Today, Apple begins shipping the new 2018 refresh of the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro. The new machines are not major redesigns, but they offer configurations with 8th-generation Intel processors and more cores than before—a maximum of six cores on the 15-inch model (compared to four in last year's models) and four in the 13-inch model (compared to two). That means faster performance for many use cases. Maximum SSD capacity is also doubled, and the MacBook Pro line offers DDR4 RAM for the first time.
The laptops also borrow some features from the iMac Pro and the iPad Pro—the T2 chip and True Tone, respectively—and feature a revised butterfly keyboard, the third generation of the design Apple introduced in 2016 (the revision is a little more significant this time around). Apart from those tweaks to the keyboard, the basic design of the MacBook Pro is unchanged.
The specs, though, get a noteworthy bump.
Internals and specifications
The top configuration of the 15-inch model includes an 8th-generation, six-core Intel Core i9 CPU clocked at 2.9GHz. Six-core Intel Core i7 processors are also options. The 2017 iteration of the MacBook Pro featured DDR3 memory with a maximum configuration of 16GB. This time, it's DDR4, and the maximum is 32. The faster memory uses more energy, so a bigger battery is now included—but Apple's battery life estimate remains the same as last year's. The GPU in the top standard configuration is listed as an AMD Radeon Pro 555X.
The 13-inch model has different specs, of course. It still only offers integrated Intel graphics, for one thing—Intel Iris Plus 655, this time with 128MB of eDRAM. But the maximum number of cores are again doubled—in this case to four—in 8th-generation Intel Core i5 or Core i7 CPUs, which run at up to 2.7GHz. Maximum SSD capacity is also doubled; it's now 2TB. The maximum memory is still 16GB. Apple claims the 13-inch model is up to twice as fast as its predecessor, though it will of course depend on the application.
The new MacBook Pros will ship with macOS High Sierra, but they can be upgraded to Mojave, Apple's newest announced operating system, when it launches later this year.
The 2016 MacBook Pro brought the Apple T1, an Apple-made chip that is almost an integrated mini iOS device that controls the Touch Bar and Apple Pay while also acting as a bridge for certain hardware. The T2 chip added in the iMac Pro last December greatly expanded on this, becoming an all-purpose system-management controller and offering a bunch of new security features. Both new MacBook Pros now include the T2.
We described the T2 in some detail in our iMac Pro review. The T2 in the MacBook Pro does everything that the iMac Pro's does, plus some new things. It facilitates a secure boot feature, encrypts files in storage on the fly, manages the SSDs, and enables Hey Siri, whereby you can simply call up Siri with your voice. Most users wouldn't really know about the T2 chip unless you told them, but it has noteworthy security ramifications, and it speaks to Apple's focus on end-to-end integration and its aggressive efforts to free itself from dependence on outside chip providers.
The iPad Pro introduced a feature called True Tone, which also made it to the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X. When enabled, it adjusts the white balance of the screen based on ambient light to maintain eye comfort and achieve what Apple has described as a more natural look. It doesn't actually make the screen more objectively accurate, but it's a popular feature, especially for long sessions of use in varying lighting conditions.
All of the new 2018 Touch Bar MacBook Pros support True Tone now, both on the main display and the Touch Bar.
The butterfly keyboard design Apple introduced in 2016 has been divisive. Some people really like it, claiming it has fast travel and a sturdy, responsive feel to it. Others feel it's uncomfortable to type on. We haven't seen a keyboard this polarizing in a long time; it's a point of passionate disagreement even among Ars Technica reviews staff.
Further, some users experienced keyboard failures, particularly in the 2016 model. Small tweaks to the design in 2017 models reportedly reduced the failure rate. Apple claims the problem is not that widespread, but it nevertheless recently began offering service for the keyboard at no cost in a repair program. This newly revised keyboard is another iterative step in that design, although Apple hasn't made any claims about the new keyboard's comparative durability.
The new keyboard has the same dimensions and look as its two predecessors, but the keys feel just a little bit different. They're quieter, for one thing. They have a softer, less click-y feel that is a little closer to the pre-2016 models' chiclet keys. We found the new keyboard to be a little nicer to type on, but it's not a radical difference. It's unlikely to convert the detractors, but it's a welcome iteration for those who liked or didn't mind the previous butterfly keyboards.
Two new accessories: eGPU and leather sleeves
Apple is now offering leather sleeves for both MacBook Pro sizes, similar in styling to those we've already seen for the MacBook. They come in three colors: "Saddle Brown," "Midnight Blue," and black. Saddle brown is pictured in the images above.
There is also an Apple-sanctioned eGPU solution. Apple says it worked with Blackmagic Design (a company known for high-end hardware products for photographers, video editors, and others) to develop a different approach to eGPU enclosures. The new eGPU, which is also expected to go on sale today, integrates the GPU into the enclosure rather than offering one or more PCIe slots. It also supports Thunderbolt displays and provides 85W of power to the laptop for charging.
The included GPU is an 8GB Radeon Pro 580. It should deliver significantly faster video performance than the discrete GPU in the new 15-inch MacBook Pro, but it's not at the highest end of desktop GPU performance. The enclosure, which obviously includes the GPU, is priced at $699. Apple claims that this integrated solution provides easier setup for users who don't want to mess with installing their own cards and that it has a smaller footprint and runs quieter than many other enclosures.
Apples target user
A short time before announcing these new machines, Apple launched a marketing campaign on its website called Behind the Mac. The campaign included a promotional video about how legally blind photographer Bruce Hall uses Macs to do his work. In a closed briefing with members of the press, Apple presented several more professionals who came to showcase their work on the MacBook Pro, including scientists, video editors, musicians, software developers, and photographers.
The MacBook Pro is widely used by consumers, but Apple markets it as a professional machine. "Professional" means a lot of different things to different people, depending on, well, what their professions are. Showcases and campaigns like this make it clear that when Apple says "Pro," it mainly means creative professionals like video and music producers, plus scientists and engineers.
Developers are a heavy focus. Apple has claimed before that a significant majority of GitHub commits are made using Macs. When demonstrating the new MacBook Pro, the company offered a demo of five Xcode simulations running alongside virtual machines and Xcode builds—similar to the one it showed at the iMac Pro press briefing in December of last year.
Showcase participants talked up the power of the MacBook Pro a bit, but some of them just talked about their work. Here's the full list of professionals Apple presented as showcase-worthy users.
The new 13-inch and 15-inch Touch Bar MacBook Pro models will be available for order today, and a limited inventory of standard configuration units is also expected in Apple retail stores. Initial online orders of standard configurations are expected to ship within a few days.
While Apple's focus is currently on Touch Bar-equipped models, it will continue to offer at least the 13-inch MacBook Pro without a Touch Bar, with the intent to market it to education customers in particular. We don't know the status of the 15-inch without the Touch Bar at the time of this writing.
The 13-inch starts at $1,799 and the 15-inch starts at $2,399—exactly the same starting prices as last year's models. We'll be giving the new 15-inch MacBook Pro the full Ars review treatment in the coming days.
Listing image by Apple