Watch: Apple's 2016 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar vs. 2015 15-inch MacBook Pro in performance shootout
Apple recently released the first MacBook Pro redesign since 2012, and in typical Apple fashion, there's been some controversy over the new machines. People are talking about are the lack of legacy ports, and the need for adapters to use current devices and accessories. With so many Macbook Pro users waiting for this redesign, AppleInsider takes a closer look and compares the new 15-inch model to the old to see if you should upgrade to the 2016 model, or stick with 2015's version.
The new MacBook Pro is smaller in every dimension from the previous model. Even though it's not a huge change on paper, the change is immediately noticeable in person. If your MacBook Pro travels with you, you'll appreciate the smaller footprint. It fits better in laptop bags, where the older 15-inch model can be tight.
Even with the smaller and lighter design, the cooling performance isn't compromised. In our normal usage which includes video and photo editing, It was immediately noticeable how much quieter the new machine was.
Connected to a 31-inch 4K display, the 2015 model typically sits at 58C with fans fans at 40%. This generates a noticeable hum that can get annoying in quieter rooms, but your sensitivity to the noise may vary. Under the same conditions, the new machine runs 10C cooler and remains perfectly silent.
Overall from a professional photo and video editing perspective, the 2016 15-inch Macbook Pro is a fantastic redesign and update from last years model.
To take it a step further, we transcoded video footage to stress the processors. Under load, the latest Macbook Pro runs at an average of 85C at 50% fan speed. At full "turbo boost" speed, the 2015 model runs at an average of 93C with 100% fanspeed and has to slow down it processor to keep it from overheating.
Not only is the 2016 MacBook Pro cooler and much quieter, it finished transcoding 10 video clips about 15% faster.
The 15-inch 2015 MacBook Pro's speakers were one of the best on the market, but Apple has managed to make then even better with the 2016 model, implementing improved loudness, bass, mids, and highs. This new machine has hands down the best speakers available in a laptop this size and has no problem filling a room with sound.
Incorporating the DCI-P3 "Wide Color" color space, the display has also been improved, granting better color accuracy, contrast and brightness. The benefits of the new display are pronounced if you use your new MacBook Pro in bright rooms or outside.
Our new 15" MacBook Pro has the base 2.6GHZ processor compared to the 2.5ghz in the 2015 model. We started off with Geekbench 4, and found that the new MacBook Pro was actually 8% slower in the CPU Test.
With further inspection, even though the processor's base clock is slightly faster the max boost speed is 200 Hz slower, and under full load 400 Hz slower, which is what gave us the benchmark numbers.
Real world results, like our transcoding test say something else entirely, as the older MacBook Pro can't keep up the faster speed for long because of heat — so, overall, the new MacBook Pro is faster and cooler.
Media editing tasks
In photo editing, both machines edited smoothly using Adobe Lightroom, but the latest 15-inch Macbook was about 8% faster in converting 50 edited raw photos to JPEG. That's not a big difference, as Lightroom along with most photo editing apps are more dependent on the processor and generally don't max out the machines unless you're applying a series of filters.
For video editing we see much more of a difference. The latest MacBook Pro is on average about 50% faster with heavier tasks showing the bigger improvements. Rendering a 5-minute 1080p video with luts and film grain applied was 52% faster, and the same project in 4K was 54% faster.
A much heavier project with multiple scaled 4K clips with effects was 94% faster. Along with these speed improvements the 2016 Macbook Pro runs cooler and quieter.
If you like to play games on your portable machine, the 2016 Macbook with the AMD 460 graphics is about 60% faster in the "Heaven" Unreal Engine benchmark, and under BootCamp can play some modern titles like "Battlefield 1" with medium-to-high setting at a constant 60FPS — which is something the older model could never do.
Gone are the HDMI, Thunderbolt 2, and USB 3 type-A ports along with the SD card reader. Replacing them are 4 Thunderbolt 3 ports that can be adapted to almost any connection.
While most users seem to be frustrated by the loss of ports, USB-C is the future. Apple's change to these ports exclusively will drive the market for updated devices and cables much faster than if they would have left some USB ports, similar to the shift to USB with the original iMac.
Magsafe is also missing, which was a great feature to have if you're laptop cable is prone to being pulled. If this is critical, there are a few third party options for the USB-C Ports.
While most users will need at least 1 USB-C to USB-A adapter and SD card reader, many old devices can be used with an updated cable. In our use, this hasn't been a big deal. We do confess, though, that it would have been good if they kept the SD card slot.
The new 15-inch MacBook Pro has the advantage of being able to power either four 4K displays, or two 5K displays, like the new LG Ultrafine 5K that we have on order and can't wait to test out. We reviewed the 21-inch 4K model and its a display that technically matches the new MacBook Pro well and allows users to charge the computer, send display and audio signals, and connect to additional device with one cable.
Battery and charging
With regard to battery life, Apple claims the new machine can last up to 10 hours compared to 9 with last year's model. Many users have been reporting worse battery life with regular use. During 4K youtube playback, our 2015 MacBook Pro displayed 21% longer battery life than the 2016 MacBook Pro.
If you're on the go you can charge the 2016 MacBook Pro with a USB-C power bank, which is something the 2015 model can't do.
Testing the batteries during 4K rendering, the 2016 MacBook Pro lasted 40% longer before dying. So from our testing, during simpler tasks like web browsing, the efficiency of the latest processor doesn't completely make up for the smaller battery. In medium to heavy tasks, the 2016 MacBook Pro stacks up or is better than the older model.
After about 2 weeks, we're using the Touch Bar more and more, and do find the extra features useful. The Touch Bar, which is also available in the smaller 13" MacBook Pro, is really responsive and customizable, and the timeline scroll function in Final Cut Pro and skimming through video on YouTube is a big benefit of the feature.
There's too many features to list here and initial thoughts of it being gimmicky are gone. Just like Force Touch, as time goes on there will be more uses for this technology, and it will only get better for the user.
Typing with the new keyboard
The Latest Macbook Pro uses the second generation butterfly key switches — and we feel that the improved switches are great. This new keyboard gives much more physical feedback to the user than the first generation of the technology in the 12-inch MacBook, and that makes all the difference to us.
During an online speed test we were slightly more accurate with the 2016 MacBook Pro keyboard, even though we have years of experience with the old style keyboard.
The new trackpad is absolutely huge, and while initially thought to be excessive, we found it limiting going back to the smaller one in the 2015 model. The trackpad's size contributes to ease of use for multi-touch gestures, and we've found the palm rejection works great.
Overall from a professional photo and video editing perspective, the 2016 15-inch Macbook Pro is a fantastic redesign and update from last years model. If you've been waiting to upgrade, and if you're trying to decide which model to buy, we would definitely suggest the new model.
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