For the longest time, one of my biggest frustrations with the 15-inch MacBook Pro has been that you can usually get much faster video priority on similar Windows machines. For computers designed for video editors, game developers and so on, this is a major problem.
The MacBook Pro we reviewed last year was generally a good workhorse for Mac users, albeit with a steep price tag. But since we published that review, Apple has expanded its configuration options in two very important ways for performance. First, you can configure a new MacBook Pro with an Intel Core i9 CPU with eight cores, not just six. Second, there are now more expensive workstation graphics options that improve video performance over other recent MacBook Pros.
Of course, choosing both of these options when you buy means that you spend a minimum of $ 3,349. So the question now becomes: does the Pro deliver the value that is worth the price, and who is this for that price?
We're going to try to answer these questions about the maximized 15-inch MacBook Pro from 2019. And since we're just looking at a particular bulge over the last 15-inch MacBook Pro we considered, this will be a narrower look with mostly focus on graphics and CPU performance. Aside from a slightly fine-tuned keyboard, multiple CPU cores and the much faster Vega discrete GPU option, there's not much new here. It can't be a bad thing.
|Specifications at a glance: 2018 15-inch MacBook Pro|
|Screen||2880 × 1800 on 15.4 inches and 500 nits|
|OS||macOS Mojave 10.14.5  CPU||2.4 GHz 8-core Intel Core i9 (5 GHz Turbo) with 16 MB shared L3 cache|
|RAM||32 GB 2400 MHz DDR4|
|GPU||Radeon Pro Vega 20 with 4 GB HMB2|
|Networking||802.11ac Wi-Fi; IEEE 802.11a / b / g / n; Bluetooth 5.0|
|Ports||4x Thunderbolt 3, 3.5mm Headphone|
|Size||0.61 inches × 13.75 inches × 9.48 inches (1.55 cm × 34.93 cm × 24.07 cm)|
|Weight  1.2 kg (1.83 kg)|
|Warranty||1 year, or 3 years with AppleCare + ($ 379)|
|Price as reviewed  $ 514|
|Other Perks||720p FaceTime HD Camera, Stereo Speakers, Three Microphones|
We have a total of three ninth generation Intel CPU configuration options. At the low end is a 2.6GHz, 6-core, Intel Core i7 with a 12MB L3 cache and Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz. Next up is an 8-core Core i9 processor with a 16MB L3 cache and Turbo Boost up to 4.8GHz. Finally, you can amplify it by going to an otherwise similar Core i9 with a 2.4 GHz clock speed and Turbo Boost up to 5 GHz.
At least you are looking at an integrated Intel UHD Graphics 630 for low power operation and support for 2400 MHz DDR4 memory. Speaking of memory: the default is 16 GB DDR4, but you can spend $ 400 to take it up to 32 GB. Most will not need 32 GB in the near future, but it is a relatively recent addition that is nice to have for some use cases.
The GPU comes in four separate configurations. The bottom two are the ones we already saw in the 2018 model: AMD Radeon Pro 55X with 4GB GDDR5, or AMD Radeon Pro 560X with 4GB. New since our last review is Radeon Pro Vega 15 with 4 GB HBM2 memory and Radeon Pro Vega 20 right away.
Solid state storage options include 512 GB, 1 TB, 2 TB or 4 TB. Apple recently cut their prices to be much more competitive in the current market, making 1TB a more viable upgrade to a further $ 200 compared to the base specification. However, the 4TB option is still needed, though the upgrade costs half as much as it did before, at $ 1,400.
Like previous models, the Pro has four Thunderbolt 3 ports, a headphone jack, 802.11a / b / g / n / ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5, a 15.4-inch display with a maximum resolution of 2880 x 1800 500 nits brightness and wide color on the P3, and a 720p camcorder up front. Apple estimates up to 10 hours of battery life for movie playback or wireless browsing.
Our review unit is completely maximum. We have 2.4GHz 8-core Core i9, 32GB RAM, Radeon Pro Vega 20 and 4TB SSD storage. That means our device will cost $ 5,149 at the Apple Store, which is of course far beyond most users' price ranges. However, be aware that $ 1400 is SSD alone, and that it is more than $ 1500 less expensive than the top-notch MacBook Pro just a year ago, despite delivering notably improved performance.
Still, this is one of the most expensive mainstream laptops you can buy. I'm not sure I'd even call it mainstream anymore, if for no other reason than it is equipped with workstation-class graphics.
The current 15-inch MacBook Pro looks and feels identical to the one we reviewed in 2018. It still has a touch bar, and it still has a 15.4-inch IPS display with a 2880 x resolution 1800 pixels. It still has the luxuriously large touch pad, it still has four Thunderbolt 3 ports, and it still weighs about four kilos and is 0.61 inches thick. A demolition of iFixit found that the internals were basically the same for all purposes.
The New New New Butterfly Keyboard
The only design change is the latest generation butterfly keyboard, which Apple believes will be more reliable than its problem-laden predecessors. It is too early for us to judge the reliability of the keyboard for ourselves; it hasn't broken in the few weeks we've had it, but it won't tell you much.
It feels nothing different under my fingers than the 2018 15-inch MacBook Pro I reviewed about a year ago. That keyboard felt a little different than what came before, and it was a little quieter, too. These subtle benefits are here too, but you probably won't be able to tell the difference even with the last two iterations side by side.
We have already written briefly about the keyboards of these laptops, and the takeaway remains the same: they are divisive. Some people like to write about them – I'm one of those people. Some people hate writing on them. After asking the Ars staff, it seems anecdotal to split 60/40 against the butterfly keyboards.
So we recommend trying one on the Apple Store (if one is nearby) before buying. Give it some time; they feel quite different to type on than most laptops. You may think you like it after a while. Or you might not. We can't predict it for you, but they are controversial enough that caution is recommended.
Performance is what this review is about, so let's jump into the goals. We test this.
|2019 15-inch MacBook Pro with touch line||Intel Core i9-9980HK at 2.4 GHz (5GHz Turbo)||Radeon Pro Vega 20 4GB HMB2  2018 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar||Intel Core i9-8950K at 2.9 GHz (4.8 GHz Turbo)||AMD Radeon Pro 560X 4GB GDDR5|
|2018 Mac mini  Intel Core i7-8700B at 3.2 GHz (4.6 GHz turbo)||Intel UHD Graphics 630|
|2017 iMac Pro||Intel Xeon W on 3GHz (4.5 GHz Turbo)||AMD Radeon Pro Vega 64 16 GB HMB2|
|2019 HP Specter x360 15||Intel Core i7-8750H at 2.2 GHz (4.1 GHz Turbo)||Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti 4GB|
|2018 HP Specter x360 15||] 1.8 GHz Intel Core i7-8550U (4.0 GHz Turbo)||Nvidia GeForce MX150|
|2018 Dell XPS 15 2-in-1||Intel Core i7-8705G at 3.1 GHz ( 4.1 GHz Turbo)||Radeon RX Vega M GL 4GB HMB2|
|Microsoft Surface La ptop 2||Intel Core i7-865 0U at 1.9 GHz (4.2 GHz Turbo)||Intel UHD Graphics 620|
And now for the results.
Listing image by Samuel Axon