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Is the new 2021 Apple MacBook Pro too good to be true?

MacBook Pro 16-inch 2021
(Image credit: Future)

Here at Creative Bloq, we are very fortunate to come into close contact with a lot of the latest tech aimed at creatives. The majority of it is impressive, not only from a technical point-of-view, but genuinely looks to offer artists and designers an optimised workflow and more pleasurable working experience. However, it's not often that we come across hardware and technology that stops us in our tracks, and makes us genuinely excited for the creative industry. But now is one of those moments. 

It's hard to understate what a game-changer the new 2021 MacBook Pro is for professional creatives – it's already taken the top spot in our round-up of the best laptops for graphic designers. You've no doubt by now got wind of the fact that this is the most powerful laptop Apple has ever created. When the device was first released, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing Greg Joswiak said: "The new MacBook Pro simply has no equal and is by far the best pro notebook we’ve ever built.” 

But is it too good to be true? What we really wanted to know is what exactly the 2021 MacBook Pro power translates to, in terms of workflow. How it can make a difference to professional content creators, and why you might want to part with the best part of two grand for one? 

We recently had a chat with Michael B. Johnson of Apple's Pro Workflow Team, and Mac Product Marketing Manager Douglas Brooks to get some answers. Here's what we found out...

Unrivalled power

When we saw unrivalled, we really mean it. Unless, of course, you want to shell out a lot more money than the cost of the MacBook Pro on a properly souped-up laptop. As standard, these machines come armed with enough power and RAM to handle the most complex of creative tasks.  

Now, we don't know about you, but when people start talking about chips and processors, we start to glaze over a bit. Not because it's not wildly impressive, but more that the more high-end technical knowledge escapes us a little. We get that it's powerful, but what does that mean in terms of output – what can this thing actually do?

The MacBook Pro enables workflows that were previously unthinkable on a notebook

A lot, is the short answer. But let us elaborate somewhat. 

Probably the biggest change to and benefit of these machines is the enormous pool of memory available on its GPU. Giving the GPU access to a huge amount of fast memory means it can render complex 3D scenes that previous models couldn't. For example, the model we have been testing has 64GB unified memory, and while the GPU won't be able to access the full 64GB, as it's used for other things as well, it's still a huge amount. To put it into context, the memory pool on the MacBook Pro is much more Nvidia's high-end GPUs. For example, Nvidia's RTX 3090 is a monster GPU, and it holds just 24GB memory.

Apple MacBook chip

The M1 Max is the world’s most powerful chip for a pro notebook (Image credit: Apple)

Put simply, this means the MacBook Pro enables workflows that were previously unthinkable on a notebook. You can, for example, manipulate millions of polygons in 3D software Cinema 4D, edit up to seven streams of 8K ProRes video in Final Cut Pro, or grade colour in HDR on 8K 4444 ProRes video, all with relative ease with this device.

"It's extraordinary, you know," says Michael B. Johnson. "I worked at Pixar for 23 years and I never, ever had a GPU that had as much memory as the 14-inch MacBook Pro. I had all the best toys in the world, but I never had that kind of toy."

But what price do you pay for such a level of performance? Is the device going to be working so hard you won't be able to hear yourself think over its cooling system? Apparently not. 

"The enclosure design allows more air through the system to allow it to cool really efficiently and be incredibly quiet," says Douglas Brooks. "In fact, for a lot of modest workflows, the fans don't even run."

Detail in the display

While the considerable power of the new MacBook Pro is not immediately obvious, there's another standout upgrade that very clearly is – its stunning new Liquid Retina XDR display. 

"I think, in another time when we weren't in the Apple silicon transition, the whole conversation about these new devices would be about the display," Johnson comments. "In a place like Pixar, there is a whole special colour grading suite, which is full of very expensive monitors and projectors to allow for a much brighter, wider dynamic range. Well, much of that capability is now on the MacBook Pro."

MacBook Pro 16-inch 2021 on a desk

The MacBook Pro display offers a performance similar to what you would see in a dedicated colour grading suite (Image credit: Future)

The upgraded display enables a level of detail in a laptop like never before. To put this into context, the final image being created by a lighter or visual effects artist, for example, would require specific hardware in order to view all the finite detail in a scene. The MacBook Pro display solves that issues, offering a performance similar to what you would see in a dedicated colour grading suite, with its extreme dynamic range bringing HDR content to life with unbelievable detail. 

"I think this is going to be amazing, not just for those working in 3D and video production, but also for those people doing illustration too – it really is an extraordinary experience to see what level of detail this display can show you," says Johnson. 

Advanced connectivity 

MacBook Pro connected to three three Pro Display XDRs and a 4K TV

Fancy this set up? The 2021 MacBook Pro can support it (Image credit: Apple)

One thing the creative community has been crying out for with the MacBook Pro for a while now is better connectivity. And Apple answered that call with this iteration. Both models feature three Thunderbolt 4 ports, an SDXC card slot, much-wanted HDMI port, and an improved headphone jack. 

What does that mean? Well, basically that you could deck your office out like the Minority Report control room if you so desired. The new MacBook Pro can connect and support three Pro Display XDRs and a 4K TV, all at the same time – a studio set up that, up to this point, many could only dream about. 

When talking to the Apple team, it's hard not to be in awe of the power and capability of this new machine (especially when you see such a small device running 8K video streams at once). And it feels like we're just scratching the surface with what we covered here in terms of this machines capabilities (see our in-depth Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch 2021 review for more). 

Whether the 2021 MacBook Pro is right for you really comes down to the question of how much power you actually need for your creative workflow. The M1 Max has a huge amount of power, so much so some might say it is overkill for some. But if you're a professional content creator running programs that eat up RAM and are in need of a high-performance, super-reliable device, right now, in our opinion, you won't find a better option. OK, it's far from cheap, but when you consider what this machine can provide in terms of productivity and longevity, it's a solid investment that offers excellent value for money. 

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Kerrie Hughes

Kerrie Hughes is editor of Creative Bloq. Kerrie was staff writer for 3D World magazine before joining the original Creative Bloq team in 2012. Since then she's written regularly for other publications, including ImagineFX, 3D World and Computer Arts magazines.