We have had a week to put the new MacBook Pros through their paces. What better task than to send the 13” and 15” inch to work straight out of the box on a real broadcast editing job. Were they fast? What about connectivity? How is the Touch bar in actual use? How will the integrated GPU on the 13 inch compare to a discreet GPU on the 15? Let’s find out.
Over my 30 year edit career, I’ve seen equipment come and go, been promised that I can’t function without a certain piece of hardware of software and tested many, many different workflows and more importantly, expectations.
So when I got the opportunity to try editing with the new MacBook Pros, I jumped at the chance. Yes, I am a doubting Thomas and I need to work kit myself to benchmark its speed or gauge its usability.
I'm also also guessing that the majority of people who have written the published negative reviews haven't really used the machines in anger. Yes I got to to touch the Touch Bar at the Apple Event in Cupertino, but that is hardly a real world example.
So a quick test of both the 13 and 15 inch models and some interesting conclusions and facts I’ve yet to read elsewhere. I’m aiming to publish a longer user review of the 15 inch model in a few weeks. (And also benchmark the new 15 against a Mac Pro.)
The 13 inch model is a 2.9 GHz Intel Dual Core i5, Integrated Intel Iris 550 GPU with 1536 MB of VRAM, 8 GB of RAM, 500 GB SSD and Four Thunderbolt 3 ports.
Retail price of this unit is approximately £1,949. I'd spend another £180 and get 16 GB of RAM with a BTO machine.
The 15 inch model is a 2.9 GHz Intel Quad Core i7, Radeon Pro 460 GPU with 4096 MB of VRAM, 16 GB of RAM and 1TB of SSD. (There is also a discreet Intel 530 GPU which the unit switches to when heavy graphics work is not needed. This saves the battery.) Price is around £3,329.
As is customary on this site, first job out of the box is to run the Blackmagic Speed Test on the 13 and 15 models.
The only problem is the fact that the new fast internal SSDs read so quickly, they both went off the scale! No problem, I had to resort to the AJA flavoured test instead.
13 inch first. Not too shabby!
15 inch gives almost identical results.
(Interesting too gave to toggle all the parameters on the left to their maximum values and let the test run a few cycles to get the top speeds)
This speed will mean everything will work more quickly. Apps open faster, saves happen faster. A couple of benchmarks here, the 15 inch SSD is quoted as being twice as fast as the previous model. Also the latest USB C SSDs from Samsung are quoted at 450 MB/s read, 450 MB/s write for comparison.
This is fast storage, enough for over 2,000 frames per second of ProRes 422 HQ HD! Or another way, an 80 angle ProRes 422 HQ HD multicam! (Who is going to be the first to try that?)
Should you be storing footage on your boot drive? With those speeds it probably doesn't matter!
The machines are thinner, there is a new keyboard with bigger, low travel keys and of course the top 13 inch and the 15 inch machine come with the new Touch Bar. The keyboard and Touch Bar are the same dimensions on both models.
Same keyboard and Touch Bar size on both models.
The force-click trackpad is super sized on the 15” model. You can move the cursor from one side of the screen to the other without having to take your finger off the pad. Important to note that the pad features advanced ‘palm rejection’ to reduce false entries - especially 'handy' when you are reaching over to get at the Touch Bar.
Large trackpad on the 15 inch MacBook Pro.
Using the Touch ID to unlock the Mac becomes second nature and I’ve found myself trying to do the same on my previous generation model. Not only does this provide a way of purchasing using Apple Pay in Safari, it also provides unlocking of the system preferences and quick user switching. Which can lead to some arguments!
And on to that much anticipated Touch Bar. We like it, but it is a bit of a disappointment seeing how limited the use the new control surface is with FCPX. Just take a look how deep and intuitive the menus are in Photos, easy to learn as well. Very sad that you can't call a clip from the browser up in the Touch Bar and scrub though. Chris Roberts did an extensive test of the Touch Bar and FCPX right here on FCP.co.
The new larger keys take a slight bit of getting used to, but they make the keyboard on the old MacBook Pro look like a toy with chiclet keys from a Commodore PET. I can remember thinking they were an advance from the silver keys of the previous generation!
The screens are of course very high specification. 67% brighter, 67% higher contrast ratio and 25% more colours. Exactly what you need for wide colour with a cinema-inspired P3 colour space. Forget the numbers, they just look great.
The next things different (and in some places highly criticised) are the ports. On the 15 inch and top 13 inch you have four USB-C ports, two on either side. All are 40 Gbps and connect directly to the CPU, so no sharing of buses going on here. That is a LOT of fast connectivity. Just to put that into perspective, one connection on the 15 inch will run two 5120-by-2160 resolution displays. That is a LOT of pixels.
Two 40 Gbps Thunderbolt 3/ USB-C posts on either side of the 15 and some 13 inch models.
Yes they are a different connector. Want to attach USB2 to the MBP? Buy a £10 adaptor and run a hub off that. If you can afford this machine, a few accessories are not going to break the bank.
A collection of USB C dongles. Maybe buying a breakout box would be better.
It seems the whole of the TV business couldn’t survive without the USB thumb drive, no problem, I needed a bigger capacity one anyway. This SanDisk 64GB drive has USB 3 and USB C connectors. Your producer can copy downloaded music onto it from their older machine and then you can unplug and plug the other side into your new MacBook Pro. No hassle and it's small too, possibly too small.
A $50 64GB San Disk with USB 3 and USB C connections on either end- Genius!
How about connecting drives? No problem there either.
A Thunderbolt 3 to 2 adaptor is multi-function. You can connect to a Thunderbolt drive, or as we did, daisy chain through the drive to a Blackmagic UltraStudio. One myth dispelled there, no need to buy another I/O product, the 1080 AV output of Final Cut Pro X worked perfectly first time after installing Blackmagic Desktop video 10.8.2.
The Thunderbolt converters (unlike the older models) are bi-directional which means you can attach a USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 drive to a machine with only Thunderbolt 2 connections. Even the older Thunderbolt to Firewire adaptor should work, should you have old drives on your shelves.
Now the bad news. Although the adaptor looks like it will take mini display port, the monitor on the other end has to be ‘Thunderbolt Aware’ to function. So if you have an old monitor such as my veteran 30” - you are out of luck. Then again, as you’ve had many years of sterling service, maybe it's time to upgrade to a 5K LG! Apple Thunderbolt displays with mini display connectors work fine, we tested one.
Obviously the connections will only go as fast as the slowest in the chain. 10 Gbps for Thunderbolt 1 and 20 Gbps for Thunderbolt 2.
The slightly larger 15 inch MacBook pro charger on the right.
Sad also to see the demise of the MagSafe connector. I can see both sides of the argument here. If you have drives connected, you hardly want them to dismount if the cable gets tugged. Then again, I’m sure MagSafe 1&2 has saved many a laptop from flying across the floor when fido has got snagged in the power cable. You can plug the mains adaptor into any of the four ports for charging.
The 15 inch model uses a 87 Watt charger which is slightly larger than the 13 inch 61 Watt model. Also if you are thinking about the new LG 5 & 4K displays, double check the specifications as they give different charging capabilities.
So enough of the specification, on to some real world speed tests.
The machines arrived in the midst of a busy edit time, so why not put them to work? Both models would be compared against a mid 2012 Retina MacBook Pro, 2.7 GHz intel Quad Core i7, 16 GB of RAM and NVIDIA GPU with only 1024 MB of VRAM.
Let us start off with Motion rendering. We had a 10 second 1080p project with about 7 different 3D shapes and two lines of curved 3D text. Although motion blur was set to off, quality was set to best. All machines rendered a ProRes 422 movie to the desktop. No other apps running or connections. All machines were running macOS Sierra.
|15 Inch Mid 2012||3'32"|
|13 Inch Late 2016||3'34"|
|15 inch Late 2016||2'17"|
Not a huge speed spread, but the current 13 inch is on par with the Motion performance of the 2012 15 inch model with discreet GPU.
On to a project rendering test with Final Cut Pro X. All the machines used the same Library and were connected to the same Thunderbolt drive where the ProRes 422 was rendered. Before each test, the render files were deleted.
The project was a one and a half minute sequence made up of multicams, chromakey, drop shadow, repositioning and Motion effects.
|15 Inch Mid 2012||5'50"|
|13 Inch Late 2016||4'56"|
|15 inch Late 2016||3'05"|
So a rough bit of maths and you'll see that the new 15" MacBook Pro is nearly twice as fast as the 2012 model.
The 15 inch model with the latest Blackmagic Video Desktop drivers installed and an UltraStudio Express proved to be the most stable HD broadcast output I've had. That includes multicam sequences which have had a habit of crashing on a regular basis.
Rather uneventful editing really, they both worked, both were quite snappy and just got on with the job. Not one lockup or quit either. I'd be more than happy looking at the 15 inch monitor all day if I was holed up in a hotel room.
Apple has had some criticism for not making more powerful machines. They are not short of money and I'm sure they have researched and tested many options before deciding on the exact specifications.
The new Kaby Lake processors are not available yet so Apple have had to go with the existing Skylake chips. Horrified? No, Microsoft are caught in exactly the same predicament and their curious Surface Studio (which was announced just days before the new MacBook Pro) features the same chips.
Which brings us on nicely to the Touch Bar verses the Touch Screen debate. I can see the Touch Bar getting more and more useful commands, hopefully one day we will be able to customise it with our own favourite FCPX keys and shortcuts.
So why didn't Apple have a touch screen? Well, they suck for non linear editing for a start. I had the 'joy' of trying out a new Surface Studio and Premiere in a Microsoft shop. Not mentioning the super-reflective screen, running your finger along the glass is actually painful. Apple's Touch Bar has an almost matte finish, it is slippery, but won't snag your finger. I had to resort to using the pen on the Surface Studio, which wasn't great either. It might look good, but I wouldn't want to work one for a long time. A shame.
One exception here, if you are a designer who uses a 'real' pencil or brush, then this machine and Photoshop would be good. Or use an iPad Pro! Also forget lying the machine down flat if you have lights in the ceiling.
So why only 16 GB of RAM in the new machines? The new MacBook Pros use fast LPDDR memory which runs up to 2133MHz. To go higher, DDR memory would have to be used which would take more power.
These are Phil Schiller's words and can found on the rather excellent Macdaddy blog, as can a great description of why Apple's batteries are the size they are. (Yes I didn't know about the FAA restrictions either.)
So Apple could have made a MacBook Pro with a touchscreen, more than 16 GB of memory and the usual USB ports etc. But they didn't. We are sure the design decisions were not taken lightly and we all know that Apple look forward, not backwards. Do we need to mention the floppy disk and iMac here?
In a year's time, nearly every peripheral will have a USB C connection. Imagine walking up to a desk, plugging one cable in and having access to a 5K monitor, Thunderbolt storage, wired internet and power to charge the machine. How could Apple not grasp this opportunity, remember, there are four ports that have this bandwidth.
With a portable computer, it is a trade-off between computing power and battery life. Yes there are powerful PC gaming laptops out there, but they also have to be plugged into the mains on a regular basis. They are also about as thick as my first Powerbook 180 from 1992.
One unexpected thought here is the surprise on how usable the 13 inch model was. Two long train journeys, an hour demo and the 13 still had half a battery left. If you are doing a lot of travelling and space is at a premium, this would be a real contender. Great for using on a plane or having in a bag on a shoot for location DIT work. - Remember you have four fast buses for moving data.
As for the 15 inch, we think Apple have pitched it about right, possibly slightly pricey but with the connectivity it offers, not only is it very flexible, it's no slouch either. The name says it all - Pro. You can do some serious work with this machine and get your money back quickly. If all you do is surf the internet and write emails, then this is not the machine you are looking for.
How long will you keep the MacBook Pro? Four years? Let us say you use it for 4 hours every weekday for that period. That equates to less than a pound an hour to run the 15 inch machine. That is hardly going to eat into your daily rate.
They both make great machines to run Final Cut Pro X on. The display can show wide colour, the GUI looks very clean and easily readable and of course on the 15, the large trackpad helps reduce double finger movement and unnecessary clicking. Remember that Apple is the only NLE developer that has the luxury of being able to optimise the software and hardware together. Or in other words, things are going to run just about as fast as they can.
We don't think you will be disappointed with either.
Peter Wiggins is a broadcast freelance editor based in the UK although his work takes him around the world. An early adopter of FCP setting up pioneering broadcasts workflows, his weapon of choice is now Final Cut Pro X.