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Apple Updates MacBook Pros with Faster CPUs, Higher RAM Ceiling, True Tone Display, and T2 Chip

Just in time for the education ordering season, Apple has updated the Touch Bar-equipped MacBook Pro line with a variety of under-the-hood enhancements—8th-generation Intel processors, higher RAM ceilings, and larger SSDs—that make the laptops more powerful, all while retaining current prices. Also new and welcome are True Tone displays, a tweaked butterfly keyboard, and an Apple T2 chip.

Photo of MacBook Pro models

The 13-inch MacBook Pro that has only two Thunderbolt 3 ports and function keys in place of the Touch Bar remains unchanged, as do the MacBook and MacBook Air lines.

CPUs

In both the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro models, Apple is adding CPU cores. Previously, the 13-inch MacBook Pro offered three different speeds of Intel Core i5 and i7 chips, all of which were dual-core. Now the 13-inch model starts with a 2.3 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 and offers one jump to a 2.7 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 (for an additional $300). The new chips also feature faster Turbo Boost rates and 128 MB of performance-enhancing eDRAM (embedded DRAM), twice as much as before.

Similarly, for the 15-inch MacBook Pro, Apple has swapped out quad-core Intel Core i7 processors in favor of base 6-core models running at 2.2 GHz and 2.6 GHz with 9 MB of shared L3 cache. The top-of-the-line 15-inch model now sports a 2.9 GHz Intel Core i9 processor with 12 MB of shared L3 cache. That i9 processor doesn’t come cheap—it’s a $400 premium over the 2.2 GHz i7.

Someone will undoubtedly put these new MacBook Pros through benchmarks soon, but Apple is claiming performance boosts of up to 70 percent for the 15-inch models and up to 100 percent for the 13-inch models.

RAM

A common complaint with the MacBook Pro line concerned its 16 GB RAM ceiling. That maximum remains in place for the 13-inch MacBook Pro, which defaults to 8 GB and can be configured with 16 GB for an extra $200. The new 15-inch models, on the other hand, still ship with 16 GB, but now go up to 32 GB for $400 more.

In addition, while the current 13-inch models and previous 15-inch models rely on 2133 MHz DDR3 RAM, the new 15-inch models use 2400 MHz DDR4 RAM. DDR4 RAM is reportedly faster and uses less power (interestingly, DDR4 memory has been on the market since early 2015, so it has taken quite some time to appear in the Mac world).

Storage

If you cringed slightly at the $400 price increases for the faster CPU and more RAM, hold on to your socks when you look at storage options. The 13-inch MacBook Pro previously topped out with a 1 TB SSD option, but you can now increase the 256 GB default storage to 2 TB ($1400) or stick to 512 GB ($200) or 1 TB ($600).

For the 15-inch model, the maximum is now 4 TB, for which you’ll pay a whopping $3400. Other options include 512 GB ($200), 1 TB ($600), and 2 TB ($1400).

Graphics

The 13-inch MacBook Pro continues to rely on integrated graphics but moves from Intel Iris Plus Graphics 650 to the 655.

The 15-inch models, which can switch back and forth between power-saving integrated graphics and faster discrete graphics, also get minor upgrades. The lower-end configuration of the 15-inch MacBook Pro moves from Intel HD Graphics 630 to the Intel UHD Graphics 630, and from the Radeon Pro 555 with 2 GB of GDDR5 memory to the Radeon Pro 555X with 4 GB of GDDR5 memory.

For more graphics performance, you can opt for a Radeon Pro 560X with 4 GB of GDDR5 memory—it’s only a $100 price bump.

Keyboard, True Tone, and Apple T2

One of the first questions in TidBITS Talk was about the controversial butterfly keyboard, which Apple introduced in 2016 and has revised once already to address frequent failures. Most recently, Apple launched a service program to repair stuck or dead keys for free (see “Apple Announces Service Program for Butterfly-Switch Keyboards,” 25 June 2018). It seems that Apple has again tweaked the butterfly keyboard to make it quieter, although it’s unclear whether that will address the complaints of those who dislike its feel.

True Tone is less controversial. First introduced with the iPad Pro and added to 2017’s iPhone models, True Tone adjusts the white balance of the screen based on ambient light with the goal of making it more comfortable to view the screen in different lighting conditions. For designers looking to match colors precisely, it might be a problem, but in general, we haven’t heard complaints.

Finally, the Apple T2 chip is quite interesting. The successor to the previous models’ T1 chip, it debuted in the iMac Pro and is an embedded control system that manages system features like the Touch Bar, Apple Pay, and more. Ars Technica described it in a review of the iMac Pro. For the MacBook Pro, it facilitates a secure boot feature, encrypts files on the fly, and perhaps most notably, enables Hey Siri so you can talk to your Mac without pressing a key.

Other Specs

Despite the fact that Apple’s battery life estimates of up to 10 hours usage remain the same, the new 13-inch model sports a 58.0-watt-hour battery, up from a 49.2-watt-hour battery in the previous model. Similarly, the 15-inch model now relies on an 83.6-watt-hour battery, up from a 76.0-watt-hour battery in the previous model, but also retains the same battery life estimates. That presumably means that the added performance comes at the cost of higher power usage.

Also new in all the updated models is support for Bluetooth 5.0 in addition to Bluetooth 4.2. That may eventually be more useful than you might think, since Bluetooth 5.0 offers twice the data rate, four times the range, and packets that are eight times larger. The faster data rate and larger packet size should improve throughput and overall performance—we’re hoping to see Bluetooth 5.0 for faster syncing in the next Apple Watch models. But the most important change may be the range. Bluetooth 4.2 is limited to about 50m, but Bluetooth 5.0 should work up to 200m. That’s an unobstructed range, so it will be much less indoors, but it should mean that Bluetooth 5.0 devices will work throughout a house rather than in just one room. The range is achieved by scaling down the data rate.

Most of the other specs in the MacBook Pro models remain the same: four Thunderbolt 3 ports, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, 720p FaceTime camera, stereo speakers, three microphones, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Price and Availability

The entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1799 and the 15-inch model at $2399. Apple offers two versions of the 15-inch MacBook Pro, but the only real difference is that one has a 2.2 GHz i7 processor that can be upgraded only to a 2.9 GHz i9, whereas the other has a 2.6 GHz i7 that you can swap out for the same 2.9 GHz i9.

If you’re a college student buying a Mac, you can get one of these new MacBook Pros (or an iPad Pro) with a free pair of Beats headphones in Apple’s 2018 Back to School promotion.

With both the 13- and 15-inch models, you can choose between silver and space gray, and they’re available now on Apple’s online store and in Apple retail stores and independent Apple-authorized resellers.

As almost always seems to be the case, all these updates are welcome, and if you’ve been thinking about buying a MacBook Pro, now’s a good time. If you purchased one of the previous models in the last two weeks, you can return it and get one of the new models for the same price. If you’re just outside the two-week window, you might be able to plead your case with an Apple Store employee in person, but no guarantees.

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Comments About Apple Updates MacBook Pros with Faster CPUs, Higher RAM Ceiling, True Tone Display, and T2 Chip

Notable Replies

  1. At some point I might like to upgrade my late 2013 MacBook Pro. But my MacBook Pro still works OK, I don’t have any speed problems, and really the only thing I wish is that I had a larger SSD.

    Meanwhile the new MacBook Pro doesn’t seem to really change anything fundamentally except it got rid of all the ports a few years ago and left just USB-C, plus it has keyboards that everybody is complaining about.

    It’s like five years have gone by, and there’s no fundamental exciting change in the Mac lineup.

    I think they should be doing something more interesting, like adding touchscreen ability to the Mac like Microsoft is doing with the Surface.

    I had my top case replaced at the end of 2016, just before my Apple care warranty expired. That gave it a new keyboard, trackpad, and also battery. Since then a few keys have started to wear down again, but otherwise it’s basically like an all new machine.

    Unless Apple comes out with something really exciting, the only reason I would buy a new Mac is if my current MBP were to die.

    I’m actually pretty surprised that five years can go by with no new compelling, really attractive new upgrade to the MacBook Pro.

  2. I’m afraid you’re not alone with that impression.

  3. I had them recently do the same because the battery on my late 2013 13" had depleted. And the screen needed to be swapped for the 3rd time because of the flaking coating (they paid for that though). It’s now basically like an almost new Mac. I don’t plan on replacing it with the 2018 model that’s for sure.

  4. My dilemma: my late-2011 MBPro 15-inch has undergone a little tinkering over the past 6 years. It sports a 512GB SSD that transformed it into a relative speed demon of a machine, even for video editing. The built-in keyboard is flaky (some keys work when they feel like it), so I routinely use the otherwise-hateful Apple Wireless keyboard from my iMac on top of it, or else plug in a Logitech extended keyboard. But it all works, and the only looming cloud on the horizon is that the next OS version is said not to support it.

    As Adam points out, configuring the new models with a SSD is mind-blowingly expensive. There’s no alternative for DIY or even professional installation from what I can see. I can’t envision replacing my well-used well-loved MacBook Pro for an insane amount of cash and a questionable set of benefits.

    (Touchbar? True Tone? “Hey Siri”? One is a gimmick, one seems like an OS refinement that would drive me nuts, and if I want to ask Siri something, that’s what my iPhone, iPad, and Watch are for.)

    This model roll-out makes me feel like a cranky guy yelling “Get off my lawn!” :slight_smile:

  5. Even on the cheaper 15" the SSD upgrade to the 512GB you have is just $200. That’s not exactly crazy.

    IMHO the main issue is if you should opt not to chose a storage size much beyond what you presently deem necessary simply because Apple has made upgrading storage down the road impossible. And then you’d indeed be looking at a $600 option.

  6. And there you are. My SSD upgrade in 2014 suited my storage needs, and revved up a great laptop with a mind-numbingly slow spinning hard drive. In 2014 I subbed in like-for-like in capacity. I also pulled the optical drive and installed the original spinner in the second bay, so in effect I have overflow capacity at the expense of a Superdrive option that’s no longer available as an internal drive. (And sometimes I question the wisdom of that, but there it is.)

    But, in 2018, I find that my SSD hovers at around 30 GB available out of the 512GB capacity. I clean out the cruft regularly, and I don’t install as many apps “on spec” as I used to.

    So, that $200 option would make no sense for me. And my strategy over the past 35 years has been to leapfrog every five years in capability. Right now, that’s too rich a strategy, and Apple has also closed off the DIY option.

  7. That chart seems to show that Apple’s marketshare has reached a 21st century high and then stayed there. That hardly strikes me as a company that’s stagnating.

  8. Can we have a source for this chart? We can’t tell if it’s volume or revenue, and it just says “Apple Market Share,” not Mac Market Share. And it’s just comparing first quarters. Sales of Apple’s new products always spike when they’re released, and Apple doesn’t always launch new Macs in the 1st quarter, which ends in December. First quarter doesn’t include back to school sales, which reliably spike. And it doesn’t include new product introductions that fall inside the other three quarters; this year’s new MacBooks will include back to school, but not holiday.

  9. I hear this a lot, but nobody ever seems to state what they would consider “compelling” or “really attractive.” So what would it take for you to consider upgrading?

  10. In my message I wrote: “I think they should be doing something more interesting, like adding touchscreen ability to the Mac like Microsoft is doing with the Surface.”

    In other words, some new functionality.

    The touchbar was pretty “meh.” And I hate giving up all my current ports unless there was something new and exciting.

    Touchscreen integration seems a natural way to go. Whenever I go back from my iPad with keyboard to my MacBook Pro I’m tempted to touch the screen. And then I realize I can’t yet.

    But Apple seems to have locked themselves into a corner by saying they are not interested in integrating macOS and iOS.

  11. The MBP is easy. More CPU power, more mem bandwidth, better GPUs, more battery life, lighter, LTE, etc. Sure, many of those demands appear contradictory. That’s where innovation comes in would come in.

  12. You can stagnate or cease developing on any level. What the chart shows is that Apple has become stuck (i.e. is stagnating) around 13% (US Mac market share). And that after many years of ~1% growth per year. Incidentally, those years Apple was actually still interested in Mac and made significant improvements to the hardware and software.

    I think the reason Apple is now making their own chips is so they could add new features like Face ID as well as radically new stuff we don’t even suspect in newer models.

  13. The touchbar was pretty “meh.” And I hate giving up all my current ports unless there was something new and exciting.

    Touchscreen integration seems a natural way to go. Whenever I go back from my iPad with keyboard to my MacBook Pro I’m tempted to touch the screen. And then I realize I can’t yet.

    I agree about the touchbar, but I think it will be an even bigger PITA and time waster to have to keep moving my hands from the keyboard or touchpad to the screen. The user interface of a MacBook is totally different from an iPad for very important reasons.

    And I can type on a keyboard with semi dry nail polish, behavior I wouldn’t risk with a beautiful Retina display.

    But Apple seems to have locked themselves into a corner by saying they are not interested in integrating macOS and iOS.

    Because even if full versions Final Cut Pro, Excel, Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign, Filemaker, Word and so many other apps can be upgraded to run effectively and efficiently on iOS, keyboards will still necessary.

  14. Of course! Thus the “integration” part of it. I like using the Logicool Slim Folio keyboard case with my iPad 5th generation because some things are easier with a keyboard, like, well typing.

    But sometimes you want to just touch and drag something.

    So if you can do that with an iPad and extra keyboard case, why not with the Mac as well. Not one or the other, but the best of both!

  15. You’re forgetting that the Mac interface wasn’t designed for a big thick finger, but a mouse-pointer that’s accurate down to the pixel level.

    Sure, for some things, like a large icon, dragging with your finger would work fine. But there are tons of tiny user interface elements on the Mac that far too small.

    As an experiment, you can try screen sharing from your iPad to your Mac and then interact with your Mac via the iPad. I do this occasionally (I use the excellent Screens app) and while it works, it’s an adventure – certain things that are trivial on the Mac with a cursor are tricky with your finger. I find the same simple tasks take 2x-3x longer just because the UI is challenging and I often have to start over or redo things.

    Ultimately, Mac software could be rewritten to be more touch-friendly, but then all legacy software wouldn’t work well. If Apple were to go that route, they might as well just abandon the Mac and switch everything to IOS – it’d have the same effect.

    I’m far more interested in Apple adding iOS tech like FaceID to the Mac than the Mac getting a touch screen i’d never use.

  16. In your original post you stated you weren’t going to upgrade your aging MBP unless they had something compelling to make you do so.

    If having a touchscreen is the only thing you consider compelling, then you may as well just buy a MS Surface now, because the MacBook Pro is never going to get one. I suspect it will get a touchscreen keyboard before a touchscreen main display.

    Don’t get me wrong, I was in the same boat as you up until last week. I’m a graphic designer by trade, and I’ve never been able to use a laptop as my main workhorse for one reason or the other (small display, lack of processor power, lack of RAM expansion). I’ve managed for the last 15 years or so by having an iMac as my main machine, with a MacBook of some variety as a “backup/on the road” machine. It’s an expensive way to go, for sure. I kept waiting and waiting for 32GB of RAM to come along. Prior to that it was the slower processors, video cards and spinning hard drives that prevented me from upgrading.

    FINALLY, Apple has processors that are fast enough, the ability for 32GB of RAM is here, a fast enough graphics card (for print & web design work) and the SSD which was already fast enough last few years ago is even faster this year.

    The switch to all USB-C ports concerned me up until last week when I decided I was going to dump the iMac/MacBook Pro shuffle and just have one machine to rule them all, The new MBP 15". I began doing research on how many dongles and doohickeys I was going to need to buy. I know I have a ton of junk connected to my iMac. That’s when I realized that nearly everything I have is wireless. I have one external 3TB backup drive, an external monitor and a USB-A to Lightning cable plugged in, that’s it. And the USB cable is really only there for quick-charging my iPhone and AirPod case… it could just as easily be charged in the kitchen from the wall outlet.

    I would LIKE to have more 5K display options. I would LIKE to have more than USB-C connection options. I would LIKE to have MagSafe power connector back. But I’m not so stubborn that I’m not willing to move forward with new tech that’s pretty darn good right now.

  17. (Let’s keep this discussion technical—I’ve edited/deleted some posts that were getting personal.)

    I understand all the arguments Apple has made against touchscreens on the Mac, but I’ve been using an iPad Pro with a Smart Keyboard a fair amount, and what I’ve found is that the experience of using a touch-based interface makes me want to touch the screen on my MacBook Air a fair amount. Not to move icons around, but definitely to dismiss dialog boxes and position the insertion point. So on the one hand, I think there’s no question that a touchscreen would be useful on a Mac, but at the same time, it’s not useful for very many things, so it’s not likely to be enough of a win to justify the additional hardware cost.

    I’ve also used a Chromebook Pixel with a touchscreen (and watched my son use it a lot more, since it was his main computer in high school) and my experience there matches—there are a few situations where touching the screen makes sense, and a whole lot where it doesn’t.

    I think Face ID is more likely than a touchscreen because it’s a guaranteed win—lots of things need authentication in macOS. And we haven’t seen Apple extending the Touch Bar beyond the MacBook Pro, which might indicate a jump to Face ID rather than focusing on Touch ID in the Touch Bar.

  18. Maybe this upgrade is “compelling” – because the last update wasn’t. I upgraded last year from a 2013 MacBook Pro to a 2017 MacBook Pro and … felt almost no speed difference. Disappointing.

    (Disclaimer: I also upgraded from OS 10.9.7 to High Sierra, which most noticeably improved RAM memory management, so I could live with the 16GB RAM limit – with my 2013 MBP/10.9.7 I regularly ran out of memory).

  19. I know I’m not the most technically savvy list member, so please correct me if I’m off the mark. I suspect that maybe the reason MacBook Pros didn’t get Face ID is that Intel chips can’t handle it. Building sensors and cameras into MacBook Pros shouldn’t be a problem, and neither should the app. And they could charge a whole lot more for Pros if they had it.

    Intel does make a chip that’s used in some Windows laptops and Android phones, and I think in Kinekt. But it’s not nearly as secure as Face ID because the sensors don’t do sophisticated 3D scanning. So there’s also nothing cool like personalized Animoji, and the potential for advanced AR and VR is severely limited. And the face scanning Android and Windows stuff is selling really terribly.

    So I’m bummed that I have to buy a MacBook Pro now, because I’ll bet that in addition to Face ID, Jony Ive & crew are working on cool new stuff for the next generation (or two) of MacBooks, and down the road, Watches too.

  20. Much more likely is simply supply constraints. The rumors are all that the new iPhones (nearly all models) and iPads coming this fall will have Face ID – with millions of those being made in a short time, Apple probably doesn’t have the resources to also include the 3D cameras and laser scanners and the other components that make up Face ID on the Mac.

    This doesn’t surprise me, since iOS devices typically get new tech first (Touch ID is still limited to a few models of Macs), but I expect that the 2019 MBP will have Face ID.

  21. Completely agree.

    And in this respect an (unverified) performance increase of 70-100% looks interesting.

    I am completely underwhelmed by the touch bar and in two years have only found it useful on a handful of occasions. (Selecting named areas in Excel). I wouldn’t miss it if it was withdrawn.

    Siri? Won’t increase my productivity
    Touchscreen? I can see this could be useful to some users, and could be option.

  22. Whenever a new version of the MacOS is released, the loudest chorus of complaints I hear comes from folks complaining that Apple is making the MacOS too much like iOS. Users don’t seem to want the MacOS to be like iOS. I think that a huge number of users would be extremely unhappy if the MacOS moved to integrating touchscreen capability. That would make MacOS too much like iOS.

    Also, note that while the Microsoft Surface has been advertised like crazy on television (I can only imagine how much the around-the-clock ads for Surface must be costing Microsoft), hoards of people still aren’t flocking to Microsoft stores to purchase them.

  23. It’s the Apple T2 chip that does security, fingerprint unlocking,interacts with the Secure Enclave, etc., so it’s probably not an issue with the performance of the Intel chips (which, by the way, apparently increase the performance on the MBP over last year by quite a bit; they are likely more powerful than the A11 on the iPhone X.) If I was going to guess, I think it’s more likely that Apple couldn’t yet add Face ID sensors, etc., and still meet the price point/profit level that they want to have on these notebooks.

  24. There’s now some confirmation that the keyboard change is also to make it more reliable. Which is not surprising.

  25. And according to these tests it’s working.

    We pumped this keyboard full of particulates to test our ingress-proofing theory. … Lo and behold, the dust is safely sequestered at the edges of the membrane, leaving the mechanism fairly sheltered. … The previous-gen butterfly keys are far less protected, and are almost immediately flooded with our glowing granules.

  26. I was in Yodobashi Camera yesterday and so tried out the new MacBook Pro. I have to admit the first thing I wanted to do was touch an item in the dock. That of course would be faster than using the trackpad to click on it.

    The keyboard felt fine to me and it looked nice. I’m still not convinced about the touch bar, and how practical or useful it is.

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