MacBook Pro Late 2021: Disappointing or Revolutionary Announcement?

Opinion2021, Nov 09
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On the 18th of October 2021, Apple released the redesigned MacBook Pros with two new versions of their M1 System-on-a-Chip (SoC), M1 Pro and the more powerful M1 Max. The machine is available in a 14-inch and a 16-inch version. The display is a MiniLED, like in the iPad Pro. The HDMI port and the SD card reader has returned. And so has MagSafe, the magnetic power adapter found on MacBooks before the 2016 redesign.

Overall, the general consensus is that the refresh is wholly positive, apart from the notch which appears to be quite divisive among enthusiasts.

I think this is quite silly. Personally, I easily tolerate the look of it, and it’s not taking up precious space by digging in to the screen resolution. Rather, additional pixels have been added where the menu bar can now reside, which is why the aspect ratio is a little weird. I am sympathetic to those who do not care for the look of it, but I should note that there are already tools available which will “remove” the notch by blacking out the top pixels. Since the display is MiniLED, the top part of the display can turn off completely. I am only assuming here, since the MacBooks have not yet started shipping. The way I see it, the biggest genuine complaint has a pretty easy fix.

Another valid criticism is that the HDMI port is only 2.0 instead of 2.1. The big difference between the two specs is that 2.0 only has a maximum transmission rate of 18Gbps, where 2.1 has a bandwidth of 48Gbps. In practice, this means HDMI 2.0 only supports 4k@60hz or 5k@60hz with compression. On the other hand, 2.1 supports 4k@120hz, 5k@60hz (no compression) or 8k@30hz.

Closely related, the SD card reader is only UHS-II with read/write speeds up to 250 MB/s. The newer UHS-III would support theoretical speeds up to 624 MB/s.

I find it a bit strange, that Apple has decided not implement a baller HDMI port and a baller SD card reader. Baller in this case meaning cream of the crop. The only good explanation, I can think of, is a lack of bandwidth. The original M1 had two TB3 ports with a total bandwidth of 80Gbps. The M1 Pro and Max is, as the name suggests, the same CPU design but more of it. The new machines have 3 TB4 ports totalling 120Gbps, leaving 40Gbps for the HDMI port and SD card reader. This is my best guess, I don’t know.

When the M2 SoC releases, I believe we will get a better look at the bandwidth limitations of these SoCs. It is, after all, a new frontier for Apple, since none of their other sillicons have needed this much external bandwidth.

I don’t care at all about the three complaints above, but I wanted to briefly cover them, since I am trying to be fair and critical of these new machines.

In this blog post, I will share my thoughts on these machines as they are before I’ve gotten my hand on one. Very few have received theirs yet, so all I have to go by is leaked benchmarks and my experience with the M1 SoC.

For over two months, my daily driver has been a base model MacBook Air M1. That’s 4 high-powered cores, and 4 low-powered cores. 8 GB of shared memory between the CPU and the 7-core GPU. It has a 256 GB SSD. This is not a review of that machine, but I’d like to share some thoughts on it.

I have been impressed with it so far. I have used it mostly for web development, some Go programming, learning Java and MIPS, and some video editing in Premiere Pro. Unfortunately, I don’t have any absolute numbers as to how the raw performance of these tasks differ from other machines. But I also don’t think that’s important at this moment.

Honestly, the most important point I’d like to make is that I’ve been able to switch from a Ryzen 9 3900X + RTX 2060 workstation to this Air without any major effects. Even video editing has been nice and smooth since Premiere runs natively and is GPU accelerated.

I had to sell a kidney, and part of my liver, but then I was able to afford the MacBook Pro 14-inch with the M1 Max (10 CPU cores and 32 GPU cores), 64 GB RAM and a 1 TB SSD.

Once I receive it, I will write another blog post diving into the specifics of performance. I don’t believe the leaked Geekbench 5 scores show the whole picture. And even CPU benchmarks lacks a lot of resolution. There’s more to “speed” than a Geekbench score.

To round of my ramblings, I am very excited about this release, and I cannot wait to share some performance numbers and my experience with it.