A week with the new M1Max powered 16 inch MacBook Pro. What's good, what's amazing and what we thought it would do better on.
You are going to hate us for this review. Why? Because after reading about our time with the new MacBook Pro, you are going to want one. Yes it’s that good. So lock away the credit cards and let’s take a look at the new machine.
- Stunning quality of screen and audio, especially with Dolby Vision & Dolby Atmos.
- Blow the doors off performance for video editing, graphics and compressing -Start FCP with an 8K Wide Gamut HDR Final Cut Pro Project loaded and play seven streams of 8K ProRes onscreen at once in seven seconds. All unrendered, better quality.
- Solid keyboard, MagSafe & ports are back, Touch Bar gone.
- Very long battery life.
- Fan didn't come on at all when testing! (Was tempted to mine crypto).
What's Not So Good
- Speed bump over previous models less pronounced using a complex timeline in FCP - see performance section.
Don't forget, Apple will be demonstrating the Pro Apps running on the new MacBook Pro models at the free FCP Global Summit. Make sure you sign up!
Lifting the new 16 inch MacBook Pro out of the box gave us a bit of deja vu. Its aluminium body is thicker, has smaller edge curves than the previous models and the colour and size reminds us of our 20 year old Titanium PowerBook G4, but thinner.
One nice new design touch is the MacBook Pro sunken lettering on the base.
It does seem that Apple has listened to customers as we see the return of the MagSafe (MagSafe 3) on the left hand side of the unit and a SDXC card slot and HDMI port on the right.
The MagSafe 3 cable is covered in a woven material right up to the plug. As this is where most of our previous power adapters have frayed and failed, maybe this finish will give the cable and joint a longer life.
There’s also three Thunderbolt 4 ports, two on the left and one on the right. They support 40Gbps and up to 15 watts of power delivery.
The headphones jack now automatically switches to support high impedance headphones (Over 25 Ohms) that require more power to drive them. You don’t have to buy a dedicated headphone amplifier to use what some hifi bods rate as better sounding headphones.
Opening up the unit, you are immediately struck by the black keyboard ‘insert’ that contains solid mechanical keys surrounded by the aluminium matched to the same colour.
The Touch Bar has gone and is replaced by a familiar row of function keys including new ones for Spotlight, Dictation, and Do Not Disturb. The Touch ID button is larger and has a ring that you can feel to get your finger in the right place.
The machine I’m testing is a 16 inch MacBook Pro with the M1 Max chip, 64GB of unified memory and 2TB of storage. The SSD storage now runs at 7.4 GB.s which is more than twice the speed of the previous models. The M1 Max uses the same 10-core CPU complex as the M1 Pro with eight high-performance cores and two high-efficiency cores, but takes the GPU up to 32 cores intstead of 16. The M1 Pro also tops out at 32 GB of unified memory.
The screen is a Liquid Retina XDR at 3456 x 2234 pixels which means you can nearly go pixel for pixel with UHD. The fourteen inch model is 3024 x 1964.
Which brings us on to the notch. Instead of stopping the screen at the camera, Apple has pushed the pixels further towards the bezel creating a GUI ‘notch’ at the top.
You might think this is going to be a problem, but actually it all works rather well. The menu bar of the Mac sits either side of the notch. When you go fullscreen, the rest of the GUI doesn’t expand, instead the menu bar reappears when you hover over the area. This makes real sense and makes working with apps in full screen a lot easier, no distractions, but the bar is there when you need it. You don't lose any real estate with the notch, the area underneath gives a full 16:10 aspect ratio.
If you prefer not to have the menu wrapped around the notch, then there is a preference per application to toggle this feature off. Just ‘Get Info’ on the app and look for the checkbox. Most of the Apple apps we have tried have worked well with the notch.
Then there is the quality of the screen. One word for it... Gorgeous. Now I could say it has 7.7 million pixels at 254 ppi, 1600 nits at peak brightness, 1000 nits of full-screen brightness, capable of a billion colours and a million to 1 contrast ratio, but this would not do it justice.
I would suggest that you visit your local Apple store, call up episode one of Foundation on AppleTV and watch the title sequence for yourself. I would advise you to leave cash and other payment methods at home.
Should you wish to attach external monitors, this machine will support 3 Pro Display XDRs AND a 4K TV. That’s a lot of pixels. The screen also uses ProMotion which changes the refresh rate to match the onscreen content. This results in smoother scrolling and a longer battery life. If you are worried about that affecting video editing, you can set it at a precise refresh rate in the Display Preferences.
The audio has had an upgrade to match the picture. The six speakers are capable of producing an immersive spatial soundstage whether you are enjoying a film or playing a track in Apple Music that’s been mastered in Dolby Atmos. With your head in the optimal place, a narration during a film cuts through the centre of a widely spaced orchestra and the first kick drum of Cold Heart by Elton John and Dua Lupa hits you like a flying stone in the middle of your forehead. Comparing it to the same track on our 13inch M1 MBP is something we wish we hadn’t done, it’s not in the same league.
Make no mistake, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos are very impressive and in our opinion will be the mastering format of choice in the future. (Hello FCP Roles) They make 1080 Rec.709 productions look and sound very flat. Which is all a bit depressing if you only cut for terrestrial television.
We must touch on the battery life here, it has done a 'Tesla' where the limiting factor to you using the machine is not the machine, but your attention span (and bladder capacity). We worked on the machine on and off for two days before realising it hadn't been plugged in yet. Apple are quoting 17 hours video playback for the 14 inch model and 21 hours for the 16 Inch.
A nice touch on both models is Fast Charge where 30 minutes plugged in can get the battery up to 50%.
Something else that didn't happen was the fan. Even hitting Compressor with batches of transcodes didn't trigger the fan off, just like the 13 inch M1, the machine remained remarkably cool. This is going to make a real difference when editing.
Let's start with a few Apple comments to put the results of testing into perspective. Taking the M1 SOC as a benchmark, the M1 Pro should offer double the performance and the M1 Max should offer four times.
Apple has also said on a YouTube video (Although we've not done the pixel pushing calculations ourselves) that a fully maxed out 16 inch MacBook Pro will process more streams of ProRes than the current Mac Pro with an Afterburner card installed.
With those high expectations, it was straight in to testing. The tests were run on three different machines. The M1 Max 16 inch MacBook Pro, a 13 inch M1 MacBook Pro with 16 GB of memory and an Intel 3.2 GHz 8 core iMac Pro with 64 GB of memory. The machines all ran the latest versions of the Pro Apps, the 16 inch MBP running Monterey and the other two running Big Sur.
All tests were run twice (goodbye weekend!) and an average taken. The media and FCP Library were stored on an external SSD. The results were exported/rendered to the desktop and caches cleared and apps restarted between tests.
First up was a straight drag race to the finish transcoding iPhone H264 1920x1080 camera footage to ProRes 422 in Compressor.
Here you can see we got a massive performance gain over the other machines. The M1 Max MBP was 450% faster compared to the speed of the M1 MBP and 540% faster than the speed the Intel iMac Pro. Quite remarkable gains and we can see these boosts really helping when it comes to crunching proxies. This also echoes Apple's benchmarks.
But what about a real-life example? We can transcode files all day, but a real test is a test with an existing project. We used a fairly complex three minute timeline of a broadcast item that consisted of ProRes 4444 clips resized, colour corrected and overlaid with graphics. The timeline was 1080, so there was a lot of pixel shifting going on, so how would the machines cope rendering out into three different 1080 codecs?
This was slightly surprising, the 16 inch MBP only getting a 2x performance increase over the 13 inch MBP with ProRes 422 and H264. Exporting to HEVC 10 Bit was only 1.5x faster than the speed of the 13 inch.
So what is happening here? We were expecting a better result. So the final test involved taking the three minute timeline and placing it into a 4K UHD project with no resizing, colour corrections, filters or graphics. Basically just straight UHD ProRes 4444 clips on a same sized ProRes 422 timeline.
Here we can see the big speed bump is back, the 13 inch MBP taking 4.5 times longer to export than the 16 inch M1 Max.
So why is this happening? We think that if you stay in the 'ProRes world' and don't move pixels or introduce non-ProRes items into the timeline, then the internal ProRes processors take off and you'll get the large performance increase. Use multiple frame sizes, multiple codecs, colour correction, plugins and everything else a complex timeline contains these days and the speed bump won't be four to five times. It will still be faster, probably around double the performance.
As always, your milage may vary and we are sure that there are a whole bunch of other tests that will be published to prove or disprove our findings.
It seems that Apple has taken note of every moan and whinge from every user of a MacBook Pro over the last few years. Rather than competing to make 'the thinnest laptop ever' maybe they compiled a feature checklist when designing the new models based on what users want.
The ports are back, MagSafe is back, the Touch Bar has gone, the keyboard is solid, no apparent thermal issues. This machine has been designed by the committee of worldwide MacBook Pro users.
There is no doubt the screen and audio is stunning, super sharp and super bright for a very immersive experience. Without powering up the 7.1 sound system and a large OLED TV, this is a fabulous way to watch media.
And, you can do a lot of it too with the amazing battery life! You can edit all day (possibly multiple 8K streams) without the machine getting hot, the fans coming on and drowning out your audio.
The speed gains for the Pro Apps are incredible. With the caveat of a complex timeline, everyone is going to see large speed bumps. When time is money, and editors are rushing to get videos published or aired, that's very important.
This is one very capable machine and it will probably become the mobile editor's (mobile creator's even) weapon of choice. We like it a lot and we are sure that Mac users worldwide will do too.
So maybe the question should be not 'Should I buy one?' but 'Which one should I buy, the 16 or 14 inch?