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Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, 2017) review: No longer the king of high-end laptops, but still royalty

The old but still current 15-inch MacBook Pro's flawed keyboard bogs it down, but the giant touchpad and its performance hold up pretty well against newer competitors.

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Dan Ackerman
Lori Grunin
8 min read

Update: Summer 2018

The MacBook Pro received minimal updates between 2016 and the 2017 model reviewed here; in the year since, it's received zero, not even a basic update to the latest 8th-generation Intel Core processors. If it wasn't broken, the don't-fix-it maxim would make sense, but the keyboard that we called "an acquired taste" has been the subject of class-action lawsuits, with Apple finally agreeing to fix all the MacBook Butterfly keyboard models. And the Touch Bar really turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing for some people. Plus, in a year of 4K options, its formerly "high resolution" Retina display no longer stands out, although it maintains its reputation for good color. Because of all these, we've dropped the design rating from a 9 to an 8.


Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, 2017)

The Good

The 15-inch MacBook Pro may be a bit old, but its performance and battery life still fare well compared with newcomers. The giant touchpad is a pleasure to use and the display is excellent.

The Bad

Having only USB-C ports can be a hassle, and the keyboard is at best an acquired taste -- and at worst possibly defective. A lot of people may think it's not worth paying a premium for the Touch Bar.

The Bottom Line

For creative work, it's still top-notch, but the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is no longer a no-brainer buy.

Plus, the competitive landscape has really changed over the past couple of years, as tons of innovation by manufacturers for Windows models have since become mainstream: The MacBook Pro is up against more flexible models with detachable keyboards and 360-degree displays that flip around for both clamshell and tablet operation, all of which have touchscreens and stylus support. Plus there are quite a few comparable clamshell models at the same or better prices, such as the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga and the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1.

On the other hand, the MacBook Pro's performance has stood the test of time. While it's not the speediest in its class, it's still solid on multicore processor tests and its battery life is still one of the best of the 15-inch laptops we've subsequently tested. 

We hope to see revamps to the MacBook line in October 2018 as part of Apple's annual hardware follow-up to its WWDC software announcements. So, unless you're in a hurry to upgrade, you may want to hold off buying this model until we find out what its future is.

The best 15-inch laptops

The full review of the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, originally posted July 2, 2017, and updated May 11, 2018, follows. 

I'll start off with the good news. If you splurged on one of Apple 's very expensive high-end 15-inch MacBook Pro laptops when its big redesign was launched in the fall of 2016, you're not going to feel especially put out by this modest mid-2017 update.

The aluminum outer body remains the same, as does the port selection, the excellent Retina-resolution display, the new keyboard, bigger touchpad and even the second-screen Touch Bar.


The 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar for 2017 keeps the same design as last year.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What is new is a move to current 7th-generation Intel Core i-series CPUs, sometimes referred to by the code name Kaby Lake. The MacBook Pro models that we reviewed late last year had older 6th-gen Intel chips (although they were certainly fast enough for almost any tasks as is). Of course, Intel is already starting to talk about 8th-gen Core chips now, so it's best not to obsess too much on the exact CPU model in any laptop you buy -- there's always something new coming.

The 2017 Pro also gets an updated set of graphics hardware options. The integrated graphics chip goes from the Intel HD 530 to the HD 630 (part of that jump to the Kaby Lake platform), and the discrete graphics go from AMD Radeon Pro 450 and 455 parts to -- you guessed it -- Radeon Pro 555 and 560 options. Every 15-inch MacBook Pro laptop includes an AMD GPU, while the 13-inch models make do with Intel's built-in graphics.

If that's the good news, then the bad news may be that if one or more of the features of the new MacBook Pro design kept you away, (the superflat keyboard, the Touch Bar, USB-C ports) then this set of 2017 revisions isn't going to do anything much to change your mind.


It's still Apple's most powerful laptop.

Sarah Tew/CNET

On the other hand, if you've been thinking about stepping up to a MacBook Pro, or upgrading from a much older model, the jump to newer Intel CPUs and faster AMD graphics cards keeps the MacBook competitive. This is still Apple's largest, most powerful laptop (and has been since the 17-inch MacBook Pro was discontinued in 2012) It remains a top choice for professionals, creative and otherwise, who want desktoplike power in a reasonably portable package. 

Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, 2017)

Price as reviewed $2,799
Display size/resolution 15-inch 2,880x1,800-pixel Retina display
PC CPU 2.9GHz Intel Core i7-7820HQ
PC memory 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 2,133MHz
Graphics 1,536MB Intel HD Graphics 630 / 4GB Radeon Pro 560
Storage Apple 512GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless; Bluetooth 4.2
Operating system MacOS 10.12.5 Sierra

The 15-inch MacBook Pro has two default configurations. The Core i7/16GB RAM/256GB SSD/AMD Radeon Pro 555 model starts at $2,399 (£2,349 or AU$3,499). The step-up version, which is what we tested, offers a Core i7 CPU, 16GB RAM, a 512GB SSD and the AMD Radeon Pro 560 for graphics at $2,799 (£2,600 or AU$4,099).

If you noticed that even the high-end configuration tops out at 16GB of RAM, you're not alone. It's one of the most common complaints about the current Pro. The iMac all-in-one desktop line, interestingly, has just doubled the RAM options in its 21.5-inch and 27-inch models (now up to 32GB or 64GB).

Touch and go

Both the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro laptops still have the OLED Touch Bar that extends across the top of the keyboard, replacing the old function key row. It allows fingerprint login, instant access to volume and brightness controls, the MacOS version of Siri and special touch features in different software apps. It's the same size in both the 13-inch and 15-inch models, measuring 2,170 pixels across and 60 pixels high.


The Touch Bar includes a Touch ID fingerprint sensor and Siri button. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Touch Bar is a feature some people love and other people barely use. I fall right in the middle of the spectrum, using the Touch ID fingerprint reader (similar to the one on the iPhone ) frequently as well as the touch controls for volume and screen brightness. In Safari, I often use the Touch Bar to jump between tabs, where each open browser tab gets a tiny Touch Bar thumbnail. Those tasks probably take up 90 percent of my Touch Bar use.

At the Touch Bar's late-2016 launch, support was limited to Apple apps built into MacOS, and a handful of third-party apps. Now, it offers touch tools for popular apps such as Spotify, where controls are fairly basic, to Photoshop, which offers controls for brushes, layers and other photo tools.  

A much more in-depth exploration of the Touch Bar is available in our review of the 2016 13-inch MacBook Pro.

The other touch

While the Touch Bar may be the most eye-grabbing feature on the MacBook Pro, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the giant trackpad (Apple's term for a touchpad), another key addition introduced in late 2016 that carries over here. Its surface area is larger than an iPhone screen, and it has Apple's typically amazing responsiveness and multifinger control, which is one area where Windows laptops have yet to catch up.


The trackpad surface is larger than an iPhone screen.

James Martin/CNET

It's paired with a very flat keyboard, a design now found in the 12-inch MacBook as well as the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro. It's not as tactile as the old-style Mac keyboards and has a learning curve to typing comfortably. A superflat keyboard like this makes sense in a very thin 12-inch laptop, but on the bigger Pro I'd prefer the original keys with more travel.

One port, four ways

I have a confession to make. I don't really mind having only USB-C ports on a laptop. From relying on them completely across three generations of the 12-inch MacBook, two iterations of the MacBook Pro and USC-C laptops made by Asus, HP and others, I've had plenty of experience with this new plug.

USB-C is smaller, and its plugs are reversible, so they'll always fit without needing to rotate them 180 degrees. A USB-C port can handle data, power, video and more. Sometimes, as in the case of the MacBook Pro (but not the 12-inch MacBook), these double as data-heavy Thunderbolt 3 ports, as well. On the 15-inch Pro, and the 13-inch Pro with the Touch Bar, you get four USB-C ports, two per side. The less-expensive 13-inch Pro without the Touch Bar has two ports.


Want USB-C ports? No problem! 

James Martin/CNET

However, if you're very invested in plugging in USB memory keys, directly connecting to a display via HDMI or DisplayPort, having a direct Ethernet connection or just plugging in a wired mouse, it's a different story. You'll either have to adjust your workflow, or pick up some of the converters and adapters offered by Apple and others. Dell and other PC makers sometimes throw in free USB-C plugs for hooking up video and data connections; Apple does not.

Under the hood

It should come as no surprise that a hugely expensive laptop with a 2.9GHz Intel Core i7-7820HQ processor would be very fast. This high-end MacBook Pro laptop blew through our standard benchmarks, even when compared with something like a high-end Windows gaming laptop. There was a modest boost over the similarly high-end 2016 version we tested last year, which had a similar CPU from one generation earlier.

This isn't a gaming laptop, nor has the state of Mac gaming really improved much recently, but you can definitely play some games on here. Tomb Raider hit 54.1 frames per second at high detail settings and 1,680 by 1,050-pixel resolution while looking great on the Retina display. Macs are also getting access to external GPU hardware and VR headsets sometime soon.  


Battery life gets a little better in this year's model.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Battery life here was very modestly better than in the 2016 15-inch MacBook Pro, going from 10:05 to 10:43 in our streaming video playback test. That's a noteworthy comparison because our 2016 and 2017 test configurations were so similar. However, in real-world situations, running multiple apps, using the Touch Bar and even hitting the GPU occasionally, you're likely to fall a few hours short of that.

Big screen, big price

This is the biggest laptop Apple makes, and also the most expensive. For anyone, it's a substantial investment that should last for years. But, if you want some of these features at a more affordable price, that's also not too hard to find.

While we're testing the 15-inch MacBook Pro, it's the 13-inch version that might be worth a look. There's a new 13-inch MacBook Pro, the entry-level version without the special Touch Bar, that's gotten a price cut from $1,499 to a more reasonable $1,299 (£1,249, AU$1,899). The catch? Apple has sliced the storage capacity in half, from 256GB to 128GB.


It's a great machine, but it does cost a lot of money.

James Martin/CNET

If you don't need Pro-level power, of course, there's also a refreshed 12-inch MacBook running the less muscular Intel Core M chip (albeit also updated for 2017, and now with an option to double the RAM to 16GB). It costs the same as the entry-level no-Touch-Bar 13-inch Pro, but comes with double the storage.

And real Mac bargain hunters can still find a single pre-redesign 15-inch MacBook Pro configuration for $1,999 (£1,899 or AU$2,999). It's the one with no Touch Bar, and a thicker, heavier body, but also the old-style keyboard and USB-A, HDMI and Mini DisplayPort connections. I prefer the Touch Bar, smaller body and giant trackpad, but you might very reasonably go for more ports and clackier keys. 

Multimedia Multitasking test 3.0

Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, 2017) 183Dell XPS 15 (2017) 197Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, 2016) 202Origin PC Eon 15-S 355Samsung Notebook 9 (15-inch) 427
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Geekbench 3 (Multi-Core)

Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, 2017) 15540Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, 2016) 14451Dell XPS 15 (2017) 14161Origin PC Eon 15-S 10999Samsung Notebook 9 (15-inch) 8374
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Streaming video playback battery drain test

Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, 2017) 643Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, 2016) 605Dell XPS 15 (2017) 432Origin PC Eon 15-S 259
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)

System configurations

Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, 2017) Apple MacOS Sierra 10.12.5; 2.9GHz Intel Core i7-7820HQ; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 4GB Radeon Pro 560 / 1,536MB Intel HD Graphics 630; 512GB SSD
Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, 2016) Apple MacOS Sierra 10.12.1; 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-6820HQ; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 2GB Radeon Pro / 1,536MB Intel HD Graphics 530; 512GB SSD
Dell XPS 15 (2017) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050; 512GB SSD
Samsung Notebook 9 (15-inch) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-7500U; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce 940MX; 256GB SSD
Origin PC Eon 15-S Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-7300HQ; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti; 256GB SSD + 1TB HDD

Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, 2017)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Battery 8