New Macbook Pro brings the heat

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Above: The new Macbook Pro. Image courtesy Apple.

BitDepth#1156 for August 02, 2018

I’ve been waiting to replace my Macbook Pro for six years now.

Count them. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

That’s a lifetime in computing. There are technology companies that haven’t lasted that long.

Two weeks ago, Apple finally delivered a computer worthy of being called a Macbook Pro. The 15-inch model of the Macbook line is the best-specified tool for mobile professionals that the company offers.

It’s also an embarrassingly long time for a computer to remain on the market essentially unchanged.

There have been new models introduced since the third generation MacBook Pro, dubbed the Retina model, was introduced in 2012.

The case was completely redesigned in 2016, adding the controversial touch bar and removing all the legacy ports in favour of USB-C 3 ports supporting Thunderbolt 3.

These were nifty innovations, or useless ones, depending on how you feel about changing all your connections and learning a new use for the space where your F-keys were.

The new case is really attractive, probably the most impressive evolution of the Apple laptop design since the Titanium Powerbook’s introduction back in 2001.

Unfortunately, that superslim case has created new problems.

To trim down the case just a bit more, Apple changed the key mechanism for its keyboards, prompting a rash of complaints about the feel and response of the keyboard.

Then a more serious problem arose, disabling keys when any obstruction, even a grain of dirt, gets into the mechanism and blocks its minimal travel.

These are the sorts of issues that tend to get sorted out as devices run through a production run, but the newest systems, which improve specifications significantly for the first time in seven years, may be bringing the style perogatives of the new system into a collision course with its aspirations to power.

The new Macbook Pros double the maximum RAM from 16 to 32 GB, offer an insanely expensive 4TB SSD option and the first i9 class Intel Processor in a Mac portable. A fully specified, build-to-order mid-2018 Macbook Pro will cost you US$6,699.

And that’s where the newest issues have surfaced with the new laptop.

MSI’s GT75

The i9 processor is rated at 2.9GHZ, capable of upclocking to 4.8GHZ for burst processing.

But what’s actually been happening is that the top of the line processor is actually throttling its performance when placed under load, dropping to 2.2 GHZ as heat builds on the motherboard.

To describe this as a disappointment is to dramatically understate the case. It isn’t even the first time that the systems have had overheating problems.

The i9 is the first chip from Intel built for a portable computer that offers Zeon class performance and the options for the new Macbook Pro, including support for an external GPU (eGPU) suggest that the company is at least aware of the performance numbers that its pro users need.

Apple has responded quickly to the potential debacle, issuing a software fix for the problem, but it isn’t clear whether that’s going to be enough for a chip that’s notable for running hot to deliver its best speeds.

New i9 equipped PCs are hefty beasts that don’t even pretend to be sleek and attractive and make no compromises with fans and vents. Viewed from behind, MSI’s GT75, which ships with the new chip, looks like a Thunderbirds spacecraft.

Clearly I needed to scale down my plans for the new device to satisfy the household management and really, I don’t need a 4TB SSD either, but I also don’t want to invest in a computer that’s going to burn a hole in my pants.

I’ve always pushed laptops to their limits and have cooling systems in place for even my ageing main axe, but it looks like this upgrade might be worth a wait and perhaps a model revision in six months or so.