What Performance Can We Expect from the Late 2016 MacBook Pro?

Last week, Apple unveiled three new MacBook Pro models – an entry-level 13″ model with traditional function keys, a more powerful 13″ model with the new Touch Bar, and a 15″ MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. What kind of performance can we expect from the new models?

Touch Bar on Late 2016 MacBook Pro

“I want that new laptop with the touch bar,” is what they’ll tell purchasing.

Although we have not yet seen benchmark results from any but the 2.0 GHz 13-incher, we should be able to get Geekbench scores for the CPUs used in Apple’s newest MacBook Pro models. The new CPUs use Intel’s Skylake architecture, which has been on the market since August/September 2015. It is the successor to the Haswell architecture used in the previous generation of MacBooks.

Here’s a list of the CPUs used in the new MacBook Pro models:

13 inch MacBook Pro, Laet 201613″ MacBook Pro, dual-core

  • 2.0 GHz Core i5-6360U
  • 2.4 GHz Core i5-6660U
  • 2.9 GHz Core i5-6267U
  • 3.1 GHz Core i5-6287U
  • 3.3 GHz Core i7-6567U

15 inch MacBook Pro (Late 2016)15″ MacBook Pro, quad-core

  • 2.6 GHz Core i7-6440HQ or 6700HQ
  • 2.7 GHz Core i7-6820HK or HQ
  • 2.9 GHz Core i7-6920HQ

Curiously, the only one of these CPUs with Geekbench scores is the i5-6360U – and then only in the new 13″ MacBook Pro. Either nobody else is using these CPUs or nobody who has computers using them is reporting Geekbench scores.

So much for looking at Geekbench results…

Why Skylake CPUs Instead of Koby Lake?

There has been grumbling since last Thursday that Apple is sticking with old, outdated, last year’s technology CPUs in its new MacBook Pro models. Why is Apple using a 6th generation Intel Core i architecture, some ask, when 7th generation is…

Oops, never mind. Kaby Lake CPUs won’t be officially released until 2017. If Apple had announced new MacBook Pro models in October 2016 with a January 2017 release date, those now griping about Apple choosing dated technology would instead pick on Apple for announcing vaporware – products not yet available – in hopes of keeping users from migrating to PC hardware.

In the eyes of some, Apple must always be painted as the loser, the technological stepchild of the PC world always behind in some respect.

Perspective: Why Not Skylake?

Seriously, how long do you continue to use a new computer before you replace it? Every year? Every three years? After five years? Or, like me, perhaps you’re using 8- and 9-year-old Macs.

Anyhow, the question isn’t how fast could the new MacBook Pro models be, but how much faster are they than what you’re currently using? And that puts everything in perspective. Both of my Intel-based Macs (all my other ones are PowerPC G5 and earlier) have 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo CPUs. In the age of quad-core CPUs, multithreading (each core can run two processes), Turbo Boost, and Intel’s overall improvements made with the move to Core i architecture in November 2008, Core 2 Duo sounds incredibly outdated.

In some ways, it is. My 2007 Mac mini can’t access more than 3 GB of RAM – not even if you install 4 GB. Replacing the hard drive with an SSD was an inexpensive way to unleash it for the final years of its productive life. Sticking with Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard has helped keep this “antique” alive and well with its integrated graphics, outdated CPU, and limited memory.

Then again, my Late 2008 Aluminum MacBook supports up to 8 GB of RAM, has a dedicated graphics processor, and uses twice-as-fast Serial ATA Rev. 2 for its hard drive/SSD bus. It’s only officially supported to 4 GB RAM and OS X 10.11 El Capitan, but with the macOS Sierra Patch Tool, it can run macOS Sierra if I want to.

Not bad for a 2.0 GHz MacBook introduced eight years ago. This also means that moving to any Core i-based MacBook – even that 1.4 GHz Core i5-based Early 2014 one – would be a huge step forward for me.

Seriously, for me a 15″ or 17″ 2011 MacBook Pro capable of running OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, 10.9 Mavericks (what I normally use on my 2008 MacBook), and macOS Sierra would be marvelous. Intel Core i7 quad-core CPU. Twice-as-fast SATA Rev. 3. Ability to use 16 GB of RAM. A built-in optical drive. Thunderbolt.

ports on 15" MacBook Pro (Late 2016)

With USB-C, the new models support Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.1, video out, power, and so much more without the need to have several different kinds of built-in connectors.

No USB 3.0, but FireWire 800 would be nice. And the 17″ MacBook Pro models all have ExpressCard/34, so adding USB 3.0 should be possible. Yeah, that would make an awesome field computer for me. Even the slowest 2.2 GHz Early 2011 17″ MacBook Pro would be a massive step forward for this low-end Mac user.

The Real World

Sure, it’s nice to have benchmark results and know that the Late 2016 MacBook Pro is a certain amount more powerful than the 2015 model it replaces, but in the real world most people looking at a 2016 Mac are still using 2011 through 2014 Macs. (Very few would have replaced a 2014 MacBook with a 2015 model. And not too many would have made the move from a 2013 Mac, most waiting for at least two significant revisions before migrating to new hardware.) Sure, some power users buy new when possible, but most of us are low-end users, not power users.

I’ve been using Macs regularly since 1990, and in all those years I’ve owned three “new” Macs:

  1. Mac Plus, free from Apple in a sales program in 1991 as the Plus was being phased out.
  2. Centris 610, the entry-level model with no FPU or ethernet, while I was in graduate school, June 1993.
  3. 400 MHz Titanium PowerBook G4, January 2001, $2,500. Site income had been good, this was almost exactly what I felt I needed in a production machine for use in the field, and I ordered it as soon as I got home from Macworld Expo. It lasted 5-1/2 years before a drop that turned it into a parts machine.

All my other Macs have been previously owned. Several have been donated. I’m not likely to ever buy a new Mac again. (For that matter, the same goes for iPhones. I bought an iPhone 5 and a 5S earlier this year for under $150 each and own them outright – no contract ties!)

Who Are the New MacBook Pro Models For?

The Late 2016 MacBook Pros are not high-end production machines. Apple makes iMacs and that Mac-in-a-can Mac Pro for people who need ultimate power. MacBook Pros are for people who need a really, really good field computer and can afford $1,500 for a 13″ dual-core or $2,400 for a quad-core notebook computer.

For a small percentage of our readers, that’s something you can justify. For most of us, it’s something we might pick up used in 4-5 years.

The MacBook Pro is for people with deeper-than-average pockets who are already sold on Macs. Few switchers will spend this kind of money for a notebook computer that isn’t designed for Windows – but Apple will sell to some of them as well. Mostly it’s going to be businesses that buy them for executives, their outside sales team, and anyone who has to make a presentation in the field or take their work home at night or over the weekend.

They’re not that concerned about ultimate speed, let alone frame rate while gaming. They want something rugged, reliable, easy to use, and sufficiently fast. So what if it’s using last year’s technology? It gets the job done.

Benchmarks

Yes, we will look at Geekbench scores for the new MacBook Pro models when they are available. We will compare them to last year’s MacBook Pro line. And we will almost always find them a better value than the models they replace.

But we realize that most of you are not going to buy a new MacBook Pro for personal use. It’s a production machine, a business tool, an investment in getting work done outside the office. And that takes a whole different kind of justification than benchmark scores.

Apple knows that. That’s why Apple designs elegant hardware with a beautiful interface. It wants to catch the attention of potential users who will ask for a MacBook Pro (or MacBook, MacBook Air, etc.) when it’s time for a new laptop. “I want that new laptop with the touch bar,” is what they’ll tell purchasing.

And Apple is going to sell a lot of these to business users.

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