The 2016 MacBook Pro goes head-to-head against its predecessor in this video editing comparison

Dec 23, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Dec 23, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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The new 2016 MacBook Pro has been getting a lot of flak. They’ve removed all ports except USB Type-C and the headphone jack (sorry, what?), you can’t upgrade the RAM, and the highest capacity model is a mere 16GB. I know many photographers who’ve already switched to Surface Pro tablets. A few have held onto their 2015 MacBook Pro and built a desktop Windows machine for more powerful stuff. Some have gone with the new MacBook Pro anyway.

But, how does it compare to the 2015 MacBook Pro when it comes to video editing? In this video from Max Yuryev at MaxCamera, we see how the two perform side-by-side running the same operations. Max tested both of the devices with Apple’s Final Cut Pro X and Adobe Premiere Pro. The difference in performance seems pretty good, but is it really enough to make people upgrade?

YouTube video

Being a professional video editor, Max puts both the machines through the usual battery of benchmarks, but also does some real world workflow testing, too. Benchmarks can sometimes be a good performance indicator, depending on what it is you want a computer to do. But, they’re not always as insightful as one might hope.

Max splits the video up into several sections, and here’s a short list so you can quickly flick through to the bit that interests you.

  • 01:16 – Dongle stupidity
  • 03:49 – Benchmarks
  • 05:14 – Thermal throttling
  • 07:31 – GPU rendering
  • 08:22 – Video editing
  • 11:16 – Smoothness
  • 12:56 – Battery life
  • 14:04 – Worth upgrading?
  • 15:23 – Conclusion

While it doesn’t necessarily pertain to how well it will let you edit videos, dongles and adapters have been the biggest criticism of the 2016 MacBook Pro. For Max, it’s not a big deal.  The only real issue Max faces is having to carry around an SD card reader with him, and I tend to agree.

I recently picked up an Asus Transformer Book for backing up memory cards while shooting on location. The Asus has a built in microSD slot (handy for pulling footage off action cameras and my iPhone), but no full size SD slot, so I still need to carry a card reader.

My Asus also has USB Type C (although, strangely, it uses a standard Micro USB port for charging), but finding replacement cables wasn’t a big deal. I got one cable for USB3 hard drives, a Type C to Mini-B cable for connecting it to a DSLR, and a Type C to micro USB cable for other stuff. Job done, relatively inexpensive. It’s not like my old cables will go to waste, I have other computers, and we’ll all have to switch to the new cables at some point anyway.

But, back to the comparison. The benchmarks might look a little confusing at first, if you base it on CPU speed alone.  The 2016 model has a newer processor that’s 100Mhz faster than the previous generation, yet the benchmarks are lower. Essentially, this is because the newer MacBook Pro doesn’t push the processor quite so hard when it goes into “Turbo” mode.

This might be seen as a performance hit, but it also means that the processor shouldn’t run quite so hot. Not running so hot also generally increases the longevity of electronic components.

It’s also a little misleading, because the longer the older 2015 CPU is running under load at the faster speed, the harder the fans have to work to keep it cool. After 15 minutes, the fans are at 100%, and the CPU is running more slowly in order to try to reduce the temperature. With the 2016 CPU, because it initially runs slightly slower, and cooler, the fans don’t have to work as hard, and after 15 minutes, it’s still running faster than the old heat-throttled CPU.

Even when running idle, there’s a noticeable difference in the temperatures and audible noise output when hooked up to an external 4K monitor. The circled number on the right shows the fan speed as a percentage.

When it comes to the GPU, it’s a different story, and Geekbench’s OpenCL benchmark showed a drastic difference in graphics performance right from the gate. An increase of 53% means that realtime operations can happen far more quickly, and overall render times are reduced.

With more GPU accelerated features coming to video editing applications on a regular basis, this is where performance is really starting to count. Actually performing a function on the GPU generally takes longer than on the CPU, but when you can send a thousand such processes to the GPU at once, it takes the same time as performing it once. With the CPU, each of these processes are done sequentially on each of the CPU’s cores, resulting in a much longer wait until completion.

Those differences seem quite significant, too. In the video, Max shows an example of rendering a 23 minute sequence in Final Cut Pro. It contains mostly 4K footage, with a little 1080p, timelapse footage, lots of colour correction, transitions and other effects. The 2015 MacBook Pro isn’t a slouch, by any means, but there’s a massive difference with the 2016 model.

When it came to Premiere Pro, the performance increase wasn’t quite so high. Stabilising 4K footage in FCP showed a noticeable increase in performance, while Premiere showed virtually no difference. This is mostly due to Premiere Pro not utilising the GPU for stabilisation.

4K Footage with a couple of luts and simulated film grain added showed about a 54% increase in speed in Final Cut Pro. This process in Premiere Pro also showed around the same 2% increase with Premiere Pro. With the same process done to 1080p footage, FCP showed about a 52% increase, while Premiere Pro actually saw a 16% boost on the new MacBook Pro.

This relatively small difference, again, mostly boils down to Premiere Pro’s lack of GPU utilisation. That being said, they are getting better and better at it with each new release. Every time a new update comes out, another effect or general feature has switched from using the CPU to the GPU, so I would expect this performance difference to get greater over time.

But, at the speed Adobe generally seem to move, you might not notice it until the next MacBook Pro model is released.

Max’s conclusion is that it is worth going for the 2016 model over the 2015 one. But personally I’d say it depends. If you already own a 2015 MacBook Pro and you work in Premiere Pro, it’s probably not worth replacing what you already have. If you’re a Final Cut Pro users, then it almost certainly offers big time saving benefits.

Working and rendering faster frees up more time to work on other projects. You can get more stuff done. Although, if I already had a 2015 MacBook Pro, I’d probably stick with it and just invest in a powerful desktop to do the grunt work (rendering).

How about you? Do you agree with Max’s findings? Are you sticking with your 2015 MacBook Pro? Will you or have you already moved on to the 2016 model? Or have you ditched Apple and moved over to Windows? Did you just build your own machine? Or go for the Surface Pro? Let us know in the comments.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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16 responses to “The 2016 MacBook Pro goes head-to-head against its predecessor in this video editing comparison”

  1. Rob LeBlanc Avatar
    Rob LeBlanc

    Ditched Windows back in 2010. Never again.

  2. Limy Avatar
    Limy

    “The only real issue Max faces is having to carry around an SD card reader with him, and I tend to agree.”

    I find this statement baffling – MOST reading here do in fact use external card readers and have been doing so for years, surprise, Apple has never offered CF, CFast or XQD card reading !

    1. Thomas Roll Avatar
      Thomas Roll

      It’s not that baffling. Most reading here aren’t Max, nor are they John. Their needs aren’t the same as everybody else’s.

  3. Sean Avatar
    Sean

    I agree, Limy.

  4. moonshin Avatar
    moonshin

    i have a 2013 macbook pro. Im seriously considering going back to windows.
    a macbook configured how id like of well north of 3k. i can get a similarly configured PC that i can upgrade at a later time for under 2k. I think Apple has to seriously reconsider their pricing strategy.

  5. Louise Elizabeth Shepherd Avatar
    Louise Elizabeth Shepherd

    I was talking to someone about this the other day. I have a laptop but would love a MacBook Pro to help make my work flow a bit easier as I mainly use my iPad Air now for editing but I said if I did get one I’d get the older version. I don’t need some fancy touch bar, I need an SD card slot!

  6. Shachar Weis Avatar
    Shachar Weis

    Apple lost their vision. “It just works” with dongles.

  7. Christina Rodriguez Avatar
    Christina Rodriguez

    Never going back to Windows! EVER!

    1. mike Avatar
      mike

      And apple will continue releasing expensive products that under deliver because if you.

  8. Jenn Grover Avatar
    Jenn Grover

    Windows…Apple has stopped innovating. They have no road map for touchscreen. No thanks.

  9. Charles A LaMatto Avatar
    Charles A LaMatto

    Not going back to windows but very disappointed in apple. Seems they lost their vision.

  10. Martin Roth Avatar
    Martin Roth

    Okay, we have several Macs running. Do you have any idea how much money and stress is involved in switching a whole company including file systems to a totally different OS??? I still remember the Motorola to Intel transition and it was awful and that was staying with the same brand.

  11. Joaquim Barreto Avatar
    Joaquim Barreto

    Gone to windows

  12. Jeffrey B George Avatar
    Jeffrey B George

    Windows isn’t a viable alternative. I do love the functionality advertised in the Surface Pro, but Windows is subpar.

  13. Anthony Polson Avatar
    Anthony Polson

    Sticking with my four year old MacBook Pro 13.3″ Retina. I might have the SSD and battery replaced and increase RAM.

  14. Wbdpublic Avatar
    Wbdpublic

    First – kudos to the reviewer for actually doing some work instead of giving penning another op-ed piece. Now if somebody could just include IO perf driving multiple external drives would be nice.

    Mostly agree on this review, dongles are irrelevant (actually I have fewer cables to plug in now – power, USB and 4K display are now 1 plug not 3). I was unsure of the keyboard when I ordered, but now I dislike using anything else so I sure hope Apple makes some external ones.

    Not sure why this is suddenly the ‘final straw’ for many, but I don’t want to discredit those opinions just because I don’t get it, but I’ll say for me the upgrade has been a big one and well worth the price.