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 2560-by-1600 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 3072-by-1920 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 5120-by-2880 (5K) display or one 6016-by-3384 (6K) display for the 13-inch model, and up to two 6016-by-3384 (5K) displays for the 16-inch model. The 13-inch model can also support two 4096-by-2304 displays simultaneously, while the 16-inch model can do up to four 4096-by-2304 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.
Right now, Apple has split up the MacBook Pros between the 8th-generation and 10th-generation Intel processors. The base models of the 13-inch MacBook Pro starts with a 1.4GHz quad-core 8th-generation i5 and 8GB of RAM, configurable up to 1.7GHz 8th-generation quad-core i7 with 16GB of RAM. The upper tier of the 13-inch MacBook Pros start with the 2.0GHz quad-core 10th-generation i5 with 16GB of RAM, and are configurable up to 2.3GHz quad-core 10th-generation i7 and 32GB 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 for the 2.0Ghz 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 on the base models. The upper tier of 13-inch MacBook Pro starts with 16GB of RAM and can go up to 32GB. 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 256GB SSD for the base model, 512GB SSD for the two middle models, and 1TB SSD for the top end version. The two lower end models are configurable up to 2TB SSDs, and the two higher end models can go up to 4TB SSD storage. 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 or 4TB 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.
The new 13-inch MacBook Pro now uses the same backlit Magic Keyboard that was introduced with the 16-inch MacBook Pro. This means that it eliminates the butterfly mechanism that caused a lot of issues for users, and is now back to the old scissor-switch design. This means that the keyboard is more reliable than previous 13-inch MacBook Pros.
The 16-inch MacBook Pro debuted the full-size and built-in backlit Magic Keyboard. The 16-inch also has a physical ESC key once again, while still retaining the Touch Bar with Touch ID.
Now that both the 13-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros have the same scissor-switch Magic Keyboard, there is no real difference between them aside from the size. These are less prone to failure, and are much easier and more comfortable to type with.
- Both the 13-inch (including the lower end models) and 16-inch MacBook Pros have the same backlit Magic Keyboard, giving users an improved typing experience.
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 10th-generation 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.
Power and portability
The newly updated 13-inch MacBook Pro comes with the latest 10th-generation i5 processors, more starting storage, and brings back the scissor switch Magic Keyboard.
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.
The 16-inch MacBook Pro packs in a lot of power to help you get everything done without breaking a sweat. It can go up to 64GB of RAM and even 8TB of storage if you need it.
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!
May 2020: Updated with the 2020 13-inch MacBook Pros.
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