Hands on: Apple's new 2018 15-inch MacBook Pro with Core i9 processor

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited July 2018
The 2018 MacBook Intel Core i9-powered 15-inch Pro refresh strikes some chords with some long requested features, and as often is the case with Apple products, stirs up some controversy.




On the outside, the largest size MacBook remains utterly unchanged, but that's not a bad thing. It's still 17 percent lighter and 14 percent thinner than its 2015 predecessor, and feels as premium as ever.

The unibody aluminum design mates beautifully with the glass display, touchpad, and Touch Bar with touch ID sensor. We've used a wide variety of premium laptops, and while some copycat designs look nice in professional photographs online, nothing else comes close to the MacBook Pro.

Keyboard first

The only physical difference you can touch is the updated third generation butterfly switch keyboard. Apple has been forthcoming about how quiet the new keyboard is, and we can positively confirm that.




But, minus conflicting internal documents, Apple still has nothing to say about a silicone gasket sheet attempting to fix the problems plaguing what Apple calls a "small percentage" of MacBook Pro owners.

We're not taking the keys off to show you. But, the crew at iFixit suspects that the quiet keys is a secondary effect of the silicone protection layer added.

Only time will tell how effective this will be, but the still tactile but quieter keyboard is a welcome change. We will continue to collate data regarding failures, and will update you all in six months or so.

Speakers

Just like with the 2018 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, the speakers have been updated. This is an impressive feat since the MacBook Pro already has the best sounding speakers, so we applaud Apple for improving things they really didn't need to.




Finishing off with the exterior, the display now supports Apple's True Tone technology, and retains the P3 color gamut.

The Touch Bar is unchanged and still has the same utility as it did at launch -- but your mileage may vary, as ours does inside AppleInsider.

At the (Intel) Core of the matter

Intel's long awaited 8th generation CPU's are here and Apple chose to include a six-core processor in every model of the 15-inch MacBook with the i7 in the base model, which we've already looked at, and the i9 in this one.




That i9 is remarkably affordable at about a $400 option. With a base clock speed of 2.9GHz and a massive maximum turbo boost speed of 4.8GHz, this chip has great potential for performance.

Testing with Geekbench 4, our i9 MacBook Pro scored a very impressive 5555 points in single core and 24,326 in multi core, coming in 14 percent and 10 percen higher respectively than our 15-inch base i7 model. Putting this into perspective, the best available CPU in the current model 27-inch 5K iMac scores a slightly higher 5736 in single core, but a much lower 19,774 in multi-core.

Unfortunately, this potential isn't fully realized in such a thin and light laptop because of thermal throttling, which has stirred up quite a controversy.






Under Cinebench R15's CPU test, which puts a 100 percent CPU load while running a complex render for a long period of time, our 2018 15-inch i9 MacBook Pro scored an average of around 920 points, where the base model averages 885. That's just a 4 percent performance difference, mostly because the processor is slowing down because of heat.

This isn't a new phenomenon, and it isn't just Apple facing thermodynamics problems with the toasty i9 processor. Dell and Lenovo are catching heat from users regarding the throttling in laptops as well.

Furthermore, All 15-inch MacBook Pros from past generations we have tested going back to 2014 have experienced some amount of slowdown under extended high CPU load applications. This newest generation gets hit the most. More cores, more heat.

But, the thermal condition, and processor throttling isn't a cut-and-dried situation, and greatly depends on workflow and applications used. We'll be taking a much closer look at the performance differences in real life usage, including Final Cut Pro, in our full review.

Thunderbolt 3

Yes, we're talking about it again. Thunderbolt 3 is a game-changer. Every port has sufficient bandwidth to drive a dock that supports every possible port you could want, and a high-resolution monitor, in addition to power.

USB-C is here to stay on the MacBook Pro. Two years later, it's time to stop complaining about it. At this point, it is very apparent that Apple is ignoring the complaints about no USB-A.

If you don't want the "dongle life," like we have about always had, get cables for your peripherals. USB-C to whatever you want on the other end is pretty cheap now.

32GB of RAM, and a better GPU

Moving onto other components, The RAM has been updated from 16GB of 2133MHz LPDDR3 to 16GB of 2400MHZ DDR4 soldered onto the motherboard, For an additional $400, you can get 32GB in total. Our model is configured this way, which could be reason enough to upgrade to a 2018 MacBook Pro, again, depending on your workflow.

You already know if you need 32GB of RAM. If you're wondering if you do, you probably don't.

On the graphics side, both the base model Radeon Pro 555X, and top spec Radeon Pro 560X, include 4GB of video memory. In the recent past, we had either integrated graphics or a 2GB dedicated graphics chip which is adequate for light to medium tasks but there were noticeable slowdowns or limitations with heavy tasks, especially if connected to a 5K display.

The actual graphics performance looks to be a fair improvement over the 560 in the 2017 model, with the 560X scoring 52,499 in Geekbench 4 OpenCL vs around 42,000.

We opted for 512GB of storage, but Apple now offered up to 4TB of ultra-fast SSD if you can afford it. The $3200 jump in price over the 512GB model gives you massive and fast storage locally, but also a price tag that Apple has only eclipsed in portables a few times before.

A lot of computer for a lot of money

The thermal condition in the MacBook Pro is real. It does impact some workflows, particularly those with high, sustained processor loads.

However, the doom and gloom about the machine being slower than the computer's predecessors is inaccurate, across the board. Unequivocally, despite the heat, the 2018 15-inch MacBook Pro models are faster than the 2017 in every regard -- if not as fast as it could be.

If you've been holding off with your trusty older Retina MacBook Pro, and the low-travel keyboard isn't a problem, we can tell you right now to not wait to buy either the i7 model we first looked at on Friday, or this i9.

This all said, it is not the computer it could be, and there are theoretically steps Apple can take in software. We'll see what comes with Mojave and future system updates.

We'll be putting this $3,500 2018 15-inch MacBook Pro with an intel i9 CPU through its paces in a variety of tasks, including connecting the BlackMagic eGPU kit, for our full review that will be coming in the next few days.

Where to buy

Those looking to purchase a 2018 15-inch MacBook Pro, including models equipped with Intel's Core i9 processor, can save $50 instantly with coupon code APINSIDER at Apple authorized reseller Adorama.

To activate the discount, you must use this shopping link or the pricing links in our 2018 15-inch MacBook Pro Price Guide, and enter the code APINSIDER during checkout. In addition to the coupon savings, Adorama will not collect sales tax on orders shipped outside New York and New Jersey, and shipping is free. Those wanting to finance the purchase can also take advantage of no interest financing when paid in full within 12 months using the Adorama Credit Card.

Need help? Send us a note at [email protected] and we will do our best to assist.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 35
    FatmanFatman Posts: 513member
    are those 4TB drives Samsung made?
    Avieshek
  • Reply 2 of 35
    mknelsonmknelson Posts: 921member
    There's some interesting analysis leading people to conclude it's the Voltage Regulator Module that is overheating and the throttling is to let it cool.

    https://forums.macrumors.com/threads/optimal-cpu-tuning-settings-for-i9-mbp-to-stop-vrm-throttling-explanation-of-apples-engineering-f.2128936/

    Looks promising for possibilities of a long term "fix"
    Avieshekchasm
  • Reply 3 of 35
    mknelsonmknelson Posts: 921member
    Fatman said:
    are those 4TB drives Samsung made?
    The chips might be, but since the components are directly on the MLB rather than assembled in a removable drive…
    Soli
  • Reply 4 of 35
    Thermal throttling in a laptop these days is primarily done to protect the overall life of the battery. Prolonged exposure to high heat will degrade lithium ion batteries much more quickly. So if you sell laptops that you view as actual mobile devices that won't be plugged in all the time, thermal throttling needs to be more active. But if you're selling a gaming laptop, you're not going to care about that as much since the buyers aren't going to focus on unplugged use very much. You can let the thermals go higher without harming the rest of the system, but the battery is going to suffer the consequences.
    edited July 2018 Rayz2016
  • Reply 5 of 35
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,513administrator
    mknelson said:
    There's some interesting analysis leading people to conclude it's the Voltage Regulator Module that is overheating and the throttling is to let it cool.

    https://forums.macrumors.com/threads/optimal-cpu-tuning-settings-for-i9-mbp-to-stop-vrm-throttling-explanation-of-apples-engineering-f.2128936/

    Looks promising for possibilities of a long term "fix"
    Given that the FCP numbers are very good, I don't think the VRM is the issue. We'll see, I guess.
  • Reply 6 of 35
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 6,142member
    mknelson said:
    Fatman said:
    are those 4TB drives Samsung made?
    The chips might be, but since the components are directly on the MLB rather than assembled in a removable drive…
    They were Toshiba chips in the 13" 2018 that iFixit did a teardown of, but if I recall, they've used multiple vendors in the past during the same year (I think).
  • Reply 7 of 35
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 6,142member
    I'm also curious to see more in-depth analysis of real world performance differences between the i7 and i9. Also, whether this has bearing on general heat/fan activity in even less-demanding tasks, much like what I understand to be the case with differences in overall fan noise between the i5 and i7 iMacs.
  • Reply 8 of 35
    IPDIPD Posts: 3unconfirmed, member
    I had the chance to use both machines a week ago.   I decided to buy the 6 core i7 at 2.6 ghz with turbo boost to 4.3 ghz.
    Reason:  While just doing basic things with the i9 I found that this thing was ridiculously hot.  Not warm, HOT.   By the time I got around to running FCP I wasn't certain that I would be able to complete rendering.  As for throttling, yes, I actually found the i9 performing slower than the i7.   I cannot quantify things, but I'm certain that those of you with the ability to measure times etc will confirm this.

    With my purchase of the i7 I couldn't be happier.   I also have a 4 core i7 laptop at another job and apart from the keyboard that I cannot stand in either model, I really like the machines.  This is just an FYI from someone who actually used both machines.
    fastasleepRayz2016AvieshekHypereality
  • Reply 9 of 35
    igohmmmigohmmm Posts: 10member
    Engineering is about compromise. Always. The question is which compromises are made. 

    Apple has repeatedly and significantly compromised on values that they claim are theirs: The high integration of RAM, SSD, keyboard, battery go against the eco-friendliness of their laptops.
    They are difficult to repair. The lack of internal extension reduces the longevity of the products. (A vast amount of energy for a device is used up not in active usage but during production, so longevity is essential to reducing trash and energy consumption.)

    Sadly the whole lineup is confusing:

    The Air used to be the ultra-portable offering. That is now the MacBook.

    The MacBook used to be affordable entry class. It is not any more. The iPad and Air are. 

    The MacBook Pro used to be long-term investments for professionals through future expansion. That is now only possible externally (superbly so). But the device itself is extremely targeted to portability, kind of an „Air Pro“. There is no offering in the lineup that gives up some portability for the sake of performance (heat), reliability (keyboard), flexibility, longevity, eco-friendliness. 
    Avieshekblastdoorchasmbitzandbitez
  • Reply 10 of 35
    Too bad such a strong CPU is paired with a relatively weak GPU. But then the thermal problems might only get worse, so it's a dilemma. 
    Avieshek
  • Reply 11 of 35
    AvieshekAvieshek Posts: 100member
    leledumbo said:
    Too bad such a strong CPU is paired with a relatively weak GPU. But then the thermal problems might only get worse, so it's a dilemma. 
    They throttled the CPU so you can smile.
  • Reply 12 of 35
    You should also discuss Apple removing the main feature allowing repairers to recover data from the SDD that is soldered on so now if there is a problem with the board and it can't be repaired all data is lost.  Well done Apple.
  • Reply 13 of 35
    croprcropr Posts: 1,078member
    Thermal throttling in a laptop these days is primarily done to protect the overall life of the battery. Prolonged exposure to high heat will degrade lithium ion batteries much more quickly. So if you sell laptops that you view as actual mobile devices that won't be plugged in all the time, thermal throttling needs to be more active. But if you're selling a gaming laptop, you're not going to care about that as much since the buyers aren't going to focus on unplugged use very much. You can let the thermals go higher without harming the rest of the system, but the battery is going to suffer the consequences.
    You reasoning might be correct for mobile devices, but not for laptops.  Throttling in a Intel CPU is a property of that CPU.  It measures the temperature and starts throttling in order to protect itself from overheating. 

    Laptops connected to mains power with a fully charged battery still throttle, while the battery in inactive in such a case.    Protecting the batteries from degrading is just a positive side effect but not the main reason for throttling. 

    edited July 2018
  • Reply 14 of 35
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 2,726member
    leledumbo said:
    Too bad such a strong CPU is paired with a relatively weak GPU. But then the thermal problems might only get worse, so it's a dilemma. 
    The thing is, a laptop shouldn't have to be this powerful. I don't disagree with Apple's physical design choices for the MBP. I like the size, look, build of my 2017 MBP. 

    But this form factor has limitations. You can't have the most powerful CPU and GPU in a laptop. 

    And that would be ok if Apple had a fully developed desktop lineup, but they don't. I think most complaints with the Mac lineup stem from the holes in the desktop lineup, which then lead people to try and use laptops as desktops, which leads to disappointment. 







  • Reply 15 of 35
    I bought the i9 with 32gb and couldn’t be happier.  I wish the SSD was cheaper but it’s anazingly fast.   Until Apple puts a more aggressive fan profile, I installed Macs Fan Control.   When rendering this week or doing cpu intensive processing, I just turned the fans on max manually and no throttling in FCP.  

    Since I spent so much money on this thing I have been reading up on all the different “issues” that people have found.  The removal of the recovery port actually makes sense since Apple is using HW encryption on the drive now.  

    Do I like everything on the new MacBook Pro...  I don’t, but I’m using it next to my 2016 model and can can see the incremental improvements. 



    StrangeDaysrandominternetpersonfastasleep
  • Reply 16 of 35
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,513administrator
    You should also discuss Apple removing the main feature allowing repairers to recover data from the SDD that is soldered on so now if there is a problem with the board and it can't be repaired all data is lost.  Well done Apple.
    This has more to do with the T2 on-the-fly encryption of the drive contents than anything else, we think. If the T2 is off, like when you'd have to migrate data, the data can't be removed.
    randominternetpersonfastasleep
  • Reply 17 of 35
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,513administrator

    I bought the i9 with 32gb and couldn’t be happier.  I wish the SSD was cheaper but it’s anazingly fast.   Until Apple puts a more aggressive fan profile, I installed Macs Fan Control.   When rendering this week or doing cpu intensive processing, I just turned the fans on max manually and no throttling in FCP.  

    Since I spent so much money on this thing I have been reading up on all the different “issues” that people have found.  The removal of the recovery port actually makes sense since Apple is using HW encryption on the drive now.  

    Do I like everything on the new MacBook Pro...  I don’t, but I’m using it next to my 2016 model and can can see the incremental improvements. 



    Just as a hint of what we're working on -- you should try FCP without Macs Fan Control running.
  • Reply 18 of 35
    chasmchasm Posts: 2,522member
    The truth of the matter is that very few MBP buyers -- yes, even MBP buyers -- trouble the GPU more than "very occasionally," leaving little reason for Apple to significantly raise costs and engineering requirements for that 3-5 percent who are actually trying to render their own 3D movie on a notebook, et al.

    Basically, long renders for video, 3D, VR, whatever ... seems best handled on a desktop, regardless of platform. The iMac Pro and Mac Pro, for example, don't seem to have this problem. Today's GPU-stressing render processes will see (over the next 2-3 years) some relief from Intel in terms of lower-TDP 10nm chips (probably) and LPDDR4 or 5 or whatever, but the i9 (which is the fifth or sixth "tock," I've lost count) just isn't that chip -- and, as the article says, it's not just Apple users that have run into this.
    edited July 2018
  • Reply 19 of 35
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 11,421member
    Based on my experience, most pro level users do most of their serious work in an office environment -- where they drop their laptop into a dock which immediately provides power, external keyboard & mouse and a high end display.   And, with Thunderbolt 3 we can add high end, multi-terabyte storage and eGPU's.

    So, that means that nearly everything on the laptop can be greatly enhanced and improved simply by dropping it into a docking station.   Well, everything except:  CPU and RAM.   And that is perhaps the where the new 32Gb i9 can really, really shine - to drive a desktop level system.

    Like the iPad is coming as a low end laptop killer, could the MBP be a desktop killer?
  • Reply 20 of 35
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 12,195member
    igohmmm said:
    Engineering is about compromise. Always. The question is which compromises are made. 

    Apple has repeatedly and significantly compromised on values that they claim are theirs: The high integration of RAM, SSD, keyboard, battery go against the eco-friendliness of their laptops.
    They are difficult to repair. The lack of internal extension reduces the longevity of the products. (A vast amount of energy for a device is used up not in active usage but during production, so longevity is essential to reducing trash and energy consumption.)
    Your environmental claims are nonsense. Macs have a longer useful lifespan than their competitors, and essentially nobody is doing piecemeal upgrades on their netbooks. Still they last just fine on their own. And Macs are extremely recyclable, they receive the highest marks in the industry.

    In short, you’re just making things up. Stick to reality. 
    edited July 2018 elijahgfastasleep
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