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These powerful PCs may cure your MacBook Pro spec blues

If you're a creative professional disappointed by the specs of Apple's new MacBook Pro, you have options -- take a look at how these powerful Windows laptops compare.

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Patrick Holland Managing Editor
Patrick Holland has been a phone reviewer for CNET since 2016. He is a former theater director who occasionally makes short films. Patrick has an eye for photography and a passion for everything mobile. He is a colorful raconteur who will guide you through the ever-changing, fast-paced world of phones, especially the iPhone and iOS. He used to co-host CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast and interviewed guests like Jeff Goldblum, Alfre Woodard, Stephen Merchant, Sam Jay, Edgar Wright and Roy Wood Jr.
Expertise Apple, iPhone, iOS, Android, Samsung, Sony, Google, Motorola, interviews, coffee equipment, cats Credentials
  • Patrick's play The Cowboy is included in the Best American Short Plays 2011-12 anthology. He co-wrote and starred in the short film Baden Krunk that won the Best Wisconsin Short Film award at the Milwaukee Short Film Festival.
Patrick Holland
4 min read
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Josh Miller/CNET

Despite the fact that most people have not used one of Apple's new MacBook Pros, there are some creative professionals -- including graphic designers, photographers and video editors -- who are already disappointed by them. For them, it's all about the specs.

Apple's new machines don't feature the latest Intel and Nvidia processors, don't offer more than 16GB of memory, and ditch nearly all the traditional ports -- including full-size USB ports and the SD card reader -- in favor of the new Thunderbolt 3 standard.

Some pros are even considering a switch to Windows instead. But which PCs are worthy replacements for the MacBook Pro? Here are five Windows laptops alternatives that creative professionals should consider.

The Dell XPS 4K Touch comes closest to the 15-inch MacBook Pro in balancing price and specs.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The all-around creative

The Dell XPS 15 laptop matches up nicely in both price and specs against the new 15-inch MacBook Pro. Its practical design houses a 15-inch 4K display that renders 100 percent of the Adobe RGB color space -- a plus for editing photos or color-correcting videos. Its $1,850 US price tag is another win. Check out our full review of the Dell XPS 15 here.

Advantages over the 15-inch MacBook Pro: 4K display, touchscreen, 32GB of RAM and ports including HDMI, Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.0 and an SD card reader.

Disadvantages: The Nvidia graphics card is not VR-ready. The battery life is just OK. And the 15-inch MacBook Pro's design looks better than the clunky wedge shape of the Dell.

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The Razer Blade Pro is a 17-inch behemoth that packs power and ports.

Josh Miller/CNET

Photo/video workstation

If you are looking for pure power in a laptop, meet the new 17-inch Razer Blade Pro. This computer has pretty much every spec you could ask for: a giant 4K touchscreen with a wide color gamut, loads of ports, the best graphics chip you can get in a laptop, 32GB of RAM and even a scroll wheel! Read our in-depth look at the Razer Blade Pro.

Advantages over the 15-inch MacBook Pro: 4K touchscreen, Nvidia GTX 1080 (8GB) graphics, an SD card slot, 32GB RAM, and a 2TB PCIe SSD (in RAID 0, which means up to twice the read and write speed by combining two drives together).

Disadvantages: Weight (it's nearly twice the weight of a 15-inch MacBook Pro), price ($3,699 where the 15-inch MacBook Pro starts at $2,399 in the US) and it's unable to run Final Cut Pro (which is true of any Windows laptop).

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Microsoft now sells a Surface Book with a sixth-generation i7 processor.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Designers and artists

Recently, Microsoft announced that it was going to offer a premium version of its Surface Book with an i7 processor. In our review of the Surface Book, we gave "Archie" comic book artist Dan Parent some time with the laptop/tablet hybrid. He viewed the Surface Book as a serious contender to replace his Wacom tablet and stylus.

Advantages over the 13-inch MacBook Pro: A top-of-the-line Surface Book comes with better (game-capable) graphics, more ports (including an SD card reader) as well as both a touchscreen and the Microsoft Surface pen stylus.

Disadvantages: A top-of-the-line 13-inch MacBook Pro is cheaper, lighter, smaller and comes with a faster processor and Thunderbolt 3 ports. It can also charge with a standard USB-C power adapter, where the Surface Book still requires a proprietary cable.

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This 13-inch gaming laptop has a stunning OLED display and new graphics card that supports virtual-reality headsets.

Sarah Tew/CNET

VR and game developers

The new Alienware 13 is basically a 15-inch laptop crammed into a 13-inch body. The quad-core processor, heavy-duty Nvidia graphics chip and particularly the optional OLED display make this an ideal machine for developers previewing HDR game content. You can even buy the optional Alienware Graphics Amp ($199) to boost its performance even further. For more on the new Alienware 13 check out our review.

Advantages over the 13-inch MacBook Pro: A plethora of ports (Thunderbolt 3, USB-3, HDMI, Mini Display Port), a quad-core processor, 32GB of RAM, 2TB PCIe SSD and Nvidia 1060 graphics.

Disadvantages: A fully loaded new Alienware 13 ($3,425) costs much more than a top-of-the-line 13-inch MacBook Pro ($2,899). It's also nearly 2 pounds heavier and lacks an SD card slot.

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With an 18 hour battery-life, the ThinkPad T460 is a great all-day work laptop.

Screenshot by Patrick Holland/CNET

Value and battery life

The 14-inch ThinkPad T460 offers a lot for a relatively low price -- a top-specced machine only costs $2,034 US and comes complete with 32GB of RAM, a touchscreen, and a fingerprint reader. One of the nicest features is the tremendous battery life -- Lenovo claims 18 hours on a charge.

Advantages over the 13-inch MacBook Pro: A comfy keyboard, 32GB of RAM, touchscreen, price, dual batteries (the rear one is swappable) for tremendous battery life, an SD card reader and an HDMI port.

Disadvantages: Smaller-capacity slower SSDs, average screen resolution, and no Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C ports.

Final word

It is a great time to buy a computer, even if you're a creative professional. If you were pining for a new MacBook Pro but disappointed by the specs, I'd recommend waiting a bit to read our review on the higher end models with Touch Bar. Specs are just one part of the story. Here's our review of the new baseline 13-inch MacBook Pro without Touch Bar.

If your creative workflow allows for a Windows based-machine, these five deserve your consideration. Though, one of the complaints some creative pros had against Apple, was its choice of a sixth-generation Intel processor instead of a seventh-generation version. All five Windows machines in this article also have a sixth-generation Intel processor. So there are some specs, that will take time to make it into our creative machines.

If you can't make that jump to a Windows machine, you should also consider last year's MacBook Pro. While the specs are 2015 (which in computer years is old), a top-of-the-line model costs $2,899 and comes with a 2.8GHz quad-core Intel i7 processor, 16GB of memory, a 1TB SSD and all the ports you're used to (USB-3, SD card reader and Thunderbolt 2).

Take a look below to compare the specs of the new MacBook Pro against these Windows alternatives -- all specs are for the top-of-the-line model of each computer.

13-inch MacBook Pro (2016, w/Touch Bar)13-inch Surface Book (2016)Alienware 13 (2016)14-inch ThinkPad T46015-inch MacBook Pro (2016)Dell XPS 15 (2016)17-inch Razer Blade Pro (2016)15-inch MacBook Pro w/ Retina Display (2015)
Price (USD) $2,899$3,299$3,425$2,034$4,299$2,650$3,699 (base price)$2,899
Display 13.3-inch 2,560x1,600-pixel13.5-inch 3,000x2,000-pixel13.3-inch 2,560x1,440-pixel14-inch 1,920x1,080-pixel15.4-inch 2,880x1,800-pixel15.6-inch 3,840x2,160-pixel17.3-inch 3,840x2,160-pixel15.4-inch 2,880x1,800-pixel
Pixel density 227 PPI267 PPI221 PPI157 PPI220 PPI282 PPI255 PPI220 PPI
Dimensions (imperial) 11.97 x 8.36 inches12.3 x 9.14 inches15.35 x 10.20 inches13.35 x 9.15 inches13.75 x 9.48 inches14.06 x 9.27 inches16.7 x 11 inches14.13 x 9.73 inches
Dimensions (metric) 304 x 212 mm312.3 x 232.1 mm390 x 259 mm339 x 232.5 mm349 x 241 mm357 x 235 mm424 x 281 mm358.9 x 247.1 mm
Thickness 0.59 in (14.9mm)0.51 - 0.90 in (13.0 - 22.8mm)0.92 in (23.3mm)0.83 in (21mm)0.61 in (15.5mm)0.45 - 0.66 in (11-17mm)0.88 in (22.5mm)0.71 in (18mm)
Weight 3.02 lb (1.37kg)3.63 lb (1.65kg)5 lb (2kg)3.8 lb (1.7kg)4.02 lb (1.83kg)4.4 lb (2kg)7.8 lb (3.54kg)4.49 lb (2.04kg)
Processor 3.3GHz 2-core Intel Core i7 Skylake2.6GHz 2-core Intel Core i7 Skylake2.6GHz 4-core Intel Core i7 Skylake2.6GHz 2-core Intel Core i7 Skylake2.9GHz 4-core Intel Core i7 Skylake2.6GHz 4-core Intel Core i7 Skylake2.6GHz 4-core Intel Core i7 Skylake2.8GHz 4-core Intel Core i7 Haswell
Graphics Intel Iris 550NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M (2GB)NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 (6GB)Intel Iris 520AMD Radeon Pro 460 (4GB)NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M (2GB)NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 (8GB)Intel Iris Pro / AMD Radeon Pro 450 (2GB)
Storage (SSD) 1TB1TB1TB SSD (boot) + 1TB SSD (storage)512GB2TB1TB2TB1TB
RAM 16GB16GB32GB32GB16GB32GB32GB16 GB
Ports 4x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C connector), 1x 3.5mm headset2x USB 3.0, 1x Mini Display Port, 1x Surface Connect; 1x SD card reader, 1x 3.5mm headset1x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C connector), 3x USB 3.0, 1x Mini Display Port, 1x HDMI, 1x DC Power port, 1x Alienware Graphics, 1x 3.5mm Audio out, 1x 3.5mm headset3x USB 3.0, 1x SD card reader, 1x HDMI, 1x AC power, 1x Mini Display Port, 1x Ethernet, 1x 3.5mm headset4x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C connector), 1x 3.5mm headset1x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C connector), 2x USB 3.0, 1x HDMI, 1x AC power, 1x SD card reader, 1x 3.5mm headset1x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C connector), 3x USB 3.0, 1x HDMI, 1x SDXC card reader, 1x Ethernet, 1x 3.5mm headset1x MagSafe 2, 2x Thunderbolt 2, 2x USB 3.0, 1x HDMI, 1x SDXC reader, 1x 3.5mm headset
Touchscreen NoYesYesYesNoYesYesNo
Touch Bar/Fingerprint Sensor Touch Bar and Touch IDNoNoFinger Print Reader Touch Bar and Touch IDNoNoNo
Colors Space gray, silverSilverSilverBlackSpace gray, silverSilverBlackSilver