Apple 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display (mid-2015): Force Touch trackpad and faster SSD, but no Broadwell

macbook-pro-15-main.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good

Pros

  • Strong quad-core CPU performance
  • Slimmer and lighter than most 15-inch laptops
  • High-quality Retina display
  • Faster PCIe SSD
  • Force Touch trackpad
  • Good battery life

Cons

  • 22nm Haswell CPU rather than 14nm Broadwell
  • Relatively expensive
  • Entry-level 2.2GHz model lacks a discrete GPU

Amidst all the hype surrounding the launch of the Apple Watch, the company has also been quietly revamping its laptop range in recent months. A completely redesigned MacBook raised the bar on portability, while the 13-inch version of the MacBook Pro received a Broadwell CPU update that enhanced battery life and introduced Apple's pressure-sensitive Force Touch trackpad technology. However, a similar update to the larger 15-inch version of the MacBook Pro was conspicuous by its absence until recently. Now that an update has arrived, it seems a little underwhelming.

macbook-pro-15-13.jpg
The 15-inch MacBook Pro (left) continues to be powered by quad-core 22nm Haswell Core i7 processors, while the 13-inch model (right) uses dual-core 14nm Broadwell Core i5/i7 chips. Image: Apple

Hanging onto Haswell

While the new MacBook and 13-inch MacBook Pro both offer new power-efficient 14nm Broadwell processors, the updated 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display has hung onto its existing quad-core 22nm Haswell Core i7 processor. In fact, it doesn't even offer a modest bump to clock speed, as might have been expected: the 2.2GHz and 2.5GHz models that are now on sale have the same processors and clock speeds as their 2014 predecessors. The only significant changes to this 15-inch model are a faster PCIe solid-state drive with data-transfer speeds of up to 2GB/s, and the addition of the Force Touch trackpad.

macbook-pro-15-force-touch.jpg
The 15-inch MacBook Pro now features the pressure-sensitive Force Touch trackpad. Image: Apple

Pricing remains the same too, with our 2.2GHz review model starting at £1,599 (inc. VAT; £1,332 ex. VAT) with 16GB of RAM and 256GB of solid-state storage. That's not the sort of upgrade that will have existing users queuing up to purchase the latest model.

Pixels and performance

To be fair, the quad-core Haswell Core i7 processor used in the MacBook Pro still provides plenty of raw horsepower, with Geekbench 3 reporting a multi-core score of 13,281 that outpaces even the top-of-the-range 5K iMac that's aimed at video editors.

Top ZDNET Reviews

The MacBook Pro's 15.4-inch, 2,880-by-1,800-pixel (220ppi) Retina display also remains outstandingly bright and colourful, and well suited to video- or photo-editing work. However, this model's reliance on Intel's integrated Iris Pro 5200 graphics rather than a dedicated GPU means that it only manages a relatively modest 31fps for OpenGL performance when running Cinebench R15.

That will be perfectly acceptable for many users running Photoshop and other creative applications, but it's still relatively modest for a laptop costing £1,599. If you need a dedicated GPU to enhance graphics performance, your only option is to step up to the even more expensive 2.5GHz model which costs £1,999 (inc. VAT; £1,666 ex. VAT) with 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and an AMD Radeon R9 M370X GPU.

Fortunately, battery life remains very respectable for a high-end laptop such as this. We managed 7.5 hours of streaming video using the built-in 802.11ac wi-fi, so you should be able to get a good day's mains-free work out of the MacBook Pro when you need to.

Conclusion

The 15-inch MacBook Pro is an attractive laptop that delivers good performance and battery life, along with a striking, high-quality Retina display. However, the modest updates that it has received in the last couple of years mean that it's now starting to look overpriced when compared to its many rivals, and existing users may prefer to skip a generation while they wait for a more significant upgrade to arrive.

Top ZDNET Reviews