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Apple 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar review: Only if you've deep pockets

By Kenny Yeo - 12 Dec 2016

Introduction

Introducing the new MacBook Pro

A few weeks ago, I reviewed Apple’s new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and found it to be a competent but slightly flawed device. It is well built, fast and powerful; but it only came with USB Type-C ports and had no SD card slots, which will no doubt inconvenience many users.

The 15-inch MacBook Pro comes with updated internals and a slimmer, lighter design.

The new 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is essentially an upsized version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (hereafter referred to simply as the MacBook Pro). Apart from the size and the internals, they share the same design, keyboard, Touch Bar, and connectivity options. So, if you want to read about the features of the new 15-inch MacBook Pro, you can look it up here.  But in a nutshell, here are some of the key features of the new 15-inch MacBook Pro:

  • Comes in space grey and silver
  • Touch Bar and Touch ID
  • Four USB Type-C Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • Improved display supporting wider color gamut (DCI-P3)
  • Improved speakers
  • New MacBook-style flat keyboards and larger trackpad

That said, it’s worth mentioning at this point before we dive into the performance analysis that the new 15-inch MacBook Pro is smaller than the model it replaces. The new 15-inch MacBook Pro measures 15.5mm thick and weighs 1.83kg, while the model it replaces was 2.04kg and 18mm thick. According to Apple, this means that the new model takes up 20% less volume, which is certainly quite impressive.

The 15-inch MacBook Pro is larger than the13-inch model, though not by very much.Like the 13-inch MacBook Pro, the new 15-inch MacBook Pro comes with four USB Type-C Thunderbolt 3 ports and a single 3.5mm audio jack.

The 15-inch MacBook Pro has an improved version of the butterfly switch keys found in the MacBook. The trackpad has also been enlarged - it's actually twice as large!

 

Hardware ( and a note about the new Radeon Pro GPUs)

The latest 15-inch MacBook Pro notebooks will be equipped with Intel’s sixth generation Core processors, also known as “Skylake” (not the 7th generation Kaby Lake models unfortunately as the quad-core mobile models aren't out yet). There will be two off the shelf models and both will be equipped with quad-core Core i7 processors. Both will also get 16GB of 2133MHz LPDRR3 RAM as well as AMD’s latest Radeon Pro mobile GPUs as standard. Both models will also get Apple’s newest PCIe-based SSDs that are capable of read and write speeds of over 3GB/s and 2GB/s respectively. 

Our review unit was the entry-level model and it comes with the quad-core Core i7-6700HQ processor (2.6GHz, 6MB L3 cache), 16GB of RAM, 256GB SSD, and Radeon Pro 450 discrete GPU with 2GB of GDDR5 RAM. 

The decision to go with AMD GPUs are interesting and it’s worth talking about it in greater detail. For starts, Radeon Pro is AMD’s new brand of professional-oriented GPUs and it replaces the FirePro. Its direct competitors are NVIDIA’s Quadro and Tesla GPUs. This is also the first time Apple has decided to put professional-oriented GPUs into their MacBook Pro notebooks. In the past, they used regular consumer GPUs. 

There is actually not much difference on a hardware level to separate professional and consumer GPUs. Professional GPUs typically use the same chip as their consumer counterparts, but distinguish themselves by having specialized drivers so that they are optimized to run professional graphics utilities like AutoCAD and Maya. Also, they are supposedly more rigorsly tested and command a premium for their professional grade deployment.

Comparison of AMD GPUs
Model Radeon Pro 450 Radeon Pro 455 Radeon 460
Stream Processors 640 768 1024
Memory Bandwidth 80GB/s 80GB/s 80GB/s
Peak Compute Performance 1 teraflop 1.3 teraflops 1.85 teraflops

In any case, the new Radeon Pro GPUs are based on AMD’s latest 14nm FinFET Polaris architecture, which is the same used in AMD’s desktop graphics cards like the Radeon RX 480. However, the Radeon Pro GPUs are really designed for maximum power efficiency, and they only have a TDP of just 35W.

As a result, the Radeon Pro 450 isn’t all that powerful. It has 640 stream processors, a maximum memory bandwidth of 80GB/s and a peak compute performance of 1 teraflop. Even the Radeon Pro 460, the most powerful GPU you can opt to spec your 15-inch MacBook Pro with, has just 1024 stream processors, a maximum memory bandwidth of 80GB/s, and a maximum compute performance of 1.85 teraflops. 

In comparison, NVIDIA’s latest entry-level notebook GPU, the GeForce GTX 1060, has a maximum compute performance of around 3.6 teraflops, and is capable of up to 4.2 teraflops depending on the manufacturer’s implementation. In case you were wondering, the range-topping GeForce GTX 1080 has over 8 teraflops of computing horsepower. 

But while NVIDIA’s mobile GPU offerings are undeniably more powerful, they are also more power hungry. Even the GeForce GTX 1060’s TDP of 85W is over twice that of the Radeon Pro 460’s TDP of 35W. So clearly, Apple is favoring lower power consumption over outright performance. How this will affect performance will be interesting to see.