I’ve been a MacBook Pro user since the last decade, switching for better hardware but staying for the better OS. I happily bought a 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display the day they were announced, but I’ve been using that same machine since 2012. Now I’m impatiently waiting to upgrade, holding out for Intel’s new Skylake CPUs and the late-2015 or early-2016 MacBook Pro.
15″ MacBook Pro: Long in the Tooth
Apple introduced the 15″ MacBook Pro with Retina Display in June 2012 and wowed the world. Powered by Intel’s just-introduced Ivy Bridge CPUs and packing an unheard-of 2880×1800 pixel IPS display, the “rMBP” instantly became the must-have laptop for power users, even those who hadn’t used a Macintosh before.
I bought one immediately. I literally opened the Apple Store app on my phone during the WWDC keynote and ordered it as soon as it was available. That’s how revolutionary this computer was.
But a funny thing happened to the 15″ Retina MacBook Pro since that June day over three years ago: Almost nothing.
Apple introduced a 13″ Retina MacBook Pro later that year and both machines were upgraded with Haswell CPUs in late 2013, but this was a modest upgrade in terms of performance. In March 2015, the 13″ machines got new dual-core “Broadwell” CPUs. But Intel was late delivering quad-core Broadwell CPUs, so the 15″ model has soldiered on with the same quad-core Haswell CPU for two years.
I’ve kept my trusty now-three-year-old 15″ Retina MacBook Pro all this time, happy enough with its performance and functionality. Even the battery life remains respectable, impressive considering it has 280 cycles in it. In fact, the only real issue I’ve had with the machine is the discrete GPU graphics gremlin, which I have yet to have Apple repair. Funny, but my 2008 MacBook Pro also had discrete GPU graphics gremlins!
Although my old MacBook Pro is still running fine, it is starting to get a bit long in the tooth. I ordered it with the 256 GB SSD, and that’s not much for a modern machine. I could upgrade it, but I’m also wishing I had a faster CPU and longer battery life. Happily, I opted for 16 GB of RAM. And the case, keyboard, and screen have held up well.
Here Comes Skylake!
I was considering upgrading to the latest MacBook Pro earlier this year, but the fact that it’s still using a 2-year old Haswell CPU stopped me. That’s a long time in computer circles, and I knew Intel was working on a better quad-core option.
After being burned twice by discrete GPU gremlins, and not needing massive performance or 5K displays, I wanted to stick to an integrated GPU this time around. But the Intel Iris Pro 5200 GPU in the 2015 Haswell MacBook Pro isn’t even as quick as the Nvidia GeForce GT 650M in my 2012 machine. I’d like something faster when I upgrade.
As noted, Intel was terribly late in delivering quad-core Broadwell CPUs. So late, in fact, that Apple is likely to skip that whole generation! Last month, Intel unveiled their Skylake CPUs and stated that the higher-end quad-core parts would ship first this time around. Although details remain murky, it looks like mobile Skylake CPUs will be available with faster “GT4e” graphics.
Reviews of Skylake have been positive but mixed. Performance is only modestly improved over the quad-core Haswell, but energy consumption has been tweaked significantly. Hopefully the enhanced graphics will deliver the goods, though absolute performance might not be much better.
Most industry watchers expect quad-core Skylake CPUs to appear in a refreshed 15″ MacBook Pro in another 6 months or so.
- If you’re considering a 13″ MacBook Pro, it’s a toss-up on whether to upgrade or wait. The next bump won’t be huge, so I’d say go for it.
- But if you’re considering buying a 15″ MacBook Pro, especially the base model without a discrete Nvidia or AMD GPU, you should definitely wait for Skylake. You’ll get much better graphics performance and likely better battery life as well.