MacBook Pro may sound like one product but in reality, there are several options to consider — do you want a 13-inch model or 16-inch? Are you fine with the Touch Bar with Touch ID, since Apple no longer sells a MacBook Pro without a Touch Bar? And then there's processor speed, graphics card, memory, SSD storage size, and even color to consider! But there's no need to suffer paralysis through analysis — I'm going to break it all down for you and make the complex simple again!
MacBook Pro lineup
Apple's MacBook Pro lineup — and that's not including the MacBook or MacBook Air — currently includes two models with a few options each. We can choose from the 13-inch with Touch Bar and Touch ID or the 16-inch with Touch Bar and Touch ID.
Screen size may look like the biggest differentiator but there's also performance and price points to take into account. Still, it's useful to look at the baselines, above.
More display, more of the web and more of apps you can cram onto it, including interface and toolbars. Having a smaller display means having a smaller machine to lug around, but a larger display means seeing more of your documents, images, or videos — or more details on them.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro has a 2560x1600 16:10 display at 227 ppi. That's "Retina", or what Apple calls a display dense enough that you can no longer see pixels at a normal working distance.
The 16-inch MacBook Pro has a 3072x1920 16:10 display at 226 ppi.
Here's how the pixel differences look side-by-side:
The MacBook Pro also supports DCI-P3 wide color gamut and other advanced technologies that provide brighter reds, deeper greens, and blacker blacks. It's like HDR for your display. It's like taking a layer of haze off the screen and seeing the world closer to how it really is.
- If you want the most portability, you want the 13-inch MacBook Pro.
- If you want the largest possible display, you want the 16-inch MacBook Pro.
You can also drive external displays with the MacBook Pro. That way, you can make your desk look more like NASA.
The MacBook Pro can support up to one 5120x2880 (5K) display for the 13-inch model, and up to two 6016x3384 (5K) displays for the 16-inch model. The 13-inch model can also support two 4096x2304 displays simultaneously, while the 15-inch model can do up to four 4096x2304 displays at once.
- If you want to drive only one 5K or two non-5K external displays, you want a 13-inch MacBook Pro.
- If you want to drive two 5K or four non-5K external displays, you want a 16-inch MacBook Pro.
The central processing unit (CPU) is what drives the MacBook Pro. In the old days, they'd get astronomically more powerful every generation. Now, the big gains are in power efficiency.
The MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and Touch ID line has latest-generation Coffe Lake processors for both the 13-inch and 16-inch models. The 13-inch model starts with a 1.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 or configurable up to 2.8GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor and up to 16GB of RAM. The 16-inch model starts with a 2.6GHz 6-core Intel Core i7 processor, or you can go up to 2.3GHz 8-core Intel Core i9 processor.
- If you just want good performance and only plan on doing minimal processor-intensive work, then you want a 13-inch MacBook Pro.
- If you want maximum performance for resource-heavy things like video editing, you want a 8-core 16-inch MacBook Pro.
The graphics processing unit (GPU) handles rendering and pushing the pixels. That includes everything from the macOS interface to photo and video editors to video games. The more powerful the GPU, the more pixels it can render and push, and the smoother and better the animations, apps, and the more realistic 3D you'll get.
MacBook Pro has Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645 for the 13-inch with 1.4Ghz i5, and Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655 for the 2.4Ghz i5 models. The 16-inch version has both AMD Radeon Pro 4GB 5300M or 5500M (depending on if you go for the base or higher end model) and Intel UHD Graphics 630 for low power and discrete graphics for high performance. You can configure it to AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 4GB of GDDR6 memory or AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 8GB of GDDR6 memory in the base model 2.6Ghz 6-core 16-inch, or configure it to AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 8GB of GDDR6 memory in the higher end 2.3Ghz 8-core 16-inch MacBook Pro.
- If you just need basic graphics and don't plan on doing a lot of graphical work or play video games, then you want the 13-inch MacBook Pro.
- If you want the biggest graphics boost you can get, you want the 16-inch MacBook Pro.
It doesn't matter how fast your laptop is if it runs out of juice when you need it most. So, both Intel and AMD on the chipset side and Apple on the macOS side have been working on making everything last longer.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro is rated for 10-hours of web browsing or iTunes movie playback and 30 days on standby. The 16-inch MacBook Pro should be able to do 11-hours of web browsing or iTunes movie playback, and also has 30 days of standby time.
(iTunes movie playback is hardware accelerated, so YouTube in Chrome will consume way more power, for example.)
- Battery life is about the same on both models, with the 16-inch slightly edging out the 13-inch by one hour.
The amount of random access memory (RAM) in your Mac determines how many apps you can keep live at a time, how big your photo or video editing projects can be without having to swap data back and forth on the drive, and otherwise keeps everything super fast.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro starts with 8GB of 2133MHz LPDDR3 memory and can go to 16GB. The 16-inch MacBook Pro starts with 16GB of 2666MHz DDR4 memory and can be upgraded to 32GB or 64GB.
- If you want the most RAM for all your app use and video editing needs, you want the 16-inch MacBook Pro.
Storage used to consist of big, noisy hard drive platters that spun around and didn't take well to bumps or power problems. Now they're solid state — Flash chips with no moving parts. They don't hold as much as old-style hard drives and are still more expensive, but they're ultra-fast and far more resilient.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro comes with a 128GB SSD for the base model, 256GB SSD for the two middle models, and 512GB SSD for the top end version. All of these are configurable up to 2TB if you need it. The 16-inch MacBook Pro comes with a 512GB SSD or 1TB SSD, depending on which model you get, and can be configured up to 8TB.
- If you want the largest amount of storage possible — 8 TB — you want the 16-inch MacBook Pro.
- If you want to save some money on up-front costs, you can still get up to 2TB with the 13-inch MacBook Pro.
Wired connections like USB, Thunderbolt, and HDMI let you connect to high-performance accessories like external displays, drives, networks, and more.
The two cheaper models of the 13-inch MacBook Pro have 2x Thunderbolt 3 ports (USB-C), while the other two higher end versions have 4x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports, though the two right ports on the 13-inch aren't full speed. The 16-inch MacBook Pro has 4x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports as well.
- If your port needs are low or you have a USB-C Hub on-hand, the two-port 13-inch MacBook Pro is for you.
- If you want a lot of USB-C ports, but only need one that supports 5K external display connectivity, the 4x USB-C port 13-inch MacBook Pro will do the trick.
- If you want the highest data transfer possible and need two ports for connecting 5K external displays, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is the only one for you.
Force Touch trackpad
Apple now has Force Touch trackpads in all the MacBook Pro models. They use a Taptic Engine to simulate the click feeling of a traditional trackpad, but over the entire surface, and without the actual mechanical switch. Some people don't like the feeling, but it adds pressure sensitivity, is less prone to breakdown, and can be used in ways far beyond a regular trackpad.
- All MacBook Pro models sport a large Force Touch Trackpad.
Apple's decision to change the MacBook keyboard design from the scissor switch mechanism to the dome and butterfly mechanism as been ... controversial, to say the least. First, diehard fans of the looser scissor keyboard just hated the change. Then, to put salt in the wound, keyboard malfunctions were the buzzword for so long that Apple decided to offer a repair program to ease our fears.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro uses the third-generation dome and butterfly mechanism keyboard, which has a few improvements like quieter click response when typing. It is more reliable than the first-generation but can still experience malfunctions.
The new 16-inch MacBook Pro has a new, full-size backlit Magic Keyboard built-in, which goes back to the old scissor switches and gets rid of the butterfly mechanism entirely. This means you shouldn't be experiencing those annoying problems that the butterfly keyboards can experience, and the 16-inch MacBook Pro's keyboard is a lot more reliable. The 16-inch also has a physical ESC key once again, while still retaining the Touch Bar with Touch ID.
- If you don't mind the risk and have faith that Apple would fix any malfunctions you may have with your keyboard, don't be afraid of the 13-inch MacBook Pro. It's not as bad as tech media has made it seem.
- If you want a quieter typing experience and more reliability in your keystrokes, the 16-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar will give you peace of mind.
Touch Bar and Touch ID
All models of MacBook Pro being sold now include the Touch Bar OLED with a matte finish that matches the feel of the keyboard keys. It can display Esc and function keys and system and media controls, just like the old function row, though the 16-inch MacBook Pro brought back the physical ESC key on the keyboard. But the Touch Bar can also display curated, contextual shortcuts for whatever app you're working in at the time. That includes volume sliders, content scrubbers, color selectors, and anything else a developer can dream up.
To the right of the Touch Bar is Touch ID. Once exclusive to iPhone and iPad, now you can have it on the Mac. It works off an Apple T2 chip, which is like a tiny, integrated iOS device embedded right in the MacBook Pro. It handles the secure enclave and secure presentation of Apple Pay information, but that fusion is hidden away.
All you see is the sensor. Place your registered finger on it and you're authenticated! You can even use it for fast account switching.
- All new MacBook Pros being sold by Apple come with the Touch Bar and Touch ID.
- If you aren't a fan of the Touch Bar, you'll need to look for an older MacBook Pro from other retailers or even through Apple Refurbished.
For a long time, Apple only made laptops with silver, bead-blasted aluminum finishes. The bead-blasted aluminum part is still true, but recently Apple has started adding some colors to the Mac lineup. It's now available in ... Space Gray!
- All models of the MacBook Pro come in both Silver and Space Gray.
Who should get the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and Touch ID?
The newly updated MacBook Pro is cutting edge but also cuts some things out. Gone are the legacy ports and in their place the fastest I/O possible, inside and out. It's for those who want the bleeding edge and don't care what it costs.
If you want If you want a DCI-P3 wide gamut display and the best screen tech in the business, a larger Force Touch trackpad, a lighter and denser chassis, the fastest Coffee Lake quad-core processor with double the eDRAM than its predecessor, but consider portability much more important than lots of RAM and extra storage, the high-end 13-inch MacBook Pro is your model.
Who should get the 16-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and Touch ID?
The larger model MacBook Pro is literally the fastest, most powerful portable computing device in Apple's lineup. It's got state-of-the-art connectivity and data transfer and plenty of room for heavy memory-hogging programs.
Thanks to the updated 8-core Coffee Lake processor, the 16-inch MacBook Pro can have up to 64GB of RAM and 8TB of onboard storage. Combine this with the advanced Radeon Pro graphics card and 4GB of video memory and you're talking about a pretty powerful beast in a somewhat-portable body.
If you're still having trouble choosing which MacBook Pro is for you, make sure to pay our Apple MacBooks discussion forums a visit, and ask all the questions you need answered!
December 2019: Updated with the 16-inch MacBook Pro.
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