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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

Performance Analysis & Conclusion

Performance Analysis

I tested the MacBook Pro using our standard benchmarking utilities, which meant that I had to install Windows 10 using Bootcamp. This will allow me to peg its performances against comparable Windows notebooks that we have reviewed. 

Here is the list of benchmarking software used:

  • PCMark 8
  • 3DMark 2013
  • Tomb Raider

To get a gauge of where the new 15-inch MacBook Pro stands, I included results from the LG Gram 15ASUS G501 and HP Omen. All three are slim 15-inch notebooks, with comparable design elements and performance. The Gram 15 is super slim and light; while the ASUS and HP,  though a little old, should still serve as a good reference for the new MacBook Pro’s performance.

Key Notebooks Comparison
  Apple 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar HP Omen ASUS ROG G501 (512GB PCIe SSD) LG Gram 15
  Apple 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar HP Omen ASUS ROG G501 (512GB PCIe SSD) LG Gram 15
Processor and Chipset
  • Intel Core i7-6700HQ (2.6GHz, 6M L3 cache)
  • Intel Core i5-6267U (2.9GHz, 4MB L3 cache)
  • Intel Core i7-4710HQ (2.5Ghz, 6MB cache)
  • Intel HM87
  • Intel HM87 Express
  • Intel Core i7-4720HQ (2.6GHz, 6MB L3 cache)
  • Intel Core i7-6500U (2.5GHz, 4MB cache)
Operating System
  • macOS Sierra
  • macOS Sierra
  • Windows 8.1
  • Windows 8.1
  • Windows 10
System Memory
  • 16GB LPDDR3 2133MHz
  • 8GB LPDDR3 2133MHz
  • 8GB DDR3L
  • 16GB DDR3L-1600MHz
  • 8GB DDR3L-1600MHz
Video & Display
  • 15-inch Retina display (2880 x 1800 pixels)
  • AMD Radeon Pro 450 2GB GDDR5
  • Intel HD Graphics 530
  • 13.3-inch Retina display (2560 x 1600 pixels)
  • Intel Iris Graphics 550
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M with 2GB GDDR5
  • 15.6 inch Full HD IPS touchscreen
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M 4GB GDDR5
  • Intel Graphics 520
  • 15-inch
  • 1920 x 1080 pixels resolution
Storage
  • 256GB PCIe-based SSD
  • 256GB PCIe SSD
  • 128GB SSD
  • 512GB PCIe-based SSD
  • 512GB SSD SATA3
Optical Drive
  • None
  • None
  • None
Connectivity
  • 802.11ac/b/g/n/a (up to 1300Mbps)
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • 802.11ac/b/g/n/a (Up to 1.3Gbps)
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • Intel Wireless-AC 7260 (2x2)
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 802.11ac/b/g/n/a (2x2, 867Mbps)
  • Bluetooth 4.0
Audio
  • Integrated speakers
  • Built-in stereo speakers
  • 2 x internal speakers
  • Beats Audio
  • 2 x stereo speakers
  • SonicMaster Premium
  • ROG AudioWizard
  • Stereo speakers (2 x 1W)
  • Integrated Cirrus Logic DAC
I/O Ports
  • 4 x USB Type-C Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • 1 x 3.5mm audio jack
  • 4 x Thunderbolt 3 via USB Type-C
  • 4 x USB 3.0
  • 1 x HDMI
  • 1 x mini-DisplayPort
  • 1 x headphone jack
  • 1 x microphone jack
  • 1 x SD card reader
  • 3 x USB 3.0 ports
  • 1 x SD card reader
  • 1 x 3.5mm audio jack
  • 2 x USB 3.0
  • 1 x USB 2.0
  • 1 x HDMI
  • 1 x USB Type C (USB 3.1 Gen 1)
  • Micro-SD card slot
Battery Type
  • 76Wh
  • Lithium-ion, 49.2Wh
  • 58Wh (4 Cells, Fixed)
  • 60Wh battery
  • 34.61Wh
Dimensions
  • 349.3 x 240.7 x 15.5mm
  • 304.1 x 212.4 x 14.9mm
  • 382.9 x 245.7 x 19.9 mm
  • 383 x 255 x 20.6mm
  • 357 x 228 x 16.8mm
Weight
  • 1.83kg
  • 1.37kg
  • 2.12 kg
  • 2.06kg
  • 980g

 

PCMark 8

Unsurprisingly, given its more powerful components, the 15-inch MacBook Pro consistently scored better than the 13-inch MacBook Pro. The gulf in performance ranges from about 7% to 15%, which is pretty substantial. You can feel the difference in the real world too as the 15-inch MacBook Pro launches apps and loads quicker. That’s not to say the 13-inch MacBook Pro is a slouch, but the 15-inch MacBook Pro is just marginally quicker.

The 15-inch MacBook Pro also comfortably outscored the LG Gram 15, because even though the Gram 15 is a 15-inch notebook, it relies on a less powerful dual-core processor. It is therefore pretty impressive than Apple has managed to cram a quad-core processor into a notebook the size of the 15-inch MacBook Pro.

 

3DMark

On 3DMark, the 15-inch MacBook Pro scored significantly higher than the 13-inch MacBook Pro. It scored about 77% higher than on the Cloud Gate scenario, and nearly twice as high on the more intensive Fire Strike scenario. 

However, the 15-inch MacBook Pro and its Radeon Pro 450 was outclassed by the ASUS G501 and HP Omen. The ASUS G501 and HP Omen are powered by NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 960M and 860M mobile GPUs respectively. The GeForce GTX 960M is really just a higher clocked version of the GeForce GTX 860M, which in turn was released over two years ago.

 

Tomb Raider

The presence of the discrete Radeon Pro 450 GPU in the 15-inch MacBook Pro meant that it easily outperformed the 13-inch MacBook Pro. On Tomb Raider, the 15-inch MacBook Pro was about 55% faster than the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

However, it found itself thoroughly trumped by the ASUS G501 and HP Omen. On average, the ASUS and HP notebooks were about 50% faster than the 15-inch MacBook Pro even though they were powered by aging mobile GPUs. Clearly, the Radeon Pro 450 GPU in the MacBook Pro isn’t great for gaming.
 

 

Battery Life & Power Consumption

In our review of the new 13-inch MacBook Pro, we found that Apple had drastically reduced the size of its battery from 74.9Wh in last year’s model to 49.2Wh. They have also done the same for new 15-inch MacBook Pro, which saw its battery capacity reduced from 99.5Wh to 76Wh - a reduction of around 23%. 

Having never tested last year’s 15-inch MacBook Pro, it’s hard for me to say how much this has affected battery life. But in my own battery life test, I found that the 15-inch MacBook lasted 170 minutes or just shy of three hours. 

Power consumption stands at 26.82W, which is just about on a par with the ASUS G501. Bear in mind that the ASUS G501 has a more power hungry GPU and it also has a 4K display. This seems to suggest that 15-inch MacBook Pro isn’t quite as power efficient it should have been.
 

 

Portability Index

On the portability front, the new 15-inch MacBook Pro did well as it was the only 15-inch notebook to manage a ratio of more than 1.00. That said, if portability is your utmost priority and you don’t mind sacrificing some performance, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is a much better bet.

 

 

Final Thoughts & Buying Advice

The 15-inch MacBook Pro is clearly more powerful than the 13-inch MacBook Pro. If you are a creative professional that relies heavily on apps that can take advantage of GPU acceleration or the processing power of a quad-core processor, then the 15-inch MacBook Pro makes perfect sense. For everyone else, the 13-inch MacBook Pro offers plenty of grunt, and there’s little point in splashing the cash.

Personally, the 13-inch MacBook Pro has enough computing power for my needs. And the only reason I would consider the 15-inch MacBook Pro is: a) for its gorgeous 15-inch display or b) I was swimming in cash.

For most readers, the 13-inch MacBook Pro will suffice.

Speaking about cash, the new 15-inch MacBook Pro notebooks are pricey machines. The entry-level that I’m testing comes in at S$3,388, while the top-of-the-line off-the-shelf model is an eye-watering S$3,948. At these prices, let me remind you that there are loads of 15-inch Windows notebooks that are far more powerful. Of course, they aren’t running macOS, but if all you want is computing power, then that’s something to think about.

New MacBook Pro notebooks comparison
15-inch MacBook Pro
Processor Memory Graphics Storage Price
Intel Core i7-6700HQ (2.6GHz, 6MB L3 cache) 16GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 Radeon Pro 450 256GB S$3,388
Intel Core i7-6820HQ (2.7GHz, 8MB L3 cache) 16GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 Radeon Pro 455 512GB S$3,948
13-inch MacBook Pro
Processor Memory Graphics Storage Price
Core i5-6360U (2GHz, 4MB L3 cache) 8GB 1866MHz LPDDR3 Intel Iris Graphics 540 128GB S$2,188 (no Touch Bar/Touch ID)
Core i5-6267U (2.9GHz, 4MB L3 cache) 8GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 Intel Iris Graphics 550 256GB S$2,588
Core i5-6267U (2.9GHz, 4MB L3 cache) 8GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 Intel Iris Graphics 550 512GB S$2,788

To sum up, new 15-inch MacBook Pro are very capable machines, but also flawed in the same ways as their smaller 13-inch siblings. The lack of commonly used ports and an SD card reader is going to be a hassle for most users. But most of all, I’m not entirely sure that going with AMD’s new Radeon Pro GPUs is the best choice given that their graphics performance isn’t convincing at all. Don't forget that the 'professional' nature of these GPUs also add to the sticker price of the new 15-inch MacBook Pro - perhaps unnecessarily more? That all boils down to what you intend to do with these machines and if the "pro-grade" graphics is worth your while.

Furthermore, it seems like power consumption isn’t that much better even when compared to gaming notebooks using older NVIDIA GPUs. A colleague of mine is currently working on reviewing 15-inch gaming notebooks outfitted with NVIDIA’s latest 10 series GPUs and I found the notebooks to feature the new GeForce GTX 1060 to consume more or less the same amount of power as the 15-inch MacBook Pro - around 20W to 30W.

On the flip side, the new 15-inch MacBook Pro is a really well-built machine and it is also one of the more portable 15-inch notebooks around. In addition, general computing performance is really good, the new Touch Bar can be useful, and I really like the keyboard and the extra large trackpad. If you can stomach the high prices of the new 15-inch MacBook Pro notebooks, and don’t mind the weak choice of GPUs, they are nice notebooks to have.