'

Apple 15-inch MacBook Pro (2018): Impressive performance at a premium price

apple-mbp-15-header.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    8.5 Excellent
  • $2,399.00

Pros

  • Impressive CPU and GPU performance
  • Attractive, high-resolution display
  • Slim, lightweight design
  • All-day battery life

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Sealed unit prevents user upgrades and repairs
  • Lifeless keyboard

The alarm bells have clearly been ringing at Apple's 'spaceship campus' HQ in Cupertino. After years spent focusing all its efforts on the all-conquering iPhone, Apple has begun to realise that the Mac risks losing out on important new technologies such as VR and AR. Those concerns were no doubt exacerbated when its most recent financial results revealed a significant fall in Mac sales.

As a result, this year's update to the MacBook Pro range has delivered more than the straightforward speed-bump that was expected following the introduction of Intel's Coffee Lake processors.

The first model to ship was the 13-inch version of the MacBook Pro, which stepped up from a quad-core to a six-core processor that doubled the laptop's raw processor performance. But, despite its high price, the 13-inch MacBook Pro still lacks a discrete GPU, relying instead on the more modest integrated graphics of the Intel processor. Professional users who need high-end graphics performance from their laptop should therefore consider the new 15-inch version of the MacBook Pro, which is now available.

apple-mbp-15-profile.jpg

The basic design of the 2018 15-inch MacBook Pro remains the same: it measures 15.5mm thick and weighs 1.83kg.

Image: Apple

Features

Like its 13-inch counterpart, the 15-inch MacBook Pro looks largely unchanged on the outside, with an admirably sleek, portable design that measures just 15.5mm thick and weighs 1.83kg. That's impressive for a 15-inch laptop, especially when compared to rival high-end laptops such as HP's ZBook x2 G4, which weighs in at close to 2.2kg with a smaller 14-inch display.

But Apple's lightweight design comes at a cost, as the 2016 revamp that introduced the new slimline design -- along with the context-sensitive Touch Bar -- also limited this 'pro' laptop to a maximum of 16GB of RAM. That clearly didn't impress professional users of apps such as Photoshop and Apple's own Final Cut Pro, so the memory of the 15-inch model can now be upgraded to 32GB. Unfortunately, this is only available as a build-to-order option at the time of purchase -- and for a hefty £300 (ex. VAT; £360 inc. VAT, or $400) -- as the MacBook Pro still doesn't provide any scope for user-upgrades or repairs at all.

When it comes to upgrades and expansion, Apple places all its bets on the MacBook Pro's four Thunderbolt 3 ports, along with its recent embrace of external GPU upgrades, such as the Blackmagic eGPU that's currently being promoted on the Apple Store.

Top ZDNET Reviews

The 15.4-inch display is also unchanged, offering an admirably bright and colourful 2,880-by-1,800-pixel resolution (220dpi), although this is now complemented by the True Tone technology from the iPad, which adjusts the display depending on ambient light conditions.

apple-mbp-15-keyboard.jpg

This year's MacBook Pro has "an improved third-generation keyboard for quieter typing", according to Apple.

Image: Apple

Apple has modified the keyboard, claiming that it's now quieter -- and, hopefully, less prone to the problems that have affected the 'butterfly' mechanism used in the MacBook keyboards in the last couple of years. Unfortunately, I still find that the thin keyboard panel feels rather lifeless and unresponsive, especially when typing at speed.

Pricing & options

There are more significant changes on the inside, with the 15-inch MacBook Pro also stepping up to six-core processors. Thankfully, though, Apple's pricing hasn't changed this year, with the 'entry-level' model remaining at £1,957.50 (ex. VAT; £2,349 inc. VAT, or $2,399) with a Core i7-8750H running at 2.2GHz (4.1GHz with TurboBoost) along with 16GB of 2400MHz DDR4 RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive, and a discrete Radeon Pro 555X GPU with 4GB of VRAM.

The second standard configuration also retains last year's price tag of £2,249.16 (ex. VAT; £2,699 inc. VAT, or $2,799) and now offers a six-core Core i7-8850H running at 2.6GHz (4.3GHz with TurboBoost) as well as doubling the storage to 512GB, and further boosting graphics performance with a Radeon Pro 560X. Our review unit was further upgraded with an optional Core i9-8950HK processor -- making this the first Core i9 laptop that we've come across -- with a clock speed of 2.9GHz (4.8GHz with TurboBoost), for a total price of £2,474.16 (ex. VAT; £2,969 inc. VAT, or $3,099).

And, if you really want to go to town, you can increase the solid-state drive to as much as 4TB, which brings the 15-inch MacBook Pro with every optional extra to an eye-watering £5,174.16 (ex. VAT; £6,209 inc. VAT, or $6,699). To be fair, the inclusion of four Thunderbolt 3 ports means that you can at least upgrade your storage with more affordable third-party drives. Even so, that still leaves our review unit costing the best part of £3,000 ($3,100), so the MacBook Pro needs to perform pretty well in order to justify that sort of price.

Performance

As we mentioned, the 15-inch MacBook Pro gave us our first opportunity to test a laptop equipped with Intel's latest Core i9 processor, and this certainly proves to be a worthwhile upgrade for professional users who need the best possible performance from their laptop.

Geekbench 4.2 reported a score of 5,600 for single-core performance, but multi-core performance hit an impressive 24,586 -- around 55 percent higher than the model we tested last year.

15-inch-macbook-pro-cpu-performance.png

Geekbench 4 processor benchmarks for the 2016 and 2017 15-inch MacBook Pro, running 6th and 7th generation Core i7 processors respectively with 16GB of RAM, and the 2018 model running an 8th-generation Core i9 with 16GB of RAM.

The Radeon Pro 560X also allowed the MacBook Pro to reach 106fps when running the Cinebench R15 OpenGL test, compared to the 85fps provided by the Radeon Pro 560 of last year.

15-inch-macbook-pro-gpu-performance.png

Cinebench R15 OpenGL benchmarks for the 2016, 2017 and 2018 15-inch MacBook Pro.

Even the solid-state drive romps ahead of previous models, achieving write and read speeds of 2,675MB/s and 2,732MB/s respectively.

And, despite the outstanding performance of the Core i9 processor, the new MacBook Pro manages to provide longer battery life as well. Apple's 'automatic graphics switching' allows the MacBook Pro to switch between the discrete Radeon GPU and the Core i9's integrated graphics depending on workload.

apple-mbp-15-ags.png
Image: Cliff Joseph/ZDNet

When using automatic switching to stream video from the BBC iPlayer, with screen brightness set at 50 percent, the MacBook Pro's 58Wh battery lasted for 8 hours and 35 minutes, compared to 7.5 hours for last year's model. Turning the automatic switching option off forces the MacBook Pro to use the Radeon GPU, but this still resulted in 5 hours and 15 minutes, so as long as you're not rendering 4K video all day long you should get a full day's work out of the MacBook Pro even when using the more powerful GPU.

Conclusions

The 2018 15-inch MacBook Pro provides impressive performance -- especially if you add the Core i9 upgrade tested here. The fact that the MacBook Pro can accommodate a powerful CPU and GPU without increasing its size or weight -- or affecting battery life -- is no mean feat either. There are few laptops that combine heavyweight performance and lightweight design so effectively, and owners of older MacBook models will certainly view the 2018 15-inch MacBook Pro as a tempting upgrade. If they can afford it, that is.

RECENT AND RELATED CONTENT

Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2018) review: Quad-core CPU and all-day battery life
The 2018 13-inch MacBook Pro delivers strong CPU performance and good battery life, which help to justify its premium price tag. We'd still like to see a discrete GPU option though.

Apple 15-inch MacBook Pro (2017) review: Performance boost delivers better value for money
The 2017 15-inch MacBook Pro boosts both processor and graphics performance without affecting battery life, but remains expensive.

Apple 15-inch MacBook Pro (2016) review: Fast, light, innovative, and expensive
The 2016 15-inch MacBook Pro delivers professional-level performance in an attractive, lightweight design that also offers all-day battery life. However, it's extravagantly expensive, and the lack of upgradeability is a real weakness.

Why are PCs sales growing while Mac sales are crashing?
After years of decline, PC sales are showing tentative signs of recovery, while the last quarter was a disaster for the Mac. What gives?

How to download the macOS Mojave beta (TechRepublic)
Developers who have signed up for the macOS beta program can install macOS Mojave now. Here's what you'll need to do to get it running.

Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, 2018) review (CNET)
The tricked-out MacBook Pro recovers from an early software stumble.

Read more reviews

Specifications

General
Packaged Quantity 1
Operating System Apple macOS 10.13 High Sierra
Processor / Chipset
CPU Intel Core i7 (8th Gen) 2.2 GHz
Max Turbo Speed 4.1 GHz
Number of Cores 6-core
Cache L3 - 9 MB
64-bit Computing Yes
Features Intel Turbo Boost Technology
Cache Memory
Type L3 cache
Installed Size 9 MB
RAM
Memory Speed 2400 MHz
Configuration Features provided memory is soldered
Technology LPDDR4 SDRAM
Installed Size 16 GB
Memory
Technology LPDDR4 SDRAM
Speed 2400 MHz
Environmental Parameters
Humidity Range Operating 0 - 90% (non-condensing)
Display
LCD Backlight Technology LED backlight
Widescreen Display Yes
Monitor Features 220 ppi, BFR/PVC-free, Mercury free, Retina display, True Tone display, Wide Color Gamut, arsenic-free glass, beryllium free
Type LED
TFT Technology IPS
Diagonal Size (metric) 39.1 cm
Display Resolution Abbreviation WQXGA+
Audio & Video
Multi-GPU Configuration 1 single GPU card / integrated GPU
Graphics Processor AMD Radeon Pro 555X / Intel UHD Graphics 630
Sound Stereo speakers, three microphones
Hard Drive
Type SSD
SSD Form Factor soldered
Capacity 256 GB
Input
Type Force Touch trackpad, Touch Bar, keyboard
Localization & Layout English
Features Multi-Touch Gesture Recognition, Touch ID sensor, ambient light sensor, force click, multi-touch touchpad, pressure sensitivity
Communications
Wireless Protocol 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 5.0
Optical Storage
Drive Type no optical drive
Type none
Processor
CPU Type Core i7
Generation 8
Manufacturer Intel
Clock Speed 2.2 GHz
Battery
Capacity 83.6 Wh
Technology lithium polymer
Run Time (Up To) 10 sec
AC Adapter
Input AC 120/230 V (50/60 Hz)
Output 87 Watt
Connections & Expansion
Interfaces 4 x USB-C 3.1 Gen 2/Thunderbolt 3/DisplayPort (Power Delivery)
Header
Brand Apple
Product Line Apple MacBook Pro
Model with Touch Bar
Localization English
Country Kits United States
Packaged Quantity 1
System
Notebook Type notebook
Platform Apple Mac OS
Hard Drive Capacity 256 GB
Security Devices fingerprint reader
Miscellaneous
Color space gray
Case Material aluminum
Security Fingerprint reader
Included Accessories USB-C power adapter
Networking
Data Link Protocol Bluetooth 5.0, IEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11ac, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n
Monitor
Diagonal Size 15.4 in
Image Brightness 500
Dimensions & Weight
Width 13.8 in
Depth 9.5 in
Height 0.6 in
Manufacturer Warranty
Type 1 year warranty
Environmental Standards
ENERGY STAR Certified Yes
Physical Characteristics
Weight 4.03 lbs
Power
Min Operating Temperature 50 °F
Max Operating Temperature 95 °F
Operating System / Software
OS Provided: Type Apple macOS 10.13 High Sierra
Type Apple AirDrop, Apple AirPlay, Apple Image Capture, Apple Keynote, Apple Launchpad, Apple Mac App Store, Apple Mac OS X Chess, Apple Mission Control, Apple Numbers, Apple Pages, Apple Preview, Apple Automator, Apple QuickTime, Apple Safari, Apple Stickies, Apple System Preferences, Apple TextEdit, Apple Time Machine, Apple iBooks, Apple iMovie, Apple iTunes, Calendar, Apple Calculator, Contacts, Dictation, Drivers & Utilities, Game Center, Maps, Messages, Notes, Notification Center, Photo Booth, Reminders, Apple DVD Player, Siri, iCloud, Apple Dashboard, Apple Dictionary, Apple FaceTime, Apple Font Book, Apple GarageBand
Video Output
Multi-GPU Configuration 1 single GPU card / integrated GPU
Graphics Processor Series AMD Radeon Pro, Intel UHD Graphics
Video Memory
Technology GDDR5 SDRAM
Installed Size 4 GB
Input Device
Backlight Yes
Interfaces
USB-C Ports Qty 4
USB-C Features USB Power Delivery
Comment Power Delivery
Service & Support
Type 1 year warranty
Service & Support Details
Type limited warranty, technical support
Service Included phone consulting
Full Contract Period 1 year, 90 days

Top ZDNET Reviews

Where To Buy

Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, space gray, 2018)

Part Number: MR932LL/A
Price
$2,399.00