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16-inch MacBook Pro Backstory

Yebubbleman

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May 20, 2010
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I've heard repeatedly the argument that, from the Unibody MacBook Pros all the way to the TouchBar models, Apple had designed and planned its various chassis design changes around what Intel had promised to deliver in terms of the processor road map (and die shrinkages therein). I've also heard that this is largely to blame for how underpowered every TouchBar 15-inch MacBook Pro has been relative to other PC notebooks with the same sorts of CPUs and GPUs in tow. It's an argument that kind of makes sense the more you think about it.

However, obviously, Apple reversed course with the 16-inch MacBook Pro and made something that was thicker and with an enclosure and cooling system designed to actually accommodate 9th Gen Intel and the AMD 5000 series and, as a result (barring issues with external monitors that result from Apple really sucking at their multi-monitor and iGPU+dGPU implementations), the largely fixed most of these performance issues.

So, my question is this: If Apple had been designing the Retina and subsequent TouchBar enclosures for the 2012-early 2019 MacBook Pros, then does that mean that they designed the enclosure of the 16-inch MacBook Pro in reaction to the issues they were having with the 15-inch TouchBar MacBook Pros and knowing full well that Intel wouldn't be able to deliver on high performance processors that COULD ACTUALLY function well in an enclosure as thin as said 15-inch TouchBar MacBook Pros? And if so, how long do you guys think Apple spent from the moment they realized they needed to create a thicker MacBook Pro for the 16-inch to the moment they put out the press release to announce it?

It doesn't matter from any practical standpoint, but, especially in light of the Apple Silicon transition and Intel's failings that led to it, it is interesting from a historical context.
 
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bill-p

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Jul 23, 2011
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I have another conspiracy theory for you:

Apple did not build the enclosure of the 2016 -> 2019 MacBook Pro to fit Intel's "promised" chips. Apple actually built these enclosures to fit a "theoretical" MacBook Pro that runs Apple's ARM chips as the main and only processors. Then they tried to fit whichever Intel processor they could get their hands on at the time and just winged it.

The 16" MacBook did get a thicker enclosure, but not because it needed to cool the chips better. The thicker enclosure was mostly to accommodate the better keyboard. So Apple was still "reacting" to the market, but not in the way you're thinking: they're not addressing the overheating complaints. The 16" MacBook enclosure was to address the keyboard issue. This is evident with the MacBook Air and the 13" MacBook Pro as well. In fact, both the MacBook Air and the 13" MacBook Pro are still overheating. The 16" MacBook Pro is not overheating and throttling. It still gets hot, but it doesn't quite "thermal-throttle" like the other machines.

So again, the thicker enclosure is not due to the overheating chips. The 13" Pro and the Air are still overheating. Obviously their thicker enclosures are not helping.

P.S.: more thoughts: Apple may actually be intentionally causing Intel chips to throttle in their current enclosures because they want to be able to claim (and actually show) to their customers that their Apple Silicon chips are just "that" much better than the Intel chips when these Apple Silicon Macs come out.
 
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matram

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Intels Kaby Lake, introduced in the Autumn of 2016 broke Intels Tick-Tock process and was on 14 nm instead of anticipated 10 nm. i think it is clear Apple designed the 2016 MBP on the assumption of a 10 nm chip from Intel.

Intel then added more cores and upped the clock frequency during following years to compete with AMD, leading to CPU that could draw considerably more power than the TDP which make the problem worse.

I would assume Apple is really angry with Intel.
 
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ght56

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Aug 31, 2020
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I think they designed the 16 based on user feedback combined with their own internal data on 2016-19 15-inch touch bar service records, and when designing the 16 they were likely able to design it with the, 'this is what we got to go inside of it...let's build something that works really well with these guts' as opposed to 'let's build this with what we believe we will have next year'. And while this didn't result in a perfect computer, the 16 inch is certainly one helluva stellar design (they just need to get on that multi-monitor support, which appears to be software-related.) Further, I feel the 16 is likely going to see an ARM update much later in the game because we have a case design that is really well-suited to its guts and this design so far appears to be extremely reliable.

That said, I think Apple anticipated MUCH more power efficient chips than what Intel could deliver. Otherwise, I don't think Apple would have necessarily embraced USB-C for providing the 15/16 inch units with power given the 100W ceiling.
 
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Yebubbleman

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May 20, 2010
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I have another conspiracy theory for you:

Apple did not build the enclosure of the 2016 -> 2019 MacBook Pro to fit Intel's "promised" chips. Apple actually built these enclosures to fit a "theoretical" MacBook Pro that runs Apple's ARM chips as the main and only processors. Then they tried to fit whichever Intel processor they could get their hands on at the time and just winged it.

The 16" MacBook did get a thicker enclosure, but not because it needed to cool the chips better. The thicker enclosure was mostly to accommodate the better keyboard. So Apple was still "reacting" to the market, but not in the way you're thinking: they're not addressing the overheating complaints. The 16" MacBook enclosure was to address the keyboard issue. This is evident with the MacBook Air and the 13" MacBook Pro as well. In fact, both the MacBook Air and the 13" MacBook Pro are still overheating. The 16" MacBook Pro is not overheating and throttling. It still gets hot, but it doesn't quite "thermal-throttle" like the other machines.

So again, the thicker enclosure is not due to the overheating chips. The 13" Pro and the Air are still overheating. Obviously their thicker enclosures are not helping.

P.S.: more thoughts: Apple may actually be intentionally causing Intel chips to throttle in their current enclosures because they want to be able to claim (and actually show) to their customers that their Apple Silicon chips are just "that" much better than the Intel chips when these Apple Silicon Macs come out.

I do agree that once Apple realized that Intel wasn't delivering on its promises regarding the shift to 10nm, Apple had no choice but to wing it. But that doesn't seem like the kind of decision they'd make if given a choice.

The chassis of the 2020 models for the Air and the 13-inch Pro aren't as thicker compared to their butterfly predecessors. I've seen cases that are listed as being compatible for both butterfly and magic keyboard models. Not saying that there isn't a thickness difference; just not as significant of one. And even though Apple did give the 16-inch MacBook Pro a bezel reduction, they also made it physically longer in some dimensions. Either way, it DOES seem like they did try to improve the thermal situation on the 16-inch MacBook Pros whereas they didn't seem to do any such thing with either 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro model. The 10th gen Intel CPUs seem to be a little better about that than the 8th Gen ones, but that seems to only go so far based on what I've seen on video reviews.

Intels Kaby Lake, introduced in the Autumn of 2016 broke Intels Tick-Tock process and was on 14 nm instead of anticipated 10 nm. i think it is clear Apple designed the 2016 MBP on the assumption of a 10 nm chip from Intel.

Intel then added more cores and upped the clock frequency during following years to compete with AMD, leading to CPU that could draw considerably more power than the TDP which make the problem worse.

I would assume Apple is really angry with Intel.

Right. But my question is whether the 16-inch MacBook Pro's design came out of response to their failed assumption about Intel's chips? (It seems like the answer to this one is a yes) And, how long before release did they start the process of this response. It's obvious that the 16-inch MacBook Pro is the apology tour for 15-inch MacBook Pro customers that got slapped in the face with the nonsense that was the 2016-early 2019 versions. My curiosity is more the degree to which Apple had to pivot and how long it took them to actually do so.

I think they designed the 16 based on user feedback combined with their own internal data on 2016-19 15-inch touch bar service records, and when designing the 16 they were likely able to design it with the, 'this is what we got to go inside of it...let's build something that works really well with these guts' as opposed to 'let's build this with what we believe we will have next year'. And while this didn't result in a perfect computer, the 16 inch is certainly one helluva stellar design (they just need to get on that multi-monitor support, which appears to be software-related.) Further, I feel the 16 is likely going to see an ARM update much later in the game because we have a case design that is really well-suited to its guts and this design so far appears to be extremely reliable.

That said, I think Apple anticipated MUCH more power efficient chips than what Intel could deliver. Otherwise, I don't think Apple would have necessarily embraced USB-C for providing the 15/16 inch units with power given the 100W ceiling.


I think we can come to a consensus that the design of the 16-inch MacBook Pro was, in many ways, a response to the Touch Bar 15-inch MacBook Pros and their issues. I guess what I'm wondering is (a) if, from a thinness/thermal limits standpoint, the 2016-19 TouchBar/butterfly MacBook Pro designs were in anticipation of Intel's absent processors, and that this is how Apple has been designing its Mac notebooks with Intel all this time, is the 16-inch MacBook Pro the only time on record that Apple has deviated from this approach? If so, that's substantial! And, again, how long was it from the moment that they realized the need to pivot (to create the 16-inch MacBook Pro) to the November 2019 announcement date? I'm not suggesting that anyone has definitive answers, but someone might at least have clues to point to them that I haven't considered yet.
 
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bill-p

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Jul 23, 2011
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I do agree that once Apple realized that Intel wasn't delivering on its promises regarding the shift to 10nm, Apple had no choice but to wing it. But that doesn't seem like the kind of decision they'd make if given a choice.

The chassis of the 2020 models for the Air and the 13-inch Pro aren't as thicker compared to their butterfly predecessors. I've seen cases that are listed as being compatible for both butterfly and magic keyboard models. Not saying that there isn't a thickness difference; just not as significant of one. And even though Apple did give the 16-inch MacBook Pro a bezel reduction, they also made it physically longer in some dimensions. Either way, it DOES seem like they did try to improve the thermal situation on the 16-inch MacBook Pros whereas they didn't seem to do any such thing with either 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro model. The 10th gen Intel CPUs seem to be a little better about that than the 8th Gen ones, but that seems to only go so far based on what I've seen on video reviews.

I actually had the 13" Pro 2020 in to see if it was doing better thermal-wise compared to my 16". And I still have a 2018 13". The difference is not as small as you think. The keyboard is truly the reason for the thickness increase, and I think... it's likely the only one.

The 16" did not increase significantly in thickness either.

We're talking about this kind of difference:
13" 2018 thickness: 0.59 inches
13" 2020 thickness: 0.61 inches
15" 2018 thickness: 0.61 inches
16" 2019 thickness: 0.64 inches

It's about 0.02" thickness difference for the 13", and 0.03" for the 16". If having just 0.01" of extra thickness increase than the 13" line means the 16" gets significantly better thermal performance, you'd think the 2020 13" should do a lot better here, but that's not the case.

The 16" thermal improvement may also be down to the fans. Apple is now more willing to ramp the fans up to max speed on the 16" much earlier, and they are kept there until temperatures have dropped significantly, or they'll stay there. This contributes to better thermal, and also more reports of the 16" being louder than previous generations. I don't know, it certainly does sound louder than my 15" 2015, but the 16" is still significantly thinner (the 2015 15" has 0.71" thickness).

And Apple would absolutely make stupid decisions with the Mac. Like they introduced the 2013 Mac Pro to much fanfare, then acted like it didn't exist at all up until the 2019 Mac Pro was introduced. Even after the 2019 16", Apple still has not admitted that the butterfly keyboard was a failure of a design. Right now, they're denying the problems occurring across multiple Navi GPUs like in the 16" and the iMac 2020 as "working as expected". In fact, for the 16", they introduced the 5600M as a "solution".

I don't know. I think you are giving Apple too much credit. Intel never promised the kind of thermal performance that the current MacBook Air 2020 or the 13" MacBook Pro are designed for. Apple also knows the i9 in the 16" can use up to 130W when Turbo Boosting, as they allow the CPU to draw that much power from the battery and the power supply momentarily. They're not hard-capping the CPU to 90W power draw.

So I don't think it's a coincidence at all. The chassis for the current generations of MacBook were most likely made with Apple Silicon in mind, and it makes sense that Apple has worked on their custom silicon for at least 5 years up to this point so they'd know that they can announce the transition.

Intel may have missed their delivery dates, but I find it extremely hard to believe that:

1. Apple is "eating up" what Intel is selling after 5 years.
2. Apple announced the transition to their own silicon out of the blue, without 5 years of development and research to back it up.

But both of those are what you and many others are suggesting.

But... say, even if you are right, and I am wrong, it makes no sense for the 2020 MacBook Air to be "worse" than previous generations. It's as if different teams were working on those products. And even if that's the case, that also does not explain the 13" 2020.
 
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Yebubbleman

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I actually had the 13" Pro 2020 in to see if it was doing better thermal-wise compared to my 16". And I still have a 2018 13". The difference is not as small as you think. The keyboard is truly the reason for the thickness increase, and I think... it's likely the only one.

The 16" did not increase significantly in thickness either.

We're talking about this kind of difference:
13" 2018 thickness: 0.59 inches
13" 2020 thickness: 0.61 inches
15" 2018 thickness: 0.61 inches
16" 2019 thickness: 0.64 inches

It's about 0.02" thickness difference for the 13", and 0.03" for the 16". If having just 0.01" of extra thickness increase than the 13" line means the 16" gets significantly better thermal performance, you'd think the 2020 13" should do a lot better here, but that's not the case.

The 16" thermal improvement may also be down to the fans. Apple is now more willing to ramp the fans up to max speed on the 16" much earlier, and they are kept there until temperatures have dropped significantly, or they'll stay there. This contributes to better thermal, and also more reports of the 16" being louder than previous generations. I don't know, it certainly does sound louder than my 15" 2015, but the 16" is still significantly thinner (the 2015 15" has 0.71" thickness).

The length and width of the 13-inch MacBook Pro didn't change in 2020, even if the thickness did. The length and width of the 16-inch is different from the 15-inch. That will definitely help with thermals because there will be more room to dissipate heat. I can't imagine that fans are what did the trick. That would seem stupid considering Apple could've always slapped better fans into the 15-inch model. Unless that extra thickness is required for better fans (which only proves the point that the thickness is there to help accommodate Intel's thermals in addition to the keyboard).


And Apple would absolutely make stupid decisions with the Mac. Like they introduced the 2013 Mac Pro to much fanfare, then acted like it didn't exist at all up until the 2019 Mac Pro was introduced. Even after the 2019 16", Apple still has not admitted that the butterfly keyboard was a failure of a design. Right now, they're denying the problems occurring across multiple Navi GPUs like in the 16" and the iMac 2020 as "working as expected". In fact, for the 16", they introduced the 5600M as a "solution".


I'm not saying that Apple doesn't make stupid decisions. The 2013 Mac Pro was a shot in the dark that failed for them and they totally sputtered about on it for three years before coming out and saying that they realized they needed to fix things (and that it would, for some inexplicable reason, take three more years to implement). The butterfly keyboard was pride and hubris, plain and simple. Apple never admits fault for anything. Never has, never will.

The Navi GPU problems in the iMac sound like they'll have to be addressed soon (as they are way more substantial and widespread). It sounds like most of the problems in the 16-inch stem from Apple's implementation of multi-monitor support with laptop discrete GPUs sucking. I'm not saying Apple is perfect. But designing a thermal enclosure for an architecture switch you aren't going to even have the materials ready for another five years is beyond Apple's usual level of stupidity. That's not their brand of stupid.

I don't know. I think you are giving Apple too much credit. Intel never promised the kind of thermal performance that the current MacBook Air 2020 or the 13" MacBook Pro are designed for. Apple also knows the i9 in the 16" can use up to 130W when Turbo Boosting, as they allow the CPU to draw that much power from the battery and the power supply momentarily. They're not hard-capping the CPU to 90W power draw.

Intel totally does promise such things in their roadmaps. It was those roadmaps that made Apple a customer of their products to begin with. Once Intel starts slipping on their roadmaps, that's when a company like Apple gets pissed. I don't think that anyone has confirmation of the fact that Apple designed their chassis based on Intel promises, but it is a hypothesis that adds up (considering the original touch-bar/butterfly chassis was designed before anyone knew that Kaby Lake wasn't going to entail a die shrink.

So I don't think it's a coincidence at all. The chassis for the current generations of MacBook were most likely made with Apple Silicon in mind, and it makes sense that Apple has worked on their custom silicon for at least 5 years up to this point so they'd know that they can announce the transition.

You don't put out an enclosure for which you don't have appropriate hardware for intentionally. Again, that is a level of Apple stupidity that is off-brand for Apple stupidity.

Intel may have missed their delivery dates, but I find it extremely hard to believe that:

1. Apple is "eating up" what Intel is selling after 5 years.
2. Apple announced the transition to their own silicon out of the blue, without 5 years of development and research to back it up.

But both of those are what you and many others are suggesting.

2 is not true and no one is saying it is. This is obviously a decision that Apple planned for, like you said, for the past five years before announcing. There was nothing "out of the blue" about it. However, I do believe 1 to be true as Apple and Intel likely don't have annual contracts. I'd imagine that the decision to move came no later than 2016 and that Apple wasn't yet ready with the chips or the software. They knew that their own SoCs were where they wanted to go (AMD wasn't yet ready with Ryzen and even so, they already decided to switch to ARM64 instruction sets anyway to unify all of their other platforms). But even then, just because you know that's the direction you're headed in, you don't just release the enclosures for hardware you're not ready to throw in THAT early. 2016 to 2020 is enough time for an entire MacBook Pro body style to come and go. And it's not like Apple HAS to produce an enclosure in order to demonstrate work on an architecture switch. That's where your hypothesis doesn't make sense. Clearly, they've got other areas where they've been obviously working on it (the advancement of A-series processors and the advent of T-series co-processors; T2 in particular).

But... say, even if you are right, and I am wrong, it makes no sense for the 2020 MacBook Air to be "worse" than previous generations. It's as if different teams were working on those products. And even if that's the case, that also does not explain the 13" 2020.

The Air's chips were ambitious. The Y-series 1.6GHz Dual-Core i5 in the 2018 and 2019 Air were underpowered, but were ultimately the same kind of chips that were in the passively cooled 12-inch Retina MacBook. Apple added a fan, albeit not connected to the heatsink because the 12-inch MacBook "didn't need it". With the 2020 Air, the chips became more powerful and Apple could've made a cooling system to accommodate it (where the fan is connected to a radiator connected to the heat sink like in all of their other Mac notebooks), but didn't think it was necessary. That IS ON-BRAND for Apple stupidity. The 2020 13-inch MacBook Pros suffer from the same degree of heat issues as their predecessors. Apple doesn't have as many 13-inch MacBook Pro users complaining about heat issues or performance deficits as were about the 15-inch MacBook Pros. No complaints means no attention.
 
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