MacBook Pro 2020 : Review

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When Apple first announced the 2020 updates to their 13” MacBook Pros, we expected the higher-end $1800 model to have a decent but not huge improvement in performance over the base model thanks to the new 10th-Gen processor.

But with each test that we ran, we were surprised to see more and more unexpected advantages and reasons to spend the extra cash on the $1800, and trust me, there are more advantages than you think. But before we get into that, as well as the things that disappointed me with this new MacBook Pro, I want to mention that this doesn’t make the $1300 base model a bad MacBook, by no means. and I explain why in my review of that model which I’ll link to at the end of this video.

If we go back a year and take a look at the differences between the 2019 base model and the 2019 $1800 model, there honestly wasn’t that big of a difference. Performance between the two was so close that we actually recommended either buying the 13” base model or going all the way up to the 16” MacBook Pro. We told people to simply avoid the $1800 model. But this year, things have completely changed. For starters, you’re getting a lot more value at that $1800 price point.

Where it used to come with a 256GB SSD, it now comes with 512. Where it used to come with 8GB of RAM, it now comes with 16. If you were to buy the base model and pick up those upgrades so it could match what the $1800 model already comes with, it’ll cost you another $300, bringing the price up to $1600, just 200 bucks shy of the higher-end model. So the question is, what do you get for spending another $200 and picking up the better model, and the answer is.. A lot! But at the same time.. There are a couple of big disappointments when you’re spending that much cash.. But let’s start with the hidden differences between the two MacBook Pro models first. The higher-end model actually comes with two cooling fans compared to only one on the base model, which not only helps cool that more powerful 10th-Gen chip down, but it also leads to less fan noise in most tasks.

We noticed this difference while using both of these MacBooks with an eGPU setup. The big difference here is that the higher-end model has two extra vents on the bottom for taking in cool air, so while we were using them in clamshell mode, the base model’s lack of extra vents caused the single fan to run faster and louder, at 5800RPM during one of our video editing export tests, compared to 4000RPM on the $1800 model.

Now what you might not expect is that those extra vents on the bottom actually help with speaker quality as well, since it allows sound to go down through those vents and bounce off of your desk, increasing volume. And on top of that, it physically has better speakers as well, and you can see that when you take the back casing off. So here’s a quick comparison between the two.

You can definitely hear better sound quality with the $1800 model. One more difference is that you get two more Thunderbolt 3 ports on the right hand side with the higher-end model, so you can hook up more devices. But even if you don’t plan on using all 4 of them, it’s definitely much more convenient to be able to plug in the power connector on either side instead of just the left side like on the base model. Now before we get into how the 10th-Gen chip surprised us, I want to quickly mention the new Magic keyboard.

As I’m sure you’ve heard hundreds of times, Apple really hit the jackpot with this keyboard, because it feels so much better than the previous butterfly keyboard. The key travel is great, but it also feels much more tactile compared to the old Magic Keyboard from the 2015 MacBook Pros. I’m also very glad that we now have a physical escape key instead of it being integrated into the touch bar. And the most important thing of all is that it’s finally back to being reliable thanks to the traditional scissor switch mechanism. Now let’s finally get into that new i5 10th-Gen chip. In terms of RAW power using the Geekbench 5 cpu test, we didn’t see that big of a difference compared to the base model’s i5 chip.

But in the more realistic Cinebench R20 stress test, we saw a much larger difference with a 24% higher score, probably due to the better cooling thanks to the dual fans. So this difference in performance is already pretty decent compared to the base model, but where it really shines is graphics performance. In Geekbench 5’s metal test, we saw a pretty huge 48% higher score on the $1800 model, which is a big deal since graphics performance is the main limitation in these 13” MacBook Pros. Now what totally surprised us was that we saw an even bigger difference in some real world tests. We did some photo editing in Lightroom Classic and when rendering 50 edited 42 megapixel raw files, the $1800 model took 3 minutes and 28 seconds compared to 4 minutes and 43 seconds for the base, over 35% faster.. and that’s only 50 images.

In our 20 second 4K stabilization test in Final Cut Pro X, the $1800 model was literally twice as fast as the base model. And in our 5 minute 4K HEVC export test, it was again over twice as fast, finishing in just 5 minutes and 10 seconds. Now this massive difference doesn’t really make sense since the raw graphics performance is only 48% faster, not over double like we saw in these two tests.

Yes, we know that the base model only has 8GB of RAM compared to 16 on the higher-end model, but that’s not enough to warrant this huge difference in performance. The best explanation we could find is the fact that the $1800 model gets much faster LPDDR4X RAM. It clocks in at 3733MHz compared to 2133MHz on the base model. And if you know how RAM works, you know that the number in DDR3 and DDR4 is actually a multiplier, so overall, it’s actually about twice as fast. And because the graphics chips are integrated into the CPU itself, they borrow memory from the system’s total RAM, which is faster on the higher-end MacBook Pro. So all of those things could be why we saw a couple of tests perform so much better on the $1800 model.

What we also know is that these chips pack newer graphics technology like improved decoders and other graphics tech. For example, the $1800 model can support Apple’s 6K Pro Display XDR because the 10th-Gen chip comes with the latest version of Display Stream Compression technology. And another piece of new tech is the fact that the Thunderbolt 3 controller is integrated right into the CPU, whereas the 8th-Gen processor in the base model requires an additional controller chip to make Thunderbolt 3 work.

This might not seem like a huge deal, until you see our results from our eGPU comparison video. In quite a few video editing tests, our 5700 XT eGPU barely helped the base MacBook Pro’s performance, but we noticed that the $1800 model was able to utilize the same eGPU much better, improving speeds by almost 2x in some tests compared to relatively small improvements when connected to the base model, and we think it’s because of that new integrated Thunderbolt 3 technology.

And that could also be why the $1800 model with the eGPU got an average of 85FPS in our Fortnite gaming test compared to an average of 65FPS on the base model. So this shows that the 10th-Gen chip has a lot of tricks up its sleeve that we weren’t expecting at all. And that’s why our recommendation is that if you can afford the $1800 MacBook Pro, you should 100% buy it over the base model, but for those who can’t, the $1300 model will still do a decent job for a lot of different things. Now let’s finally get into the downsides.. If you’re paying $1800 for a premium MacBook Pro from Apple, you can at least expect to get decent hardware across the board, but the 720P webcam is downright terrible in 2020.

This flaw is sticking out like a sore thumb now that a lot of people are forced to work online and meet up with people using their webcam. When a 3 year old iPhone’s FaceTime camera looks leaps and bounds better than the webcam on a brand new 2020 MacBook Pro, there’s a problem. And if the $400 Surface Go 2 tablet can come with a much better 1080P webcam, why can’t the $1800 MacBook Pro? Now i know there’s the issue of the top lid being too thin, but they could at least update it with a newer 720P sensor that has better low-light performance for a brighter, sharper image.

So hopefully we’ll see Apple address this issue in next years’ MacBook Pro. And one more thing I want to complain about is the lack of a dedicated graphics card. Even though the new integrated graphics chip has improved performance by quite a bit, it’s still by far the limiting factor when it comes to performance. And you might think that maybe the 13” size is too thin, but the new Razer Blade Stealth 13” is actually slightly thinner than the MacBook Pro, and you can buy it with a new GTX 1650 TI graphics card for $1800 total.

Now I’m sure the reason why Apple hasn’t put dedicated graphics in the 13” is because they want you to pay more for the 16” model, but they could at least add it in and make it an expensive $300 upgrade. I’m sure a lot of people will still pay for it. So those are my two major complaints with the $1800 MacBook Pro, but if we’re comparing it to the same model last year, you’re actually getting quite a lot more value and surprisingly great benefits from the new 10th-Gen processor which lead to much better performance than before.

So as of right now, we’d definitely recommend spending the extra cash on this model instead of the base model if you can afford it, but for those who agree with my disappointments, you could be better off waiting until next year to see if Apple will fix these issues.

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