DEC 3, 2021 / Apple

Apple says hello to new MacBook Pros – and goodbye to the Touch Bar

Apple recently announced a new range of MacBook Pro 14 inch and 16 inch laptops. Not that the MacBook Pro is a new laptop per se; it’s been part of the Apple line up for 15 years now.

What makes the new MacBook Pro lines different from their predecessors is what you’ll find underneath the hood. The last MacBook Pro 16 inch model Apple sold ran on Intel Core processors, but Apple had switched to its own “M1” Apple Silicon processors for most of its laptop lines over the last 18 months.

That included a 13 inch MacBook Pro with the M1 processors, but there was a problem. The M1 processor is fast, but it’s basically the same unit whether you bought it in a MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, iMac or Mac Mini in performance terms. That left the “Pro” MacBook with a higher price and not that much of pro speed gap.

What you did get with the M1 MacBook Pro was a single extra USB C port and Apple’s touch-sensitive “Touch Bar”, a somewhat controversial inclusion that replaces most of the function keys with a lit up strip that can change its buttons contextually depending on the app you’re using.

So, if you’re browsing the web you’d see tiny representations of your tabs, while if you were editing video you might see audio sliders, brightness scales and the like. The Touch Bar was loved by those who looked at their keyboards often, and less beloved by anyone who could touch type, because you could never reliably depend on its virtual “keys” being in the same places.

I very much fell into the latter category, and it seems like Apple’s listened more to folks like me, because the new MacBook Pro models drop the Touch Bar. You also get a whole host of extra ports on the new models for SD card reading, HDMI and USB connectivity, as well as the return of the “Magsafe” connector that was a feature of most MacBooks until a few years ago.

Pro laptops aren’t just about accessibility. You also need power. Apple is redressing that power need with the new 14 inch and 16 inch models, which use new processors that Apple calls the M1 Pro and M1 Max.

They use what’s called a “System on a Chip” or SoC, which basically means that all the working parts of the computer, including processing, graphics and memory are all on the same piece of silicon.

The upgrade between the M1 and M1 Pro is significant enough, with two additional CPU cores and an effective doubling of graphics processor cores, and that gets even more pronounced with the pricier M1 Max, which takes it up to 32 graphics cores.

As yet, I’m still waiting to actually test out any of the new MacBook Pro models, and unlike Intel, there’s no way to test out the processors individually. They’re very much tied to those specific models, not sold separately for upgrades or system builders.

If all that talk of processor cores leaves you befuddled, there’s an easier breakdown. The M1 based MacBooks – in this case the 13 inch MacBook Air and MacBook Pro – are your everyday usage models, plenty powerful enough for most people engaged in office level productivity work.

The M1 Pro and M1 Max MacBook Pros live up to that Pro name for users who genuinely do need much more processing power for things like video editing, photo work or high end computational tasks.

That’s very much why they carry some serious price points. The cheapest 14 inch M1 Pro MacBook Pro will run you $2,999, but you can modify the build with more storage and memory all the way up to a 16 inch M1 Max MacBook Pro that will dent your wallet to the tune of a hefty $9,149.

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Alex Kidman
Tech Journalist