The 16-inch MacBook Pro, once the strongest and most feature-filled Mac, is now overshadowed by its cheaper, smaller ancestors. That's because Apple is only at the midway point of updating its MacBook lineup with custom, ARM-based processors. Kicking off the transition were the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, both powered by Apple's debut M1 chip.
The 8-core processor has proven to be a groundbreaking success, delivering more power and efficiency than competing chips from Intel and AMD. As a result of the M1, Apple's least expensive laptops, the Air and MacBook Pro with two Thunderbolt 3 ports, are currently the most compelling options. But that could change this year once Apple is ready to upgrade the 16-inch MacBook Pro with a custom chip. Doing so would put the 16-inch MacBook Pro back on track, and give pro users the power they need with the features they want.
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Along with receiving a more powerful Apple Silicon chip, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is rumored to receive a display upgrade in the form of mini LED. The Retina panels of old can't compete with the best of Windows PCs, but with mini LED, the MacBook Pro could be the best option for photo and video editors working on-site.
This is just a taste of what is expected to arrive in the 16-inch MacBook Pro. Below is a full breakdown of all the latest news and rumors.
16-inch MacBook Pro 2021 release date
We feel confident about the 16-inch MacBook Pro with Apple Silicon launching in 2021 but less so about the specific month or day.
Two of the most prolific Apple analysts, Mark Gurman at Bloomberg and Ming-Chi Kuo at TF International Securities, claim Apple will release new 16-inch and 14-inch MacBook Pro models in 2021.
Kuo places the launch windows in the third quarter of 2021, so July, August or September. Looking back at past Apple releases, July appears to be the most likely month although delays caused by COVID-19 could push the reveal back a few weeks or months. Gurman says the new MacBook Pros will be released "around the middle of the year" echoing Kuo on a likely summer launch.
There are rumblings of an Apple spring event this month (March 2021). However, if the company will likely take the stage to reveal new iPad models and headphones.
16-inch MacBook Pro price
Pricing is a major factor in deciding which MacBook to buy, and for the 16-inch MacBook Pro, it's a reason to skip.
Of course, we don't know how Apple will price the new model, but the cost of the current model can get us in the right ballpark. The 16-inch MacBook Pro starts at a, get ready for this, whopping $2,400, putting it firmly in workstation terrority. That model has an Intel Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and Radeon Pro 5300M graphics.
Opting for stronger graphics in the form of a Radeon Pro 5500M GPU along with 1TB of storage raises the price to $2,799. If you need the absolute best performance, a top-of-the-line model with a Core i9 CPU, 64GB of RAM, an 8TB SSD and Radeon Pro 5500M graphics costs (I hope you're sitting down) $6,700.
There is some hope that Apple will reduce these prices. By creating its own chips, Apple has tighter control of the manufacturing process, and no longer needs to rely on Intel. Depending on the operating costs, a 16-inch MacBook Pro with Apple Silicon could be more or less expensive than the outgoing Intel models. Even then, we suspect the 16-inch MacBook Pro to start at or above $2,000 considering the lesser of the two 13-inch models starts at $1,299.
16-inch MacBook Pro design and features
Physical keys to replace the Touch Bar, more ports and the return of MagSafe — is it possible Apple's heart could grow three times in one laptop?
Yes, one of the most significant changes to the upcoming MacBook Pro could be the removal of a feature, rather than an addition.
That is, Apple is rumored to be backtracking on the Touch Bar and replacing it with physical keys, according to both Kuo and Gurman. The OLED strip above the keyboard, to put it gently, is a divisive feature that most users find unnecessarily cumbersome. Apple needs to follow its own lead like when it replaced the fancy Butterfly keyboard with one that actually works, and do away with the Touch Bar for physical shortcut keys.
And yes, you read it right, the 16-inch MacBook Pro could come with more ports to make it, well, for pros. The current model has only four Thunderbolt 3 ports and a headphone jack, making it one of the largest and most expensive laptops with the fewest ports. But that could be rectified this year because Kuo predicts the 16-inch MacBook Pro to come with an HDMI input, a microSD card slot and possibly a USB Type-A input.
Moreover, the upcoming MacBook Pro could bring back MagSafe charging although it is unclear what form it will take. We suspect the MacBook Pro will continue to charge via USB-C, but if that doesn't draw enough power, a proprietary MagSafe connection could make an appearance.
According to reports, the new MagSafe connection will look similar to the previous one but will allow for faster charging than what USB-C offers. Let's just hope the included cable is more durable than those of the past.
As for the physical appearance of the MacBook Pro, we aren't expecting a major overhaul. The 16-inch model remains the most modern aesthetically thanks to its slim bezels. We would be surprised to see a new design altogether although some analysts predict the MacBook Pro will have a flat-edge design similar to what you find on the iPhone 12.
16-inch MacBook Pro display
Apple seems poised to substitute LED for MicroLED, a new technology that delivers better picture quality without the fear of burn-in. Apple has supposedly been shopping around for suppliers and is now set to ship between 10 and 12 million MacBook units with mini LED in 2021 alone, according to Kuo.
“Because the cost of Apple Silicon is significantly lower than that of Intel CPU, the use of Apple Silicon can offset the increased cost of using mini LED panels,” Kuo explains.
Unlike OLED, mini LED panels replace the hundreds of diodes found in standard LED panels with thousands of much smaller ones. Tinier diodes mean smaller dimming zones and better control over picture quality. So yes, mini LED is still backlit, but with more control, you can create a brighter image with improved contrast and excellent black levels. It won't match OLED but then, you don't need to fear burn-in.
Interestingly, DigiTimes claims the MacBook Pro and iPad could come with an OLED display as early as 2022. That suggests the mini LED panel may be available only on the lower-tier configs or that it's a stop-gap until Apple can get a full fleet of OLED displays. DigiTimes has a mixed track record for these sorts of predictions, so don't buy too much into it.
16-inch MacBook Pro specs and performance
The days of Intel-powered Macs must surely be at an end when the 16-inch MacBook Pro arrives later this year. As for what chip will power the upcoming model, a custom M1X CPU is our best guess.
This originally comes from LeaksApplePro, a leaker with a reasonable track record, who claimed Apple would outfit its upcoming MacBook Pro models with an M1X (or M2), a 12-core chip with eight high-performance cores and four efficiency cores, mirroring the config found on the iPad Pro. For comparison, the M1 processor has eight cores compromised of four performance and four efficiency cores.
Benchmarks supposedly showing the M1X CPU on CPU Monkey mirror the aforementioned rumor, with the mystery chip using 12 cores performance and efficiency cores along with 16 graphics cores (the M1 has seven or eight GPU cores).
We know whatever form of Apple Silicon used in the MacBook Pro will deliver excellent results. However, there are some concerns about the rest of the specs. The M1 chip limited the MacBook Air and lower-tier Pro to only 16GB of RAM, which won't cut it for the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro. These models will need at least 32GB of RAM, though the 16-inch will ideally match the current model with 64GB.
The same goes for the SSD. The current model, rather amazingly, can be equipped with up to 8TB of storage. That is overkill for most users, but Apple would do well to give the upcoming 16-inch MacBook Pro at least up to 4TB for those who work with 4K and 8K video files.
Then there is the graphics card. If the M1X's integrated graphics, with its rumored 16 cores, can outperform a discrete AMD GPU, then Apple might just stick with it. Doing so could mean less stringent cooling requirements.
I would usually include a "things we want to see" section before summarizing what we know about the upcoming 16-inch MacBook Pro. In this case, however, what we want and what we appear to be getting are one and the same.
If the rumors come true, the 16-inch MacBook Pro could be the ultimate MacBook. Hell, it could be the ultimate laptop if it combines even better performance and efficiency than what we saw with the M1 with a mini LED display, an assortment of useful ports, a MagSafe connector and standard physical shortcut keys. If Apple pulls this off, it would mark a fundamental shift in the way it developers products — one that will benefit customers. The question then, will be, how much do I need to save up?