Apple Puts the "Pro" Back in the MacBook Pro Line
The company's new laptops right all the wrongs, challenge all other portable computers in terms of efficient power
Confirming practically every one of those rumors making the rounds on the Web in recent months — and, most importantly, not disappointing the creative professionals among its loyal consumers — Apple just announced the new MacBook Pro models based on the company’s more powerful and impressively efficient M1 Pro and M1 Max chips. It is the third step the Americans are completing towards the goal of fully transitioning all their computers to their own architecture from Intel’s (Apple Silicon), as well as an effort to win back the hearts of pros who were rightly frustrated by the company’s choices during the last few years.
The new MacBook Pros come in 14- and 16-inch sizes and they are quite different from the current Intel-based ones: they drop the TouchBar in favor of physical keys, they bring back the HDMI-out port and SD memory card reader and the MagSafe power connector while retaining three of the four Thunderbolt 4 ports of past MacBook Pros. It is a much more balanced and handy configuration (MagSafe delivers more power for charging and a Thunderbolt port can still be used for the same purpose).
There’s also a significantly improved webcam, better speakers and more effective microphone arrays that will greatly help consumers in this hybrid or exclusive working-from-home period we are all going through. The new webcam arrangement and the new screens’ thinness, though, are probably responsible for one of the weirdest choices made by Apple so far, a notch (!) in the middle of the display, iPhone-style. The company claims that, by taking up just the amount of screen estate already populated by the macOS’s menu bar, the notch does not actually interfere with the pro use of these MacBook Pros. Watching content or playing games full-screen, of course, will be a totally different matter.
Talking about screens, though, Apple went all out: it’s not so much the thinner bezels — they are still not that thin by today’s standards — but rather the MiniLED backlighting tech, the one used on the new M1 iPad Pro 12.9, as well as the higher resolution, that makes these displays actually worth of the term “pro”. Even Pro Motion support rumors turned out to be true: these screens vary their refresh rate from 1 to 120 Hz depending on what’s displayed at any given point, while also offering “refresh lock” to specific rates important for video work. Peak brightness of 1600 nits and sustained of 1000 nits means that these screens are bright enough to be used anywhere without compromising color accuracy.
As it turns out, the two chips that rumors were calling “M1X” — and Apple officially calls the M1 Pro and the M1 Max — are similar versions of the same underlying architecture, their only difference being the number of graphics processing cores (32 instead of 16) and the available memory bandwidth (400 GB/s instead of 200). Notably, the M1 Max is only available on the 16-inch model of the new MacBook Pro. The M1 Pro and M1 Max promise a significant leap in performance compared to the M1 in everyday tasks and an extremely impressive one in demanding workloads when working with M1-optimized applications. Both models are configurable with up to 32GB of unified RAM with the M1 Pro/Max and up to 64GB with the M1 Max, as well as up to 8TB of extremely high-speed SSD storage.
Apple repeatedly pointed out that, compared to the most powerful laptops out there — coming from the Intel/AMD/Windows world and sporting top discrete GPUs — the new MacBook Pros need far less power and offer much longer battery life while delivering similar or better performance. This is of course one of the main advantages of the company’s ARM architecture and, while not all pro users do everyday work on the move, it’s an important argument. We will have to wait for the technical reviews in order to get the details but, at least on paper, these new MacBook Pros do seem like the most efficiently powerful laptops in the market for the foreseeable future.
Starting at $2000 for the 14-inch model and $2500 for the 16-inch one, these laptops are not exactly cheap — but they are not prohibitively expensive either, especially considering how much better they are compared to the current Intel-based models. So Apple delivered after all. Now it all comes down to software and the company knows it, insisting that the new macOS Monterey is already optimized for the M1 Pro and M1 Max (it’s coming out on October 25th) as well many of its own professional applications. If Adobe, Microsoft and all other macOS app developers do the same soon, these new MacBook Pros can truly become the standard by which all other professional laptops are measured in 2022. Not a small feat, that!