient. Especially the added overhead, complexity, and additional drives to manage — and potentially damage — on the go.
Unless you’re doing the kind of high volume photography or long form video work where your MacBook Pro literally pays for itself over and over again, week after week, month after month, I wouldn’t recommend 4TB to anyone. But, the 1TB or even 2TB drives could more than make up the amortized extra few bucks a day in anxiety-relief alone.
Features and specs
The form factor for a 15-inch machine is impressive, with the Pro measuring 34.93 x 24.07 x 1.55cm when closed. Yes, 1.55cm thick on a MacBook Pro. 2017 eh, it’s the future!
It’s 1.83kg, a weight that is well distributed. You may not want to carry it in a messenger bag but it’s certainly in the ‘portable’ bracket more than ever before.