With the Mac Pro Coming in December, Apple Says It's Dialed In to the Needs of Pro Users in Audio, Video and CG
Apple today confirmed the existence of the widely rumored 16-inch MacBook Pro, a new notebook computer with a 16-inch Retina display, improved tech specs, and a rethought keyboard. It replaces the 15-inch line.
Apple debuted the new MacBook Pro at an event today in New York, where it took the spotlight alongside the upcoming Mac Pro and Pro Display XDRs, which are expected to ship in December. The presentation emphasized a myriad of professional workflows — from game development and animation to color grading and pro audio mixing and mastering — that Apple intends both the new MacBook Pro and the Mac Pro to address, albeit in different ways.
The new MacBook Pro starts at $2,399 and is available to order today. Systems are expected to arrive in stores by the end of this week.
All About the 16-Inch MacBook Pro
The story behind the new MacBook Pro hardware is mostly as you’d expect. It can be configured with the latest (ninth-generation) six- and eight-core Intel processors and powerful 5000M-series AMD Radeon Pro graphics cards, with 4 GB of VRAM standard and 8 GB available as an upgrade.
But there are some standout specs. For one, the new MacBook Pro will support up to 64 GB of RAM, a clear improvement over previous MacBook Pro iterations, which topped out at a stingy (for pros, anyway) 32 GB. For another, it will come with the option of as much as 8 TB of SSD storage under the hood — a real convenience for those who can afford it. Still, many video users will be happy to bring their own external storage devices, given that the 8 TB option doubles the price of the base system from $2399 (with a 512 GB SSD) to $4799.
The battery, too, is a monster, helping ensure that the system will run for a respectable amount of time on a charge. Apple said it found that the U.S. government limits lithium batteries in checked bags to 100Wh, so the new MacBook Pro has a 100Wh lithium-polymer battery. (It’s charged by a 96W adapter that’s the same size as previous 85W MacBook adapters.) Apple reports battery life of around 11 hours under ordinary use — wireless web surfing, video playback, etc. — but pro users will chew power much more quickly.
More power means more heat, so Apple has included more advanced thermal architecture. The company says a more robust fan design increases airflow by 28%, and the heat sink has been made 35% larger. Bottom line, the MacBook Pro can handle the heat from up to 12 more watts during heavy workloads compared to the previous design. And Apple has obviously tried hard to keep this little machine from ballooning — the new system weighs 4.3 pounds and is 0.64 inches thick, which is more than respectable.
Design quirks may put off some potential users. For connectivity, the 16-inch MacBook Pro still offers only Thunderbolt 3 ports — but it has four of them. That was a deliberate decision, Apple reps say, to prioritize bandwidth. (As an example, it can drive two of Apple’s forthcoming Pro Display XDRs.) Similarly, the screen resolution is limited to 3072 x 1920. That may disappoint users who prefer a full 4K raster, but it was selected in part to preserve battery life, which was already being taxed by the hardware’s capabilities. (It’s a beautiful screen, nonetheless, running at 500 nits with a P3 color gamut and pixel density of 226 ppi.)
There’s good news where the keyboard is concerned. The 16-inch MacBook Pro has gotten a newly refined version of Apple’s Magic Keyboard with a refined scissor mechanism, 1mm of key travel, and an Apple-designed rubber dome that’s meant to store “potential energy” to provide pleasing feedback during a key-press. Does it work? Well, I much prefer full mechanical keyboards to the MacBook style of low-travel keyboards, but in my limited time with it, the new Magic Keyboard felt comfortable and certainly didn’t slow me down. Durability is another question, of course.
Developers, especially, should be relieved to know that the physical escape key is back, tucked in just to the left of the Apple Touch Bar above the keyboard.
Apple is justifiably proud of the new system’s audio capabilities. For one thing, the on-board speaker system has been designed with force-canceling subwoofers, which reduce vibrations when bass is played at relatively high volumes. Across different musical genres, the new MacBook Pro plays back music with world-beating sound quality, delivering fairly rich, thumping bass tones across the room and decent stereo separation during up-close listening.
The on-board mics are more than an afterthought, giving podcasters, musicians and others a good option for recording voices and musical instruments in a pinch. Apple’s engineers have managed to achieve a very low noise floor without processing out the nuance of recordings — at least judging by a variety of sound clips provided today by Apple for headphone listening.
It’s not a game-changer, but I’ve long thought the makers of workstation-class laptops should be vaguely ashamed of the tinny quality of sound they generally provide. If you ever need to record a quick temp VO without any audio gear handy, or play video for a client in a crowded environment, this is the notebook computer you want to have with you.
Still Coming Soon: The Mac Pro
Today brought some Mac Pro news, as well. As noted above, Apple committed to a December ship date for the Mac Pro and its companion Pro Display XDR. It also committed to higher performance for video editing, saying it has confirmed that Final Cut Pro X running on a Mac Pro with the Afterburner ProRes acceleration card can handle up to six simultaneous streams of 8K ProRes Raw, up from the three streams it promised when the Mac Pro was first announced at WWDC in June. And the Mac Pro will come with a maximum of 8 TB of SSD storage, up from the 4 TB limit originally announced.
The 32-inch Pro Display XDR was on hand, as well, and it looks gorgeous, at least in a showroom environment. It will be interesting to see how it performs against the competition, including reference displays that sell in the $30,000 range for high-end color grading. Some observers have expressed skepticism that the Pro Display XDR will be up to critical color reference standards, but the market does seem to be yearning for less expensive display options. As one example, Sony announced today that it is developing a 24-inch LCD UHD production monitor aimed at HDR production. A prototype of that display is on show at Inter BEE 2019 in Japan this week.