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We've been the proud owner of a Retina MacBook Pro as soon as we could get our hands on one after they were announced in 2012. So how does the latest model from Apple compare? Has it changed much, is it quicker and is it worth changing to? We experiment.

On first glance there's not much difference between the first Retina Macbook Pro Apple released back in Mid 2012 and the latest model. They have the same form factor, the same screen resolution and more or less the same connectors on either edge.

Mid 2015 retina Macbook Pro

Let us just remind ourselves that both screens are 32bit colour 2880x1800. On the left hand side of the Mac you will find a MagSafe 2 power connector, two Thunderbolt connectors, a single USB 3 and a headphone/microphone socket.

MBP connectors LHS

Mid 2012 RMBP on top Mid 2015 RMBP on bottom (note dirt in Magsafe!)

On the right there's another USB 3, an HDMI and a SDXC card slot. Both machines are not upgradable either, so no adding more memory afterwards, what you buy is what you get to keep.

MBP connectors RHS

But you would be wrong to think that Apple haven't advanced the Retina Macbook Pro in the last three years. Let us take a look at the differences.

The machine specifications don't look all that different. in fact the new MBP looks slightly weaker on spec.

original MBP stats1

Mid 2012 RMBP

new MBP stats1

Mid 2015 RMBP

 

So the core of the machine hasn't changed much, but what is connected to the Processor has. This is where it gets interesting.

The first obvious change is the update of the Thunderbolt ports to Thunderbolt 2. Both go at 20 Gb/s compared to 10 Gb/s on the original model.

Both have two GPUs that switch between high and low performance with corresponding power usage. The new model still has an Iris Pro like the previous generation, but has moved away from Intel with an AMD Radeon R9 M370X as the discrete graphics processor with 2GB of GDDR5 memory. Apple's published performance figures of the new AMD suggest up to an 80% speed increase over the previous discrete GPUs

In FCPX terms that should mean a 1.8x hike for optical flow analysis and a 1.5x boost for 3D title rendering in 1080p. Sounds good so we thought we would test the figures out.

We started with a 30 second 1080i clip on a 1080i project. It was slowed down to 50% using optical flow. We hit the stopwatch when the render percentage reset to zero.

The old MBP managed to analyse and render the now minute long clip in 4 minutes 41 seconds. The new MBP took 2 minutes 19 seconds or half the time.

Next was rendering 3d titles. Again on a 1080i project we placed two of each of the 4 3D built-in cinematic titles into the primary storyline. Then hit render. The old MBP took 2 minutes 38" and the new model took 1 minute and 1 second. 

The last test was an H264 export of the original 30 second clip. (Now back t its normal speed.) We used the multipass web hosting setting in the Master File section on export. The old MBP took 20 seconds and the new model took 14 seconds.

We made sure that all caches were stored on a Thunderbolt 1 drive to even things out. Also renders and analysis files were cleared out between tests.

MBP FCPX stats 

 

Then we ran the good ol' Blackmagic Speed Test and we were quite shocked at the results.

On the old Retina MacBook Pro from back in mid 2012, we were happy with over 400 MB/s read/write.

old MBP speed

 

But then there were a few naughty words of amazement in the FCP.co office when we ran the test on the new MacBook Pro.

new MBP speed

This near 4x speed boost on write and over 4x speed boost on read is due to the new PCIe based flash storage. 

Although we didn't measure the differences between the two models for battery consumption, Apple are saying the new model should run for up to 9 hours when web browsing. We would imagine that unless you are on a flight or up a mountain (we are working on a great user story) you will probably have the thing plugged into the mains anyway. 

So from these benchmarks we think it is safe to say that when editing on Final Cut Pro X on this new retina MacBook Pro, expect a doubling in performance or higher compared to the original Retina Macbook Pro. If you've got 3 months to make a documentary that might not matter, but given half an hour to turn around a news piece it could make a big difference.

Remember we were testing against an original Retina MacBook Pro with a Thunderbolt 1 drive to even things out. Expect less of a difference with later models and more of a difference when using Thunderbolt 2 storage.

 

Now on to what really got us excited about the new MacBook Pro - The haptic feedback of the new trackpad.

The new Force Touch trackpad is different from the old one because it doesn't move to click. The trackpad senses the pressure, performs the click operation and then feeds that back to the user with a click feel. 

There are a few benefits from the new trackpad. First of all you can adjust the setting at which the click happens. Then as the click is a simulated click and doesn't rely on the trackpad being hinged, you can click anywhere for a click. Yes even in the top left and right corners. Going back to a non force touch trackpad is very odd, a bit like going back to when the click was actually a separate button underneath the trackpad. 

 force touch trackpad

 

But we have saved the best for last. As the trackpad measures force, it can add another click after you've clicked. It sounds complicated, but it isn't and it opens up a whole new level of possibilities. There are two new additions to the trackpad page in System Preferences.

new system preferences

Apple has published a document that runs through the all of their applications that take advantage of the new Force Touch trackpad. It can do things like opening a Quick Look preview or enabling you to edit a file name.

The two applications that we are interested in are QuickTime and iMovie although the implementation in Garageband looks interesting as well.

By force touching the play forward and backward triangles in QuickTime, you can increase the speed. Without taking your finger off the trackpad, the more you force click, the faster the movie plays.

force touch quicktime 2

Here we can see the movie playing at twice backward speed 

force touch quicktime

We managed to go at 60 times speed forward using force touch clicks.

In iMovie, the force click works the same in the viewer. (We hope you can twig where we are going with this.)

imovie force click

 

iMovie has two more force touch tricks. If you drag a clip edge on the timeline out, when you hit the end of the media, you'll feel a click. The red bar also indicates the end.

imovie end media force touch

 

Force clicking on a globe generator on the timeline in iMovie opens up not only the route settings on the viewer, but also a selection panel above the clip.

imovie globe generator

 

So the big question must be is there any force touch technology that works with Final Cut Pro X. A short answer, no. We even tried the play controls when going full screen think they might work.

However, as we all know that iMovie is built from the same code as FCPX, it surely is only a matter of time before force touch features are built in.

So this got us thinking.

How about force touch on a clip in the timeline to opens up the audio components? A satisfying click in FCPX (and Motion) when items are centered in the viewer? How about force click reseting the parameters in the inspector and colour board?

There are many possibilities, including haptic feedback on control surfaces as force touch is rumoured to be coming in iOS 9 and the new iPhones.

 

We will finish by saying that the Mid 2015 Retina Macbook Pro is an excellent machine. It is faster than it's predecessors when using FCPX and the force touch trackpad will only feature more in applications in the future. The model with the AMD discrete GPU is a very capable edit machine and won't disappoint if you use it on the road or connected up to other screens and peripherals in an edit suite.

The downside is that we know the future of Thunderbolt is with the USB C connector, we know there are adaptors out there, but will the next refresh of the model include these ports instead of the traditional connectors?