While carefully deciding on this new laptop and the specifications, I was frustrated by the lack of speed tests and performance examples that addressed my specific workflow needs for video. Clearly the new model is much faster than previous generation Macbooks, standard benchmark tests prove that out. And the always informative folks over at Barefeats have some tests with the entry-level 16″ MBP, if you are considering that configuration.
In my case, I wasn’t able to find anything that told me in concrete terms what difference a well-spec’d 16″ Macbook Pro would make vs the 2017 15″ model I wanted to replace. Ultimately I made some educated guesses while building out a configuration. And after comparison testing, here are some tangible results. I’m hoping this will be helpful to others considering the rather steep cost of a new 16″ MBP, and what build configuration to go with.
There are two specific video editing tasks that are time-consuming for me:
– Exporting 8K Red .R3D clips into ProRes or H.264 formats from Final Cut Pro.
– Exporting 8K Red .R3D clips into ProRes or H.264 formats from Premiere Pro.
I am not a video editor by trade, but I do edit regularly enough that I need a speedy machine both in the office and on the road. I often have to prep and share shots for directors, editors, and colorists, sometimes on a very quick turnaround. Generally speaking, Final Cut Pro runs fine on my trusty 2017 machine for playback and basic editing tasks, even when working with 8K source material. It’s snappy and realtime enough for general editing tasks because FCPx automatically lowers the playback quality of RED footage to maintain playback and skimming speed.
My experience has been that if you are a Mac editor, FCPx is the least painful way to work with 8K source material without creating proxies or doing an offline workflow. And it does this rather well, even on older hardware. But the 4K and 8K slow-down happens when you finally export your project. I was keen to see speed improvements on final export with this new MBP model. I don’t personally use Premiere Pro as much these days, but I’m including the same export tests done in Premiere Pro as a point of comparison.
Specs of the two contenders follow.
2019 16″ Macbook Pro
8-core 2.4GHz i9 w/ 64GB DDR4, 1TB SSD
Radeon Pro 5500M 8GB / Intel UHD 630
MacOS 10.15.2 Catalina
If you just want the results, read this: in my video render tests, I have found my particular configuration of the 2019 16″ Macbook Pro to be about 1.5x to 1.7x faster than my 2017 machine, depending on the task. For instance, Final Cut Pro rendered 8K ProRes 422 HQ masters at 1.69x faster, and 1080p H.264’s were quicker by 1.55x. Premiere Pro rendered the same Prores settings at 1.61x speedier, and the H.264’s at 1.77x faster than my older MBP. Here is a detailed table of render timings.
|5-minute 8K R3D video timeline
|Final Cut Pro export to 8K Prores 422 HQ
|Final Cut Pro export to 1080p H.264
|Premiere Pro export to 8K Prores 422 HQ
|Premiere Pro export to 1080p H.264
Tech notes: for the above comparisons I used video source files stored on a 2TB Samsung T5 SSD connected via USB-C, as this is a typical workflow setup for me. Media cache & export locations were set to the internal Macbook SSD. Both are very speedy SSDs, but you would likely see performance improvements by using faster media. In my tests, I ensured that all timelines were un-rendered, and sources and outputs were 16:9 aspect ratio. My FCP H.264 exports used the 1080p “Faster Encode” share preset. PPro preferences were set to GPU Metal acceleration, and the H.264 export was a 1080p 1-pass VBR, Hardware Encoding, with all other export options left at defaults, exported directly from Premiere and not sent to Media Encoder. Application versions used were Final Cut Pro version 10.4.8 and Premiere Pro version 14.0.1.
At the risk of turning this into a full-blown Macbook review, here are a few general notes on the new design. The larger screen doesn’t really seem much bigger to me in my use, that point itself is not a compelling reason to upgrade. The new keyboard (which is based on the older design that vanished for a few years) is so much better for the way my fingers work. I’m delighted to have it back. And as we all know, Apple giveth and Apple taketh away, so it’s nice to have that physical escape key also come back in this revision.
The touchbar is essentially the same on this model…that is to say vestigial and generally useless. The new 16-inch model is slightly larger, but not significantly so. It fits in my Thule backpack, and likely will still fit into most standard backpacks designed for 15-inch models. Fit and finish is exactly what I’ve come expect from an Apple notebook…excellent and rock solid. In summary, the 16″ Macbook Pro feels like every other Apple laptop I’ve used and abused and trusted for years, just faster.
The above performance results have all translated into meaningful and significant time savings in my real-world use. If you’re an Apple notebook user who has been making do with an older model while eyeing the latest revision, I think you’ll find that a well-equipped 16″ Macbook Pro is a worthy upgrade and may well be worth the spend. That equation is highly dependent on your situation, of course. In any case, I hope you’ve found this information helpful in making your own decisions. And if you also work with Adobe Lightroom, check out my companion article Lightroom Performance on the 16-inch Macbook Pro.