Apple’s new 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros deliver incredible performance inside a totally redesigned chassis that creatives will love.

All product photography by DL Cade.

Two weeks ago, Apple unveiled a pair of MacBook Pros that are characteristically un-Apple – and we mean that in the best way possible. Ever since 2016, Macs have been getting thinner, sleeker and more frustrating. They’ve had overheating issues, god-awful keyboards, they lost MagSafe, lost the function row, introduced the world to the dongle life, and just generally failed to deliver that Apple “magic” that launched a thousand fanboys.

But with the release of the latest 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros – and the M1 Pro and M1 Max SOCs at their core – Apple has merged the best of the past and the future to create a new line of Mac laptops that are truly worthy of the Pro moniker.

The new Macs are packed with ports, MagSafe is back and better than ever, the Touch Bar is gone, and the display is incredible. In one fell swoop, Apple has addressed every complaint we’ve had about their laptops for the past 5 years.

With the release of the latest 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros, Apple has merged the best of the past and future to create a new line of MacBooks that are worthy of the Pro monicker

We received our review unit from Apple last week: a fully loaded 16-inch MacBook Pro with the M1 Max chip, 64GB of unified memory, and 2TB of storage. And while we’re not quite ready to publish our full review yet, we wanted to share some of our first impressions about the design, usability and, yes, the performance you can expect if you opt to shell out $3,700+ for the most powerful MacBook Pro money can buy.

A Note on Price

Before we go any further, let’s talk about the price. As expected, Apple will charge you an arm, a leg, and a few fingers if you want to get your hands on the latest and greatest tech they have to offer. The unit we’re testing costs an eye watering $4,300, and even if you downgrade to 1TB of storage, you’re still going to shell out $3,900 for the 16-inch variant or $3,700 for the 14-inch:

Our Unit Less Storage Smaller Screen
CPU 10-core M1 Max 10-core M1 Max 10-core M1 Max
GPU 32-core M1 Max 32-core M1 Max 32-core M1 Max
RAM 64GB 64GB 64GB

Storage

2TB 1TB 1TB
Display 16-inch XDR 16-inch XDR 14-inch XDR
Price $4,300 $3,900 $3,700

That said, if we try to match the specs of the most powerful “creator” laptops from Razer, Dell or MSI, the price doesn’t look quite so outrageous.

The latest Razer Blade 15 Advanced with a Core i9-11900H, an RTX 3080 with 16GB of VRAM, 32GB of dual-channel DDR4-3200MHz RAM, and 1TB of solid state storage will run you $3,400 – only $100 cheaper than the M1 Max 16-inch MacBook Pro with 32GB of unified memory and 1TB of storage, and $100 more expensive than the 14-inch variant with those very same specs:

16-inch M1 Max MacBook Pro 14-inch M1 Max MacBook Pro Razer Blade 15 Advanced
CPU 10-core M1 Max 10-core M1 Max Intel Core i9-11900H
GPU 32-core M1 Max 32-core M1 Max

NVIDIA RTX 3080

16GB VRAM

RAM 32GB Unified Memory 32GB Unified Memory 32GB DDR4-3200
Storage 1TB 1TB 1TB
Display 16-inch Liquid Retina XDR Display 14-inch Liquid Retina XDR Display 15-inch 4K OLED Display
Price $3,500 $3,300 $3,400

We’re not claiming that any of these computers are cheap. Far from it. But they represent the price you can expect to pay for a top-shelf CPU, top-shelf GPU, and a premium color-accurate 4K display all wrapped up in a premium design and a premium aluminum-unibody chassis. That’s a lot of ‘premium’.

On the bright side, our experience with the 16-inch MacBook Pro thus far indicates that you are definitely getting what you pay for.

The infamous “notch” has made its way from the iPhone to the MacBook Pro.

Design: Bigger = Better

The design of the new MacBook Pros represents a return to function over form for Apple, and we couldn’t be happier with that decision. Instead of going even thinner, removing even more ports, and otherwise making creatives’ lives harder, Apple did the exact opposite.

Both the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros are noticeably thicker than last year’s laptops, with squared off edges that make them look a lot like the old PowerBooks or the 17-inch MacBook Pro from 2011. Most of this added thickness is there to make room for the miniLED “Liquid Retina XDR” display, but it also enabled Apple to add back several ports we’d been missing.

For the first time since the mid-2015 Retina MacBook Pro, Apple laptop owners get an SD card slot, an HDMI port, and a new-and-improved MagSafe port that supports fast charging the laptop to 50% in just 30 minutes:

On the left hand side of the computer, you get a headphone jack, two Thunderbolt 4 ports, and the new MagSafe 3 port that supports fast charging.
On the right hand side, you get a UHS-II SDXC card slot, another Thunderbolt 4 port, and an HDMI 2.0b port that can power a 4K display at up to 60Hz.

But the new MacBook Pros aren’t just thicker, they’re also taller. The new XDR display is essentially a full 16:10 display plus another small chunk of vertical space that holds the menu bar and the controversial notch.

The notch is, frankly, the least important and yet most talked about part of this display. One side is arguing that Apple is clumsily taking away screen real estate and pointing out some genuinely ridiculous bugs; the other side is pointing out that Apple is actually giving you a little bit of screen above and beyond the pristine 16:10 aspect ratio you already have, and that the bugs will no doubt be resolved with a quick software update.

Both sides have a point, but it feels like everyone making a very big deal out of something that is, at worst, a mild eyesore.

The notch is, frankly, the least important and most talked about part of this display.

Your mileage may vary, but I stopped noticing the notch immediately. And if a notch is the price I have to pay for a little extra screen and a proper 1080p webcam, I’m completely fine with that. Too many thin bezel laptops ship with god-awful webcams, no webcams, or up-the-nose webcams built into the bottom of the display. This is better, even if it looks a little weird.

The redesigned keyboard deck does away with the Touch Bar, swapping it for a row of full-height function keys and full-sized Touch ID sensor.

The last bit of design that you’ll notice immediately is the keyboard, which now sits on an all-black keyboard deck, sheds the gimmick-y Touch Bar, and adds in a full-height function row that ends with a proper Touch ID fingerprint reader.

I actually didn’t hate the Touch Bar – I even used it from time to time, mostly for filling in predictive text or adding emojis in iMessage – but the function keys are far and away the better option, and I don’t think you’ll be hearing otherwise from too many people. At the very least, these won’t freeze and leave you with no convenient way to change your volume or adjust your display brightness.

Display: A seamless HDR experience

One of the biggest improvements packed inside the new 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros is the new Liquid Retina XDR display: the same miniLED backlit LCD that you’ll find the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and the technology we’ll probably see in the next generation Pro Display XDR whenever Apple gets around to updating it.

The display is stunning, both as a feat of engineering and as a huge leap forward in HDR usability.

We’ll dive deeper into the technical details (and why they matter) in our full review, but the most important improvement you’ll actually notice as a user is the seamless HDR experience that Apple has achieved. To borrow Jony Ive’s old catchphrase: HDR content “just works.”

The most important improvement you’ll actually notice about the new miniLED display is the seamless the HDR experience that Apple has achieved. To borrow an old catchphrase from Apple: HDR content just … works.

When using the display normally, you get the standard SDR maximum brightness of 500 nits. But as soon as you open up HDR content, the operating system will adaptively present that content at the proper brightness and contrast by turning on the local dimming zones and ramping up the brightness to 1600 nits peak and 1000 nits sustained.

That, by itself, would make viewing HDR way more convenient. But Apple went a step further.

If I open up an HDR YouTube video but keep it small, HDR mode will only turn on for the backlight and dimming zones behind the actual video, the rest of the screen remains locked at a max of 500 nits, saving you power and seamlessly blending the HDR content into an SDR experience. This is a massive improvement over how HDR has been handled by both Windows and Mac when using an external HDR display; so much so that I can’t believe it’s taken this long for someone to properly implement this approach.

This is one of the best and brightest displays we’ve ever used in a laptop.

The other major improvement to the display is the adaptive “Pro Motion” tech that can ramp the screen’s refresh rate all the way up to 120Hz when that refresh rate is necessary. Unfortunately, this means you can’t lock the refresh rate at 120Hz permanently – you’re limited to 60Hz and below – but Pro Motion promises a seamless high refresh rate experience with minimal battery drain, and thus far, it’s delivered exactly that.

We’ll be testing the color accuracy, uniformity, and usability of the display further in our full review, but so far we are very impressed by what Apple has achieved here.

Performance: Mind blowing speed

We’re still in the process of running and confirming all of our benchmarks in Photoshop, Premiere, Lightroom Classic, Capture One, and Final Cut Pro, but I won’t beat around the bush: this is the fastest creator laptop we have ever tested. In the vast majority of our tests, it leaves every other high-end PC laptop in the dust while consuming a fraction of the power.

The performance isn’t just down to the M1 Max SOC – based on our testing so far, raw CPU performance seems to be on par with about an AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX and RAW GPU performance is somewhere in the vicinity of an 85W NVIDIA RTX 3070 laptop GPU. But when you pair that with a whopping 64GB of blazing fast unified memory that is fully accessible by both the CPU and GPU at the same time, you get a monster that is exporting and rendering high-res photo and video files faster than we thought possible from a laptop.

The new M1 Max MacBook Pro is exporting and rendering high-res photo and video files faster than we thought possible from a laptop.

What’s more, it does all of this while practically sipping power, allowing the computer to run at full speed even when it’s not plugged in. We’re running the same benchmarks plugged in and on battery power, and so far there is no difference; meanwhile, the PC laptops that we’re comparing it against slow to an absolute crawl the moment you pull the plug.

For creative professionals, the new MacBook Pros are exactly what we were hoping for.

We’ll be publishing full-fat benchmarks and comparisons in our full review, but I’m already confident calling this the fastest laptop on the market. At least for creative tasks – where your priority is moving pixels around at high speed – no computer I’ve ever tested can come close to the export and render speeds we’re seeing here.

Final Thoughts

In our first week with the M1 Max MacBook Pro, we’ve found a lot to love and very little to complain about. Our fully loaded review unit is a monster, and while it does come with a monstrous price tag to match, professionals who can actually benefit from this much power may find the performance, design, and usability improvements over high-end Windows laptops are worth the price hike.

Honestly, my most important takeaway so far is that I could never possibly need the power and performance that comes with the M1 Max and 64GB of unified memory. The display and design improvements that Apple made across the board make the cheaper M1 Pro options far more tempting for me personally. Still, we’re eager to see how Apple’s best-of-the-best stacks up against the big boys of the PC world by throwing every torture test in the book at this new machine.

To that end, if you have any specific questions about the design, usability, or performance of the M1 Max MacBook Pro that you’d like us to test out over the next week or two, please drop them in the comments. We’ll do our best to address as many as possible in our full review.

Author: Go to Source
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