Apple introduces a redesigned, thicker MacBook Pro


Today, Apple begins taking orders on a new version of its largest MacBook Pro laptop. While its basic design is similar to that of the Touch Bar models the company has made since 2016, it is slightly larger and heavier, the screen is bigger thanks to reduced bezels, and it has new keyboard and speaker designs. The Pro has faster graphics and new upgrade options, such as a 64GB RAM configuration and larger default SSD sizes.

This 16-inch MacBook Pro (the inches here refer to diagonal screen size) replaces the 15-inch in Apple’s lineup. Its display has a pixel density of 226 ppi at 3,072 x 1,920 resolution—that’s slightly higher than the 2,880 x 1,800 resolution and 220 ppi of the 15-inch MacBook Pro. Apple says that pro video editors will now be able to adjust the refresh rate of the display to match content they’re working with. Little else has changed about the screen. It’s worth noting, by the way, that the prior model’s screen actually measured 15.4 inches, not 15; this new model measures 16 inches.

Dimensions are 0.64 x 14.09 x 9.68 inches—up marginally across the board from its predecessor’s 0.61 by 13.75 by 9.48 inches. It weighs 4.3 pounds, compared to 4.02 for the prior model. Chances are it will fit in most existing cases intended for the 15-inch model.

A big keyboard change

The new keyboard will likely get more attention than any other change. The butterfly keyboard mechanisms found in recent Mac laptops have been divisive, with many users liking the typing experience but a vocal contingent—and I don’t think is an exaggeration, given reader comments here at Ars—despising it. More critically, the keyboard has been prone to failure, with many users having to take advantage of Apple’s free repair program to replace their keyboards multiple times. To make matters worse, replacing a single key could require replacing a big chunk of the device.

Several successive iterations have gradually improved the keyboard, but Apple has made the biggest change yet with the 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Apple calls it the Magic Keyboard (whatever that means) and says it drew inspiration from the keyboard that comes with the iMac Pro.

The new keyboard now has a physical Escape key—something developers in particular have been asking for ever since it was replaced with the Touch Bar in 2016. The Touch Bar is still here, but it’s slightly smaller to make room for that key and a distinct Touch ID scanner similar to what we saw on the latest MacBook Air.

There’s also a slightly bigger gap between the physical number keys and the Touch Bar to reduce accidental taps on the bar, and the arrow keys have been redesigned. The keys themselves are raised a little higher above the chassis than in the prior model, and they have a new scissor mechanism and 1mm key travel. Additionally, the keycap now locks at the top of travel, making the keys a little more stable when typing.

We typed on it briefly yesterday and came away with the impression that it felt like a middle ground between the feel of the chiclet keyboard in the 2015 MacBook Pro and the butterfly keyboards in the more recent models.

Time will tell regarding reliability, but Apple says that it expects the Magic Keyboard to be much more reliable. The company also says that this keyboard is not part of its repair program and that it is easier to service individual keys without unnecessarily replacing additional hardware.

Internals

As is customary with any hardware refresh, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is faster. Once again, configuration options afford either 6-core or 8-core, Core i7 or Core i9, ninth-generation Intel CPUs. The very top CPU configuration tops out at 5GHz in Turbo Boost—a modest bump over the 4.8Ghz in the prior model, thanks to Intel’s Thermal Velocity Boost.

Graphics

That’s nice but not much to speak of. Meanwhile, the GPU and thermal management system have seen the biggest changes. Apple says the new MacBook Pro can be configured with AMD’s new Radeon Pro M5500, made in a 7nm process and paired with 4GB or 8GB of GDDR6 video memory. On the lower end, it comes configured with a Radeon Pro M5300.

The company claims that the M5500 with 4GB will deliver up to 2.1 times faster video performance than the Radeon Pro 560X, and the M5500 with 8GB can achieve up to 80% faster performance than the Radeon Pro Vega 20—both of which were configuration options in the 15-inch MacBook Pro this past year.

The biggest gains will happen for applications that lean on increased video memory capacity, and the GDDR6 video memory has a bandwidth of 189GB/s. Apple is, of course, still including integrated Intel graphics (Intel UHD Graphics 630) and employing automatic graphics switching to maximize battery life.

Thermal management

As we’ve reviewed top-spec MacBook Pros over the past year, we’ve run into some thermal throttling for sustained loads on the top specs, so testing this model will be interesting; Apple says it has significantly overhauled its thermal architecture. Improved fan design affords a 28% improvement in airflow, Apple claims. Between that and a heatsink with 35% more surface area, the new MacBook Pro can manage up to 12 watts of power more than we saw before. Fan noise should be comparable to that of the 15-inch model.

Other specs and configuration options

The memory is faster at 2666Mhz (compared to 2400Mhz) and can now be configured up to 64GB. (The company had only recently added a 32GB configuration option; the previous cap was 16GB.) The Pro can now be configured with an 8TB SSD.

Apple has also made significant changes to the speaker system and the microphones. It has a Dolby Atmos-ready, six-speaker system with force-canceling woofers, plus a new 3-microphone system that is intended to compete more directly with entry-level podcast microphones.

In terms of battery life, Apple has upped the battery capacity from 83.6Wh to 100, and it claims 11 hours of wireless Web browsing or Apple TV video playback (one hour more than the 15-inch) and up to 30 days of standby time. Since the 16-inch MacBook Pro draws more power, it now comes with a 96W power adapter.

The ports are unchanged: it has a headphone jack and four Thunderbolt ports. The touchpad, camera, and wireless connectivity options are also unchanged.

Price points for the two base configurations remain the same as before. The $2399 base configuration comes with a 512GB SSD, whereas the $2799 config offers 1TB—double what was previously offered at the same price points in both cases. The laptop is available for order today and will ship to buyers this week.

Ars is testing a unit now and will publish a review in a few days.

Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR: Now coming in December

Apple has been saying since its June developers’ conference that it would ship the overhauled Mac Pro and the new Pro Display XDR this fall, but it has just announced a new window for those launches: December. The company didn’t explain the delay, but it did say that the new MacBook Pro will be able to drive up to two Pro Display XDR monitors.

Listing image by Apple



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