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New 15-inch MacBook Pro and $1999 iMac 5K: What you need to know!

The timing of this week's 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro and the 5K iMac updates was curious, given that WWDC is only a few weeks away. My bet is that Apple has other things planned for the keynote and doesn't want these updates overshadowed.

The 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro got a couple of other under-the-hood features worth noting.

The 15-inch Retina MacBook's headline feature was the addition of the same Force Touch trackpad we've seen Apple use on the new MacBook and the 13-inch MacBook Pro. After using the trackpad on the new MacBook for a while I understand why Apple is anxious to see it used so widely: It feels the same as its mechanical predecessor but occupies less space in the case and reduces mechanical complexity. That paves the way for Apple to use that space for other things, like more battery, or to make the MacBook Pro even thinner. And where Apple is concerned, no device can be too thin.

The 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro got a couple of other under-the-hood features worth noting. AMD's Radeon R9 M370X graphics processor — a GPU we know precious little about at this point — replaces the Nvidia GeForce GT 750M processor found in last year's model. It's possible that the new processor may help the 15-inch model achieve moderately better battery life than its predecessor (about 9 hours per charge, compared to 8 for the 2014 version).

A faster solid state disk (SSD) implementation yields up to twice the performance as before. That's because Apple's support the NVM Express (NVMe) interface specification on the refreshed MacBook Pro — a technology we first saw on the MacBook, released this past April.

You may recall that Apple switched from SATA (Serial ATA) to PCIe (PCI Express) a while back as the interface it used to connect Macs to SSDs. That yielded a big performance boost. NVMe is not yet another new interface: Instead, it's a communications protocol that works with PCIe. NVMe capitalizes on some of the inherent performance benefits of SSDs compared to hard disks, since SSDs fundamentally function like fast computer memory as opposed to a mechanical hard disk drive.

Otherwise, the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro goes largely unchanged. Processor clock speed, memory and storage configurations remain unchanged from the previous version. You should still expect to pay at least $2000 to get one.

Left to my own devices, I'd probably pay the extra $300 for the faster iMac.

The 5K iMac got a price realignment - the same model as before is now available for $200 less, starting at $2,299. What's more, Apple now offers a second 5K model for $1,999. The new iMac comes with a slightly slower processor (3.3 GHz, compared to 3.5 GHz). It also eschews the SSD/hard drive hybrid "Fusion" drive for a plain old hard disk, as well.

Left to my own devices, I'd probably pay the extra $300 for the faster iMac. Not only is the clock speed faster, but the Fusion drive is much better than a plain old hard disk drive. Apple mates together a 128 GB SSD with a 1 TB hard disk drive; frequently accessed files are kept on the SSD, with the hard drive used to store stuff that's accessed less often. The net result is that you see the benefits of fast SSD access without the limitations of tiny SSD storage. Sure, you bump up the slower Mac with a 1 TB Fusion Drive for another $200, but what's the point? Spend another $100 and get a better system.

Both the refreshed MacBook Pro and the new iMac sports Intel's fourth generation Core i5 "Haswell" microprocessors. The 13-inch MacBook Pro, MacBook and MacBook Air have all migrated to "Broadwell," Intel's more efficient fifth generation processor.

If you'd been holding off getting a 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro or a 5K iMac, now's the right time.

Unfortunately, Intel stumbled a bit with the rollout of Broadwell — switching to the smaller 14 nanometer die size the Broadwell processor needs was more of an effort than Intel anticipated, and it's behind schedule. So the higher-power Broadwell chips Apple needs for the 15-inch MacBook Pro and the iMac are still in short supply. Apple's sticking with Haswell for now.

So what does this say about WWDC? I don't think that WWDC will emphasize Mac hardware, that's for sure.

Current rumors suggest that Apple is going to use the event as a platform to debut its new Apple TV, and that device is desperately in need of a refresh. Inside, the $69 Apple TV is pretty similar to an iPad 2, which is long past its prime. Apple's betting long on the Apple TV: It gets Mac and iOS device content to the home entertainment center, gives iTunes users an easy way to stream their content there, and also acts as important hub for HomeKit connectivity, which I expect we'll be hearing a lot more about in the weeks to come.

One way or the other, if you'd been holding off getting a 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro or a 5K iMac, now's the right time. In fact, I think it's the right time to buy any Mac, because I don't see a lot of other changes coming down the pipeline until late this year at the very earliest.

14 Comments
  • Great review Peter...as an owner of a fully-loaded 2014 Macbook Pro (16GB/1TB SSD), I will skip this iteration and wait until the next refresh cycle. My current machine is plenty fast but I do like the new trackpad technology and hope to see if the next round brings us the new keyboard as on the new Macbook!
  • I'm a 2013 15-inch rMBP user and I'm planning to sit this one out, too. My current machine is still plenty fast for what I need it to do! :)
  • Same here. My 2012 15 inch rMBP is still blazing fast. Maybe I'll give this one to my mother and get the skylake model when it comes out. Sent from the iMore App
  • Bump up the lower end 5k iMac to a full SSD and get the speed bump as well as increased reliability and longevity. What is the difference between graphics processors? Anything worth noting?
  • I think you hit it spot on Peter. The Macbook Pro was already a good machine, but with an aging discrete GPU that was becoming an eye sore. Apple is typically less about the specs and more about the user experience. The new m370x is a wild card clearly made custom by ATI for Apple, as they did with the m295x on the 5k iMac. While we will need to wait for proper benchmarks, I estimate congruent performance with the GeForce 950m. The "sleeper" upgrade here might actually be the 4x SSD performance. This might make the machine "feel" snappier then any minor Broadwell CPU update would have. Apple will likely just silently move to Broadwell in June/July when Intel gets those processors out. The force-touch trackpad will be a nice update as well. The sum of these parts might create a larger impact then the spec monkeys are forecasting.
  • I just ordered the decreased priced iMac 5k Retina (w/fusion drive, etc.) It arrives tomorrow :) Can't wait to see this amazing display.
  • Thank god we got to wait after the announcement for 2 days while sucking down an endless stream of apple-watch articles. Priorities baby! Wooo!
  • Nice but I'll be waiting for the Skylake refresh.
  • Not a really big deal at all, but I was pretty curious as to why the new Macbook Pro's don't come in the new colors of space grey and gold. And if they're going to update the Force Touch, why not the new butterfly keyboard? I'm ready to make a purchase on a new laptop but the new Macbook's single port was a bit of a deal breaker, but the few new bells and whistles should be on the Pro before I make the purchase!
  • Since Apple is sticking to Haswell for now, any idea if Apple will just jump Broadwell and have Skylake for the next update since Intel is announcing it in June?
  • Great, I just bought 5K iMac 2 weeks ago and now they drop it $200? I bought the maxed out version for 4k+ , I checked and even that model is now reduced. Is it worth called them and complaining?
  • I would try if I were you. Dont think they're gonna wire you back the difference, but maybe a nice voucher or a free Apple Care? the company is known, on a case by case basis, to have accomodated many customers on similar cases.
  • Anandtech goes into detail of the GPU in the rMBP. Basically, it's a 3yo GPU that I'm guessing Apple chose due to price (certainly power and performance aren't valid reasons). http://anandtech.com/show/9276/2015-15inch-retina-macbook-pros-dgpu-r9-m...
  • Hi,
    I hope next year they will come up with a 15" model that has a 13" form factor (slim bezel like the one in Dell XPS 13) and Skylake CPU, and also preferably keyboard with butterfly mechanism.