Apple has announced a major update to its MacBook Pro laptop line, 13 months after the previous refresh on 7 June 2017 at WWDC 2017. The new laptops, which arrive in time for the important back to school/college buying period, are available with 13in and 15in screens and feature new eighth-generation Intel Coffee Lake processors, expanded storage and RAM options, T2 subsystem controller chips and True Tone screens.
In this article we round up all the latest news about the 2018 MacBook pro models: their release date, pricing, specs and new features.
The new MacBook Pro were available to buy through Apple's website following the announcement. The laptops are also in stock at selected Apple stores and resellers.
There are a range of configuration options. The updated 13in models (which all feature the Touch Bar - if they don't feature the Touch Bar they are the 2017 model) start at £1,749 in the UK and $1,799 in the US. That's the same as the cheapest Touch Bar from the previous generation.
The 15in models, again all featuring Touch Bar controls, still start at £2,349 in the UK, and $2,399 in the US, as they did in 2017 (Note that before this update Apple was still selling a non-Touch Bar 2015 model of the 15in MacBook Pro for £1,899/ $1,999, that unit is no longer on sale).
Problems & fixes
The launch of the MacBook Pro hasn't been without issue, although Apple has already gone some way to fix one major problem.
The new MacBook Pro appears to be facing issues with the speakers.
There are reports on Reddit and YouTube related to the issue. Posts claim that a cracking sound, or distortion, can be heard even at a relatively low volume.
"The crackling noise is noticeable after a few mintues whlist listening to audio files or youtube type of websites," claims one Reddit poster who had his new MacBook Pro replaced and found that the same issue occurred. He suspects that it’s the drivers. Other posters suspect that it’s a firmware issue.
Apparently Apple is aware of the issue, and looking into it, according to TNW sources.
Some report the issue as one that primarily happens in specific applications, like Apple Music, iTunes, or Garage Band. Others say YouTube videos have the same affect.
The problem that may point to a hardware issue, rather than a software bug. It doesn't seem that the issue is particularly widespread.
This isn’t the first time a MacBook Pro has suffered from this issue. Back in 2016 shortly after the launch of that year’s MacBook Pro, reports of loud crackling and popping noises through the speakers started to appear on community forums. Initially it was though that the issue only occurred in Boot Camp, but it appeared that the problem was more widespread than that. We covered this issue here.
Thermal issues and performance throttling
With the arrival of the new MacBook Pro came reports that the new laptops were experiencing performance hits during heavy processing.
YouTuber Dave Lee was the first to highlight the issue when he published his video below, claiming that the Core i9 MacBook Pro chassis and cooling systems were not enough to maintain the Core i9’s clock speed.
Lee was using a i9 equipped MacBook with Adobe Premiere - leading to some hope that only that processor and program was affected. However, other reports suggestsed that the throttling issues were more widespread and all new MacBook Pro were found to be running so hot during intensive operations, that they were being throttled down to below the base speed.
Apple released a fix for the throttling issue on Tuesday 25 July. The Supplemental Update (here), weighs in at 3.55GB, and does appear to fix the issue that caused the new MacBook Pro laptop to excessively throttle when doing system intensive tasks.
Apple released the following statement about the update: "Following extensive performance testing under numerous workloads, we’ve identified that there is a missing digital key in the firmware that impacts the thermal management system and could drive clock speeds down under heavy thermal loads on the new MacBook Pro. A bug fix is included in today’s macOS High Sierra 10.13.6 Supplemental Update and is recommended. We apologise to any customer who has experienced less than optimal performance on their new systems. Customers can expect the new 15-inch MacBook Pro to be up to 70% faster, and the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar to be up to 2X faster, as shown in the performance results on our website."
To install the update, either locate the update in About This Mac > Overview > Software Update, and the update should happen automatically.
Alternatively, visit Apple’s website and download it from here. We downloaded it from Apple’s website, located the update in our Downloads folder, installed it and then waited while the Mac restarted.
We discuss the throttling issues in the video below.
And here's even more detail, as the issue is thoroughly analysed in the Macworld podcast:
One more? The issue is discussed one last time by the Full Nerd team:
Data recovery problems
It appears that in redesigning the internals of the 2018 MacBook Pro, Apple has removed a data recovery port - probably for security reasons.
If a 2018 MacBook Pro user was to experience logic board failure they would be unable to recover data from their SSD.
This is because Apple has removed a data recover connector that could be used to salvage data from the SSD in the event of a failed logic board.
iFixIt found this connector to be missing from both 13in and 15in models when they performed their teardown of the 2018 MacBook Pro.
It seems likely that the removal of the port is related to security. The T2 chip in the 2018 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is responsible for encrypting the SSD, so being able to by pass this encryption and recover the data via a port would be contradictory.
The removal of this data recover connection means backing up is even more important for 2018 MacBook Pro users.
T2 related kernel panics
The T2 chip might be causing kernel panics in the new MacBook Pro, along with the iMac Pro, which also features the Apple designed chip.
The error messages indicate that there is a problem with ‘Bridge OS’ which is the OS used by the T2 chip, hence the assumption that the error relates to the T2 chip.
Digital Trends suggests that it may be possible to avoid these kernel panics if users "Don't daisy-chain devices, don’t use a Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter, turn off Power Nap, turn off Secure Boot, don’t unlock the device with Apple Watch, remove third-party kernel extensions, and turn off every power management option you can find." That site collected advice from various forum threads about the issue.
Externally, the new MacBooks look the same as the 2017 models - all the changes are internal. That may be a worry for some, since there have been whispers of discontent about the keyboard of the past couple of generations of MacBook Pro which it seems are plagued by an issue where dust can render certain keys useless (read all about the MacBook keyboard problems here).
The good news is that the new MacBook Pro has a new keyboard that Apple describes in the press release as "an improved third-generation keyboard for quieter typing.” Given that the MacBook Pro keyboard is hardly deafening, you may be wondering what the point of the change is. Well the good news is that the quieter keyboard appears to be a symptom of another change that was noticed by iFixIt.
When iFixIt did its tear down of the new MacBook Pro they noticed that Apple has cocooned the butterfly switches in a thin, silicone barrier, which iFixIt believe is intended to prevent the dust and crumbs from getting stuck. This new design will, hopefully, avoid the problems that are plaguing the past few generations of keyboards with the ‘butterfly’ design.
An Apple patent application published in March looks remarkably like this silicone overlay design that the new keyboards are using - and it was characterized as a "contaminant ingress prevention and/or alleviation [mechanism].” Suggesting that the design was invented for the purpose of avoiding the problems people are facing with the older keyboard design.
While Apple has said that the "new third-generation keyboard wasn't designed to solve those [dust] issues,” (according to a Verge report), iFixIt suggests that the "the quiet angle is, quite literally, a cover up.”
Unfortunately the new keyboards aren’t completely unbreakable - we don’t suggest using one on the beach for example. iFixIt has ‘torture tested’ the new MacBook Pro and found that “just like last time, a few poorly placed particles bring the mighty butterfly down to earth, never to click again.” (Read the complete iFixIt report here).
The site pumped the keyboard “full of particulates to test our ingress-proofing theory”, initially the silicon barrier did a good job, but eventually “with the addition of more particulate and some aggressive typing, the dust eventually penetrates under the sheltered clips, and gets on top of the switch—so the ingress-proofing isn’t foolproof just yet.”
It’s unlikely that a MacBook Pro will actually encounter this kind of stress testing in normal usage, iFixit suggests that using it in a dusty room “won’t kill it” but does dissuade readers from using it on the beach.
When Apple introduced the redesigned butterfly mechanism keyboard with the MacBook Pro in 2016, it seems that a number of people had problems with keys repeating characters and other keys not working. Others claimed they made a high-pitched sound, and it is said a tiny spec of dust can render a keyboard useless so that the whole front of the MacBook needs to be replaced.
The problem became so widespread that Apple changed its stance on repairs and will now offer free repairs for MacBook Pro's with affected keyboards.
You can sign a petition calling for Apple to recall the faulty Mac laptops and replace the keyboards free of charge, or even join a lawsuit and attempt to get damages from Apple. Read all about the problems with the MacBook Pro here.
2018 MacBook Pro features and specs
We'll start with the headline specs for the two main models, before going on to discuss them in more depth.
MacBook Pro 13in (2018) specs
- Quad-core Intel Core i5 and i7 processors up to 2.7GHz with Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz
- Intel Iris Plus integrated graphics 655 with 128MB of eDRAM
- Up to 2TB SSD storage
- True Tone display
- Apple T2 chip
- Touch Bar
MacBook Pro 15in (2018) specs
- 6-core Intel Core i7 and Core i9 processors up to 2.9GHz with Turbo Boost up to 4.8GHz
- Up to 32GB of DDR4 RAM
- Radeon Pro discrete graphics with 4GB of video memory
- Up to 4TB SSD storage
- True Tone display
- Apple T2 chip
- Touch Bar
So what do these specs mean in practice?
Apple has equipped its new laptops with Intel's latest eighth-gen processor chips, and claims these will produce dramatic speed boosts.
The 13in Pros have finally moved from dual-core to quad-core processors, and Apple says they offer twice the speed of the previous generation; the 15in model gets six-core processors and up to 70 percent speed gains on the 2017 generation. We won't be able to test these claims until we've got review samples in our labs, but Geekbench scores that leaked online in June 2018 suggest they're seriously fast. The mystery (six-core) device scored a single-core score of 4,902 and a multi-core score of 22,316, which is far ahead of any 2017 MacBook Pro.
The specific models of chip are interesting, too. For the first time Apple is making a Core i9 chip available (for the 15in models only): a colleague's detective work makes us believe it's the Core i9 8950K. The top-line 13in laptop gets an i7 which we believe is the Core i7-8559U.
In both cases these are Coffee Lake chips, an upgrade on the Kaby Lake chips in the 2017 machines. Coffee Lake should provide improvements in power consumption as well as speed.
There is also a build-to-order i9 processor option too.
Another upgrade: RAM now tops out at 32GB for the 15in model instead of 16GB.
Previously, all the 13in models offered 8GB of RAM (although there was a build-to-order option for 16GB). The 15in models shipped with 16GB RAM as standard.
You can now get a 4TB SSD on the 15in Pro; the maximum in the 2017 generation was 2TB.
All of the new MacBook Pros models get the T2 subsystem controller chip previously seen in the iMac Pro. This isn't the main system processor - that duty is taken by the eighth-gen Core chip - but is instead tasked with running the subsystems and producing a simplified internal design. Our colleagues on Macworld US called the T2 "the start of a Mac revolution".
True Tone screen
Intriguingly, Apple has equipped the new MacBooks with True Tone screens. Apple's True Tone technology was first demonstrated in the 2016 iPad Pro: it adjusts colour and brightness output to compensate for changing environmental lighting conditions. It's a subtle feature but we're pleased to see it make the switch to macOS.
There are no other changes to the screen we know about. Apple has not yielded to calls for it to include a 4K display, for instance; screen resolution remains the same as previously.
Apple hasn't made any claims about improved battery life for the new MacBook models. However, the reduced power-consumption made possible by Coffee Lake mean there may be some improvements in this area. As ever, we will follow up with lab results when we've run them.
All of the updated MacBook Pro models come with a Touch Bar (and therefore Touch ID). Apple will continue to sell a non-Touch Bar 13in model, but it's not updated.
We feel that the Touch Bar is a gimmick, and the fact that Apple hasn't rolled it out to any other Macs to date means that developers aren't updating their apps to support it. But the wide support for it here shows that Apple is committed to the concept.