MacBook Pro (15-inch, mid-2018) review

Same body, big leap in power

macbook pro

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Here’s how the 15-inch MacBook Pro (mid-2018) performed in our suite of benchmark tests:

Cinebench CPU: 1057 points Graphics: 102.28 fps
Geekbench 4 Single-Core: 5,542; Multi-Core: 23,431
Battery Life (TechRadar movie test): 9 hours and 58 minutes 

While the outside of the MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch is pretty similar to last year’s model, internally, things have been improved dramatically.

The MacBook Pro 2018 comes with a choice of Intel 8th-generation Core processors, with the 15-inch model offering a 6-core Intel core i7 with a 2.2GHz base clock and Turbo Boost speed of up to 4.1 GHz, or a Core i9 CPU with a base clock of 2.9GHz, that can turbo up to 4.8GHz, as your options. Note that these were the current specs at the time of this review. We updated the Price and availability section to reflect the mid-2019 refresh specs and prices.

These 8th-generation of Intel processors boast up to 70% faster performance over the MacBook Pro 2017, according to Apple. Intel has also been packing the performance benefits of the new generation, which also promises better power efficiency for longer battery life.

macbook pro

In our tests, along with day-to-day use, we found the MacBook Pro to be a solid performer, with the new processor making the whole device feel faster and more responsive overall. Apple sent us the highest configuration of the MacBook Pro 15-inch for testing, so the more affordable configurations will not quite hit the performance highs we saw.

Looking at the benchmark results, our MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch configuration scored substantially higher than last year’s 13-inch MacBook Pro, which came with a seventh generation, dual core 3.1GHz Intel Core i5-7267U processor.

Where the 2017 model scored 383 points in the Cinebench CPU benchmark, the 2018 15-inch model scored 1,057 points, which shows how the increase in core count has positively impacted the performance.

The Geekbench 4 benchmark also highlighted the performance difference with a single core score of 4,383 for the 2017 model, and 5,542 with the 2018 15-inch model. When it came to multi-core scores, the difference was even more stark, thanks to the 2018 model’s six cores, compared to the two cores of the 2017 model – scoring 9,313 and 23,431, respectively.

The performance of the MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch versus the 13-inch 2018 model was closer, with the Cinebench CPU benchmark returning 621 points for the 13-incher, and the Geekbench 4 scores of 5,320 single-core and 18,135 multi-core.

Still, if you want the absolute best CPU performance, the 15-inch MacBook Pro is your best bet.

If you’re looking to utilize the MacBook Pro for graphic-intensive tasks, such as video and image editing, or 3D rendering, then you’ll be more than satisfied with the discrete graphics cards that come with the 15-inch model. You get the choice of either the AMD Radeon Pro 555X or the Radeon Pro 560X, both of which come with 4GB of GDDR5 memory. Both are formidable professional graphics cards that do an excellent job of handling intensive programs when processing high-resolution images, such as Photoshop.

As you can see from the Cinebench graphics test, it’s a powerful GPU that skillfully beats the Surface Book 2, which has an Nvidia GTX 1060 graphics card, and managed 94fps (frames per second) to the MacBook Pro’s 102.28 fps.

Apple has also addressed complaints about the MacBook Pro 2017 only supporting up to 16GB of RAM, with the MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch now supporting up to 32GB of DDR4 memory. This is excellent news, as the boost in RAM makes this an ideal notebook for multitasking, not to mention, a bit of gaming. But again, remember that you’ll be paying a hefty sum for that upgrade.

Using the MacBook Pro 2018, we can have numerous apps open (including Handbrake) while transcoding video files, and the device remains fast and responsive. Most consumers may find 16GB of RAM to be more than enough, but the option to add up to 32GB is welcome for more intensive users.

Addressing the Throttling issue

As with the 13-inch MacBook Pro 2018, we also transcoded a 57-minute, 1080p video to HEVC using HandBrake’s Apple 1080p30 Surround preset, with the video encoder switch to ‘H.265 (x265)’. 

This is where things got interesting, considering the accusations of extreme throttling for the MacBook Pro. The video transcode is a very CPU-intensive task, and we watched the clock speeds during this test. While almost 100% of the CPU was being used, the clock speeds of the processor started at around 2.82GHz, then dropped to 2.34GHz on average, sometimes going as low as 1.94GHz.

This is a long way off the 2.90GHz base clock and 4.8GHz boost clock advertised. Meanwhile, CPU temperatures hit a maximum of 97C (206F). That’s incredibly hot, and it’s clear that’s why the clock speeds were lowered.

However, Apple has since explained that there was “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 […] macOS High Sierra 10.13.6 Supplemental Update and is recommended.”

We downloaded and installed the update, and ran the tests again. It completed in 1 hour, 13 minutes. This time, clock speeds were much more stable at around 2.99GHz, dropping to 2.50GHz at the lowest.

This is faster than the 13-inch MacBook Pro, which finished the same test in 1 hour 33 minutes with the new patch installed.

Meanwhile, the 15-inch MacBook Pro from late 2016, with an older 2.7GHz, quad-core i7 CPU, took 1 hour 40 minutes. That new, powerful Core i9 chip in the 15-inch 2018 MacBook Pro, therefore, really makes a difference to performance. It also shows that it's well worth your time to install the latest macOS update to maximize the performance potential of the MacBook Pro 2018.

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Battery life

Apple maintains that the MacBook Pro 2018 boasts up to 10 hours of battery life. But that, of course, depends on the tasks you’re running. Apple’s battery life tests may not be as rigorous as ours, which is why we found the MacBook Pro 2018 to come quite a bit under its advertised figure during our battery tests, which involve looping 1080p video at 50% brightness and volume – with all backlighting and radios (but Wi-Fi) disabled – until it dies.

The MacBook Pro 15-inch lasted 9 hours and 58 minutes before it shut down, which isn’t bad compared to the competition, and obviously only two minutes less than Apple’s promised 10 hours after its tests at 75% screen brightness. However, if you’re working on something more intensive, like video rendering, you might want to carry the MacBook Pro’s charger around, as you’ll get significantly reduced battery life.

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In our review of the MacBook Pro 2018 13-inch, we lamented the fact that this year’s model of the smaller MacBook Pro was a more iterative upgrade, rather than a dramatic leap forward. That wasn’t the case with MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch.

The MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch was already a more impressive upgrade over last year's model even before its May 2019 refresh, with a much better processor and increased RAM making a big difference in performance. If you’re a professional looking for a portable Apple device, then the MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch will be very tempting.

However, this still doesn’t feel like a machine designed to tempt Windows users, who will likely be frustrated by some of Apple’s quirks (and high price tag). Limiting the number of ports to a handful of USB-C connections isn’t a big deal, if you’re a mainstream user. However, for professionals who require legacy connections, having to use an adapter or a hub (which isn’t included despite the high price) is an inconvenience many won’t put up with.

While we do appreciate the thin and light design of the MacBook Pro 2018, we are concerned that it’s too much at the expense of power users and professionals – the very people that Apple is supposed to be targeting with the MacBook Pro.

Without a doubt, the MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch is a powerful and appealing notebook with a stunning design that’s pretty much peerless when it comes to workstations. If you’re an Apple fan and have the budget, you’ll love this device. However, as a purely professional notebook, we still feel that Apple has slightly lost sight of what pro users really want and need.

Image credit: TechRadar

Matt Hanson
Managing Editor, Core Tech

Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Core Tech, looking after computing and mobile technology. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. Ever since he got an Amiga A500+ for Christmas in 1991, he's loved using (and playing on) computers, and will talk endlessly about how The Secret of Monkey Island is the best game ever made.