A surprising no-show at this year’s Apple World Wide Developer’s Conference was any kind of hardware refresh for Apple’s Mac products. While WWDC is first and foremost a software development show, it’s also been a convenient event for Apple to announce lower-key refreshes of their existing hardware platforms, as the press and developers are already there and paying attention. So with the MacBook Pro family all but guaranteed to receive a refresh thanks to Intel’s Coffee Lake launch, we had been expecting to see new MacBook Pros around then.

Instead Apple has gone in a slightly different direction (more on that in a sec) but the end result is the same. Today, roughly a month after WWDC, Apple is announcing a more substantial refresh of both the MacBook Pro 13-inch and MacBook Pro 15-inch. The combination of Intel’s Coffee Lake processors and some of Apple’s own innovations such as their T2 controller make this a potentially potent performance upgrade for Apple’s professional-grade workhorses. However there are no external changes to these laptops – their dimensions, weights, and ports are remaining identical – so they very much fit into the existing 4th generation MacBook Pro lineup.

Starting off at the top, Apple is updating most – but not all – of the MacBook Pros. Specifically, only the Touch Bar-equipped models are being updated. That means that the non-touch 13-inch MBP, the cheapest models of the MBP family, remain unchanged with their Kaby Lake-era hardware. So this means only the higher-end models are getting the benefits of more CPU cores, True Tone, etc. Depending on where you stand on Apple’s Touch Bar, this may ruffle a few feathers, as it creates a much more distinctive gap between the two 13-inch models than existing previously.

MacBook Pro 15-Inch (Base Model)
Model 2018 15-Inch 2017 15-Inch 2016 15-Inch
CPU 2.2GHz
Core i7-8750H
6 CPU Cores
(Coffee Lake)
Core i7-7700HQ
4 CPU Cores
(Kaby Lake)
Core i7-6700HQ
4 CPU Cores
GPU Intel UHD Graphics 630 + AMD Radeon Pro 555X (4GB) Intel HD Graphics 630 + AMD Radeon Pro 555 (2GB) Intel HD Graphics 530 + AMD Radeon Pro 450 (2GB)
Display 15" 2880 x 1800 IPS LCD
DCI-P3 Gamut
True Tone
15" 2880 x 1800 IPS LCD
DCI-P3 Gamut
Memory 16GB DDR4-2400 16GB LPDDR3-2133
Touch Bar Yes
I/O 4x Thunderbolt 3 (supports DP1.2 & USB 3.1 Gen 2 modes),
3.5mm Audio
Battery Capacity 83.6 Wh 76 Wh
Battery Life 10 Hours
Dimensions 1.55 cm x 34.93 cm x 24.07 cm
Weight 4.02 lbs (1.83 kg)
Price $2399 $2399 $2399

The big news across all of these new models, of course, is the increased CPU core count thanks to the inclusion of Intel’s Coffee Lake-H CPUs. Earlier this year Intel updated the 45 Watt class CPUs to include 6-core models, and now Apple is finally integrating these into the latest MBPs. For Apple this is the first core count bump since the start of the Retina MBP generation in 2012, as quad-core 45W CPUs have been a staple Intel product – and staple of the 15-inch MBP – since then.

Apple has stated that they will be offering both Core i9 and Core i7 processors for the 15-inch MBP. The i7 will be the 8750H, meanwhile Intel only offers a single i9, the 8950HK. Notably, besides offering 2 more cores than their last-generation equivalents, the new processors also have higher turbo clockspeeds, offering around 13-17% increased peak frequencies.

As a result, Apple is touting a performance boost of up to 70%. This is almost certainly a best-case scenario here, in part because these processors can’t run all 6 CPU cores at high turbo frequencies for very long, but Apple’s cooling design will play a huge factor there. But even if they have to pull back from their highest turbo states, for day-to-day usage the additional cores should make quite an impact on software that can suitably use so many threads, which in the case of professional-grade software is a lot more likely.

Apple is also using the 15-inch MBP refresh to rectify one of the biggest complaints about that model MBP, which is RAM capacity. All of the 4th generation MBPs have been limited to a maximum of 16GB of RAM; this is due to Intel CPU limitations where Intel doesn’t support the current generation of low power RAM (LPDDR4) that Apple favors, and the LPDDR3 that Intel does support only goes up to 16GB. However it is possible to pair more than 16GB of memory with these Intel processors – so long as you give up the use of low power RAM – and this is the route Apple is taking.

For the 15-inch MBP, Apple has switched to standard power DDR4 memory, which Intel supports and which is available in larger capacities. As a result Apple can now offer up to 32GB of RAM on the 15-inch laptop, with Apple offering a mix of 16GB and 32GB capacities at different price points. The switch to DDR4 does come with a power cost – one I’m sure Apple was rue to pay – but as the Intel situation ties their hands, I’m glad they’ve made the right choice and favored memory capacity in their flagship laptop. Do note however that it won't come cheap; the 32GB option is another $400 over the base configuration.

Due to this combination of CPU changes and memory changes, Apple has boosted the capacity of the 15-inch MBP’s battery to compensate for the increased power consumption. The 15-inch’s battery is roughly 7 Watt-hours larger, which now puts it at 83.6 Wh. Apple has rather consistently targeted a 10 hour runtime here, and that remains unchanged for the latest model. The bigger question then is how they've been able to add another 7 Wh of capacity to the machine without increasing its weight at all.

Apple has also made a couple of other changes to the 15-inch MBP under the hood, although not as significant as the CPU and memory changes. Apple has once again stuck with AMD’s Polaris 11-based Radeon 55x and 56x series discrete GPUs; however all dGPUs now ship with 4GB of dedicated graphics memory, rather than the 2GB that was previously standard. Models with 4GB of graphics memory were upgrade options before, so this specifically resolves one of the weaknesses of the base 15-inch model.

MacBook Pro 13-Inch w/Touch Bar (Base Model)
Model 2018 13-Inch 2017 13-Inch 2016 13-Inch
CPU 2.3GHz
Core i5-8259U
4 CPU Cores
(Coffee Lake)
Core i5-7267U
2 CPU Cores
(Kaby Lake)
Core i5-6267U
2 CPU Cores
GPU Intel Iris Plus 655
(128MB eDRAM)
Intel Iris Plus 650
(64MB eDRAM)
Intel Iris 550
(64MB eDRAM)
Display 13" 2560 x 1600 IPS LCD
DCI-P3 Gamut
True Tone
13" 2560 x 1600 IPS LCD
DCI-P3 Gamut
Memory 8GB LPDDR3-2133
Touch Bar Yes
I/O 4x Thunderbolt 3 (supports DP1.2 & USB 3.1 Gen 2 modes),
3.5mm Audio
Battery Capacity 58 Wh 49 Wh
Battery Life 10 Hours
Dimensions 1.49 cm x 30.41 cm x 21.24 cm
Weight 3.02 lbs (1.37 kg)
Price $1799 $1799 $1799

Meanwhile for the 13-inch MBP, Apple has rolled out similar changes, but on a smaller scale. The more portable of Apple’s MBPs is getting what’s effectively the greatest CPU update of them all, moving from dual-core Kaby Lake processors to quad-core Coffee Lakes. This is going to put the performance of the 13-inch model relatively close to what was the 2017 15-inch model, though the smaller size and lower TDP means that the 13-inch laptop is still a little more constrained.

Apple is once again using Intel’s 28W U-series processors here. Apple is one of a handful of vendors to use these specific chips, in large part because of their minimum graphics performance requirements. These chips come with Intel’s more powerful Iris Plus 655 integrated GPU (GT3e), which offers around twice the performance of the iGPUs found in Intel’s more standard SKUs. Further separating the two, this latest generation of chips from Intel has also doubled the eDRAM used for the iGPU from 64MB to 128MB. So GPU performance, while still ultimately limited by the form factor, should be a step up from last year’s 13-inch models.

As for CPU performance, Apple is touting a 2x performance improvement here for obvious reasons. Along with the doubled CPU core count, these new chips also tend to boost better than their 2017 Kaby Lake counterparts – the top-end i7-8559U goes to 4.5GHz. So performance should be improved in all scenarios, even in those that can’t take advantage of the additional cores.

As for RAM capacity, this is where the 13-inch and 15-inch MBPs will be diverging. The 13-inch model is not getting DDR4, and instead Apple is sticking with LPDDR3. This means the 13-inch model remains limited to a maximum of 16GB of RAM. However it also means that Apple doesn’t need to pay a power penalty here.

Which is a good thing, since in practice the doubled CPU core count will drive up power consumption anyhow. As a result, the 13-inch MBP is also getting a larger battery. And in fact the capacity increase is even greater than with the 15-inch MBP. Here we’ll see the 13-inch pick up another 9 Wh, moving to 58 Wh of capacity.

Meanwhile both the 15-inch and 13-inch MBPs are now also integrating Apple’s T2 controller chip, replacing the T1 found in earlier models. The T2 was actually introduced back in the 2017 iMac Pro, but this is the first time it’s made it into a less niche device.

With the T2, Apple is now tasking the co-processor with several tasks. Along with driving the Touch Bar and offering a secure enclave for the fingerprint reader, as was the case in the T1, the T2 also picks up multiple system management and storage related duties. Specifically, the T2 serves as the MBP’s system management controller, controlling most peripherals while also providing secure boot capabilities.

The T2 is also Apple’s SSD controller, so this means that the MBP is getting a SSD upgrade. Apple is now offering up to 4TB of SSD storage on the 15-inch MBP and 2TB on the 13-inch model. And judging from some of the numbers the 4TB iMac Pro has put up with the same controller, the 15-inch MBP stands to have chart-topping SSD performance. As an aside the move to the T2 means that said storage is now always encrypted.

Moving on, Apple is also introducing support for their True Tone display technology in these latest MBP models. Already a staple of the higher-end iPads, True Tone is Apple’s adaptive white point mechanism for the display, allowing the white point to be shifted to match the surrounding light. True Tone is a bit hit & miss – there are times where it’s appropriate and there are times where the white point should be fixed – but overall it’s received a positive reception on the iPad, and it was only a matter of time until it appeared in MacBooks. While not explicitly stated, I suspect this is another function being run on the T2 given its nature as a controller and the fact that the T2 is also responsible for listening for Siri cues as well, including newly added support for Hey Siri.

Finally, both sizes of the MBP are getting a slightly refined version of Apple’s keyboard. To get the obvious question out of the way, no, Apple has not backtracked on their use of the Butterfly switch mechanism on the MBP family, even after their recently announced extended service program for keyboards on existing MBPs. Apple continues to promote the butterfly mechanism as their best and most stable keyboard mechanism to date – and admittedly they aren’t wrong on the latter point – so even with its other drawbacks they are sticking to it. Which is to say that if you didn’t like the keyboard on the 2016 or 2017 MBPs, the 2018 likely isn’t going to change your mind.

Which isn’t to say that Apple has left the keyboard unchanged. The 2018 models include what Apple is calling their 3rd generation butterfly mechanism. Apple has said nothing about whether this version is meant to be more robust than the last version – though I will be a bit surprised if they haven’t quietly tried – however officially the change is that the 3rd generation mechanism is designed to be quieter. And with my very limited hands-on time with the new model, it definitely did seem a bit quieter than the keyboard of the 12-inch MacBook that I normally use. However I must also admit that I’ve never considered noise to be an issue with this keyboard, so to see Apple tackling the issue came a bit out of left field.

Ultimately though because the keyboard mechanism hasn’t changed, Apple hasn’t needed to change the size of either MacBook Pro. Indeed across all 3 iterations of both lines, the physical dimensions and weight have remained identical. Which given the larger batteries in these 2018 models is moderately impressive. This means that the 15-inch MBP remains 1.83 kg (4.02 lb) and 1.55 cm thick, while the 13-inch is 1.37 kg (3.02 lb) and 1.49cm thick. This means that the new models will continue to work with all cases, peripherals, and other accessories that are built around the specific size of the MacBook Pro. The flip side to this is that it means that all of the design compromises Apple made to achieve this weight and thickness – soldered-down components, butterfly keyboards, etc – remain in place. This is just a refresh, after all, and is not a wholly new generation.

Wrapping things up for the new MacBook Pros, Apple will begin selling the updated models today. We’re told that they’ll be available immediately on Apple’s online store, while Apple’s brick & mortar stores will begin receiving the new model later this week. Pricing will remain unchanged from the previous generation – the 13-inch MBP will start at $1,799, while the 15-inch MBP will start at $2,399. Both of these new models also qualify for Apple's annual back-to-school promotion, which is kicking off today. So students and other elligible buyers will also receive a set of Apple's Beats headphones with the laptops.

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  • WasHopingForAnHonestReview - Saturday, July 14, 2018 - link

    I agree with this comment. I manage macs for a major ad agency and have to toss the 2017 macbook pro with touchbar for the previous model. The keybaorr AND trackpad are infuriating. Absolute overengineered trash. I told my CTO after numerous complaints from many users, to stop buying the "new macbook". The generation before was perfect. They should have refined it. Now we are buying the older model from 3rd parties at 2/3rd the cost.
  • agent2099 - Thursday, July 12, 2018 - link

    Been loving my macbooks since 2012 but seriously Huawei is making me turn my head.
  • PaulPogba - Thursday, July 12, 2018 - link

    The Huawei LPTS IPS screens are gorgeous indeed. This macbook pro refrehs is past due but if apple managed to (1) cool the six core cpu down better than the competition (shame on you dell/hp with your plasticky heating fireballs throttling garbage pc) and (2) keep a decent battery life, then we might be on something. it is very overpriced at launch as usual but deals with come soon.

    really keen to see how the T2 helps battery life by unloading the cpu and if the screen management optimization does a difference
  • Spunjji - Friday, July 13, 2018 - link

    I'd lay most of the blame on Intel for that. They released a mid-gen-refresh that behaves substantially differently from its immediate predecessor regarding thermals and power draw; expecting OEMs to do total cooling system redesigns for it is a bit much.
  • ws3 - Saturday, July 14, 2018 - link

    Why is that too much to ask? Who is selling the PC, Intel or the OEM? If the OEM can’t be bothered to design their products well, whose fault is that?
  • tipoo - Wednesday, July 18, 2018 - link

    I don't pay Apple margins so that they can be too lazy to not redesign a heatsink in a year to accommodate an i9. That it throttles past the base clock to below the i7 is stupid.

  • Kevin G - Thursday, July 12, 2018 - link

    Is Apple not using the new Titan Ridge ThunderBolt 3 controller to provide DP 1.3/1.4 support in these models? Kinda odd as Intel has been shipping these chips earlier this year.
  • HStewart - Thursday, July 12, 2018 - link

    Apple probably did not use Titan Ridge because it would probably mean motherboard redesigned - instead they work put in new GPU is existing motherboards.
  • tipoo - Wednesday, July 18, 2018 - link

    The GPUs are hardly new, not only the architecture but the chip configuration is the exact same, it just uses process node refinements to clock higher.
  • MrCommunistGen - Thursday, July 12, 2018 - link

    These changes sound like a combination of solid improvements and smart compromises. That said, as others have stated, I think that as the years pass there is less and less that makes the rMBP line stand out (in terms of hardware) compared to other manufacturers. I also don't know if these changes are enough to reverse my modest-but-not-extreme dislike for the touchbar generation in general.

    A few months ago my work laptop (a base-model 2015 15" rMBP with no dGPU) was swapped out for a 2016 15" rMBP. Ignoring the pain of migrating the data from an HFS+ disk on Sierra to an APFS disk on High Sierra (which was not the laptop's fault - and in fact mostly my fault), most of the rest of my experience with the new touchbar design has been negative.

    On overall hardware performance:
    With my workloads I was more constricted by the 16GB of RAM rather than CPU speed. Still, the Skylake CPU doesn't feel much faster than the Haswell + eDRAM in my old machine. This is an area where the 2018 refresh would address my needs.

    The additional GPU performance is "neat" in theory, but it isn't fast enough to make it interesting for dual-booting into Windows to play games, so I really don't use the additional GPU power. The tradeoff I lament is the power draw penalty that comes with it. It doesn't help that the video chat platform my company uses is terrible and results in firing up the dGPU and then just BURNING power. This is where my non-dGPU machine shined. Performance during a conference call doesn't seem any different, but the iGPU really sipped power by comparison.

    This segues into battery life - I feel like I'm always having to charge the machine. The 2015 non-dGPU model was probably the pinnacle of battery life in the 15" rMBP range. It still had the huge 99.5Wh battery but with no dGPU to burden it, it would just last and last. I feel like if I could manually dim the touchbar, or make it go to sleep more quickly I'd be able to get some battery life back, but that doesn't seem to be allowed.

    I thought that only having USB-C ports would be a huge inconvenience, but after buying a couple USB-C to USB-A adapters I'm mostly set. Of course I haven't yet had to connect an external display... I'm not looking forward to having to pay for that privilege.

    On the formfactor and keyboard:
    The pre-touchbar rMBPs were already arguably the thinnest and lightest machines you could get with a quad-core CPU and more GPU performance than the base Intel iGPU (yes I'm counting GT3 + eDRAM as more performance and of course there were dGPU options). Making the devices thinner and lighter helps them hold the crown I guess, but the compromises on the battery capacity and keyboard don't feel worth it.

    The keyboard doesn't feel *bad* to me, just different. My main complaint is actually the noise. On conference calls you HAVE to mute while typing or else you drown out whoever is speaking. Heaven forbid if you have to type while you are speaking.

    On the touchbar:
    I'm probably not the target audience to be taking advantage of the enhancements it can provide so it feels like they changed paradigms for the sake of change. I'm always missing the "Esc" key which I can no longer find by feel. I miss being able to turn volume or brightness up or down a notch (or two) by just mindlessly tapping a button. Now it is either: tap a button and mess with a slider, or perform a different tap just to get the simple up and down back. I know these sound like whiny quibbles, but something that was so elegantly perfect before is now seemingly unnecessarily complicated. I'd customize the touchbar to just always show the toggle up and toggle down for brightness and volume, but that doesn't seem to be allowed.

    I know that I've basically just ranted about the things that I dislike about the rMBP, but the one thing that I've consistently loved about Apple laptops is the battery longevity. I don't mean how many hours you get out of a charge - but rather how many years of usable life you get out of the battery. In owning and servicing numerous Asus, HP, Dell, Acer, Lenovo, etc laptops over the years I've always noticed how after a few years a lot of those batteries hold only a fraction of their original charge (usually at least 1 cell in the battery has died) or no charge at all (you unplug it and the machine just powers off). Several of those machines have been mine, and I *really* try to practice good charging... well... practices.

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