Review: Apple 2021 MacBook Pro 16″ – Part 1

October 27 2016 is a day that will live in infamy for many Mac users. That’s the day that Apple announced the 2016 MacBook Pro. That would be the one that ditched things like the HDMI port and SD card slot for USB-C everything. Forcing everyone to buy a dongle for every function that they needed. It was also the one that introduced the butterfly keyboard. The one that was horrifically unreliable. And it introduced the TouchBar, and deleted real function keys. Those along with other changes made Apple users irate. Some even abandoned the platform for Windows laptops that gave them what they wanted. And it seemed that Apple didn’t care as they kept sticking with all of these changes. Though they eventually did back away slowly from the butterfly keyboard in 2019 when the costs of failed keyboards and class action lawsuits from ticked off Apple users started to add up. It also likely didn’t help that people like me kept their 2015 MacBook Pros that didn’t have these flaws and also said 2015 MacBook Pros increased in value because it was thought of as the last good Apple MacBook Pro. That must have cost Apple a few bucks over the years.

That changed earlier this month when Apple released the 2021 MacBook Pro. You might call this the apology MacBook Pro as it is the closest thing that you will get to Apple apologizing for angering pro users. But there’s more than that. It’s also a MacBook Pro that kills anything with an Intel processor.

Now this review will be split up into two parts. Today, I’ll be looking at the design and feature set of the MacBook Pro, along with doing some benchmarking. Part 2 of this review will have some observations after using it for a few days, and some final thoughts. But first let’s get to the MacBook Pro that I have. The MacBook Pro comes in two screen sizes. 14″ and 16″. It also comes with two processors. The M1 Pro and the M1 Max. I explain the differences between the two processors here. But with that framing the discussion, here’s what I ordered less than ten minutes after the end of the Apple event that announced these machines:

  • 16” MacBook Pro
  • M1 Pro with 10-core CPU, 16-core GPU, 16-core Neural Engine
  • 1TB storage
  • 32GB of RAM

Why did I go with this configuration? There’s a handful of reasons why I went this rout: 

  • Both the M1 Pro and the M1 Max utterly destroy almost anything with an Intel processor. More on that in a bit. But I don’t have a reason to use the power that the M1 Max is capable of. Specifically, video editing in ProRes. Nor do I render graphics on a regular basis. So I went with the M1 Pro.
  • I have 512 GB of storage in my Intel MacBook Pro. And I have only filled 55% of it. So 1TB is more than enough for me. 
  • I have 16GB of RAM in my Intel MacBook Pro. Thus 32GB of RAM is more than enough for me.

And Apple made the unboxing experience interesting:

The UPS guy dropped of this box to me. There’s a pull tab in the middle which you have yank on:

From there the box unfolds to reveal your rather expensive purchase:

Now this is where I start to criticize Apple. It’s wrapped up in plastic. For a company that claims to care about the environment, and made a big deal of removing the plastic from the packaging of the iPhone 13, why wrap this MacBook Pro in plastic? Surely they could have come up with some other way to seal the box? It really makes their environmental efforts look like greenwashing.

End of rant.

Pull the tab at the top of the box to easily remove the plastic wrapping that will be in a landfill site shortly. You can then open the box to see this:

You get to see your new MacBook Pro wrapped in some sort of wax paper like wrapping. I’m going to put that to the side for a second so that you can see what else in the box.

At the top you get your usual books. To quote Flossy Carter, pluck them and file them to the side, but not before getting these out:

Black Apple stickers instead of white ones that are usually included. I guess nothing says pro like black Apple stickers.

There’s a 140W GaN charger that can be used to charge the 100 watt-hour battery (Fun fact: It’s the largest battery that you can put in a notebook and legally take onto an airplane) to 50% in 30 minutes.

It also comes with a woven detachable cable that has USB-C at one end and MagSafe at the other. Yes, this comes with MagSafe. While you can charge via USB-C, which was the only charging option on the 2016 MacBook Pro, MagSafe which is a magnetic connection that detaches under force allows you to charge and protect yourself from tripping over the cable. Which in turn would send your notebook flying. That’s the first part of Apple walking back changes that angered it’s user base. Here’s another:

Apple brought back the HDMI port as well as the SD card slot. And you get a USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 port. But I will point out that the HDMI port is HDMI 2.0 which maxes out at 4K 60 FPS instead of HDMI 2.1 which support 8K 120 FPS or higher. And the SD card slot is a UHS-II slot with a theoretical maximum transfer speed up to 312MB/s and not the faster UHS-III with a theoretical maximum transfer speed up to 624MB/s. So are you getting cutting edge stuff? No. But it is more than serviceable.

On the other side you get two USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 ports. The MagSafe connector, and a high impedance headphone port which you can use with high quality headsets that are often used by audio engineers. I’ll give Apple points for that.

One other thing that I’d like to point out. During the Apple event where this MacBook Pro was announced, Apple said this:

The only reason why this MacBook Pro has the most advanced connectivity in a Mac notebook ever is because Apple took all the ports away from users in 2016 forcing them to live “the dongle life” only to put those ports back now.

Yes I am still salty about that. I bet so are many others. But I digress.

Here’s what the MacBook Pro looks like fully set up:

I’ll cover some quick items here:

  • About that notch. I noticed it when I first powered it on and then stopped caring after about an hour. It’s a total non factor for me.
  • The screen is outstanding as it is bright when playing back HDR content, it’s sharp, and everything looks stunning. You can thank the mini LED display which Apple calls a “Liquid Retina XDR” display. In short, it’s basically a scaled down version of the Pro Display XDR which you might remember as Apple’s $5000 USD monitor with a $1000 stand. It also comes with a ProMotion 120Hz display which is buttery smooth. Once you notice how smooth this display is, you won’t go back to a 60Hz display.
  • The Magic Keyboard is fantastic! As someone who learned to type on a typewriter back in the Stone Age, I love the tactile feedback that it provides. Not to mention that I get full sized function keys and a larger escape key instead of that Touch Bar that really was not useful to anyone. The backlighting of the keys is totally on point as it has the right brightness regardless of the lighting conditions in the room.
  • The Force Touch trackpad is the usual Apple feel and size and the haptics (seeing as the keypad doesn’t actually move) are top shelf, so no complaints there.
  • The speakers are simply the best speakers that I have ever heard in a notebook. Windows, Mac, anything. Any piece of music that I tossed at it sounded crisp, clear, well balanced without any distortion.
  • A lot has been made about the weight. I don’t find this to be heavy as it’s not any heavier than my 2015 MacBook Pro. Though if you have newer MacBook Pro, I can see how you would find this to be heavier that you are used to.
  • The venting that this MacBook Pro has is insane. Besides a vent on each side, there’s a massive vent below the screen. There’s seriously no excuse for this notebook not to keep cool. The large feet also help with keeping the MacBook Pro cool. And so far, I have not heard the fans. But I haven’t really pushed this machine yet.
  • The aluminum chassis being squared off really gives off a early MacBook Pro or even perhaps a PowerBook vibe to it.
  • I haven’t fully tested the 1080p webcam which replaces the rather craptastic 720p webcam that Apple had been including for years. But early tests show that the quality is great.

I’ll refine those items for part two of this review, but the real question that you have is how fast is this machine? Let’s head over to Geekbench and find out:

Well, those are some interesting numbers, but what do they mean relative to other Macs. Here’s a list of the fastest single-core scores that Geekbench has recorded:

In single core performance, it’s the fastest Mac out there. Which means for simple tasks like checking your email or surfing the web, this machine is going to be fast. And here’s a list of the fastest multi-core scores that Geekbench has recorded:

Well, this MacBook Pro plays in the same space as iMac Pro and MacPro models. That’s not bad company to be in. Which means that if your job involves doing things that require a fast machine, the MacBook Pro is up to it. But it doesn’t stop there. There’s the graphics performance in OpenCL to be considered:

And here’s how that score stacks up to the fastest graphics cards around:

Okay. At the top end of the food chain, the MacBook Pro isn’t in the same league. But if you compare it to cards that have a similar score, you’ll notice something:

A lot of these cards have been used in Macs before. So while the MacBook Pro is not the out and out fastest, it isn’t too shabby either. Now here’s the disk performance via BlackMagic’s disk speed test:

The disk read and write speeds are insane. What this means is that any disk intensive operations such as editing 4K or 8K video is a total non-issue.

At this point, the next thing for me is to use this MacBook Pro for a few days so I can get a feel for overall feel, battery life, and the like. Then I can provide my final thoughts about this new MacBook Pro. Stay tuned for that.

One Response to “Review: Apple 2021 MacBook Pro 16″ – Part 1”

  1. […] you saw the first part of my review of my new 2021 16″ MacBook Pro, I found it to be very powerful with a retro vibe to it. But […]

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