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The 2019 MacBook Pro

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Apple Updates MacBook Pros with 8-core Processors and a Keyboard Fix(?)

In the lead-up to WWDC, Apple has updated its Touch Bar-equipped MacBook Pro line with 8th and 9th-generation Intel Core processors that Apple claims make the quad-core models twice as fast and the 6-core models 50% faster. Also, for the first time, you can buy an 8-core 15-inch MacBook Pro. Besides CPU upgrades, the tech specs aren’t much different than last year’s models.

But the question on everyone’s mind is: has Apple fixed the damned keyboard yet?

About That Keyboard…

Apple is finally officially addressing butterfly-switch keyboard issues in a MacBook Pro revision. Since the company first introduced the keyboard design in 2015, it has been a persistent pain for owners, who have suffered from keys that stick, repeat multiple times, or just stop working. Complaints about the issue have proliferated, and nearly everyone I know with one of these keyboards has experienced some problems (see “Class-Action Suit Filed against Apple for MacBook Butterfly Keyboards,” 16 May 2018). The problem gained mainstream attention after Joanna Stern’s damning Wall Street Journal video.

If you hate the key feel or the layout, you’re out of luck, but Apple has made an unspecified materials change in the butterfly mechanism that the company claims will at least make it more reliable. Last year, Apple added a silicone membrane to the keyboard, officially to make it quieter, but unofficially to keep dust and debris out of the butterfly mechanism (see “Apple Updates MacBook Pros with Faster CPUs, Higher RAM Ceiling, True Tone Display, and T2 Chip,” 12 July 2018). That membrane may have helped in some cases, but certainly didn’t solve all the problems (Reddit user cil3x tore down a MacBook Pro and proved that dust wasn’t the real problem).

That’s good news to anyone in the market for a new MacBook Pro, but there’s similarly good news for existing owners as well. Apple is expanding its Keyboard Service Program to all existing butterfly keyboard models, dating back to 2015, regardless of warranty status (see “Apple Announces Service Program for Butterfly-Switch Keyboards,” 25 June 2018).

Additionally, Apple is making improvements to its repair processes to shorten turnaround times. Apple told TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino that anyone who brings a malfunctioning third-generation butterfly keyboard (which shipped in MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models from the past year), it will be replaced with the new fourth-generation model.

New CPUs

Apart from the elephant (butterfly?) in the room, the big news for these MacBook Pro models is their new Intel CPUs, including an 8-core processor, which promise some radical improvements for the 15-inch line.

The 15-inch MacBook Pro models feature all-new 9th-generation Intel Core CPUs. The base model, starting at $2399, features a 2.3 GHz 6-core Intel Core i7 processor, which can be upgraded to a 2.4 GHz 8-core Intel Core i9 processor for $300. If you opt for the upper-tier model for $2799, the CPU upgrade costs only $200.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro sports some CPU improvements too, but they’re not as significant as those in the 15-inch models since they continue to rely on the same 8th-generation Intel Core chips as last year’s models. The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar still starts at $1799 and now features a 2.4 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor (up from a 2.3 GHz quad-core i5). You can upgrade it to a 2.8 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 for $300.

RAM and Storage

RAM configurations remain the same as last year. The 13-inch models default to 8 GB of 2133 MHz LPDDR3 memory, which you can upgrade to 16 GB for $200. The 15-inch models default to 16 GB of 2400 MHz DDR4 memory or you can take them up to 32 GB for $400.

Storage options remain the same as last year. The base $1799 13-inch and $2399 15-inch models come with 256 GB of SSD storage, which can be upgraded to 512 GB for $200, 1 TB for $600, or 2 TB for $1200. Additionally, you can load up the 15-inch model with 4 TB of SSD storage for a whopping $3000.

The upper-tier $1999 13-inch model and the $2799 15-inch model come with 512 GB of SSD storage, which can be upgraded to 1 TB for $400 or 2 TB for $1000. The 15-inch MacBook Pro can be upgraded to 4 TB for “only” $2800.

Graphics

The 13-inch MacBook Pro features the same Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655 as last year. The 15-inch models, which can switch back and forth between power-saving integrated graphics and faster discrete graphics, also remain the same as last year at the base level, although Apple added a couple of new high-end options.

The $2399 15-inch model includes a discrete Radeon Pro 555X with 4 GB of GDDR5 memory, which can be upgraded to a Radeon Pro 560X with 4 GB of GDDR5 memory for $100. The upper-tier $2399 15-inch model comes stock with the Radeon Pro 560X, and can be upgraded to the Radeon Pro Vega 16 with 4 GB of HBM2 memory for $250 or the Radeon Pro Vega 20 with the same amount of memory for $350.

Availability

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, remember that 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 we make no guarantees.

The big question is if Apple has finally fixed the butterfly keyboard’s inadequacies. As I said above, if you have problems with the key travel, key spacing, or arrow key placement, the answer is unabashedly no, since Apple seems uninterested in modifying the current industrial design. As for the reliability, will the fourth time be the charm? We’ll have to wait for early purchasers to report back if and when they start having problems.

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Comments About Apple Updates MacBook Pros with 8-core Processors and a Keyboard Fix(?)

Notable Replies

  1. Apple apparently just updated the MBP. There’s a supposedly improved keyboard (that can be swapped in for previous MBP butterfly keyboards) and a new 8-core option on the 15" MBPs. No 6-core update for the 13". The TouchBar is still on there.

    If the keyboard turns out to be legit the quad-core 13" might just be my new work Mac.

  2. Thanks for the nice article, Josh.

    It’s a bummer that the new gen Intel CPUs only found their way to the 15". Any details on the 13" i7? How does it compare to the 9th-gen found in the 15" (apart from the additional cores of course)? TDP? Is the slower mem bus going to be a real world issue?

  3. Thanks! Yes, unfortunately, the 13-inch always seems to get the short end of the stick. I doubt there’s much real-world performance difference for most people, but we’ll have to see what the benchmarks say.

  4. How much faster is the 13-inch May 2019 MacBook Pro vs the late 2013 MacBook Pro Retina?

    I have a late 2013 13-inch MacBook Pro retina with the base CPUs: 2.6 GHz dual Core i5. Not sure what “generation” that is. I also have 16 GB RAM, but just 512 GB SSD.

    The new May 2019 MacBook Pros with TouchBar and TouchID come with these base CPUs: 2.4 GHz 8th generation quad core i5.

    How much faster are the new CPUs compared to what I have? Time to upgrade?

  5. It’s a little early for good performance data on the 2019 models but they’ve started showing up on Geekbench.

    Here’s a comparison of your processor and a single sample of the new base processor:

    Single	Multi
    4737	16775	"Core i5" 2.4 13" Touch/2019 (I5-8279U)
    3369	6467	"Core i5" 2.6 13" Late 2013  (I5-4288U)
    

    40% faster for single-threaded processes, 159% faster for multi-threaded. Since you have a dual core and the new one is quad core, it makes sense it would be more than twice as fast for multi-threaded operations.

    I wouldn’t necessarily upgrade if you aren’t having problems with your current laptop. Is there anything your current laptop can’t do that you want to do? Do you use it to perform tasks with a clear time-is-money benefit to completing them more quickly?

    I have a Late 2016 15-inch MBP. I don’t like the keyboard and while newer iterations have made improvements, I still prefer the earlier models. I think the trackpad is actually too big. I don’t hate the Touch Bar but I don’t like it either. I really like Touch ID. I like Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C and don’t mind losing MagSafe. Losing built-in HDMI was a slight inconvenience. The 2019 13-inch weighing almost half a pound less than the Late 2013 is nice.

  6. That was unexpectedly useful information. Thanks!

    The main thing I wish my current MBP had was more SSD. Currently I’m stuck at 512 GB. I’d really like at least 1 TB. My entire Photos album, for example, is offloaded onto an SD card just to make space. And I need to use part of my CCC backup drive in order to run BackBlaze completely for offsite backups. 2 TB would even be nicer.

    My keys are wearing off again too. I got the topcase replaced under warranty at the end of 2016, but already A, S, D, W, and L are wearing off. Did that get any better with the newer keyboards?

    The new ports are sort of a turn-off to me, but I guess I can live with them. I actually rarely take my MBP anywhere. When I do I might need to get a new kind of HTML though.

    I didn’t realize it weighed so much less.

    All-in-all it doesn’t seem a huge change after 6 years, does it?

    Is the screen itself better?

    There isn’t anything I need to actually do that I can’t on my current MBP. However, it is 100% central to my work. But my work isn’t video editing - it’s programming. And, in fact, the compiling takes place off-site on Linode servers. I do need to run Windows in Parallels Desktop sometimes though - mostly for compatibility testing, or to help a Windows client debug some issue.

    Maybe I should wait until mine dies and rush and get a replacement? Or maybe I can fix up the keyboard and resell this one at an auction site? The battery is still like knew because there have been so few charge cycles.

    SSDs have a lifetime though, don’t they?

    Thanks for the info!

  7. The last MBP 13" with proper port set is the last MBP 13" I would consider. You can find affordable parts for your machine on eBay (very popular machine). Somewhere in your neck of the woods, there’s someone who knows how to fix these machines. I walk the talk: my main portable is a MBP 17" from 2011, upgraded to 1TB SSD and 16 GB of RAM. Still the best large screen portable work station which runs OS X.

  8. The port set is really not a big deal. You just get the right cable or adapter and you’re fine. If you absolutely need all the versatility on the go then you’ll have to have a little go-bag with the required dongles (I actually have that).

    But the new port set does have a huge advantage. With TB3 we have a single super-high bandwidth port that does it all. You usually don’t run out of ports because there’s three more of the same type (don’t get the gimped two-port MBP despite its physical esc key which is great). And if you do need more ports, well then just get an inexpensive hub.

    MagSafe is a loss no doubt, but everything else really does work just fine. And the fact that TB3 makes for a great docking station setup is an added bonus for those who spend significant time at a desk too.

    IMHO if you want to complain about the new MBPs, it should be focused on the KB (the jury’s still out on whether iteration 3 of this questionable design actually fixed the problem) and the TouchBar (gimmick that went nowhere). The camera’s a joke in 2019 (and next to what they can do on iPhone), but I hardly use it anyway so I don’t care too much. I’d like to add high price points exasperated by the fact that BTO options are excessively priced as well to my list, but hey, who am I kidding? It’s been that way with the MBP for at least a decade now. Tim’s not going to change that. Maybe the next guy.

    Edit: no Nvidia/CUDA options on the MBP are a real bummer too. But when was it that Apple decided they needed to publicly punish Nvidia for some petty spat? Another decade ago? Yeah, exactly.

  9. Wow. There’s no way I want to carry a little baggie just to be able to use my computer (like having to carry a catheter tube everywhere with you: for those who are suffering from a medical condition, great for the rest of us not so much). I remember the PowerBook Duos and am not keen to voyage in a time machine back to the eighties.

    Your complaints list unsells the new MBP better than I could. Using a MBP as a desktop is pretty awful. With big monitors hooked up, the MBP slows down and the fans speed up. With a Silver Tower I can place it halfway across the room and behind a couch and it’s practically silent.

  10. If you buy only through the Apple Store, you might believe that you would need to carry a bag of dongles, one for each possible interface (USB3, HDMI, card reader, miniDisplayport, Thunderbolt 2, etc.). However, in the years since the USB-C port appeared, several manufacturers have built small hubs that can handle most of these needs. For example, when I travel with my 2018 MacBook Pro, I carry a hub that adds 3 USB3 ports, a card reader, an HDMI port, and an Ethernet port (https://amazon.com/gp/product/B079GSMZ7G/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o07_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1). Using this hub still keeps 3 ports available for charging, or attaching devices that aren’t covered by the hub. So far, I have never needed to attach more than the hub and a charging cable at the same time.

    For my purposes, that one hub is sufficient. Your needs may be different, and, I’m sure that you can find a solution that will allow you to get by with a minimal number interface cables.

  11. Well, that’s not what I said either. You can use it just fine without a catheter bag. However, if you want to be able to connect to every possible port on the go, then, and only then, you will likely have to bring along a baggy with adapters.

    Cannot confirm anything like that.

    In fact, my Core i7 13" MBP from way back in 2013 is probably one of my favorite desktop Mac setups I’ve ever had. It’s light and compact on the go, but when I get back to my office I plug it into one TB2 and one power connection to immediately get access to my huge monitor, my favorite keyboard, my favorite mouse, all my local external storage, Gigabit, etc.

    My fans will rev up when the CPU is taxed, but not just because I connect to an external display. I remember something like that in conjunction with a ~2006 MBP and its internal GPU, but as of the last decade, that has never been an issue for me. Likewise, my CPU performance is entirely unaffected by the external screen.

    Ironically, you mention your silent tower. I had a QuickSilver at home for a while. My wife had me throw it out because you could here it run in other parts of the house just because of its fans. At idle. I kid you not. I think at some point Apple even had a service program to quiet the boxes down where they’d insert some damping rubber or something. It was ridiculous outside of anything but a noisy lab/shop environment.

  12. Yes, I like the Dell USB-C DA300 Mobile Adapter, mainly because it also has VGA and I’m on a campus that still has a fair number of rooms with only that. I like the retractable USB-C cable too. It only has one USB type A and one type C which is probably not enough for many.

  13. Current displays support “P3 wide color,” not so relevant while programming but good for photography and video.

    SSDs have a limited number of write cycles but it’s difficult to know when you’re pushing your luck.

    I don’t think there’s any reason to hold out for the next MacBook Pro; like the 2019 models, the next ones will probably have incremental changes (faster components, WiFi 6 is likely). I don’t expect Apple to “see the light” regarding the choices that get the most complaints.

    You’ve had your current laptop a decent length of time, you’re cramped for internal space, keeping your photos on a not ideal medium and your keyboard is kind of worn out. A new MBP will have a much faster SSD in addition to the processor, your VM should feel snappier. But since you’re using the built-in keyboard enough to wear out keys, try to spend some time with the new keyboards (either 2019 or 2018, it doesn’t sound like the 2019 ones have a different feel), if you really don’t like it, you’ll have a harder decision to make. I spend the vast majority of my time using an external keyboard so I can live with the 2016 model having the second-worst keyboard (I think the first 12-inch MacBook one may be the worst).

  14. The biggest issues with the Silver Towers were usually the graphic cards. The standard issue lite upgrade Radeon 4870 was loud and so were some others. Damping was best on the 1,1 (Jobs asked the engineers to spare no expense on damping). Of course, each generation the damping was a bit worse and requires some hand tweaking to bring sound levels down. My towers are very, very quiet.

    What’s loud are the nasty fans on MBP. MBP are underbuilt for the heat they generate. Only with gfxCardStatus to turn off the dedicated graphics card and Turbo Boost Switcher to turn off (hot) turbo mode does an Apple laptop user who works with images or keeps multiple browser tabs open have a fighting chance of a quiet computer.

    Apple is very fortunate that Linux remains fractured and that the other laptop computer manufacturers are so feckless. ThinkPads aren’t bad in terms of configuration and durability but they are pretty boxy and if you don’t like that red thumbnub are torture to use. It’s amusing to watch so many people who are greeny-peasy in other parts of their lives, carefully recycling their garbage, taking care not to litter in nature and worrying about their carbon footprint buy Apple laptops. Apple laptops in the last seven years have become basically entirely non-repairable. To repair a defective trackpad, Apple threw away the whole top half of my wife’s MBP 13". Literally one third of the computer. Outside of warranty it makes no economic sense to repair them. Insane.

    The only repairable laptops capable of running current OS well are the 2011/2012 15 ad 17 MBP.

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