Apple’s MacBook Pro update gets a fresh keyboard and new Intel 8-core processors


The “fastest Mac notebook ever” uses the latest Intel chips to try to win over power-hungry creatives.

While we wait year after year for completely redesigned MacBooks, the flagship MacBook Pro has slowly remade itself with regular incremental upgrades. This is especially true of the 15-inch MacBook Pro, which received a hefty internal tuneup last summer, and is getting another one today — including an update to its much-maligned keyboard.

Back in 2018, we called the jump to eighth-gen, six-core Intel Core i7 and Core i9 processors, more storage and RAM options and a color-temperature-sensing True Tone screen, “an impressive, if predictable, set of internal component upgrades.” This year’s pre-WWDC MacBook Pro refresh does even less, but the impact may be greater.

That’s because the new processor options are jumping to the front of the pack, adding ninth-gen Core i7 and i9 CPUs, in both six-core and eight-core versions. That marks the first time an eight-core processor has been available in a MacBook, and Apple says it stands as the “fastest Mac notebook ever.”

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2019 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and 9th-gen Intel Core i7 processor

The entry-level configuration of the new MacBook Pro starts at $2,400 and features a ninth-gen Intel Core i7 processor, Radeon Pro 555X graphics chip, 16GB of DDR4 RAM and a 256GB SSD. And if that doesn’t sound sufficiently powerful, there are plenty of upgrade options including the higher-end Radeon Pro 560X GPU, an additional 16GB of RAM that brings the total to 32GB and SSD options that top out at 4TB.

2019 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and 8-core 9th-gen Intel Core i9

Apple’s first foray into the realm of eight-core processors is the $2,700 MacBook Pro that comes equipped with a ninth-gen octo-core Intel Core i9, Radeon Pro 555X graphics card, 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. This model features all of the same upgrades as the other new 15-inch model: the Radeon Pro 560X GPU, up to 32GB of RAM and up to 4TB of SSD capacity.

Calling the creatives

Why focus on raw CPU power when so many of the complaints we see about the MacBook lineup concerns wonky, butterfly keyboards and lack of useful ports, or the growing white elephant status of the OLED touch bar?

It may be because Apple needs to win (or in many cases, just hang on to) the hearts and minds of the creative class, its most important constituency. That’s what prompted the move to six-core Core i9 processors last year, and the even bigger jump to ninth-gen eight-core versions of the Core i9 this year.

For anyone dealing with editing very high-resolution images or video, compiling large blocks of code, or working in 3D, the extra headroom can be important, if you’ve got the budget to spring for the highest-end configurations. But new parts in some of the other configurations will also give those systems a boost.

For example, the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is getting new, faster quad-core CPU options, but just as was the case last year, the entry level 13-inch Pro without the Touch Bar gets ignored again. That’s a shame, as it’s the model most likely to attract new or casual buyers. Apple is clearly pushing those shoppers to the latest MacBook Air.

Overall, Apple says jumping from a quad-core model to an eight-core one will double performance, and even the six-core to eight-core improvement is a 40 percent bump. As always, we’ll test these claims in the CNET Labs when new hardware is available. One lesson Apple has hopefully taken to heart is the heat-related CPU throttling that affected last year’s high-end models, quickly fixed via a patch.

2019 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and 4-core 8th gen Intel Core i5 processor

Starting at $1,800, Apple new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar now features a quad-core eighth-gen Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.

2019 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and 4-core 8th gen Intel Core i7 processor

The more powerful version of the new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar features a quad-core eighth-gen Intel Core i7 processor and starts at $2,100. It supports all of the same upgrade options as its Core i5 sibling, including up to 16GB of DDR3 RAM and 2TB of SSD storage.

Sticky fix

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Mac update without some news about the now-infamous butterfly keyboard. As part of the MacBook Pro update, the company says it is still working to “address customer concerns” about the shallow keyboard now found on every current MacBook.

That means a change to the keyboard mechanism itself. The company wouldn’t specify what part it was changing, but presumably it’s something with the membrane under the keys or the very thin butterfly hinges under each keycap.

As part of this upgrade program, Apple says it is also making some changes to how keyboard repairs are processed, to make them faster, and will extend out-of-warranty keyboard service to every MacBook with a butterfly keyboard, all the way back to the original 12-inch MacBook.

To take an unpopular position for a moment, I’ve been one of the few out there willing to defend, or at least tolerate, the butterfly keyboard. In my overall defense of the MacBook keyboard, I never arrive at a ringing endorsement, but at least say, “The sheer level of MacBook keyboard hysteria overstates the case. Like all computer horror stories, the evidence is largely anecdotal (except for all the lawsuits).”

If you’re looking at buying a new MacBook Pro, consider this. The gains over last year’s models will be modest, and there’s a reason Intel (and Apple) often compare systems versus models from three or so years ago. If you’re in the 3-plus year club, the gains are likely to be astounding, and as good as they’re going to get until probably this time next year at the earliest.

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