Juha Saarinen: Apple’s MacBook Pro is a retro powerhouse

OPINION:

Even though I had seen the 16-inch new MacBook Pro in pictures and videos, I wasn’t prepared for how retro it felt when I took it out of its box.

The 16-inch laptop makes the 13-inch Intel MacBook Pro that I’ve been using as my regular workhorse look small and slim in comparison. Heavy too at 2.15 kilogram, compared to 1.37kg or thereabouts.

Laws of physics being what they are, a bigger case allows for better thermal management so the electronics can run at top speed yet stay cool. The new MBP Pro also has bigger, really good speakers built into the larger case.

Opening up the clamshell cover, the 3456 by 2234 pixel Liquid Retina XDR (Apple outdid itself with superlatives there) with 10-bit/1 billion colour support is truly Pro, sharp and contrast rich, as it should on a device costing $5349, configured with the 10-core/16-core M1 Pro CPU/GPU, 32 gigabytes of memory and 1 terabyte of storage.

Apple’s displays are pre-calibrated and there’s no need to tweak colour profiles for best results. In theory, you can shift your workflow between Apple displays and colours will display the same on them, which is a significant time saver.

A bigger case also allows the return of ports and connectors of yore. You get a MagSafe 3 cable feeding off a 140 Watt USB-C power brick (also chunky), an SDXC memory card reader for quick ingestion of pictures and movies without a dongle, and a HDMI 2.0 port that probably should have been version 2.1 to support displays with 120 Hz refresh rather than 60 Hz, and 8K resolution.

The keyboard is physical buttons only, with no Touch Bar which is typical as I’ve got used to its ever-changing moods and characters after many years. I did notice that the bigger wrist-rests mean watch straps will scrape on them. No worries though: I’ll just grow longer fingers.

That’s all geeky stuff, but it is what digital creatives and developers have been asking for, and Apple finally relented and put it all into a very powerful package. The Apple Silicon M1 Pro in the MBP makes easy work of most tasks you throw at it, with tonnes of processor performance and very fast graphics.

On a per-core basis, the M1 Pro and even the M1 Max are about as fast as the older M1, but there’s much faster memory in the two former. With more processor “brains” that have heaps of memory bandwidth, plus hardware acceleration for video formats, you’d have to work the new MBP hard to make it run out of steam.

Part of the magic here is performed by the new and improved macOS Monterey operating system that ensures applications can and will take advantage of the powerful hardware. This is something that just happens now, unlike in the past when I experimented (read: wasted time) on building and tweaking complex multi-processor systems that never delivered the expected performance from the expense and effort thrown at them.

This goes for the battery as well: the new hardware inside the MBP is very efficient, and will easily go a day and a half between charges.

Putting such a lot of power in users’ own devices is kind of retro too. Computing in 2021 is a very different beast to the past. There are no limits beyond high invoice tolerance levels to the amount of computing and storage power you can have, thanks to cloud computing.

Apple does offer some cloud services, but has yet to go down the route of providing computing and storage remotely, leveraging economies of scale while your data lives and is processed in a data centre somewhere on the planet.

That could still happen, but with powerful and energy-efficient devices like the new MBP that avoid the scourge of Everything as a Subscription, and do what you want locally instead, well … you kind of don’t miss the complexity of the cloud.

There’s no right answer to that dilemma, but as portable powerhouses, the new Apple Silicon MacBook Pros are not to be missed, if your budget stretches to one. For Christmas, I’ll have the M1 Max model please, with 64 GB, thank you very much.

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