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Apple’s ‘Pro Mode’ is made for Mac professionals

Apple’s focus on the needs of professional computer users for its Macs and iPads ‘for the rest of us’ continues on news the company is developing a new ‘Pro Mode’ that pushes more performance for some apps.

The PC market will become a high-end market

Apple is focused on pro users because it recognizes that this section of the PC market will be the bulwark against wholesale replacement of computers with mobile devices.

Year by year, mobile systems are becoming increasingly viable alternatives for a growing quantity of the tasks PCs and Macs have traditionally handled.

An iPhone or iPad is all the computer required by many users, as the billion or so iOS devices currently in use prove.

This leaves a shrinking space for low-cost budget PCs and suggests the most robust part of the market is to be found in high-end systems.

That appears to be what Apple is betting on as it prioritizes Mac revenue growth – and this is also why the number of Mac units sold is less relevant than before, given so many PCs are replaced by mobile devices, or even low cost, low profit PCs.

It’s about how many Macs are sold into the more robust and less subject to mobile device replacement professional markets.

Apple’s pro Mac offerings are designed for those markets that are most resistant to replacement by mobile devices: music and movie/video production; games and interactive experience development; professional photography; architecture and design; scientific research and so on.

Such users will benefit from Apple’s purported Pro Mode, as they will be able to accelerate application performance for the tasks that most matter to them.

What is Pro Mode?

Pro Mode sounds a little like an on-demand overclocking technology.

As reported by 9to5Mac, a reference to it is included in the latest macOS Catalina 10.15.3 beta and it is described as something that can be turned on or off on demand by users.

The beta tells us that when in ProMode:

“Apps may run faster, but battery life may decrease and fan noise may increase.”

The beta seems to suggest that fan speed (and Pro Mode) will remain active overnight if not manually switched off.

The latter makes sense in some instances, such as when leaving your Mac to handle challenging rendering tasks overnight.

The report suggests the mode is aimed particularly at MacBook Pro users, citing improvements in the thermal design in the latest devices.

Effectively, the description seems to show systems that can optimize system performance in order to rouse more power and performance from specific apps, but does so on an ad hoc basis, enabling users to pick when to fully exploit the potential. (ie. When the system is connected to power).

Apple’s pro app teams

There has long been demand among Mac users for ways to safely optimize the power and performance of Macs beyond the box spec. At one time, the Mac market included companies (such as the still active Sonnet)whose sole focus was to make components that could boost Mac performance – effectively upgrading existing Macs.

Many Mac users may also have made use of software overclock tools designed to push system performance beyond official specifications.

The problem with such tools being that in some cases this made systems unstable or may even have caused damage, as the heat generated by overclocked systems exceeded the ability of the Mac’s thermal systems to maintain safe temperatures.

(A long time ago, I witnessed people point desk fans at overclocked Macs in an attempt to prevent them automatically shutting down when they get too hot).

Apple has teams of Mac users it works with in order to understand what its professional users need, and this on the ground knowledge now informs decisions it takes when designing new Macs.

This is particularly evident in the new (modular) Mac Pro.

With this in mind it seems quite possible that Apple is developing Pro Mode in answer to requests from those high-end users it works with, who sought some way in which to safely maximize Mac performance for specific high-end tasks.

It will be interesting to see how Apple positions this new software feature (if it ever ships), particularly in light of the new MacBook Pro models it is expected to introduce this year.

It will also be interesting to see if the company includes this capacity within the Mac mini, which is seeing use in pro markets for some demanding tasks.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.





Source link

Apple’s ‘Pro Mode’ is made for Mac professionals

Apple’s focus on the needs of professional computer users for its Macs and iPads ‘for the rest of us’ continues on news the company is developing a new ‘Pro Mode’ that pushes more performance for some apps.

The PC market will become a high-end market

Apple is focused on pro users because it recognizes that this section of the PC market will be the bulwark against wholesale replacement of computers with mobile devices.

Year by year, mobile systems are becoming increasingly viable alternatives for a growing quantity of the tasks PCs and Macs have traditionally handled.

An iPhone or iPad is all the computer required by many users, as the billion or so iOS devices currently in use prove.

This leaves a shrinking space for low-cost budget PCs and suggests the most robust part of the market is to be found in high-end systems.

That appears to be what Apple is betting on as it prioritizes Mac revenue growth – and this is also why the number of Mac units sold is less relevant than before, given so many PCs are replaced by mobile devices, or even low cost, low profit PCs.

It’s about how many Macs are sold into the more robust and less subject to mobile device replacement professional markets.

Apple’s pro Mac offerings are designed for those markets that are most resistant to replacement by mobile devices: music and movie/video production; games and interactive experience development; professional photography; architecture and design; scientific research and so on.

Such users will benefit from Apple’s purported Pro Mode, as they will be able to accelerate application performance for the tasks that most matter to them.

What is Pro Mode?

Pro Mode sounds a little like an on-demand overclocking technology.

As reported by 9to5Mac, a reference to it is included in the latest macOS Catalina 10.15.3 beta and it is described as something that can be turned on or off on demand by users.

The beta tells us that when in ProMode:

“Apps may run faster, but battery life may decrease and fan noise may increase.”

The beta seems to suggest that fan speed (and Pro Mode) will remain active overnight if not manually switched off.

The latter makes sense in some instances, such as when leaving your Mac to handle challenging rendering tasks overnight.

The report suggests the mode is aimed particularly at MacBook Pro users, citing improvements in the thermal design in the latest devices.

Effectively, the description seems to show systems that can optimize system performance in order to rouse more power and performance from specific apps, but does so on an ad hoc basis, enabling users to pick when to fully exploit the potential. (ie. When the system is connected to power).

Apple’s pro app teams

There has long been demand among Mac users for ways to safely optimize the power and performance of Macs beyond the box spec. At one time, the Mac market included companies (such as the still active Sonnet)whose sole focus was to make components that could boost Mac performance – effectively upgrading existing Macs.

Many Mac users may also have made use of software overclock tools designed to push system performance beyond official specifications.

The problem with such tools being that in some cases this made systems unstable or may even have caused damage, as the heat generated by overclocked systems exceeded the ability of the Mac’s thermal systems to maintain safe temperatures.

(A long time ago, I witnessed people point desk fans at overclocked Macs in an attempt to prevent them automatically shutting down when they get too hot).

Apple has teams of Mac users it works with in order to understand what its professional users need, and this on the ground knowledge now informs decisions it takes when designing new Macs.

This is particularly evident in the new (modular) Mac Pro.

With this in mind it seems quite possible that Apple is developing Pro Mode in answer to requests from those high-end users it works with, who sought some way in which to safely maximize Mac performance for specific high-end tasks.

It will be interesting to see how Apple positions this new software feature (if it ever ships), particularly in light of the new MacBook Pro models it is expected to introduce this year.

It will also be interesting to see if the company includes this capacity within the Mac mini, which is seeing use in pro markets for some demanding tasks.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.





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Review: Two weeks with a 16-in. MacBook Pro

I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a couple of weeks using one of Apple’s new 16-inch MacBook Pros, and I have a few thoughts to share on the new high-end notebook.

For the record: I’ve been using the pricier $2,799 model, which comes with a 2.3GHz, 8-core Intel Core i9 chip, an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 4GB of GDDR6 memory, 16GB of 2666MHz DDR4 memory and a 1TB SSD.

Skin deep?

On first glance, the new Mac maintains the svelte and modern appearance of all the company’s high-end Macs, a style inheritance that can be traced all the way back to the Titanium PowerBook G4.

This is an appearance that is often imitated (and hardly ever matched) and it means that anyone using one of these laptops is going to have the visceral feeling that they are using a high quality and professional solution. That is exactly the feeling you want when you’re asked to spend $2,399 or more on a computer system. (Though Apple is now offering 6% Daily Cash if you buy one of these with an Apple Card).

It’s all a display

You will also be impressed by the incredibly high-quality Retina Display. With a  resolution of 3,072-x-1,920 pixels, it drives 5.9 million pixels at a density of 226ppi. The 500nits display is bright, with a P3 Color gamut and support for millions of colors.

You also get slimmer bezels around the display, which means you’ll look at what’s on the display, not the frame. That’s nice if you happen to watch TV on your Mac, but media consumption isn’t precisely what this is for – these systems are more for media creation.

This is why video editors will get so much from this system, and also why they will welcome Apple’s decision to give them controls over the screen refresh rate to match the frame rate of the content they’re working on.

You get rich and lustrous blacks, beautiful color, amazing contrast and the sheer quantity of pixels means you’ll pick up plenty of detail.  These Macs are very much solid enough for professional users.

Apple certainly thinks so. It claims 70% faster processing of well-threaded Photoshop features than you’ll get in a quad-core 15-inch MacBook Pro, and huge improvements in using popular pro apps such as DaVinci Resolve, Logic Pro X, AutoDesk Maya and/or powerful scientific applications such as MatLab.

In the absence of a reference machine, I couldn’t test those claims. But the new MacBook Pro did yield CineBench performance scores that stood consistently around an impressive 3,487 points. And yes, the new Mac Pro will far exceed those numbers – but also runs on 300 watts of power.

In part, this performance can be attributed to improvements Apple made in the laptop’s thermal architecture. Not only do these mean the processor can run at its highest speeds for longer (thanks also to Turbo Boost), but it can handle the heat signature of the 100-watt battery inside. (That’s the biggest lithium-ion battery you can carry with you on a flight, by the way.)

I’ve noticed that the MacBook Pro can become comfortably warm while it crunches  through tough tasks fast and efficiently.

I tested this machine using Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, which returned write speeds around 2,536MB/s and read speeds around 2,740MB/s.

I also ran the Unigine Valley benchmarking test. As you might expect, the Mac performed really well on this. But what struck me most was how easily the machine rendered all that test’s particle effects. I found myself sinking into watching the test, which I shouldn’t have done, really.

And, the result? It delivered a score of 3,632 at an average 86.8fps, which is around 10% better than the 15-inch MacBook Pro (likely due to the improved heat sync).

BTO options

Although the standard configurations cost $2,399 and $2,799, there are a number of build-to-order options available:

  • For an extra $200 you can opt for a 2.4GHz i9 chip, which I suspect will be what high-end video editors choose.
  • If you need to pack more power, you can for the first time install up to 64GB DDR4 memory, though doing so adds another $800 to the cost.
  • You can also purchase systems equipped with 8TB of SSD storage (at an additional cost of $2,200), which is the largest solid-state storage in a notebook you’ll find at present.
  • Finally, you can spend an additional $100 to install an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M series graphics card with 8GB of memory.

The highest end BTO model costs $6,099 with all the upgrades.

What about the audio?

You’ll find a 6-speaker sound system and studio quality microphone inside these Macs. The speaker system includes force-cancelling woofers.

These are situated back-to-back and are designed in such a way that they will cancel out each other’s physical force when they make a sound. The idea is that this reduces unwanted sound distortions.

The result?

I’ve been using the Mac to provide background music while I work, and am rather impressed at the sound separation, audio clarity and accuracy – you get a real sense of spatial audio.

Try playing music on one of the systems on display at your local Apple Store and move around a little, you’ll soon see what I mean.

That’s not to say everything is perfect. As I write this, Apple is reportedly pulling together a software update to fix a weird audio issue in which some people experience intermittent popping sounds when audio is skipped, stopped or an audio app closed.

Apple says this is a software problem and I imagine it will be resolved soon. But it’s a shame this audio artifact shipped. (Personally, I’ve had no experience of this problem on my system, which I hope means the matter has been overblown.)

Apple is making no bones about its push to promote podcasting and claims these Macs are already good enough to provide the kind of high-quality audio recording you need if you’re making podcasts.

Though if you’re anything like me, even with this astonishing degree of audio quality you’ll still hate the sound of your own voice. I retain a face for radio.

Has the keyboard improved?

Recent generations of the MacBook Pro used Apple’s butterfly keyboard design. There were lots of reported problems with this, which prompted the company to devise a redesign and offer free keyboard replacements to users.

In this MacBook Pro, Apple seems to have bitten the bullet and returned to an improved version of a more standard keyboard technology. The new “Magic Keyboard” boasts a new scissor mechanism and 1mm travel for a more satisfying key feel. The keyboard also provides a physical Escape key and arrow keys.

What’s it like to use?

I found the old butterfly keyboard rather loud to use when typing and eventually found it inflamed the writing-induced Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) I suffer from. In part, this was because the action on the butterfly keyboard felt much stiffer than my (still favorite) 2015 MacBook Air keyboard.

This new keyboard is quieter in use, with a much smoother feeling than the keyboard it replaces. I seem to have been able to use it for extensive periods comfortably and I don’t annoy people near me when I type. I’ve also not experienced any stiff keyboard characters, a problem I did encounter with the previous model.

There’s an old engineering adage that better is not necessarily better than best, and I think this holds true here. Apple’s new keyboard is on par with its pre-butterfly keyboards for comfortable use, but was it ever really necessary to refine keyboard design just to trim a millimetre or two off the size? I’m not certain it was.

All the same, with this new keyboard Apple does seem to have done the right thing, ensuring that its high-end pro users won’t feel they’ve been sold a dud machine.

Apple will need to work for some time before the tarnish of the butterfly keyboard design debacle disappears, but I’m optimistic this new design hits the spot – though we’ll have to wait to see how robust it is in long-term use.

The Touch Bar has also been improved with the addition of a physical Escape button (an invaluable addition), and I’m convinced that users of pro apps will find the bar to be a useful way to reach application controls when working on projects – particularly as they gain app-specific finger-memory for the commands situated there.

But wait, there’s more

Apple’s T2 chip delivers a range of useful features for pro users.

  • Encrypted storage means all your data is kept highly secure, so the rushes of that movie you’re working on won’t slip.
  • Secure boot makes it much harder for hackers and others to slip low-level malware into your Mac.
  • Touch ID: Open your Mac, pay for stuff, and look cool by unlocking your Mac with a finger.
  • And Hey Siri support gives your Mac a second identity as a desktop-based virtual assistant for some tasks. (Here’s a selection of productive uses of Siri on a Mac).

One of the features I like most is the huge Force Trackpad. It helps me achieve really precise cursor control, while its pressure-sensing capabilities mean I can use it to draw (though it’s still easier to use Sidecar and an iPad). The Multi-touch gestures also help me get things done.

Of course, the much larger machine (14.09-x-9.68-x-0.64-inches) and much bigger battery means this Mac is heavier than the 15-in. model (13.75-x-9.48-x-0.61-inches), right?

Actually, not right at all: the 16-in. MacBook Pro weighs just 0.3 pounds more than the 4-pound 15-in. model.

For the sake of comparison, the historically important clamshell iBook weighed 6.6-pounds, and some may recall what Steve Jobs did with that – and that was a consumer laptop schoolchildren lugged around.

Must or miss?

Not every Apple user is going to need a Mac as powerful as this one. I’d argue that in a huge number of scenarios, most users only really need something as powerful as an iPad to get most tasks done.

However, if you are a pro video editor, sound engineer, scientific researcher, architect, product designer or belong to any of the other high-end user groups, you’ll want to take a look at this machine. It promises the horsepower you need to get things done, and if that’s not enough, you can switch to a Mac Pro for even more potential.

For myself?

I’ll regret it when this Mac gets returned to its owner.

It’s absolutely the most capable Apple notebook I’ve ever used, and I’ve used a few. Including that orange iBook referenced above.

Would I buy one? If I needed the power and could afford the fare, certainly – but most Apple users won’t need quite so much power. Though they may well aspire to it.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.





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Review: Two weeks with a 16-inch MacBook Pro

I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a couple of weeks using one of Apple’s new 16-inch MacBook Pros, and thought I’d share a few thoughts on the new high-end notebook.

Skin deep?

On first glance the new Mac definitely maintains the svelte and modern appearance of all the company’s high-end Macs, a style inheritance that can be traced all the way back to the Titanium PowerBook G4.

This is an appearance that is often imitated and hardly ever matched and it means that anyone using one of these Macs is going to have the visceral feeling that they are using a high quality and professional solution. Which is the feeling you want when you’re asked to spend from $2,799 on a computer system. (Though Apple is offering 6% Daily Cash if you buy one of these with an Apple Card).

It’s all a display

You will also I think be impressed by the incredibly high-quality Retina Display. With a pixel resolution of 3,072-x-1,920 pixel it drives 5.9 million pixels at a density of 226ppi. The 500nits display is bright with a P3 Color gamut and supports millions of colors.

You also get slimmer bezels around the display, which means you’ll look at what’s on the display, not the frame.

That’s nice if you happen to watch TV on your Mac, but media consumption isn’t precisely what this is for – these systems are for media creation.

This is why video editors will get so much from using this system, and also why they will welcome Apple’s decision to give them controls over the screen refresh rate, in order to match it to the frame rate of the content they are working on.

You get rich and lustrous blacks, beautiful color, amazing contrast and the sheer quantity of pixels mean you’ll pick up plenty of detail.  Which means these Macs are very much solid enough for professional users.

Apple certainly thinks so, it claims 70% faster processing of well-threaded Photoshop features than you’ll get in a quad-core 15-inch MacBook Pro, huge improvements in using popular pro apps such as DaVinci Resolve, Logic Pro X, AutoDesk Maya and/or powerful scientific applications such as MatLab.

In the absence of a reference machine I couldn’t test those claims but did yield CineBench performance scores that stood consistently around an impressive 3,487 points. And yes, the Mac Pro will far exceed those numbers – but also runs on 300-watts of power.

In part this performance can be attributed to improvements Apple made in the Mac’s thermal architecture.

Not only do these mean the processor can run at its highest speeds for longer (thanks also to Turbo Boost), but it also means the Mac can handle the heat signature of the 100-watt battery you’ll find inside it. (That’s the biggest lithium-ion battery size you can carry with you on a flight, by the way).

I’ve noticed that in use the Mac can become comfortably warm, and that it can crunch through tough tasks fast and efficiently.

I tested this using Blackmagic Disk Speed Test and returned write speeds around 2,536MB/s and read speeds around 2,740MB/s.

I also ran the Unigine Valley benchmarking test.

As you might expect, the Mac performed really well int this, but what struck me most was how easily the machine crunched through and rendered all that test’s particle effects. I found myself sinking into watching the test, which I shouldn’t have done, really.

Oh, the result? It delivered a score of 3,632 at an average 86.8fps, which is around 10% better than the 15-inch MacBook Pro (likely due to the improved heat sync).

Inside the machine

What else is inside these Macs?

My 1TB test system was the standard model, which is equipped with 2.3GHZ 8-Core Intel i9 processor, 16GB 2,666MHz DDR4 memory and AMD Radeon Pro 5000M series graphics with 4GB of GDDR6 memory.

There are several build-to-order options:

  • For an extra $200 you can pop a 2.4GHz i9 chip inside, which I suspect will be what high-end video editors may choose to do.
  • If you need to pack more power into your system you can for the first time install up to 64GB DDR4 memory inside the Mac, though doing so adds another $800 to the cost.
  • You can also purchase systems equipped with 8TB of SSD storage (at an additional cost of $2,200), which is the largest solid-state storage in a notebook you’ll find at present.
  • Finally, you can spend an additional $100 to install AMD Radeon Pro 5000M series graphics card with 8GB of memory in the Mac.

The highest end BTO model costs $6,099 with all the upgrades.

What about the audio?

You’ll find a 6-speaker sound system and studio quality microphone inside these Macs.

The speaker system includes force-cancelling woofers.

These are situated back-to-back and are designed in such a way that they will cancel out each other’s physical force when they make a sound. The idea is that this reduces unwanted sound distortions.

The result?

I’ve spent a few days using the Mac to provide background music while I work, and am really rather impressed at the sound separation, audio clarity and accuracy – and you get a real sense of spatial audio, also.

Try playing music on one of the systems on display at your local Apple Store and move around a little, you’ll soon see what I mean.

That’s not to say everything is perfect. As I write this the company is reportedly pulling together a software update to fix a weird audio issue in which some people experience intermittent popping sounds when audio is skipped, stopped or an audio app closed.

Apple says this is a software problem and I imagine it will be resolved quite soon, but it’s a shame this audio artefact shipped – though I’ve had no experience of this problem on my system, which I hope means the matter has been overblown.

Apple is making no bones about its push to promote podcasting and claims these Macs are already good enough to provide the kind of high-quality audio recording experience you need if you’re making podcasts.

Though if you’re anything like me even with this astonishing degree of audio quality you’ll still hate the sound of your own voice, even though I retain a face for radio.

Has the keyboard improved?

Recent generations of MacBook Pro used Apple’s butterfly keyboard design. There were lots of reported problems with this, which prompted the company to redesign its design and offer free keyboard replacements to users.

In this Mac, Apple seems to have bitten the bullet and returned to (an improved version) of a more standard keyboard technology.

The new Magic Keyboard boasts a redesigned scissor mechanism and 1mm travel for a more satisfying key feel. The keyboard also provides a physical Escape key and arrow keys.

What’s it like to use?

I can only offer an anecdotal opinion based on my personal experience.

I found the Butterfly keyboard rather loud to use when typing and also eventually found it inflamed the writing-induced Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) I suffer from. In part this was because the action on the Butterfly keyboard felt much stiffer than my (still favorite) 2015 MacBook Air keyboard.

This keyboard is quieter in use with a much smoother feeling action than the Butterfly keyboard it replaces.

I seem to have been able to use it for extensive periods comfortably and I don’t annoy people near me when I type. I’ve also not experienced any stiff keyboard characters, a problem I did encounter with the previous model.

There’s an old engineering adage that better is not necessarily better than best, and I think this holds true here. Apple’s new keyboard is on par with its pre-butterfly keyboards for comfortable use, but was it ever really necessary to refine keyboard design just to trim a millimetre or two off the size? I’m not certain it was.

All the same, with this new keyboard Apple does seem to have done the right thing, ensuring that its high-end pro users won’t feel they’ve been sold a dud machine.

Apple will need to work for some time before the tarnish of the butterfly keyboard design debacle disappears, but I’m optimistic this new design hits the spot – though we’ll have to wait to see how robust it is in long-term use.

The Touch Bar has also been improved with the addition of a physical Escape button (an invaluable addition), and I’m convinced that users of pro apps will find the bar to be a useful way to reach application controls when working on projects – particularly as they gain app-specific finger-memory for the commands situated there.

But wait, there’s more

Apple’s T2 chip delivers a range of useful features for pro users.

  • Encrypted storage meaning all your data is kept highly secure, so the rushes of that movie you’re working on won’t slip.
  • Secure boot: Which makes it much harder for hackers and others to slip low-level malware into your Mac.
  • Touch ID: Open your Mac, pay for stuff, look cool and attract your opposite sex by opening your Mac with a finger.
  • And Hey Siri support, which gives your Mac a second identity as a desktop-based virtual assistant for some tasks. (Here’s a selection of productive uses of Siri on a Mac).

One of the features on this Mac I like most is the huge Force Trackpad.

It helps me achieve really precise cursor control, while its pressure-sensing capabilities mean I can use it to draw (though it’s still easier to use Sidecar and an iPad. The Multi-touch gestures also help me get things done.

Of course, the much larger machine (14.09-x-9.68-x-.64-inches) and much bigger battery means this Mac is way heavier than the 15-inch model (13.75-x-9.48-x-0.61-inches), right?

Actually, not right at all: the 16-inch MacBook Pro weighs just.3-pounds more than the 4-pound 15-inch model.

For the sake of comparison, the historically important clamshell iBook weighted 6.6-pounds, and some may recall what Steve Jobs did with that – and that was a consumer laptop early noughties schoolchildren lugged around.

Must or miss?

Like the Mac Pro, not every Apple user is going to need a Mac as powerful as this one. I’d argue that in a huge number of usage scenarios a large number of consumer users only really need something as powerful as an iPad to get most tasks done.

However, if you are a pro video editor, sound engineer, scientific researcher, architect, product designer or belong to any of the other high-end user groups, you’ll want to take a look at this machine, which seems to promise the horsepower you need to get things done – or switch to a Mac Pro for even more potential.

For myself?

I’ll regret it when this Mac gets returned to its owner.

It’s absolutely the most capable Apple notebook I’ve ever used, and I’ve used a few. Including that orange iBook referenced above.

Would I buy one? If I needed the power and could afford the fare, certainly — but most Apple users won’t need quite so much power. Though they may well aspire to it.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.





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Apple’s Pro Display XDR sets the bar for pro displays

If you want to see the future of Apple displays, then you don’t need to look far for reference as the company prepares to introduce its reference monitor for the rest of us, the Pro Display XDR.

Apple’s under-rated jewel

Introduced at WWDC I was fortunate enough to look at the Pro Display XDR in real world use, as a photography tool, for video editing, music creation and other professional workflow scenarios.

I was also given the chance to see the display in use beside a range of reference displays from other manufacturers, some of which cost almost ten times as much as Apple’s far more affordable $5,000 price tag for the system.

Anecdotally, I can confirm the viewing angle on the display is highly impressive – none of the other displays were able to match it.

I also felt that color consistency and color accuracy, brightness and contrast using Apple’s monitor at worst matched and at best exceeded what we saw coming out of competing systems.

That’s my anecdotal opinion.

All about the Pro Display XDR

The company has done a huge amount to deliver this kind of quality to its professional users.

Not only has it figured out how to populate the display with an array of 576 LEDs, but it has also developed its own graphics chip to analyse the image signal in order to optimize how those LEDs work. 

This is capable of making slight adjustments to color hundreds of times a second for better accuracy. The systems produce 1,000 nits of full-screen brightness and 1,600 nits of peak brightness.

Accuracy and quality is also boosted by the over one billion colors the display can handle, while these screens can deliver sustained levels of brightness more than three times as well as an average panel.

Apple states its:

“Pro Display XDR features a 32-inch Retina 6K display with P3 wide and 10-bit color, 1,600 nits of peak brightness, 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio and a superwide viewing angle.”

It delivers  6,016-x-3,384 resolution and is also available in a glare-reducing matte version.

And clarity for all

What’s significant – at least for high-end Mac users in enterprise and business-critical scenarios at the cutting-edge of the creative, design, research and scientific industries is that you can pick up one of Apple’s displays, with a stand and a Mac Pro for less than the cost of a market-leading reference display from other manufacturers.

It’s actually cheaper.

But it also reflects a much deeper commitment that Apple holds to display technology. A commitment you can track right back to when it first began manufacturing its own displays in the ‘80’s.

Along with imaging enhancements on a system level (eg. Quartz, Metal, et al), in software (who else recalls when Photos and iMovie were tools Mac users got in the box that Windows users didn’t really have a good equivalent for?), the company also has a track record of display technology innovations in its systems.

That’s a track record Apple maintains in the Pro Display XDR, which proves that when the company puts its mind to it it is capable of delivering industry-leading image quality at a price no one else can match.

Some may note that introducing products at prices others cannot match is somewhat unusual for ‘the price is right but the price is high’ Apple.

That’s not an invalid point, but the new monitor also acts as a kind of desiderata for Apple’s future products.

apple wwdc19 pro display final cut Apple

Apple demonstrates the new Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR at WWDC19.

As above, so below

Apple is offering a 6K display pro users can actually afford. Many pro users rent those $40k reference displays for about the same cost as an XDR when they are working on a project – now they’ll be able to buy them instead.

We know how the company operates.

It introduces things at the high end of its product matrix and then – over time – makes those solutions available across a wider range of systems before it either replaces the technology or finds something better.

This means that in an indeterminate time frame we can anticipate 6K iMacs, just as we already have 5K and 4K iMacs. It also hints at the next stages of the road map for display enhancements across notebooks, iPhones and iPads. 

And, of course, if Apple wants to deliver graphics capabilities to meet the needs of the high-end markets, it’s also going to be determined to give pro users and content consumers good reasons to want to use those screens.

There’s no point using the world’s most advanced displays in order to watch black-and-white movies, really, is there?

Up next:

With this in mind it is reasonable to expect Final Cut, Logic and Apple’s other imaging software products will also be enhanced with the tools they need to truly take advantage of the company’s best displays.

Apple is also working to evolve new industries – such as AR – in which content creators can exploit high-end displays when developing high-end experiences, and then offer those experiences to consumers across the Apple ecosystem.

And as the image quality of the content created improves, so too will the image quality of the systems we consume such content on.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.





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Apple MacBook Pro 16-Inch Review & Rating

The story’s not just the new screen size. From small changes such as the ability to adjust the display refresh rate, to major overhauls like a long-in-coming keyboard redesign and a new AMD Radeon graphics processor, Apple has made its flagship laptop even better as 2019 rolls to a close. The 16-inch MacBook Pro’s considerable expense—it starts at $2,399 and costs $3,899 in our test configuration—means it is suited mainly to well-heeled creative types, music producers, software developers, and people with similarly demanding mobile-compute needs. If you can afford it, though, it’s one of the most powerful, capable, and feature-rich large-screen laptops you can buy.


Bigger Screen, Same Starting Price

For the same price as the old 15-inch MacBook Pro, which Apple has discontinued, you now get the significantly upgraded 16-inch model. The two laptops look very similar, since the overall MacBook Pro design language hasn’t changed much since 2016. That means the new MacBook Pro is a Space Gray-colored metal slab just like its predecessor. But there are some key differences, if you examine it closely.

Apple MacBook Pro 16 Inch 02

You can tell the first and highest-profile difference by feel, not sight: the keyboard. After years of using a unique, and oft-maligned, keyboard with “butterfly”-style switches and extremely shallow key travel in its laptops, Apple has returned to the traditional scissor-style switch that many laptop keyboards have used for ages. Scissor-style switches are inherently less stable than Apple’s butterfly ones, but these here address that issue and offer much greater vertical travel. (That said, it would be hard for any key design to offer less travel than the butterfly switches.)

By stability, we’re referring to the tendency of scissor and other keys to wobble a bit if hit off-center. The new MacBook Pro keyboard design has a scissor mechanism that locks into the keycap while the keys aren’t pressed, which helps eliminate the stability problem. The result is a very good keyfeel, at least as good as can be expected from a laptop keyboard. The keys feel sturdy, the vertical travel distance is adequate at 1mm, and the typing experience is much quieter than on the previous 15-inch MacBook Pro models.

However, the new keyboard simply returns the MacBook Pro to a state of typing normalcy, rather than leapfrogging it forward to best-in-class. After typing this entire review on the keyboard, I found the experience to be less satisfying than using, say, a Lenovo ThinkPad, whose keyboards have long been the gold standard in mobile typing, primarily for their generous travel distance and fine-tuned feedback.

I actually appreciate the new MacBook Pro keyboard’s minor changes—the addition of a physical Escape key and arrow keys rearranged in an inverted-“T” layout—just as much as I appreciate the new key switches. The Escape and directional arrow keys are workhorses I use constantly, for everything from selecting a line of text to dismissing a Siri window. The 13-inch MacBook Pro has no physical Escape key, instead displaying a virtual one in the Touch Bar.

The Biggest Deal? The Redesigned Keyboard

The Touch Bar itself is largely unchanged on the new MacBook Pro. It’s Apple’s answer to full-touch-screen capabilities that have been available on Windows laptops for years. Depending on which app you’re using, the Touch Bar displays an assortment of additional controls, such as buttons for fast-forwarding through a video in Preview or switching between tabs in the Safari web browser.

Apple MacBook Pro 16 Inch 04

The only minor change to the Touch Bar is that there is now a physical space between it and the Touch ID sensor to the right of it. (This sensor lets you use your fingerprint to log into your macOS account, authenticate Apple Pay purchase, and other similar tasks.) The 13-inch MacBook Pro has a Touch ID sensor that’s part of the Touch Bar.


Gimme a Little More Screen?

Apart from the keyboard, the other significant physical change to the MacBook Pro is its new, larger 16-inch display. The size difference may sound like more than it actually is, though.

The MacBook Pro was often categorized as a “15-inch”-class laptop. Most such machines actually have screens that measure 15.6 inches on the diagonal, but the older MacBook Pros were slightly smaller 15.4-inchers. While a full extra inch from 15 to 16 might sound significant in absolute terms, it’s not a full-inch uptick in practice; it’s a 0.6-inch increase from the previous MacBook Pro’s screen to the new one.

But the new screen feels appreciably bigger when you’re sitting in front of it. I discovered there’s enough room to display a Microsoft Word document and a full-width web page side-by-side, something I didn’t find to be comfortably possible on the 15-inch MacBook Pro. The narrower bezels around the display also contribute to the bigger feel.

Meet the Apple MacBook Pro 16-Inch

These slimmer borders also let Apple increase the size of the screen without adding much bulk—and therefore weight—to the laptop. This is a tried-and-true strategy, and many manufacturers have employed it to fit larger screens into existing laptop designs without increasing their footprints at all. Apple hasn’t quite accomplished that no-spreading feat. The new MacBook Pro is both larger and heavier than its predecessor, though not by much. The new laptop measures 0.64 by 14.1 by 9.7 inches (HWD) and weighs 4.3 pounds, versus the 0.61 by 13.75 by 9.5 inches and 4 pounds of its 15-inch predecessor. Both models feel hefty, dense, and substantial—they might look sleek and modern, but they’re not ultraportable laptops by any means. (We define that category of laptops as weighing 3 pounds or less and measuring less than half an inch thick.)

Apple MacBook Pro 16 Inch 15

Beyond the trimmer bezels, the larger size, and a slightly higher pixel density of 226 pixels per inch, the display’s features are mostly the same as those of the Retina Displays that have graced previous MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models. Rated for a maximum of 500 nits of brightness, the panel is easily viewable in a brightly lit room. It can also display the entire P3 color gamut, which is useful for photographers and video editors performing color-correction work.

Video editors may also appreciate that Apple has added a tool for adjusting the display’s refresh rate in System Preferences. The usage case here is to better match the refresh rate with the frame rate of video footage. It’s a bit cumbersome to activate, however. You’ll need to hold down the Option key while you click the Scaled option in the Displays pane of the System Preferences app. (Options range from 47.95Hz to the full 60Hz of which the screen is capable.)


Brace Yourself: Gut-Punch Bass

Next to the slightly better display and keyboard, the 16-inch MacBook Pro’s improvement in audio quality is positively drastic. I’ve never heard such robust sound quality from a laptop, including from the already-excellent speakers on the 15-inch MacBook Pro. The improvement is almost entirely down to the addition of two subwoofers at the bottom left and right edges of the new MacBook Pro’s chassis. They offer astounding levels of bass, even on our punishing test tracks, which include Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild” and “Silent Shout” by The Knife.

In addition to the new subwoofers, two tweeters are located in each of the generously sized speaker grilles that flank the keyboard. The upward-firing nature of these tweeters helps sound quality, as well, compared with the downward-firing speakers mounted on the bottom of many other competing laptops, including the Dell XPS 15. The MacBook Pro’s speaker placement, unfortunately, means there is no room for a dedicated number pad next to the keyboard. With sound quality this good, I’m OK with the omission, though spreadsheet jockeys may disagree.

Incredibly Robust Bass

The 16-inch MacBook Pro’s port selection, touchpad, and webcam are the same as previous versions. That’s a good thing in the case of the touchpad, with its spacious glass surface that provides uniform haptic feedback no matter where you click. It’s a merely okay thing in the case of the webcam, which offers reasonably good 720p video quality, though it can’t match the superior quality of some laptops and all-in-one PCs—including the Apple iMac—that feature 1080p cameras. And it’s a bad thing in the case of the port selection. It’s nice to have four USB Type-C ports, all of which support Thunderbolt 3 speeds, but those and a headphone jack are all you get. Professional media editors will almost certainly need to buy special adapters for their SD cards, external hard drives, mice, external displays, and other peripherals.

Wireless connectivity includes 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0. Support for next-generation 802.11ax Wi-Fi (Wi-Fi 6) is conspicuously absent.


Robust CPU, Graphics Options

With an Intel Core i9 processor, an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M graphics chip with 8GB of video memory, and 32GB of system RAM, our MacBook Pro review unit is a performance powerhouse. The main configuration option our review unit lacks that might boost performance further is the maximum 64GB of system RAM. The entry-level version of the machine features an Intel Core i7, 16GB of memory, and an AMD Radeon Pro 5300M with 4GB of video memory. Storage options range from a 512GB SSD to a whopping 8TB SSD, the roomiest SSD on any laptop we’ve seen to date, Apple or otherwise. (Our review unit has a 2TB SSD.) The preceding model topped out at a 4TB drive.

Most of these specs are overkill for casual use, such as checking emails and browsing the web. It’s a pity that Apple doesn’t offer a version of the MacBook Pro 16-Inch with cheaper, less-powerful computing components. If you just want a large-screen laptop and don’t need professional-grade levels of computing performance, you’re stuck overpaying for the MacBook Pro or choosing a Windows laptop instead.

The CPU options are the same as the ones in the previous 15-inch MacBook Pro. Although Apple doesn’t disclose the exact CPU models it uses in its computers, we know that the processor in our review unit is an eight-core, 9th Generation Core i9 running at a base clock speed of 2.4GHz. Those specs suggest that it is the “Coffee Lake”-class Intel Core i9-9980HK, or something similar. (At this writing, Intel had not yet released equivalent 10th Generation versions of its high-powered laptop CPUs, only chips intended for ultramobile and mainstream systems.)

Space Gray Exterior

Memory speeds have increased slightly, to 2,666MHz, but the biggest performance improvement is the adoption of the new Radeon Pro 5000M-series graphics chips, based on AMD’s latest 7-nanometer microarchitecture. Announced in October, the chips are also available in some gaming laptops, among them the MSI Alpha 15.


Testing the 16: Solid Multimedia Performance

While that new GPU is likely no slouch, as we’ll see below, the MacBook Pro is decidedly not marketed as a gaming laptop. You can certainly play games on it, but this machine is all about the power for creative types.

Following from that, I compared its benchmark performance on our multimedia tests with other similarly priced, professional-level machines, including the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo (an out-there, dual-screen creator’s mega machine), the Dell XPS 15 (probably the MacBook Pro’s purest Windows-based competitor, this one with an OLED panel), and the Lenovo ThinkPad P53 (a muscular Xeon/Quadro workstation laptop that recently came through our labs). I also added in one gaming laptop, the Razer Blade 15 Advanced Model, since the Blade configuration we reviewed is attractive to gamers and content creators alike. The key specs of all these machines are summarized in the chart below.

Apple MacBook Pro 16-Inch Performance Chart

Three of the most common media-manipulation tasks are editing images, transcoding video, and rendering 3D graphics and animations. We test these using a variety of synthetic and real-world benchmarks. In each case, the MacBook Pro was competitive, though it was only the best-performing in one of our three multimedia tests.

Related Story See How We Test Laptops

First is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is based on workflows from the company’s Cinema 4D editing suite and fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.

Apple MacBook Pro 16-Inch Performance Chart

Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video-editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that’s highly CPU-dependent and scales well with more cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video (the open source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel) to a 1080p MP4 file. It’s a timed test, and lower results are better.

Apple MacBook Pro 16-Inch Performance Chart

We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. We typically use an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop to apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. In the MacBook Pro’s case, we used the most current macOS version of Photoshop, since older versions are 32-bit and therefore incompatible, barring workarounds, with the 64-bit-only macOS Catalina. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time. As with Handbrake, lower times are better here, and the difference in Photoshop versions should not materially affect the results.

Apple MacBook Pro 16-Inch Performance Chart

The Photoshop test stresses CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost. In this case, the Radeon Pro 5500M did not help the MacBook Pro achieve the fastest time.

However, the raw power of this GPU is without question. It achieved an average frame rate of 47 frames per second (fps) on the Unigine Heaven gaming simulation at the Retina Display’s native resolution (3,072 by 1,920 pixels) and the Ultra graphics quality setting. This is below the 60fps or more that high-end gaming laptops can display, but still better than its predecessor’s result of 38fps. The fact that it achieved this at such a high resolution is another feather in its cap.

The performance of the 2TB SSD is also formidable. It logged average read speeds of 2,489MBps and write speeds of 2,725MBps on the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, which measures the suitability of the storage subsystem for processing large, high-resolution video files. This largely matches the performance of the 4TB SSD we tested in the 15-inch MacBook Pro, which achieved read and write speeds of around 2,600MBps.

Then there’s the battery runtime. The MacBook Pro’s 100-watt-hour battery helped it achieve an excellent battery life of nearly 19 hours on our video rundown test. This is especially impressive considering the laptop’s powerful CPU and GPU, paired with the high-resolution panel.

Apple MacBook Pro 16-Inch Performance Chart

Of course, most users will employ their MacBook Pro for pursuits more active than passive video-watching. Based on Apple’s own testing, the MacBook Pro is rated to last for up to 11 hours of continuous web browsing.


2019’s Peak MacBook Pro

Some of the improvements Apple made to its latest MacBook Pro are minor, but the most consequential one addresses one of our (and many users’) main quibbles with its predecessor: the shallow, unsatisfying keyboard. Beyond the board, the other major improvements, especially those to audio quality, are impressive, and they make what was already an excellent laptop even better.

Before, we were a bit grudging in our recommendation of the MacBook Pro due to the keyboard issue and Apple’s merely incremental responses to it. The butterfly keyboard was widely panned on the fronts of comfort and, in early iterations, durability, and Apple tweaked it only by half-measures generation to generation. This model shows Apple finally listening to its loyal users (and to many reviewers).

Apple MacBook Pro 16 Inch 12

With that change and the advances on the component and display fronts, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is easy to recommend to well-heeled content creators, whether they’re editing 8K video footage or compiling mission-critical code updates. It’s a pity that Apple doesn’t offer an easier-entry version of this laptop with less-expensive components, though. As it stands, we simply can’t recommend this expensive laptop for mainstream users, since its specs are overkill and its port selection will require too much in the way of accommodations and extra expense.

On the other hand, if your pockets are deep enough that you don’t mind buying a fistful of dongles and adapters, and you’re seeking a powerful, well-designed, full-featured, big-screen laptop for content-creation tasks, the 16-inch MacBook Pro has plenty of sizzle. It’s our Editors’ Choice and your best option if macOS is your world.



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Microsoft Surface Pro 7 Review & Rating

From the moment it was unveiled, it was clear the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 (starts at $749; $1,358.99 as tested) was not the revolutionary entry in the Surface Pro line some were hoping for. The Surface Pro X is giving us the first glimpse of the device’s future, while the Surface Pro 7 is yet another refinement of the flagship 2-in-1. But sometimes stable is best. This year’s version finally adds a USB Type-C port, and it brings Intel’s newest processor family to the party. Otherwise, the design remains the same, and while it’s starting to show its age next to its flashy new counterpart, the Surface Pro 7 is still difficult to fault. The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is our favorite convertible laptop, but the Surface Pro 7 represents the best of detachable Windows tablets, and earns our Editors’ Choice for the class. Next time, we just hope it looks more like the Pro X, which has design in spades but isn’t quite ready for the limelight yet in terms of function.


Mostly the Same Surface

After years of tweaks and alterations across the first few models, the Surface Pro’s design has stayed more or less the same over the last four iterations. You could set the Surface Pro 7 alongside the previous versions and, aside from color variations (our Surface Pro 6 model last year was the first to come in all black), not be able to tell them apart at a glance. The inclusion of the USB-C port ultimately gives this one away, but they’re otherwise near-interchangeable.

Mostly, that’s a good thing. The magnesium-alloy design feels high quality, and it’s a relatively compact and sleek device. It measures 0.33 by 11.5 by 7.9 inches (HWD) and weighs 1.7 pounds—a very portable machine no matter how you slice it. For comparison, the XPS 13 2-in-1 comes in at 0.51 by 11.7 by 8.2 inches and 2.9 pounds, and shows itself as a laptop first. On its own, the Pro 7’s platinum-colored industrial look hasn’t aged badly, even though I did grow fond of the black paint job from last year. The bezels are still pretty thick, a fact that’s becoming more obvious as virtually every slim laptop opts for razor-thin ones.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7-12

The Surface Pro 7 hasn’t gotten any worse looking, but the problem is becoming the context, and it’s an issue, at least in part, created by Microsoft itself. With the Surface Pro X revealed right alongside its numbered stablemate, the new-look design is making the Surface Pro 7 design look stale by comparison. It boasts the slimmer, rounder edges and thinner bezels that you might expect out of a top-tier Surface Pro device in 2019. When the two are next to each other, the Pro X looks decidedly more modern. It’s a gorgeous system, inducing that feeling of tech envy that has slowly gone missing in the main line.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7-13

Of course, it’s not a matter of simply applying that design to the Surface Pro 7, or Microsoft would have done so. The Pro X is an ARM-based device while the Pro 7 uses an Intel chip, and the latter is a more fully featured, traditional Windows PC. The Pro X’s components need less physical space and cooling leeway to operate, allowing the thin design. If you need something closer to a tablet experience, the Pro X is a beautiful option, but it lacks the broad functionality of the usual Windows laptop. You don’t have to worry about which programs you can run or how they will work on a Surface Pro 7. Are they compiled for ARM? Are they 64-bit or 32-bit? None of that.

One day—perhaps in a couple of years—Microsoft will be able to offer a numbered Surface Pro device that looks like the Pro X, but has the Intel processor or at least the broad program compatibility that Surface Pro users have been used to. The Pro X, meanwhile, doesn’t seem ready for prime time yet, and of the two, we’d recommend the Pro 7. You can check out our separate review of the Pro X for more details.


So, About That Keyboard…

As for using the Surface Pro as both a laptop and a tablet, the same pros and cons remain given the unchanged design. I won’t assume everyone is as familiar as I am with the Surface line, though, so here’s a rundown.

The built-in rear kickstand, which has been the subject of mimicry since its debut, is executed just like on the previous model. A fully adjustable hinge allows you to recline the screen through 165 degrees of range, including nearly flat, which can be helpful when using the stylus for sketching or note-taking. The original Surface models featured a hinge with a limited number of set adjustment points, so this “free range” system is still very much preferable.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7-06

The kickstand is just half the battle in turning the Pro 7 into a laptop. It’s the Surface Type Cover—the detachable keyboard also subject to many copycats over the years—that makes the magic happen. As it always has, the keyboard easily attaches to the bottom of the Surface Pro magnetically, making transformation a breeze.

Also as it always has been, the Type Cover is sold separately. It hardly seems worth it to continue beating this drum, as Microsoft clearly doesn’t plan to include the keyboard with the tablet, but I wish it would. The Surface Pro is already on the pricey side, but adding another expensive peripheral to get to full functionality is a bitter price pill. Microsoft sent us the fancier Signature Type Cover for $159.99, but the standard model is $129.99.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7-02

The keyboard is an integral part of the experience—Microsoft rarely shows or advertises the two apart, and it’s the keyboard that completes the 2-in-1 concept. Without it, the Surface Pro is really just a nice, and expensive, tablet. It also is a great keyboard for its kind. Despite its thinness, the Type Cover offers a surprisingly comfortable typing experience, with good key travel. There’s also backlighting, adjustable through several levels of brightness. The keyboard is a little flimsy if you press down too much, especially if you’re not using it on a desk (more on that in a moment), but it’s still more than serviceable, and one of the best among all detachables.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7-04

You can also angle the keyboard for a more comfortable typing angle by folding the top of the keyboard up against the screen, where more magnets hold it in place. This innovation was introduced to the Surface line several iterations ago, a small addition that makes a noticeable usability difference. The touchpad is also excellent, and it tracks very smoothly. I genuinely enjoy typing on this keyboard, at least on a solid surface, even if the price seems a bit steep. The combined price is still less than many laptops, though, so there’s only so far you can take this complaint.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7-11

Using the keyboard on your lap remains a little troublesome. While it will always be neat that you can transform this device into a laptop clamshell at all, the flexy nature of the keyboard and the width of the Pro 7 make it tiring to use in your lap for long. This “lapability” has long been a big issue for some, enough to make them choose a traditional laptop over the Surface Pro. Since it’s not very wide, and the kickstand is much less stable on your legs than the flat bottom surface of a laptop would be, you have to keep your legs close together and still during use. It makes you quite aware you’re not using a normal laptop, so it’s much better used on a desk or tabletop. There’s still something satisfying about the Surface Pro experience, even if you’d probably choose a laptop keyboard if they were put head to head.


Ports & Configurations: Hurray for C

The ports are another facet that may remind you this isn’t a traditional laptop, as there simply aren’t many of them. As mentioned earlier, one big improvement is the inclusion of USB Type-C. This port is located on the right side, just above the only other port, a standard USB 3.1 Type-A port.

It felt like the USB-C port was “missing” from this device for at least the last two iterations, so it’s nice to see it added. It doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3, however, so users looking to transfer a ton of files quickly and often will have to make do with standard USB speeds. The fact that you get just two ports may be an issue in itself for users who lean heavily on peripherals, but a Bluetooth mouse could free up the port for a drive or other attachments.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7-07

Finally, we come to Microsoft’s configuration options. Our $1,358.99 model features an Intel Core i5-1035G4 processor, 8GB of memory, a 256GB SSD, and the $159.99 Signature Type Cover. Other configurations generally just scale the same components up or down in capacity, other than the CPU. The $749 starting model (without the keyboard) offers an Intel Core i3 CPU, 4GB of memory, and a 128GB SSD. That scales all the way up to the top model, which includes a Core i7 CPU, 16GB of memory, and a 1TB SSD. Between the two, you can get various combinations of a Core i5 or Core i7 chip, 8GB or 16GB of memory, and 256GB or 512GB of storage. The Pro 7 also comes in black, but only three of the SKUs offer it as an option (including ours).


Testing Ice Lake: A Quicker Surface Pro

For performance testing, I compared the Pro 7 to various Windows tablets and 2-in-1 laptops. There’s a decent amount of variety in this batch of competitors, including the internal components, so you can use the table below as a cheat sheet…

Microsoft Surface Pro 7

As you can see, a swath of processors is represented, and the Surface Pro 7 is one of two devices using a Core i5 CPU. The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet is the other, and it also matches the Surface Pro 7’s 8GB of memory. The Dell Latitude 7200 2-in-1 is the other tablet, but it bumps up its components to a Core i7 and 16GB of memory. Meanwhile, the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 and the HP Spectre x360 13 are full-fledged laptops that can convert into tablets, and should deliver more power than the tablet-first machines.

Productivity & Storage Tests

PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet work, web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a Storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the PC’s drive subsystem. This score is also a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7

Off the bat, the Core i5 CPUs lag behind their Core i7 counterparts, but not by a wide margin. This is the area where you won’t be bothered by using a Surface Pro 7 over a laptop; it can run everyday home and office tasks without noticeable delay or long load times. Its SSD helps with that, as you can see from the PCMark 8 result that it’s no slower than the rest.

Media Processing & Creation Tests

Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7

Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video-editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that’s highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video (the open source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel) to a 1080p MP4 file. It’s a timed test, and lower results are better.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7

We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time. As with Handbrake, lower times are better here. The Photoshop test stresses CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7

These results were something of a mixed bag, but mostly just fine for the Pro 7. Its Handbrake result gives the biggest cause for concern, as it is way behind the others and jumped out at me when I first ran the tests. Multiple runs confirmed the result, though, so now we know that video encoding is not the Pro 7’s strong suit. On the other benchmarks, though, it hung admirably close to the other systems (and ahead of its older Core i5 competitor), even if it did lag behind. I don’t think you need me to tell you this tablet is not a media-creation machine first and foremost, but the fairly capable CPU can handle some in a pinch.

Graphics Tests

3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7

Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark, for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7

All of these machines use Intel integrated graphics, so none comes recommended for 3D work. You will note, though, that the Iris Plus graphics present in Ice Lake chips (both the Pro 7 and the XPS 13 here) are a cut above the rest. This is even more evident with the Dell XPS 13 and its Core i7 Ice Lake chip than it is for the Pro 7 and its Core i5, but among integrated graphics, Ice Lake is at an advantage. All are well short of discrete GPUs, however, so look elsewhere if you use 3D-accelerated programs for editing, animation, modeling, and other similar tasks, or if proper PC gaming is what you’re after.

Battery Rundown Test

After fully recharging the tablet, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop in Airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the Blender Foundation short Tears of Steel—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system conks out.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7

This is a crucial test for this category, so I’m happy to report that the Pro 7 will last a long time off the charger. For something so portable and theoretically versatile, long battery life is a must if it’s going to be your travel companion. For plane or train rides, long work days away from your desk, or even lounging at home, a nearly 12-hour battery shouldn’t have you reaching for your charger very often. With more varied or demanding tasks and heavier use, you will likely get somewhere from eight to 10 hours, but it passes the battery life test regardless.


A Solid Surface

The Surface Pro 7 is another fine refinement of Microsoft’s flagship hardware product, even if our heads are starting to be turned by the Pro X. The design is starting to show its age in comparison, but it’s not truly dated just yet, and I think any user would be pleased. The addition of the USB-C port is welcome, and the switch to the Ice Lake class of CPUs adds some pep to this compact tablet’s step. This iteration of the Surface Pro is another case of evolution rather than revolution, and I hope we see an Intel chip in a device that looks like the Pro X in the near future.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7-01

While the Pro 7 is another fine entry in the line and tops among mainstream Windows tablets, I wouldn’t tell Surface Pro 6 (or even Pro 5) users to run out and get one. But if you’re working with something older or don’t have this type of device in your life, it’s one of the best 2-in-1s available. The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is better all around as a laptop, if that’s your primary concern, but the Surface Pro sets the bar for 2-in-1s in the Windows-tablet mode.



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Welcome to Insider Pro | InsiderPro

Welcome to Insider Pro – IDG’s new premium content website.

We’re excited to offer you the next tier of what we believe is the best technology journalism in the industry. For more than 52 years, IDG has earned the trust of its readers with accurate, relevant, timely and consistent coverage of the technology market. Our new Insider Pro site is the natural evolution of the authoritative coverage our publications have produced for five decades.

Before getting into the details of our new offering, let’s address the elephant in the editor’s note. Yes, we’re asking you to pay for the content on Insider Pro. We think it’s worth your investment in us – just as we’ve invested in providing coverage of the IT industry.

Insider Pro is powered by content from a combination of our award-winning websites (Computerworld, CIO.com, CSO Online, Network World and Infoworld), a stable of highly skilled tech journalists and freelance writers as well partnerships with companies such as IDC, CertNexus and IT Central Station.

If you decide to join us, your Insider Pro membership will provide access to in-depth research, enterprise product reviews, hands-on advice and exclusive feature articles not available anywhere else.

Here’s a little more detail on what you can expect; we’ll be constantly expanding this to better meet your needs.

Ad-free experience: You can confidently turn off that ad blocker and browse Insider Pro content in an ad-free environment.

 In-depth research: Your subscription gives you access to both original research reports from IDG, IDC and its partners but also a library full of historical data.

 Exclusive articles: The teams at IDG B2B publications and our regular Insider Pro contributors will provide a wide range of content (from tutorials to policy guides to in-depth analyses) for a range of readers – from developers to CIOs to IT pros who have to make crucial technology decisions for their companies.

 Editor-curated content. You benefit from award-winning technology journalism. As a former editor in chief at one of the IDG brands, I know how hard our editors and writers work to provide you with the best coverage in the industry. Part of our mission at Insider Pro is to comb through the articles, reviews and tutorials on CIO.com, Computerworld, CSO Online, Network World and Infoworld to create must-read aggregated packages that tap the collective power of our brands. Not only do we focus on the technology of today but we will be providing coverage of emerging technologies such as AI, machine learning, hyperconvergence, blockchain, IoT and more.   

Career advice. Learn how to move up in your company or move in a new direction with certification guides, resume samples and more.

 That’s the just a sampling of the premium content we’ll provide on Insider Pro. While you’ll still have free access to in-depth articles, how-to advice and product coverage on the IDG sites that you’ve relied on for decades, I think you’ll find the offerings here a needed complement to that coverage and a way to a dig deeper on hot topics.  

We’re taking the Insider part of our name seriously and delivering content that goes beyond the headlines of the day while providing rich historical context and the authoritative understanding of IT that only IDG can provide.



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Apple introduces its new 16-in. MacBook Pro

MINNEAPOLIS – Apple’s new 16-in. MacBook Pro, unveiled today, replaces the 15-in. model with revamped hardware that delivers up to 80% better performance – and a new Magic Keyboard. The company also confirmed that it plans to ship the long-expected Mac Pro in “December.”

Everyone is talking about the new laptop

I’m at the Jamf JNUC conference here this week and the new Mac is the talk of the day among delegates, many of whom are already trying to figure out if they can convince their companies to order one for them.

The new MacBook Pro brings a 16-in. Retina Display, the latest 8-core processors, up to 64GB of memory, up to 8GB of VRAM and a new advanced thermal design. 

Butterfly, butterfly, fly away

Apple has improved the keyboard. The new Magic Keyboard boasts a redesigned scissor mechanism and 1mm travel for a more satisfying key feel. The keyboard also provides a physical Escape key and arrow keys.

16in macbook pro touchid key IDG

The new keyboard should give users a “stable key feel,” the company said. “It features an Apple-designed rubber dome that stores more potential energy for a responsive key press. Critics had not liked the lack of responsiveness of the original butterfly design.

The Mac also features a six-speaker sound system and promises better battery life. The Touch Bar (and Touch ID) is part of the package, as is the T2 Security chip.

What Apple says

Tom Boger, Apple’s senior director of Mac and iPad Product Marketing, delivered Apple’s boilerplate statement for this release:

“Our pro customers tell us they want their next MacBook Pro to have a larger display, blazing-fast performance, the biggest battery possible, the best notebook keyboard ever, awesome speakers and massive amounts of storage, and the 16-inch MacBook Pro delivers all of that and more.

“With its brilliant 16-inch Retina display, 8-core processors, next-gen pro graphics, even better thermal design, new Magic Keyboard, six-speaker sound system, 100Wh battery, up to 8TB of storage and 64GB of fast memory, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is the world’s best pro notebook.”

Big storage

The MacBook Pro doubles the SSD storage to 512GB and 1TB on standard configurations and it can be configured with 8TB of SSD storage — the largest SSD ever in a notebook.

This also means the Mac includes powerful graphics and the largest ever Mac notebook battery (100Wh), which should deliver an additional hour of battery life.

Graphics performance is provided by the 7nm AMD Radeon Pro 5000M equipped with GDDR6 video memory with an 8GB VRAM option. Apple says users should get up to 80% faster performance than with the previous high-end Mac – good for gamers, video editors and game developers.

Cool runnings

Of course, a bigger display, greater storage and memory capacity mean these machines pose certain power demands, and that led Apple to improve thermal design in these systems. (With typical Apple modesty, Apple calls this “the most advanced thermal architecture ever in a Mac notebook.”)

“The sophisticated fan design features a larger impeller with extended blades along with bigger vents, resulting in a 28 percent increase in airflow, while the heat sink is 35 percent larger, enabling significantly more heat dissipation than before,” the company said.

Sound improvements

Apple’s HomePod audio system development teams are clearly at work. These new Macs introduce a completely redesigned six-speaker, high-fidelity sound system the company says provides the most advanced audio experience ever in a notebook.

The system uses Apple-patented force-canceling woofers that employ dual opposed speaker drivers to reduce unwanted vibrations that distort sound. So music sounds better and bass gets deeper.

The microphone has also been improved – Apple says this now rivals the quality you get from professional grade digital mics, so podcasters will likely take an interest in these machines. I assume FaceTime conversations and online meetings will sound better, too.

Additional hardware details

Processors: 6- and 8-core 9th-generation processors with Turbo Boost speeds up to 5.0 GHz. That means you get up to around twice as fast performance than the quad-core 15-inch MacBook Pro in most pro workflows.

Memory: Up to 64GB.

Display: 500nit, P3 colour gamut, factory calibrated, 16-inch Retina Display.

Resolution: 3,072 x 1,920 and a higher pixel density of 226 ppi for nearly 6 million pixels.

Price: From $2,399. Available now online and in U.S. stores later this week.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.





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“Finish” Your Dish and Maximize Flavors Like a Pro Chef – LifeSavvy

A hand sprinkling seasoning over a plate of salmon and rice.
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

“Finishing” a dish is the final step to create an incredibly satisfying meal that makes your taste buds sing. Here’s how you can add some extra zing your meal.

What Does Finishing a Dish Mean?

As a kid, your mother probably told you repeatedly that if you wanted dessert, you had to clean your plate, but that’s not what a chef means when she talks about “finishing” a plate. To professionally “finish” a dish, you add a final touch of flavor or texture to make your meal stand out.

Often, people confuse “garnish” for “finish.” When you plate a meal, the two components have separate goals. The primary purpose of a finish is to add more flavor, while a garnish is used to embellish or decorate your dish.

Finishing Ingredients

Chances are, you already have most of these finishing ingredients in your kitchen, but if not, you can find them at any local grocery store. These three types of finishes provide either an abundance of flavor or a palate-friendly texture that will make everyone go back for seconds.

 Citrus Fruit Zest

A hand zesting a lemon on a microplane.
Emilee Unterkoefler

When you lightly run a lemon or other citrus fruit across a microplane grater, you’re zesting. Make sure you only zest the colored part of the fruit, though—the white part of the peel is bitter.

If you make an orange cranberry bread for Thanksgiving dinner, zest an orange on top right before you serve it. This adds a refreshing, vivid experience to each bite.

Lemon zest is great on lemon blueberry bread, and always add lime zest to your key lime pie.

Oils and Butter

A savory butter or a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) can make a world of difference on certain foods.

Having a few friends over for a glass of wine? Make a light bruschetta topped on a fresh French baguette. Right before you serve it, drizzle some EVOO on top to add a pleasing complexity to your appetizer.

You can also add a small amount of Italian balsamic vinegar, but drizzle with caution—you don’t want the intensity of the vinegar to overpower the delicate flavors of the dish.

Three scallops and two pieces of asparagus finished with brown butter on a plate.
Emilee Unterkoefler

Brown butter is another simple way to give your meal a heavenly taste. To make brown butter, you just slowly heat a few tablespoons of butter in a pan until it turns brown. The rich, nutty butter drizzled on top of seared scallops, or even a pasta dish, will make your taste buds say, “Wow!”

Freshly Cracked Salt and Pepper

Salt and pepper are two simple toppings most people shake on their meal without the slightest bit of hesitation. You see shakers on every restaurant table, but the right peppercorns and salt can give your dish an entirely new feel.

When you use freshly cracked peppercorns, they provide a pungent taste and crunchy texture, which is just what those poached eggs need on a Sunday morning.

Switch out your table salt for something a bit bolder, like Himalayan salt, which contains 84 natural minerals. It’s pretty, healthy, and tastes yummy!

Maximize the Flavor of Steak and Chicken

A bowl of garlic and herb butter next to a cutting board, with parsley and a knife on top.
Emilee Unterkoefler

You can add a finish to all sorts of dishes, but meats especially benefit from it. When you finish your steak or chicken meal with garlic-herb butter, it not only makes it look amazing, but the creamy taste also makes it a meal to remember.

To make a garlic and herb butter, follow the recipe below:

Ingredients

  • 1 stick of butter (room temperature)
  • 1 tbsp. of minced roasted garlic
  • 2 tbsps. freshly chopped parsley

Mix all the ingredients, and then refrigerate for about 30 minutes. When your steak or chicken comes off the grill, add a cold dollop of garlic-herb butter.

Enhance Fish and Seafood

Most Fish entrees taste great with a fresh squeeze of lemon. The citrus fruit helps break down the intensity of the fish taste and leaves your palate with a tart, refreshing taste.

One squeeze of lemon not only takes care of the fishy odor, but the bright fruit-flavor counters the brininess and nicely complements fish and seafood dishes.

Make Desserts More Delectable

Most desserts—especially in the U.S.—are sugary and sweet, but sometimes a drizzle of fresh coulis is all you need to make your sweet tooth sing. Coulis is a thin fruit puree used as a sauce.

You can make fruit coulis by following this recipe:

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of fresh strawberries
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • Freshly-squeezed lemon juice from 1/2 a small lemon

In a medium saucepan, combine your ingredients and bring them to a boil on medium-to-high heat. When it begins to boil, transfer to a blender. Puree your ingredients and strain your sauce to keep the strawberry seeds out.

Coulis is excellent on cheesecake, or even a scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with fresh strawberries—enjoy!


The best part about cooking or baking is you can create something that looks beautiful and tastes fantastic.

Some foods go well together, and some don’t. But if you experiment with different ingredients, you might just find the chef within!





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