Following the unexpected announcement from Apple announcing their new 2018 MacBook Pro laptops with support for i9 6-core processors and up to 32GB of RAM, things were, at last, looking interesting for Pro Tools Users. However, two articles have come to light already which suggest that maybe all isn't as rosy in the Apple laptop world...
MacBook Pro 13" Touch Bar 2018 Teardown
The team at IFIXIT got right to it and bought a new 13" MacBook Pro with the express intent to take it apart and find out what is inside. But before we start, this is the spec of the machine that they took apart...
13.3" LED-backlit IPS Retina display with True Tone, 2560 x 1600 resolution (227 dpi), P3 wide colour gamut
2.3 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 (Turbo Boost up to 3.8 GHz) with integrated Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655
Apple T2 custom coprocessor
8 GB of 2133 MHz LPDDR3 SDRAM
256 GB PCIe-based SSD
802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0
Four Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports supporting charging, DisplayPort, Thunderbolt, USB 3.1 Gen 2
Highlights From The IFIXIT Teardown
Please go and read the full IFIXIT 2018 MacBook Pro Teardown for all the nitty-gritty on this new laptop from Apple but if time is pressing here are the key points they found that relate to using this new MacBook Pro as a DAW Computer.
The battery has been upgraded from 49.2 Wh to 58.0 Wh which is a welcome boost in battery life. To get the extra power it is a slightly bigger battery with six cells instead of the five in the previous model. This makes the battery slightly heavier but surprising is the overall weight of the computer has not gone up. But it turns out the extra battery power is there to serve the new processors so the battery life remains the same.
The keyboard is meant to be quieter but the team at IFIXIT weren't overly impressed at the improvement, they agree there is an improvement but it's not that spectacular.
It would appear that the thermal management system has not been changed, despite the extra power under the hood with faster processors consuming more power and creating more heat.
When it comes to repairability we can see the continuing trend of less and less user repairable parts in Apple products.
The processor, RAM, and SSD are soldered to the logic board which will make user upgrades virtually impossible and repairs impractical at best.
The top case assembly, which includes the keyboard, battery, and speakers, is glued together, which makes it impractical to replace any of these parts separately.
The Touch ID sensor doubles as the power switch and is paired with the T2 chip on the logic board. Fixing a broken power switch may require help from Apple or a new logic board.
One piece of good news is that the trackpad can be removed without first removing the battery and could be replaced relatively easily. It seems to be the one thing that hasn't been glued or soldered down.
Although IFIXIT has taken a 13" machine to bits, all of these points relate to the 15" MacBook Pro that we would be likely to consider as a DAW computer. The heat dissipation seems to be the most concerning and then...
YouTuber Claims 15-Inch MacBook Pro With Upgraded Core i9 Chip is Severely Throttled Due to Thermal Issues
MacRumors have run a story reporting that Dave Lee, a YouTuber with 1.4 million subscribers, is warning people away from purchasing it with claims that the MacBook Pro chassis can't provide sufficient cooling for it to run at full speed. This is despite some very good Geekbench 4 scores, also reported on MacRumors, with 2018 MacBook Pro models having the biggest yearly CPU performance gains since 2011, according to Geekbench founder John Poole.
John attributes the increases in performance to additional cores, higher Turbo Boost frequencies, and the switch to DDR4 memory. John acknowledges that these Geekbench scores are preliminary, and likely to rise over the coming weeks, as on brand new machines, macOS completes several setup tasks in the background that can temporarily degrade performance. He says these tasks vary and can take up to several days to be completed.
Back to Dave Lee. He says "This CPU is an unlocked, overclockable chip but all of that CPU potential is wasted inside this chassis -- or more so the thermal solution that's inside here,"
Watch the video for yourself, but if you haven't got time Dave goes on to share some Premiere Pro render times that suggest the new 2018 MacBook Pro with the i9 processors underperforms compared to a 2017 model with the i7 processor. It took 39 minutes for the 2018 MacBook Pro to render a video that the older model was able to render in 35 minutes. At this point, it is fair to point out that Premiere Pro is not particularly well optimised for macOS, but the difference between the two MacBook Pro models is there according to his tests.
To see if it was a thermal problem Dave then repeated the test with the 2018 MacBook Pro in the freezer and the i9 chip was able to offer a much better performance, cutting that render time down to 27 minutes and beating the 2017 MacBook Pro time of 35 minutes.
To be fair Dave isn't suggesting that this thermal throttling is unusual, he points out that it's seen in most laptops and mobile devices from a range of manufacturers, but he says that "this degree" of thermal throttling is "unacceptable." Dave goes on...
This kind of thermal throttling really affects the end user. It doesn't matter what you are using it for, like if you're a Final Cut user, or an Adobe Premiere user, or if you're using it for software development or calculations like fluid dynamics -- it doesn't matter what you're doing with your device. If you have any kind of extended computational work that uses the CPU -- that's probably why you're looking at these devices in the first place -- it's going to throttle. And that's unacceptable to me.
In the comments on the MacRumors story, "Mockletoy" says...
If you follow the gaming notebook forums much at all you'll see that the 6-core 8th gen chips are very difficult to cool properly even in much thicker frames than the MacBook Pro offers. Seriously, the Notebookreview forums are full of people upset that monstrous gaming notebooks aren't able to cool these chips properly, especially if there's a discrete GPU also pumping heat into the system.
As soon as I saw that these Macs had been released with these new CPUs I started wondering what kind of cooling magic Apple might have worked to make it possible. The answer seems to be: none. The laws of physics are the laws of physics and if these chips run hot in 1"+ thick systems with massive heatsinks and fans, what chance do they have in something as thin as a MacBook Pro?
What is interesting is MacRumors' response to Dave's findings. They say...
It's not clear if there's something wrong with the MacBook Pro with Core i9 chip that Lee received, because this kind of throttling is likely something Apple would have tested for and not something that other users have reported at this point.
Because this is just one data point, it's not enough information to reach a conclusion about the i9 chip available for the 15-inch MacBook Pro, but additional testing will certainly follow to shed more light on Lee's video. We have asked Apple for comment on Lee's findings, and will update this post if we hear back.
Our Initial Analysis
Although Dave Lee seems to be a credible reviewer with a significant following, I agree with the MacRumors analysis. This is one machine and so far no one else has reported similar issues. Surely this is something Apple would have investigated in their design and development phases. That said, it does seem strange that with the more powerful processors they haven't seen fit to upgrade the cooling arrangements.
On the user upgradability and repair options, it is no real surprise that more and more of Apple's products are being made so that users cannot upgrade them. We can stamp our feet and complain, or look for an alternative computer, but in this case is it such a problem?
As to the options with this new MacBook Pro, 32 GB of RAM is the maximum and so buying that factory installed is OK, after all, 32GB is the maximum that the new MBP can support so there is no reason to want to upgrade it in the future. Having the i9 processors is great news and choosing them at the outset knowing I cannot upgrade them is no big deal. The only slight fly in the ointment is not being able to upgrade the SSD storage. What you buy on day 1 is what you have to have for the lifespan of the machine, but that is the only issue I can see with the lack of user upgradable parts in this machine.
With all this in mind, watch out for more updates as we get the news and also look out for my article as to why I am considering a new 2018 MacBook Pro as my replacement laptop and portable Pro Tools Computer.
Update Added 20th July 2018 at 09:00 BST
This has proved to be a fast-moving story and thanks to community members for pointing out the developments.
AppleInsider and 9to5Mac have both undertaken their own tests and are updating their stories too.
AppleInsider Do Their Own Tests
AppleInsider starts by explaining what the Thermal Design Point is...
The Thermal Design Point (TDP) is defined by Intel as the "average power the processor dissipates when operating at base frequency with all cores active under a high-complexity workload." In short, it advises of how hot a processor can get when running at un-boosted capacity, and how much in the way of cooling systems a device manufacturer has to put in place to mitigate the generated heat. More on "unboosted" in a bit.
They go onto explain that the 6-core i9 has a TDP of 45 Watts, which is the same TDP as the i7 4-core used in the previous generation of MacBook Pros and suggest with identical TDPs across the board Apple could add the same cooling system across the board, regardless of processor. So what is happening? AppleInsider explains that as long as the processor is cool it will run faster and faster, which will generate more heat...AppleInsider
As that heat builds, the processor will slow down to help dissipate the heat in conjunction with the cooling system. It can even go lower than the normal operating clock speed if need be to prevent damage. This is why Lee was seeing clock speeds lower than the normal operating speed —the processor decided it was too hot, and slowed down well past the normal speed to keep heat generation down to what it could dissipate through the cooling system. Lee's test was on Adobe Premiere —a real world test, albeit one using software that performs better with an Nvidia GPU rather than an AMD one.
This confirms Alan's point in the comments below about having the appropriate GPU for the software. AppleInsider decided to run their own tests using Cinebench 15, they ran 10 test runs on the i9 MacBook Pro. Their tests showed that they were getting very similar results with the i9 6-core as the base i7 equipped 2018 MacBook Pro, which is disappointing but they also are concerned about just putting the computer in the fridge because that cools the GPU as well as the processor so AppleInsider is planning more tests...
For our full reviews of both the i7 and i9 2018 MacBook Pros, we're going to hook them up to an external Graphics Processing Unit to see how much the thermal condition varies, when some of the heavy lifting is moved out of the MacBook Pro's chassis.
AppleInsider also states that...
The same processors in other manufacturer's computers perform the tests faster, and with less throttling —but all machines with the i9 chip do it to one level or another.
So what should Apple users do?
AppleInsider suggests that it isn't a"super-crisis" as long as this isn't another thermal paste problem, which Apple has had before, using cheap thermal paste and so the heat from the processor isn't transferred as efficiently as it could to the heatsink. They go on...
All manufacturers have to deal with it, and what varies is when the throttling kicks in as a result of the heat dissipation system engineering. And, it is rectifiable after-the-fact to some extent.
AppleInsider suggests that the most obvious solution is for Apple to alter the peak speed of the processor by adjusting the power that the chip gets.
Ironically, slowing the peak speed of the processor may allow it to finish tasks quicker, as it will slow down less to keep the CPU cool. Apple can also change the fan speed thresholds to accommodate a CPU load better, by setting them to kick in sooner, and faster than it does at present. This probably won't completely eliminate the thermal situation, but it will lengthen the time it will take to get there at the cost of a louder device when under heavy load. Users can do this with Macs Fan Control, or similar utility.
Do check out the AppleInsider article in full to get the complete story.
9to5Mac Do their Own Tests
Moving onto the 9to5Mac tests. They too wanted to use a real-world test more suited to the MacBook Pro and chose Final Cut Pro X because it is Apple’s flagship NLE, and many of the people looking to buy one of these computers are creative professionals who work in video.
The test they chose was...
A four-minute, 4K video shot at 60 frames per second with a Panasonic GH5. (Not rendered and unoptimized).
Exported with Apple’s built-in Final Cut Pro preset: Web Hosting – H.264 Faster Encode – 3840 x 2160.
The same exact setup used with both tests.
All other apps, except apps needed for testing, closed.
Power plugged in, except for the freezer test.
If you are interested in the nitty-gritty of all the test results then check out the 9to5Mac story for more detail.
What was interesting is they also ran the same test on an iMac Pro with an 8-core Xeon CPU...
The CPU basically stays locked at 4.0GHz and above, and its temperatures remain relatively cool. However, the iMac Pro actually proved to be slowest on export, coming in at 6 minutes flat, a full 30 seconds slower than our slowest export with the MacBook Pro.
Why? Xeon CPUs lack onboard hardware video encoding, dubbed Intel Quick Sync Video. So even though the iMac Pro runs circles around the MacBook Pro from a thermal perspective, it doesn’t really matter in this test. That’s why you can’t always look at pure numbers when judging a machine. Lots of variables go into measuring the performance, and it differs based on the applications you plan to use.
The results of this test are by no means a recommendation to stay away from the high end MacBook Pro. A machine should be judged on all of its merits and further testing is required before I’m able to do so. That said, the optics aren’t particularly good for Apple; it’s reasonable for users to expect more cores to equal better performance, especially with an app that was built from the ground up with Mac hardware in mind.
All blame shouldn’t rest on Apple’s shoulders, though. Intel needs better performing chips from a thermal perspective. It’s one major reason why Apple’s rumored transition to ARM Macs could prove to be a great thing for future laptops coming out of Cupertino.
Remember John Poole? He is the Geekbench founder, he says that “CPU Hot” flag apparently doesn’t correlate to throttling in the normal sense. John said in a tweet responding to the 9to5Mac tests...
If the CPU is at 800MHz, the CPU isn’t throttling, the CPU is idle. The test isn’t using the CPU but rather the on-chip hardware encoder.
9to5Mac goes on to explain...
John notes that at 800 MHz, the CPU is idling, awaiting further instructions. This 800 MHz dip that we see on the graphs is normal in the sense that 800 MHz is an idle frequency.
Yet, this still has all the makings of a thermal issue. The export is faster when there are only four cores being used instead of six. And as shown, the export is obviously much faster when outside cooling is added.
We would ask, "is that cooling also cooling the GPU" or as John Poole says "the on-chip hardware encoder"?
As this issue is being oversimplified by a number of people, we do recommend you turn to credible sources like MacRumors, AppleInsider and 9to5Mac for the best information on this.
We are doing our best to summarise the key issues here as well as respond to a very fast moving story but this would seem to be a complex issue and need further investigation.
What we will try and investigate is how this issue impacts DAW users like Pro Tools Logic Pro and Studio One. Video rendering, whether its Premiere Pro or Final Cut is very different to what we need for a DAW.
Update Added 25th July 2018 at 08:30 BST
Yesterday 9to5Mac released a story based on a post on Reddit suggesting that the CPU slowdown experienced with the 2018 MacBook Pro is not caused by thermal throttling of the processor itself, but rather by power throttling of the voltage regulator module (VRM). They go on to demonstrate a hack suggesting that it is potentially something Apple can fix with an update. This is from the Reddit post...
The ultimate root cause of the very bad performance drop during the throttling is not thermal throttling of the CPU, but rather power throttling of the VRM (voltage regulator module), being unable to satisfy the power desires of the i9 CPU.
When the VRM maxes out (overheats … but this is different from CPU thermal throttling), the motherboard sends a signal to the CPU to drop its speed to minimum (800Mhz) to allow the VRM a chance to cool down. The CPU then returns to it’s previous desire to pull maximum power, spins up to high turbo speeds, and the cycle repeats again. When the CPU keeps switching from Turbo to 800Mhz, it is in a very inefficient state, so the amount of work being done relative to the amount of power drawn decreases.
Apple has shipped the i9 Macbook Pro with it’s CPU power regulation set to 125 Watt Turbo for 28 seconds, 100 Watt Steady state.
I’ve spent a few hours testing at many different draw rates until I could find the rate at which the VRM does not max out, for my machine, that is 49 Watts.
Then in this fast-moving story, Apple has announced an update to fix the issue. Apple told 9to5Mac...
Following extensive performance testing under numerous workloads, we’ve identified that there is a missing digital key in the firmware that impacts the thermal management system and could drive clock speeds down under heavy thermal loads on the new MacBook Pro. A bug fix is included in today’s macOS High Sierra 10.13.6 Supplemental Update and is recommended. We apologize to any customer who has experienced less than optimal performance on their new systems.
While many of the reports related to the bug were aimed at the high-end core i9 machine, 9to5Mac were told that the problem actually affects all of the new MacBook Pro models and so all users should install today’s supplemental update. Jordan Kahn from 9to5Mac goes on...
My understanding from people in the know is that Apple’s internal benchmark testing wasn’t affected by the bug (which is how they missed it) and so all of the stats for the new machines still stand true. That means Apple’s original claim of the 15-inch MacBook Pro being up to 70% faster, and the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar to be up to 2X faster remain the same following the update.
Apparently Apple also internally ran tests using Premiere Pro replicating the workloads used in many of the reports related to the bug and have said today’s update indeed appears to fix the problem.
It does not require you to disable SIP for kext.
It regulates power at a higher level, not at the CPU. This means that a combined workload of both CPU and GPU will work much better with Apple's update than it does with my MSR change.
You don't want to be stuck on an old version, so ultimately, you have no choice but to take the update :)
I've done some preliminary testing, and it essentially has the same burst characteristics for purely-CPU load as my patch. I actually get very slightly lower Cinebench scores on a cold run than with my MSR, likely because Apple is throttling power very slightly below my thresholds.
For those who are curious, because Apple is managing this at a higher level, the MSR 0x610 is unchanged and still reads as it did before.
So from this explanation, it would seem that Reddit was pretty close to the solution. It would seem that we may have a solution, but the proof will be in the pudding as we say in the UK.
Update July 25th at 15:30 BST - Apple Fix Seems To Be Working
AppleInsider has completed some tests to show the before and after from their CineBench tests that we covered in our article Is There A Problem With The New 2018 MacBook Pro? Check Out Our Initial Analysis Now - Updated. These tests would suggest that the Apple fix is working but these are video related tests.
After implementing the Apple Patch they found not unexpectedly that the Geekbench testing was about the same as it was during the first round of testing.
AppleInsider then repeated the same Cinebench test on the MacBook Pro with Core i9 processor, under the same conditions, and the same ambient temperature. The first run of the test hit 953, with a 10-run average of 945. Clock speeds remained high, with only very brief excursions below rated speed. A 3.5GHz speed was maintained in the Core i9 model, with most of the speed excursions only going down to 3.1GHz.
But synthetic benchmarks like the Cinebench test are not the whole story so they repeated the FCPX and Premiere Pro tests they ran before the Apple Patch came out.
A five-minute 4K project with effects in Final Cut Pro X rendered in three minutes and 39 seconds before the update, and three minutes and 29 seconds afterwards.
Premiere Pro saw big gains, going from 24 minutes and one second pre-patch rendering time for the same project, to 21 minutes and eight seconds.
A one-minute 4.5K Red RAW project with effects rendered in Premiere Pro took eight minutes and one second to complete before Apple's patch, and six minutes and 59 seconds after application
AppleInsider then speculates as to what the Apple Patch has done. Theories, including their own, include voltage regulator module overheating and an insufficient thermal design.
Originally, we said that the most obvious immediate solution was for Apple to alter the peak speed of the processor by adjusting the power that the CPU gets. In doing so, slowing the peak speed of the processor may have allowed it to finish tasks quicker, as it will slow down less to keep the CPU cool. But, it doesn't appear that this is what Apple has done, given the CPU speeds we saw.
Another possibility was for Apple can to alter the fan speed thresholds to accommodate a CPU load better, by setting them to kick in sooner and faster than it did at launch, but this also doesn't seem to be the case.
A third theory alleged that Intel's monitoring tool was somehow faulty, but an update to the software over the weekend didn't change the results at all. We know because we tried the tests after the tool was re-released after a brief absence.
AppleInsider concludes that the patch fixes some or all of these things minutely, or maybe a software bug that has been repaired.
It also appears that compared to other i9 machines running Windows, the Cinebench testing on the i9 is still a little lower. But, the real-world testing isn't that much slower, if at all.
MacWorld magazine has posted some preliminary results on Twitter of some Premiere Pro tests...
2017 2.9GHz Core i7: 90 min
2018 Core i9 before patch: 80 min
2018 Core i9 after patch: 72 min
Also, very even clocks at or above base instead of spiky throttling.
Geekbench Labs founder John Poole has also tested the 2018 Core i9 MacBook Pro after the patch and found that it was faster with a more stable processor frequency.
It was slightly slower than the 2018 Core i7 MacBook Pro. Poole says that while long running heavily multi-threaded tasks are going to see similar performance on the Core i9 and Core i7 machines, single and lightly-threaded tasks should be faster on the i9.
Dave Lee, who highlighted the throttling problem in the first place, has also tweeted some post-patch test results and said the performance was "much better".
We understand that Apple reached out to Dave Lee and worked with him to replicate his workflow, getting to the source of the bug. MacRumors has reported...
Apple discovered that there was a missing digital key in the MacBook Pro firmware that impacted the thermal management system, driving down clock speeds under heavy thermal loads. This was a problem that appears to have affected all 2018 MacBook Pro models.
The problem appears to have been successfully addressed in today's macOS High Sierra supplemental update, and Apple has issued an apology to customers who experienced less than optimal performance on their new 2018 machines.
Customers who have a 2018 MacBook Pro and have not installed the update should do so immediately to see the performance improvements for themselves.
Dave Lee has now uploaded a new video in which he says that the supplemental macOS High Sierra update has successfully fixed the throttling issues that he saw prior to the patch with Premiere Pro.
Using the same Adobe Premiere render time test, Lee found that the Core i9 MacBook Pro was significantly faster than the 2017 Core i7 model that had beaten it prior to the patch.
In this video, Dave Lee went even further having tested six laptops equipped with an i9 from various manufacturers. It wasn't a huge surprise that he reported that the thicker 'gaming' laptops did outperform thinner laptops, including the MacBook Pro with their better cooling features.
That said Dave Lee championed the new MacBook Pro as being a lot quieter, which in our sector is important.
Dave Lee goes on to say that overall, the Core i9 MacBook Pro is performing the way that a 6-core MacBook Pro should, but he wishes Apple had engineered a better thermal solution for the i9.