15-inch 2018 MacBook Pro compared - which upgrades are worth it?

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited August 2018
The changes in the 2018 15-inch MacBook Pro prompts comparisons between the models from potential customers. AppleInsider compares the low, mid-range, and high-end options in a series of benchmarks, to see if it's worth paying more for the better-specification models.





For the 2018 15-inch MacBook Pro refresh, Apple has made a number of improvements to performance, such as using faster DDR4 RAM that allows for configurations of up to 32 gigabytes, faster graphics with higher base memory, and using Intel's new 8th-generation 6-core processors.

The changes mean that, once again, users are tasked with choosing the notebook that can meet their performance requirements, as well as their budgets. To help those deciding which to acquire, we have put the refreshed models through a variety of benchmarks that simulate 3D rendering, gaming and overall system performance, along with video and photo editing.




Three models were used for the tests, starting with the base model 2.2GHz Core i7 CPU at the low end, complete with Radeon Pro 4GB 555X graphics, 16 gigabytes of RAM and a 256-gigabyte SSD, priced at $2,399. In the middle is the 2.6GHz Core i7 model with Radeon Pro 4GB 560X graphics and 16GB of DDR4 memory, costing $2,799. On the plus side, that model also comes with a 512-gigabyte SSD, doubling the storage capacity compared to the lowest specification model.

The highest-specification 15-inch MacBook Pro used in this test cost $3,499, packing the 2.9GHz Core i9 processor, Radeon Pro 4GB 560X graphics and 32 gigabytes of DDR4 memory. While it is only equipped with the 512 gigabyte SSD, since all SSD versions are incredibly fast, this should make no real impact on performance for any of these tests.

Standard Benchmarks

Starting with Geekbench 4's CPU test, all models have impressive scores, but the difference between them isn't huge. The i9 reached about 10-percent higher scores in single-core and 8-percent higher in multi-core compared to the base model.


2.2GHz i7 / 555X / 16GB2.6GHz i7 / 560X / 16GB2.9 GHz i9 / 560X / 32GB

Geekbench 4 Single-core503151185582
Geekbench 4 Multi-core224002240024226
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In Geekbench 4's OpenCL graphics test, the results between the three laptops are minor. Switching to the Metal test shows a much bigger difference, with the 560X GPU models scoring about 20-percent higher than the 555X in the base model.


2.2GHz i7 / 555X / 16GB2.6GHz i7 / 560X / 16GB2.9 GHz i9 / 560X / 32GB

Geekbench 4 OpenCL492295080152499
Geekbench 4 Metal493985959259560
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Unigine's Heaven using the extreme preset was employed to put a gaming workload on the test group. Here, we observed an 18-percent higher average frame rate between the 555X GPU model and the 560X models, a hefty performance increase which can be had for only $100 more.


2.2GHz i7 / 555X / 16GB2.6GHz i7 / 560X / 16GB2.9 GHz i9 / 560X / 32GB

Unigine Heaven FPS17.821.121.1
Unigine Heaven Score450531532
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Moving onto Cinebench R15, a rendering benchmark that runs the processor under full load, we ran 5 back-to-back tests on each system. Despite the specification differences, we only saw performance vary by an average of 2 percent between the base 2.2GHz i7 and the top spec 2.9 Ghz i9, which is a $400 upgrade.

Starting from an idling temperature and only running the test once, the i9 will score around 50 points higher, but only because the test finishes before the processor has a chance to heat up.

Shortly after the first run, the processors in these new MacBooks thermal throttle so much that all three run at very similar speeds. There was an average speed of 3.05GHz for the base model, 3.1Ghz for the mid and 3.15GHz for the i9.

Since some 2D and 3D renders can take hours, all three processors have similar performance for extensive graphics-demanding tasks.


2.2GHz i7 / 555X / 16GB2.6GHz i7 / 560X / 16GB2.9 GHz i9 / 560X / 32GB

Cinebench 5 run average99110011011
Cinebench 5 Average GHz3.053.13.15
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Image Editing

For the photo editing test, the latest version of Adobe Lightroom Classic was used to edit 42-megapixel RAW images. We saw no speed or smoothness differences while color-correcting and retouching within the develop module.

However, while exporting 99 edited 42-megapixel RAW images to JPEG, the Core i9 model was around 17% faster than the other two, which finished at exactly the same time.




Looking closer,, all three models ran at about the same speed, at around 3.0Ghz throughout the export. While processor usage was close to 100 percent in all cases, the onboard graphics were effectively left unused.

For RAM usage, the top model used more than 18GB of memory, while the other two 16GB-packing models had to cut into the SSD using file-swapping. For the most part, the performance difference is actually coming from the amount of RAM available to use.


2.2GHz i7 / 555X / 16GB2.6GHz i7 / 560X / 16GB2.9 GHz i9 / 560X / 32GB
Lightroom export7:017:025:59
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Video Editing

The video tests using Final Cut Pro X started with the 5K Bruce X benchmark, which resulted in similar times across the board. Stabilizing a 20-second 4K clip also results in nearly identical speeds.


2.2GHz i7 / 555X / 16GB2.6GHz i7 / 560X / 16GB2.9 GHz i9 / 560X / 32GB

Bruce X (seconds)464546
Stabilization (seconds)141413
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Moving on to a 5-minute 4K h.264 project with color corrections and effects, the mid-range and top models took 3 min and 44 seconds to render and encode, while the base model was slightly slower at 4 min and 11 seconds. This shows that the lower-end GPU was the actual bottleneck in this case.

As far as the editing itself, all three models have no problem playing back the timeline at a full 4K resolution, with background rendering turned off.

Taking a look at a similar project, except using 4K HEVC files, the results were practically the same. While the 555X graphics card was close to capacity, the 560X still had about 30 percent of its potential performance still available.




Testing ProRes RAW and Canon Cinema RAW lite codecs, both with color corrections and effects, the results come out the same. The base model, again, is slower while the mid and top-spec MacBooks are very close in performance. Once again, the graphics card is the limitation.

One noticeable difference is that all three models have no issues playing back the 4K ProRes RAW, while the Canon RAW stutters on all three machines, taking much longer to render.


2.2GHz i7 / 555X / 16GB2.6GHz i7 / 560X / 16GB2.9 GHz i9 / 560X / 32GB


HEVC to HEVC494749
ProRes RAW to h.264594747
Canon RAW to h.2644:583:483:42
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Finishing off testing with 4.5K RED RAW files, the results were close, but unexpectedly the i9 model was actually the slowest, even with repeated testing. The i9 ran at just 2.4GHz after stabilizing, even though its base clock speed is rated at 2.9GHz, while the base 2.2GHz and mid 2.6GHz models ran at 2.7GHz and 2.8GHz respectively.

Our RED RAW project pushed both the processor and graphics, causing the best GPU and CPU combination to thermal throttle slightly more than the other configurations.


2.2GHz i7 / 555X / 16GB2.6GHz i7 / 560X / 16GB2.9 GHz i9 / 560X / 32GB

RED .R3D RAW2.112.082.22
CPU Speed (GHz)2.72.82.4
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We do want to point out that most of our video editing projects are short, and we tested without having other programs running in the background, so differences in RAM don't really make any impact. If you edit long 4K projects, especially while having other programs or many browser tabs open, we would suggest upgrading to 32GB of RAM.


Summary

As far as the other components, the 560X graphics chip is well worth the extra $100 for everyone but photo editors. If you're running long and intensive tasks that need more than a short burst of high speed, upgrading the CPU to the i9 isn't really worth it. If you don't push your machine hard in any way, you won't need the extra short term performance. If you do, the performance difference can be negligible because of thermal throttling.

If you need to buy a Mac right now, the mid-spec $2,799 model, which is kept in stock at most retailers, will be a good choice. If you don't mind waiting for a MacBook Pro order, going for the base model with the i7 2.2GHz CPU, Radeon 560X graphics, and 32 gigabytes of RAM will give you the best bang for your buck.

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dreyfus2
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 24
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,083administrator
    Note to the forum-goers. The tables don't always render right here. They do on the homepage.
    rich gregory
  • Reply 2 of 24
    dreyfus2dreyfus2 Posts: 1,069member
    Many thanks for that – highly informative and helpful.

    I have received my new MBP (2.6 GHz i7, 560X, 32GB RAM, 2 TB SSD) a couple of days ago and I am extremely happy with it. While everybody says the changes to the keyboard are minor, I do not think so. To me it is a night and day difference. Much more quiet (maybe not in dB, but in perception) and a much better typing experience. I make almost no typing errors while I had to go back and make corrections all the time on my 2016 model.

    I am not doing a lot of hardcore video and 3D stuff, I mainly need the power to run extensive virtualization projects in class. 6 cores with hyperthreading and 32 GB RAM (finally!) make a world of difference here. I can run an entire MS System Center simulation (11 servers and 3 clients) and a network simulation in Cisco VIRL simultaneously while having a separate VM doing packet capturing and LogManagement/SIEM in parallel... Bottom line that means that I no longer have to lug 2 machines around, and that my XPS 15 can go in the trash (well, on ebay) where it belongs.
    bkkcanuckmcdavep-dogwlymbb-15viclauyyc
  • Reply 3 of 24
    kruegdudekruegdude Posts: 229member
    I thought Apple provided a solution for the initial thermal throttling issues? Are you seeing something new and measurable?
    Gaby
  • Reply 4 of 24
    bkkcanuckbkkcanuck Posts: 854member
    kruegdude said:
    I thought Apple provided a solution for the initial thermal throttling issues? Are you seeing something new and measurable?
    They provided a solution to the i9 not running with the proper profile and within spec (2.9GHz all cores). One test that was CPU only hit 3.15GHz, but the lower rated CPUs were able to operate at a higher turbo-rate which means the i9 CPU does not give you much of an advantage in most things. The "issue" with the CPU running below base-clock therefore is more of an issue where the design for the i9 has you chosing between running the CPU and the GPU if both are being run at their highest performance possible. It is also possible the GPU gets priortized over the CPU thus they CPU loses out in that case. So yes, Apple did provide a solution to the defect... but the i7 seems to be the best choice cost/benefit basis. The price difference between the two i7s is $100... so it is probably a no-brainer to go with the 2.6GHz IHMO.
    p-dogdreyfus2bb-15
  • Reply 5 of 24
    Thanks for the extensive testing. That's really helpful. I'd love to see the same tests repeated on the new 13" model as a companion. 
  • Reply 6 of 24
    ...for those of us that work in quiet environments, any commentary of fan speed and noise would be most appreciated with many thanks...
    TomEprismatics
  • Reply 7 of 24
    > If you edit long 4K projects....

    You are not using a laptop. You are using a desktop machine.

    Sorry techie boyz, but actual video pros do not use mobile devices as their final output devices. 
  • Reply 8 of 24
    what about disk read/write speeds?!

    I have reasons to believe that the SSD behaves differently depending on capacity and/or RAM...

    (please see some of my previous posts here, here, here and here ;)
  • Reply 9 of 24
    GabyGaby Posts: 41member
    I would love to see these tests repeated with a custom fan profile to see if a higher performance can be achieved with fans ramping up sooner and to higher rpm. I know some testing was done by individuals on this before Apple released the update, but would be interesting to get a side by side with these latest tests.  Intel really screwed Apple in my opinion. If they’d stayed on track with their timeline we’d have much more efficient processors by this point capable of maintaining higher speeds with the thermal solution designed by Apple. 
    bb-15prismatics
  • Reply 10 of 24
    dewmedewme Posts: 1,894member
    Excellent article with sound advice. This is the kind of content that sets AppleInsider apart from other Apple "news & rumors" sites.
    bb-15chia
  • Reply 11 of 24
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 3,571member
    Note to the forum-goers. The tables don't always render right here. They do on the homepage.
    Thanks!   That was a very interesting comparison...

    One note:  early in the video (not the text) there appears to be a typo when the initial display of specs are shown where the mid level MBP is shown with a "550" graphics card rather than a "560".  It is reported as "560" in the latter portions.

    I doubt ai will be able to edit that.   Just be aware. 
  • Reply 12 of 24
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 4,712member
    Sounds to me like unless you're doing photo editing, the Core i9 option is just a complete waste of money. 
  • Reply 13 of 24
    doggonedoggone Posts: 173member
    The last MBP I bought was customized. The critical element for me was more SSD space.  It was very challenging to have the 256 gb drive in my previous machine. Plus I wanted 16 gb ram.  
    Whilst this took another month to get I was still able to buy it online and save on taxes.  If you’re not desperate to get a new machine, customizing will save money and provide the best option for your needs. 
  • Reply 14 of 24
    I wish more real-world tests were used instead of this fake synthetic tests. How about copying a 4 GB file from A to B or copying 5,000 little files from A to B, or time to compile a 200 MB iOS application using Project Builder. I understand that Macs are used a lot in video editing and PS, but they are also used a lot in compiling, so knowing that these new MacBooks can compile 25% faster than before (totally made-up number) would be be beneficial to know, as well as real world file copying.
    Gaby
  • Reply 15 of 24
    macxpress said:
    Sounds to me like unless you're doing photo editing, the Core i9 option is just a complete waste of money. 
    I’m more concerned with whether or not the i9 can actually perform worse in certain circumstances than the i7 due to throttling. I tend to keep my machines for 7+ years, and a $300 upgrade on a $4300 machine is a negligible increase in cost if it will help extend its useful life.
  • Reply 16 of 24
    > If you edit long 4K projects....

    You are not using a laptop. You are using a desktop machine.

    Sorry techie boyz, but actual video pros do not use mobile devices as their final output devices. 
    Not necessarily. There are mobile pros out there who have to perform their post-production work out in the field, especially if they work in TV and getting their content out is time-sensitive.
    chiakingofsomewherehot
  • Reply 17 of 24
    bkkcanuckbkkcanuck Posts: 854member
    > If you edit long 4K projects....

    You are not using a laptop. You are using a desktop machine.

    Sorry techie boyz, but actual video pros do not use mobile devices as their final output devices. 
    Not necessarily. There are mobile pros out there who have to perform their post-production work out in the field, especially if they work in TV and getting their content out is time-sensitive.
    The only 'pros' (not a wide range but a few) tend to do production for TV shows and film productions... and as far as I know they have (regionally) production vehicles that can or have 'real' pro equipment installed on it, and significant online storage array (not sure of the makeup of it)...  4TB is fine for working on small single camera youtube productions... but it really is not that much...  They also have professional shipping containers for shipping their equipment when necessary.  

    I could see something like youtubers using laptops when away, but then they are not doing the volume of work whereby the difference would be significant.  An extra 10 minutes here or there just won't amount to a hill of beans.
    GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 18 of 24
    I would like to see Apple make the CPUs & GPUs upgradeable in MBPs. Not to mention bring back RAM upgradeability!
    edited August 2018
  • Reply 19 of 24
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 3,571member
    I would like to see Apple make the CPUs & GPUs upgradeable in MBPs. Not to mention bring back RAM upgradeability!
    I'm all for upgradeability, but I never found CPU upgrades to be helpful because, unless you're replacing like with like, you usually have to update the socket too -- and that leads into a whole new ball of wax.  So, generally, the best you can get is a marginal improvement.
  • Reply 20 of 24
    thttht Posts: 3,037member
    macxpress said:
    Sounds to me like unless you're doing photo editing, the Core i9 option is just a complete waste of money. 
    Yeah. As long as the 2.2 GHz and 2.6 GHz i7 models can maintain higher clocks than base clock during these 5 min, 10 min 6-core runs, no point in getting the higher end CPU options.

    The only real advantage of the i9 is the 30% base clock increase over 2.2 GHz. Maybe if there was a 4 hr run (numerical simulation et al), the 2.2 GHz i7 will end up being at the base clock most of the time, in which case the i9 will be beneficial.

    Otherwise, the base model 2.2 GHz + 32 GB RAM looks like a better option than the 2.6 GH 16 GB model to me. 32 GB RAM, and larger storage, will better guarantee performance and future OS support 6, 7, 8 years into the future.
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