Apple MacBook Pro surprise upgrade: New Intel chips, better screens, more RAM but no keyboard fix

The new 13- and 15-inch models are available now, adding True Tone display support and a tweaked keyboard that promises to be quieter, but not more dust-resistant.

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
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Update, July 24: Apple has confirmed the widespread reports of throttled CPU performance on its 2018 MacBook Pro models, which have emerged since the laptops were released earlier this month. CPU clock speeds were slowed down as internal temperature spiked during high-load computing sessions. The company says the issue was due to a previously undiscovered software problem, and that it has issued a patch in the form of the MacOS High Sierra 10.13.6 Supplemental Update (download here) that should address it. 

Check out our forthcoming review to see test results before and after the patch is applied. The article originally published July 12 follows.

The Apple MacBook Pro is getting a midsummer update -- but it's a specs-focused, under-the-hood component refresh that leaves the familiar 2016-era design unchanged. The 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro models with Apple's Touch Bar secondary display are getting updated Intel CPUs, new  and storage options, True Tone screens, a new T2 subprocessor for security and encryption and hands-free Siri . The controversial butterfly keyboard, meanwhile, is getting tweaked a bit -- but it won't be completely overhauled.

The entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro model without the TouchBar is unchanged for now, as is the rest of the Mac lineup, including the 12-inch MacBook , MacBook Air and desktop Macs.


The 2017 MacBook Pro models, which look identical to the new 2018 models. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

The two updated MacBook Pros keep the current starting prices of $1,799 (13-inch) and $2,399 (15-inch). And Apple is offering two new accessories: A third-party external GPU option, and new laptop sleeve cases. 

Note that Apple has also discontinued the 15-inch 2015 MacBook Pro model as of today. So outside of remaining stock or refurb offers, these newer models -- with only USB-C ports -- are pretty much you're only option for Pro-level Mac laptops.

Here's the in-depth breakdown of everything that's new.

Watch this: Apple's new six-core Core i9 MacBook Pro

New eighth-gen Intel processors

The 15-inch Pro moves from older quad-core processors to current-gen, six-core Core i7 and Core i9 parts. The 13-inch Pro moves from dual-core CPUs to eighth-gen, quad-core i5 and i7 models.

RAM, storage and battery upgrades

For the 15-inch MacBook Pro, people who work with lots of large files will be pleased to hear that the max RAM has been doubled, from 16GB to 32GB. The RAM itself moves from older DDR3 memory to newer DDR4. You can find a little background on types of DDR RAM on Wikipedia, but the upshot is that DDR4 is faster and allows for higher capacities, but can also use more power, potentially lowering battery life. 

To make up for this, the new MacBook Pros have a larger battery, crammed into the same chassis. Apple says the combination of faster RAM and a larger battery should be a wash, with no change to real-world battery life.

Storage capacities have been doubled as well, from 2TB to 4TB in the 15-inch and from 1TB to 2TB in the 13-inch.

True Tone jumps in from iOS

True Tone, a feature found on recent iPhones and iPad Pros, uses light sensors to automatically adjust the color temperature of the display to best match your viewing environment. It can make the color range warmer or colder on the fly. For example, the screen will display colors in a way that better matches what that color would look on a real-world wall or object in your current lighting conditions.

If you need to be more precise about color while editing photos, illustrations or video, you can turn off True Tone in the settings menu.

T2: Smudgement Day

No, it's not a killing machine from the future made of liquid metal, it's the second generation of fingerprint-reading system-on-chip (SoC) processors for controlling certain security features. In the previous MacBook Pro, the T1 handled fingerprint sensing for TouchID, data encryption and more. 


The fingerprint reader on an older (but identical-looking) MacBook Pro. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

The T2 version, already available in the iMac Pro , adds a few extras, like a secure boot path to make sure no tricky malware sneaks into your bootup process. But for those of us hoping for Face ID on the Mac, the wait continues.

Siri, do you hear me?

The Siri smart assistant has been available on Macs since 2016, but you couldn't wake her up simply by saying, "Hey Siri," without going through a complex workaround. Now, she'll hear you, just like on your iPhone.

A quiet (keyboard) place

Loud, clacky typing (the kind produced by Apple's current super-flat keyboards) threatening to attract sound-sensing monsters? The new MacBook Pro models have a tweaked third-generation version of that keyboard that purports to be quieter. Giving it a quick typing test, it wasn't whisper-quiet, but it did lack the sharp click of the previous design.

But if you were waiting for a keyboard fix to tackle the issue some users have of dust or debris causing keys to stick, you're out of luck. Apple says this keyboard update has no new engineering or tweaks to address that issue, currently the subject of both multiple lawsuits and a new Apple repair program.

Leather laptop sleeves

It's important to remember that all the changes and updates listed here apply to the TouchBar versions of the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro. They don't apply to the 13-inch Pro without the TouchBar, the 12-inch MacBook, the MacBook Air or any other Mac hardware.

But, if you do spring for one these systems, you may want to keep it covered up in one of Apple's new MacBook Pro leather sleeves. Apple already makes these for the 12-inch MacBook, and the new 13- and 15-inch versions will come in brown, blue and black. They'll be $179 for the 13-inch and $199 for the 15-inch. 

Blackmagic eGPU boxes for Mac

Also new is a third-party eGPU (external graphics processing unit) from a company called Blackmagic. Unlike most eGPU boxes, like the Razer Core , this one has a vertical design and built-in AMD Radeon Pro 580 graphics hardware, rather than simply a slot for inserting your own off-the-shelf graphics card. It'll be $699 and can output directly to Thunderbolt displays and feed 85W of power back to your MacBook.

All the nifty things you can do with Apple's Touch Bar

See all photos

What about the rest of the Mac line? 

These updates are all about the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro. What about the rest of the Apple lineup? Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo just published a research note with predictions for Apple's fall 2018 lineup, which pretty much anticipates a refresh of nearly everything else the company produces that hasn't yet been updated this year. It includes:

  • 5.8-inch and 6.5-inch iPhones with OLED screens, plus a 6.1-inch LCD iPhone
  • New iPad Pro models (11-inch and 12.9-inch) with FaceID and no Home button
  • A new generation of Apple Watch with advanced heart-rate detection.
  • Updates to the 12-inch MacBook and iMacs , as well as a new Mac Mini and a replacement for the long-serving MacBook Air

In other words: If you've got your eye on any Apple computer besides the MacBook Pro with TouchBar, it's back to the waiting game. The annual iPhone launch in early September is the next obvious choice on the calendar. But that's just a guess -- nothing is locked in.

Find more about these fall predictions here. We'll be testing and reviewing the updated MacBook Pro just as soon as we can get one. 

Originally published 5.30 a.m. PT, July 12.
Update, 10:07 a.m. PT: Added note about 2015 MacBook Pro being discontinued.

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