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Apple’s MacBook updates are a much bigger deal than anyone imagined

Published Jul 16th, 2018 2:35PM EDT
2018 MacBook Pro vs 2017
Image: guteksk7/Shutterstock

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Last week, Apple very quietly rolled out a bunch of changes to its MacBook range. The updates were a classic spec bump, with the big changes coming to the internal chips, and the only significant design change being a redesigned keyboard that is less vulnerable to errant grains of sand.

There’s always a temptation to disregard spec bumps as insignificant because nothing really looks different. Swapping out an older processor for a newer model will never get Apple fans as excited as, say, removing the headphone jack, so these kinds of updates tend to fly under the radar. But according to analysis from the founder of Geekbench, a popular benchmarking tool for MacBooks, the 2018 MacBooks have seen the biggest performance improvements since the introduction of quad-core processors in 2011.

John Poole, the founder of Primate Labs, which makes Geekbench, published a blog post looking into the Geekbench scores that have popped up since the new MacBooks went on sale. The tests are crowd-sourced, rather than run in lab conditions on standardized machinery, so there’s always a chance the results will be skewed. In this instance however, Poole says that the results are more likely to favor the older MacBooks, as the brand-new MacBooks may be using processor power in the background to sync items with iCloud.

Even with this hypothetical sandbagging, the newer MacBooks did much better than the 2017 models they were replacing:

For the 15-inch models, single-core performance is up 12-15%, and multi-core performance is up 39-46%. Since the underlying processor architecture hasn’t significantly changed between the 2017 and 2018 models, the increases in performance are due to higher Turbo Boost frequencies, more cores, and DDR4 memory.

The results were even starker for the 13-inch MacBooks, to the extent that according to Geekbench, the 2018 13-inch model outperforms the 2017 15-incher:

What’s interesting is that the 2018 13-inch models are competitive with the 2017 15-inch models in both single-core and multi-core performance, making the new 2018 13-inch MacBook Pro a smaller and lighter replacement for the 2017 15-inch MacBook Pro.

When you consider the magnitude of the spec bump, plus the fact that the new keyboard is quieter and hopefully more durable, the new MacBooks do seem like a significant upgrade. It’s probably not worth jumping from a 2017 MacBook Pro to a 2018 model — unless you have specific needs, like shifting from a 15-inch workstation to a 13-inch version — but for anyone upgrading from a much older model, the new versions look like they were worth the wait.

Chris Mills
Chris Mills News Editor

Chris Mills has been a news editor and writer for over 15 years, starting at Future Publishing, Gawker Media, and then BGR. He studied at McGill University in Quebec, Canada.