After a perplexing, UPS-inspired journey that saw it travel from China, to Tamworth, then Germany, back to Tamworth, back to Germany, and then back to somewhere else in the UK which is nowhere near my house (you read that right), my 16-inch MacBook Pro is finally here.
I’ve had it for precisely four days. I therefore can’t provide an in-depth review or anything that could remotely constitute buying advice.
The reason is simple: this is a damn expensive computer and I’m uncomfortable with that level of responsibility at this stage. Bar a few big-name reviewers, no-one has had one of these things long enough to assess its true benefits on productivity, convenience, or tech happiness.
However, this is exacerbated by the fact that the new MacBook Pros (I’m not doing the whole ‘MacBooks Pro thing anymore, sorry) pack internals that clearly offer more computing power than most of us need. Unless, of course, you’re working with 16-bit, 8K REDRAW footage or 512 tracks of Hans Zimmer’s orchestral arrangements.
I’ve spent a small amount of time with both the base-level M1 Pro and a specced-up M1 Max. I’ve done some rudimentary tests (I’ll get to those later), and it’s clear that one could inadvertently waste an awful lot of money on something that provides nothing more than a guaranteed podium place at the Annual Tech Pissing Competition.
Anyway, if you’re in the market for a new MacBook Pro, here are some initial thoughts to add to your research.
Thoughts on the 16-inch version
I’ve written previously about the brilliance of the new MacBook Pro during my coverage of the 14-inch version, but I now have its big brother.
Christ, it’s big. And heavy.
It’s comically big at times. It’s certainly the heaviest Apple product I’ve held for quite some time; after accepting the package from the UPS guy, I couldn’t help but let out a little chuckle when my arms dropped slightly due to the surprising heft.
The new 16-inch MacBook Pro isn’t that much bigger (if at all) than the outgoing Intel version. I owned the latter, which makes my reaction to how voluminous the new one is all the more surprising. But, again, it simply points to the chunkiness of the new design. It may not be technically that much heavier or larger, but that “don’t piss me off”, purposeful new look makes it feel so.
I absolutely love it.
The 16-inch isn’t for the faint-hearted. Indeed, it’ll be far too big for many people. I’ve already vowed to only use mine for its intended purpose, which is as a mobile video and audio editing rig – for everything else, I’ll still turn to my lovely little M1 MacBook Air.
But if you want that glorious big screen, or just demand a laptop that makes you feel like you’re working remotely for NASA, then the 16-inch will put a huge smile on your face.
Before I get to my no-holds-barred, extremely technical, and soon-to-be-licensed benchmarking routine, I thought it might be an idea to reveal the spec I chose for my 16-inch MacBook Pro.
Graphics were my top priority, so I opted for the M1 Max with the maximum number of GPU cores – 32. I’ve never had access to that many GPU cores in my life.
As for unified memory, I opted for 32GB. Stepping up to 64GB felt both needless and a completely unnecessary additional hit on my bank balance, and I simply don’t work with files that are large enough to warrant quite that much headroom.
Storage was a relatively simple decision, too. As much as I’d love to have 8TB of space to hand wherever I am and without the need for external drives, I didn’t much fancy stumping up the additional £2,400 to make it possible. So I went for 2TB instead, which will provide enough space for an on-board music studio, every app I rely on, and some space for incoming and outgoing video files.
But what you want to know is how this thing actually performs, don’t you?
The Mark Ellis Reviews Benchmark
The M1 chip introduced a new level of ‘snappiness’ to the Mac, which few of us had experienced before. It’s why my 8GB M1 MacBook Air still feels as fast as the day I bought it.
The M1 Max 16-inch MacBook Pro feels exactly the same. Indeed, while working generally within macOS and applications like Safari, Ulysses, and Microsoft’s suite of business apps, it doesn’t feel any ‘faster’. It doesn’t need to.
These new M1 chips are designed to excel when you start exploring their specific capabilities. Arguably, the focus placed on the graphics performance means there’s a heavy leaning towards video work, but the additional unified memory, blazingly-fast SSD speeds, and bonkers memory bandwidth provide some rather tantalising opportunities for anyone who really pushes their bits and bytes.
For me, two things matter: video rendering and exporting.
A case in point: during my trip to Canada last month, I had to edit my Unleashed event reaction video on the MacBook Air, which has a 7-core GPU and 8GB of unified memory. It did the job, but after a day of arduous travel and an evening of trying to get my head around what Apple had just announced, I could really have done with a tool that made mincemeat of video encoding.
As I’ve always said, benchmarks only tell one side of the story, and I’m far more interested in how these things perform in real-world situations.
But a little test wouldn’t hurt, would it?
My test subject was a 20-minute piece of 4K footage, shot on my Sony FX3. Filmed in 10-bit, 4:2:2 colour, it’s relatively chunky footage and needs a decent computer on which to edit without wanting to pull your hair out every three seconds.
On my trusty 16GB M1 Mac mini (which has successfully helped me produce over 80 videos for my YouTube channel), the render time was a respectable 6mins 37secs. The export took 12mins 53secs, which has always been par for the course in my world, and, again, highly respectable given the cost of the machine doing the work.
The same piece of footage on the base-spec 14-inch MacBook Pro spent just 3mins 14secs in the rendering pipeline, and 9mins 54secs being exported. So, in theory, it should halve the time I spend waiting for renders, and save me a quarter of the time an export used to take on the Mac mini.
Enter the M1 Max 16-inch MacBook Pro, bristling with it’s vein-busting 32-cores of GPU and 400Gbps memory bandwidth. That machine rendered the footage in 3mins 9secs and exported it in just 5mins 36secs.
That’s right – by spending an additional £1,800, I gained a measly five seconds on a render and a slightly more impressive four minutes during an export.
Is that worth the extra investment?
If you’re considering spending big on a new MacBook Pro, my test is unlikely to have given you much confidence that it’s worth reaching for the skies during the configuration process.
However, if you’re in no rush, I’d advise holding on for some more reports on real-world experience from the likes of myself and other reviewers.
I’m neither surprised nor disappointed by the results above. I have no doubt that if I worked with ProRes footage, the gains would be significant – but that isn’t what I do. And for as wonderfully powerful as this new Apple silicon is, there are limits when it comes to how many minutes or seconds it can shave off a process. What matters is how it benefits your day during extended periods of intense work – and that’s what I’ll be testing next.
But if we compare the M1 Mac mini’s performance to that of the 16-inch beast, the gains are huge – particularly when it comes to exporting. That will genuinely make a huge difference to my business – particularly when working with tight, self-imposed deadlines.
I’ll return with some more thoughts soon. Stay tuned.