Apple 15-inch MacBook Pro (2017) review: Performance boost delivers better value for money

Apple’s June WorldWide Developer Conference had more than its fair share of product announcements, including the forthcoming iMac Pro and HomePod smart speaker. But perhaps a more important long-term development was Apple’s belated discovery of virtual reality. If nothing else, the need to embrace VR has forced Apple to admit that Macs just don’t cut it when it comes to the sort of 3D graphics performance required for this emerging technology.

As a result, Apple’s flagship 15-inch MacBook Pro received more than just the expected Kaby Lake speed bump, also benefitting from a significant GPU upgrade.

Price & performance

The MacBook Pro got a major revamp last November, introducing a new, slimmer design, along with the eye-catching Touch Bar, so there’s no significant change to the laptop’s basic design.

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The 15-inch MacBook Pro’s Retina display is bright (500 nits) and delivers 220ppi resolution. The laptop weighs 1.83kg and is 15.5mm thick.


Image: Apple

The 15.4-inch Retina display offers 2,880-by-1,800-pixel resolution (220.5ppi) and 500-nits brightness, and is both a treat for the eye and well suited to graphics and video-editing work. At 1.83kg and measuring just 15.5mm thick, the MacBook Pro is also impressively slim and light for a laptop that delivers high-end performance.

Prices remain unchanged too, starting at a hefty £2,349 (inc. VAT; £1,957.50 ex. VAT, or $2,399 in the US) for the ‘entry-level’ model, which is now equipped with a 2.8GHz Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, a Radeon Pro 555 GPU with 2GB of VRAM, and a 256GB SSD.

We tested the higher-end standard configuration, which costs £2,699 (inc. VAT; £2,249 ex. VAT, or $2,799 in the US) and now packs a Core i7-7820HQ CPU running at 2.9GHz (up to 3.9GHz with TurboBoost), 16GB of RAM, a 4GB Radeon Pro 560 GPU, and a 512GB SSD.

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While the price points remain the same, these 2017 updates do provide a significant improvement in performance. In fact, the new £2,699 model that we tested delivered very similar results to a custom, BTO-configured model from last year that cost a full £3,329 (inc. VAT; £2,774.16 ex. VAT, or $3,499 in the US).

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Geekbench 4 processor benchmarks for the 2016 and 2017 15-inch MacBook Pro, running 6th and 7th generation Core i7 processors respectively, with 16GB of RAM.


Image: ZDNet

Processor performance in Geekbench 4 was slightly better than the 2016 BTO model, scoring 4760 for single-core performance and 15,890 for multi-core (compared to 4550 and 14050). Graphics performance was almost identical to last year’s model, reaching 85fps when running the Cinebench R15 OpenGL test, while the AJA storage tests also reported similar scores, with write and read speeds of 2000MB/s and 2500MB/s respectively.

Battery life doesn’t seem to have been affected by the more powerful GPU, still lasting for 7.5 hours when streaming video from BBC iPlayer (with the brightness level lowered to a perfectly watchable 50 percent), so you should certainly be able to get a full days’ work from the MacBook Pro when you’re out of the office.

Of course, the MacBook Pro’s weaknesses remain the same: it’s a professional-level laptop that’s limited to a maximum 16GB of RAM, with no user upgrades or repair options available.

Conclusions

The 2017 15-inch MacBook Pro is still expensive, but it’s undoubtedly better value for money than last year’s model: our £2,699 (inc. VAT) review unit delivered professional-level performance that would have cost more than £3,300 just a few months ago.

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