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A Week with the New 16 Inch M1 Max MacBook Pro

A week with the new M1Max powered 16 inch MacBook Pro. What's good, what's amazing and what we thought it would do better on.

You are going to hate us for this review. Why? Because after reading about our time with the new MacBook Pro, you are going to want one. Yes it’s that good. So lock away the credit cards and let’s take a look at the new machine.

What's Good

  • Stunning quality of screen and audio, especially with Dolby Vision & Dolby Atmos.
  • Blow the doors off performance for video editing, graphics and compressing -Start FCP with an 8K Wide Gamut HDR Final Cut Pro Project loaded and play seven streams of 8K ProRes onscreen at once in seven seconds. All unrendered, better quality.
  • Solid keyboard, MagSafe & ports are back, Touch Bar gone.
  • Very long battery life.
  • Fan didn't come on at all when testing! (Was tempted to mine crypto).

What's Not So Good

  • Speed bump over previous models less pronounced using a complex timeline in FCP - see performance section.

 

Don't forget, Apple will be demonstrating the Pro Apps running on the new MacBook Pro models at the free FCP Global Summit. Make sure you sign up!

First Impressions

Lifting the new 16 inch MacBook Pro out of the box gave us a bit of deja vu. Its aluminium body is thicker, has smaller edge curves than the previous models and the colour and size reminds us of our 20 year old Titanium PowerBook G4, but thinner.

apple 16 inch macbook pro 01The new 16 inch MacBook Pro is smaller than the base of the 20 year old Titanium Powerbook 4

One nice new design touch is the MacBook Pro sunken lettering on the base.

apple 16 inch macbook pro 02

 

It does seem that Apple has listened to customers as we see the return of the MagSafe (MagSafe 3) on the left hand side of the unit and a SDXC card slot and HDMI port on the right.

apple 16 inch macbook pro 03

 

The MagSafe 3 cable is covered in a woven material right up to the plug. As this is where most of our previous power adapters have frayed and failed, maybe this finish will give the cable and joint a longer life.

apple 16 inch macbook pro 05

 

There’s also three Thunderbolt 4 ports, two on the left and one on the right. They support 40Gbps and up to 15 watts of power delivery.

apple 16 inch macbook pro 04

 

The headphones jack now automatically switches to support high impedance headphones (Over 25 Ohms) that require more power to drive them. You don’t have to buy a dedicated headphone amplifier to use what some hifi bods rate as better sounding headphones.

Powering Up

Opening up the unit, you are immediately struck by the black keyboard ‘insert’ that contains solid mechanical keys surrounded by the aluminium matched to the same colour.

apple 16 inch macbook pro 06

 

The Touch Bar has gone and is replaced by a familiar row of function keys including new ones for Spotlight, Dictation, and Do Not Disturb. The Touch ID button is larger and has a ring that you can feel to get your finger in the right place.

apple 16 inch macbook pro 07

 

The machine I’m testing is a 16 inch MacBook Pro with the M1 Max chip, 64GB of unified memory and 2TB of storage. The SSD storage now runs at 7.4 GB.s which is more than twice the speed of the previous models. The M1 Max uses the same 10-core CPU complex as the M1 Pro with eight high-performance cores and two high-efficiency cores, but takes the GPU up to 32 cores intstead of 16. The M1 Pro also tops out at 32 GB of unified memory.

apple 16 inch macbook pro 08

 

The screen is a Liquid Retina XDR at 3456 x 2234 pixels which means you can nearly go pixel for pixel with UHD. The fourteen inch model is 3024 x 1964.

Which brings us on to the notch. Instead of stopping the screen at the camera, Apple has pushed the pixels further towards the bezel creating a GUI ‘notch’ at the top.

apple 16 inch macbook pro 11

 

You might think this is going to be a problem, but actually it all works rather well. The menu bar of the Mac sits either side of the notch. When you go fullscreen, the rest of the GUI doesn’t expand, instead the menu bar reappears when you hover over the area. This makes real sense and makes working with apps in full screen a lot easier, no distractions, but the bar is there when you need it. You don't lose any real estate with the notch, the area underneath gives a full 16:10 aspect ratio.

apple 16 inch macbook pro 09The 'notch' and Menu Bar work well, the default desktop graphic just poking out looks ugly though

If you prefer not to have the menu wrapped around the notch, then there is a preference per application to toggle this feature off. Just ‘Get Info’ on the app and look for the checkbox. Most of the Apple apps we have tried have worked well with the notch.

apple 16 inch macbook pro 10

 

Then there is the quality of the screen. One word for it... Gorgeous. Now I could say it has 7.7 million pixels at 254 ppi, 1600 nits at peak brightness, 1000 nits of full-screen brightness, capable of a billion colours and a million to 1 contrast ratio, but this would not do it justice.

I would suggest that you visit your local Apple store, call up episode one of Foundation on AppleTV and watch the title sequence for yourself. I would advise you to leave cash and other payment methods at home.

apple 16 inch macbook pro 13 

 

Should you wish to attach external monitors, this machine will support 3 Pro Display XDRs AND a 4K TV. That’s a lot of pixels. The screen also uses ProMotion which changes the refresh rate to match the onscreen content. This results in smoother scrolling and a longer battery life. If you are worried about that affecting video editing, you can set it at a precise refresh rate in the Display Preferences.

apple 16 inch macbook pro 12

 

The audio has had an upgrade to match the picture. The six speakers are capable of producing an immersive spatial soundstage whether you are enjoying a film or playing a track in Apple Music that’s been mastered in Dolby Atmos. With your head in the optimal place, a narration during a film cuts through the centre of a widely spaced orchestra and the first kick drum of Cold Heart by Elton John and Dua Lupa hits you like a flying stone in the middle of your forehead. Comparing it to the same track on our 13inch M1 MBP is something we wish we hadn’t done, it’s not in the same league.

Make no mistake, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos are very impressive and in our opinion will be the mastering format of choice in the future. (Hello FCP Roles) They make 1080 Rec.709 productions look and sound very flat. Which is all a bit depressing if you only cut for terrestrial television.

We must touch on the battery life here, it has done a 'Tesla' where the limiting factor to you using the machine is not the machine, but your attention span (and bladder capacity). We worked on the machine on and off for two days before realising it hadn't been plugged in yet. Apple are quoting 17 hours video playback for the 14 inch model and 21 hours for the 16 Inch.

A nice touch on both models is Fast Charge where 30 minutes plugged in can get the battery up to 50%. 

Something else that didn't happen was the fan. Even hitting Compressor with batches of transcodes didn't trigger the fan off, just like the 13 inch M1, the machine remained remarkably cool. This is going to make a real difference when editing.

 

Performance

Let's start with a few Apple comments to put the results of testing into perspective. Taking the M1 SOC as a benchmark, the M1 Pro should offer double the performance and the M1 Max should offer four times.

Apple has also said on a YouTube video (Although we've not done the pixel pushing calculations ourselves) that a fully maxed out 16 inch MacBook Pro will process more streams of ProRes than the current Mac Pro with an Afterburner card installed.

With those high expectations, it was straight in to testing. The tests were run on three different machines. The M1 Max 16 inch MacBook Pro, a 13 inch M1 MacBook Pro with 16 GB of memory and an Intel  3.2 GHz 8 core iMac Pro with 64 GB of memory. The machines all ran the latest versions of the Pro Apps, the 16 inch MBP running Monterey and the other two running Big Sur.

All tests were run twice (goodbye weekend!) and an average taken. The media and FCP Library were stored on an external SSD. The results were exported/rendered to the desktop and caches cleared and apps restarted between tests.

First up was a straight drag race to the finish transcoding iPhone H264 1920x1080 camera footage to ProRes 422 in Compressor.

apple 16 inch macbook pro 17 

 

Here you can see we got a massive performance gain over the other machines. The M1 Max MBP was 450% faster compared to the speed of the M1 MBP and 540% faster than the speed the Intel iMac Pro. Quite remarkable gains and we can see these boosts really helping when it comes to crunching proxies. This also echoes Apple's benchmarks.

But what about a real-life example? We can transcode files all day, but a real test is a test with an existing project. We used a fairly complex three minute timeline of a broadcast item that consisted of ProRes 4444 clips resized, colour corrected and overlaid with graphics. The timeline was 1080, so there was a lot of pixel shifting going on, so how would the machines cope rendering out into three different 1080 codecs?

apple 16 inch macbook pro 14

 

This was slightly surprising, the 16 inch MBP only getting a 2x performance increase over the 13 inch MBP with ProRes 422 and H264. Exporting to HEVC 10 Bit was only 1.5x faster than the speed of the 13 inch.

So what is happening here? We were expecting a better result. So the final test involved taking the three minute timeline and placing it into a 4K UHD project with no resizing, colour corrections, filters or graphics. Basically just straight UHD ProRes 4444 clips on a same sized ProRes 422 timeline.

apple 16 inch macbook pro 18 

 

Here we can see the big speed bump is back, the 13 inch MBP taking 4.5 times longer to export than the 16 inch M1 Max.

So why is this happening? We think that if you stay in the 'ProRes world' and don't move pixels or introduce non-ProRes items into the timeline, then the internal ProRes processors take off and you'll get the large performance increase. Use multiple frame sizes, multiple codecs, colour correction, plugins and everything else a complex timeline contains these days and the speed bump won't be four to five times. It will still be faster, probably around double the performance.

As always, your milage may vary and we are sure that there are a whole bunch of other tests that will be published to prove or disprove our findings.

apple 16 inch macbook pro 19 

 

Conclusion

It seems that Apple has taken note of every moan and whinge from every user of a MacBook Pro over the last few years. Rather than competing to make 'the thinnest laptop ever' maybe they compiled a feature checklist when designing the new models based on what users want.

The ports are back, MagSafe is back, the Touch Bar has gone, the keyboard is solid, no apparent thermal issues. This machine has been designed by the committee of worldwide MacBook Pro users.

There is no doubt the screen and audio is stunning, super sharp and super bright for a very immersive experience. Without powering up the 7.1 sound system and a large OLED TV, this is a fabulous way to watch media. 

And, you can do a lot of it too with the amazing battery life! You can edit all day (possibly multiple 8K streams) without the machine getting hot, the fans coming on and drowning out your audio.

The speed gains for the Pro Apps are incredible. With the caveat of a complex timeline, everyone is going to see large speed bumps. When time is money, and editors are rushing to get videos published or aired, that's very important.  

This is one very capable machine and it will probably become the mobile editor's (mobile creator's even) weapon of choice. We like it a lot and we are sure that Mac users worldwide will do too.

So maybe the question should be not 'Should I buy one?' but 'Which one should I buy, the 16 or 14 inch?

 

 


Written by
Top BloggerThought Leader

I am the Editor-in-Chief of FCP.co and have run the website since its inception ten years ago.

I have also worked as a broadcast and corporate editor for over 30 years, starting on one inch tape, working through many formats, right up to today's NLEs.

Under the name Idustrial Revolution, I have written and sold plugins for Final Cut Pro for 13 years.

I was made a Freeman of Lichfield through The Worshipful Company of Smiths (established 1601). Though I haven't yet tried to herd a flock of sheep through the city centre!

Current Editing

great house giveaway 2020

2020 has been busy, the beginning of the year was finishing off a new property series (cut on FCP) for Channel 4 called The Great House Giveaway. I also designed and built the majority of the graphics as Motion templates. It has been a great success and the shows grabbed more viewers in the 4pm weekday slot than any previous strand. It has been recommissioned by C4 for 60 episodes, including prime-time versions and five themed programmes. The shows have also been nominated for a 2021 BAFTA.

Tour de france 2020
Although both were postponed to later in the year, I worked again on ITV's coverage of the Tour de France and La Vuelta. 2020 was my 25th year of editing the TdF and my 20th year as lead editor. The Tour was the first broadcast show to adopt FCPX working for multiple editors on shared storage.

 

BBC snooker the crucible

BBC's Snooker has played a big part in my life, I've been editing tournament coverage since 1997. I'm proud to be part of a very creative team that has pioneered many new ideas and workflows that are now industry standard in sports' production. This is currently an Adobe Premiere edit.

amazon kindle BF

Covid cancelled some of the regular corporate events that I edit such as trade shows & events. I was lucky however to edit, from home, on projects for Amazon Kindle, Amazon Black Friday, Mastercard and very proud to have helped local charitable trust Kendall & Wall secure lottery funding.

As for software, my weapon of choice is Final Cut Pro and Motion, but I also have a good knowledge and broadcast credits with Adobe Premiere Pro, MOGRT design and Photoshop.

Plugin Design & Development

I'm the creative force behind Idustrial Revolution, one of the oldest Final Cut Pro plugin developers. It hosts a range of commercial and free plugins on the site. One free plugin was downloaded over a thousand times within 24 hours of release.

I also take on custom work, whether it is adapting an existing plugin for a special use or designing new plugins for clients from scratch. Having a good knowledge of editing allows me to build-in flexibility and more importantly, usability.

FCP.co

Now in its 10th year and 4th redesign, running FCP.co has given me knowledge on how to run a large CMS- you are currently reading my bio from the database! Although it sounds corny, I am pretty well up on social media trends & techniques, especially in the video sector. The recent Covid restrictions has enabled live FCP.co shows online. This involves managing a Zoom Webinar through Restream.io to YouTube and Facebook. 

The Future

I'm always open to new ideas and opportunities, so please get in touch at editor (at) fcp.co. I've judged film competitions, presented workflow techniques to international audiences and come up with ideas for TV shows and software programs!

 

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Ben Balser's Avatar
Ben Balser replied the topic: #116971 25 Oct 2021 13:36
And, there's some very disturbing short-comings of some hardware you didn't mention. To quote from an article I just read;
"Speaking to The Verge's Dan Seifert, Apple has confirmed that rather than use the UHS-III standard for the SD card reader, which has read/write speeds to to 624 MB/s, the MacBook Pro comes with an older UHS-II standard that runs at half that speed. The -III standard was introduced some four years ago, in 2017."

MagSafe charger fast charge, well, you pay a boat load extra for that, when at the current prices you really shouldn't need to, as hard as it was lauded in the Apple presentation.

Not to mention the less-than-state-of-the-art HDMI port.
"Also on the list of specs that are decidedly mid-range for a flagship is the HDMI port. While there is a newer standard of HDMI 2.1, the new macOS laptops run HDMI 2.0 ports; that limits you to a 4K output at 60 Hz."
Most PC's I'm shopping for comparison have 2.1 ports.

But glad to see some of it is worth the hype...

I'm considering selling off my old 2013 rMBP (which still plows through my paying work quite well) and iMac Pro (maxed out, plows through my current paying work quite well) and replacing with a 14" M1max and external monitor.

I want to see benchmarks for pure H.264 workflows first, as it is rare for me or any of my colleagues to work with ProRes footage in paying jobs. I'm surprised you didn't do this yourself.
serralha's Avatar
serralha replied the topic: #116975 25 Oct 2021 15:41
Great piece of hardware! But what will be amazing too is Final Cut 11 with all pro apps integrated (with a new Color app new Shake ok keep Motion and Final Cut Server) and a Mac Pro Mini on November 8 :)
joema's Avatar
joema replied the topic: #116976 25 Oct 2021 16:54
Peter, thanks for all the testing and the informative review.

My main concern is the lack of improvement in 10-bit HEVC export. That is super-slow on existing x86 Macs, but this is apparently a software issue since Resolve Studio 17.4 is very fast doing the same export on the same Mac hardware. I just re-tested a 3 min 4k/23.98 ProRes 422 timeline on an iMac Pro and a top-spec 2019 MBP 16, both running FCP 10.6 and Big Sur 11.6 and nothing has changed since the last time I tested that. 

I'll be getting a top-spec M1 Max MBP 16 in a few weeks and I'll re-test on that. 

My team mostly does acquisition and post in ProRes so it's good to see that's fast on the M1 Max. OTOH 10-bit HEVC is increasingly important since lots of cameras record that and it enables compact uploads with less risk of banding due to log profiles.

There is apparently something wrong with how FCP handles 10-bit HEVC encoding. I checked the metadata and encoding parameters for both Resolve and FCP versions, and they are mostly the same bitrate, bit depth, resolution, frame rate & file size. The only difference I see is Resolve's profile is Main10@5.1 whereas FCP uses Main10@4. Export perf. Visually there is no apparent quality difference. Export performance tests:

3 min 4k/23.98 PR422 timeline, iMac Pro FCP 10.6 / Resolve Studio 17.4 -- 10-core Vega64 iMac Pro, Big Sur 11.6

FCP: 21 min, 38.4 sec to 1080p 10-bit HEVC
Resolve: 36.4 sec to 1080p 10-bit HEVC

Same test on top-spec 2019 MacBook Pro 16:

FCP: 35 min 29 sec to 1080p 10-bit HEVC 
Resolve: 40.93 sec to 1080p 10-bit HEVC

The fact that Resolve is so much faster doing that export on the same Mac hardware implies that FCP can be improved on current x86 Macs and possibly further improved on Apple Silicon.
alex4D's Avatar
alex4D replied the topic: #116978 25 Oct 2021 18:21
Thanks for all the Final Cut-specific testing!

Given the big speed increase in SSD storage, I’d be interested in seeing the speed of having the library and media stored internally.



I suspect that will make a big difference.
Ben Balser's Avatar
Ben Balser replied the topic: #116981 25 Oct 2021 22:42

Given the big speed increase in SSD storage, I’d be interested in seeing the speed of having the library and media stored internally. .

So we're supposed to save all our huge libraries and archives on the system drive?  It'll fill up pretty quickly for me.  I'd rather look at realistic workflows.  Just saying...
riccimar's Avatar
riccimar replied the topic: #117003 26 Oct 2021 12:20
Any Chance to see a M1Pro vs M1Max comparison?
MojoFix's Avatar
MojoFix replied the topic: #117007 26 Oct 2021 15:12
The SD port speed is a non-issue for me, surprised its back frankly. The latest flavor of HDMI would have been nice though.
Waiting to see what the Mini looks like. Put the Max in there and that's a no-brainer.
haysoos123's Avatar
haysoos123 replied the topic: #117011 26 Oct 2021 18:58
The ProRes encoding/decoding is definitely exciting. I think for most people's workflows, if you're using FCP it's going to be heavily ProRes dominant even if camera acquisition formats are various flavors of raw. As for SD card slot and HDMI slot, those limitations barely rate. Sure it's nice-to-have, but you're most likely using thunderbolt to a monitor, and the SD card slot to me is more serving photographers or lower-end cams or drones really. Not really huge files IMO.
martin.schneider-lau's Avatar
martin.schneider-lau replied the topic: #117062 28 Oct 2021 18:52
Thanks Peter for your article. I always like to read it!
Stu Wart's Avatar
Stu Wart replied the topic: #117087 30 Oct 2021 09:26

, as it is rare for me or any of my colleagues to work with ProRes footage in paying jobs. I'm surprised you didn't do this yourself.

well you and colleagues should try a more professional workflow ...  

like begin to work (at once) with original footage and optimize what's edited ... at lunch hour !
Ben Balser's Avatar
Ben Balser replied the topic: #117090 30 Oct 2021 09:31
Stu, that makes no sense. What?
Stu Wart's Avatar
Stu Wart replied the topic: #117110 01 Nov 2021 14:28
1 - Ingest and organize your original GOP footage

2 - edit 

3 - Optimize Projects at lunch time, breaks, nights...  

4 - Enjoy ProRes at finishing, rendering etc
joema's Avatar
joema replied the topic: #117113 01 Nov 2021 16:00

1 - Ingest and organize your original GOP footage

2 - edit..

On several previous large documentary projects, I'd love to have done that but the material was too sluggish to edit smoothly even on the highest available Mac. That varies a lot based on the exact flavor of Long GOP material, but 4k Sony XAVC-S was horrible, even the 8-bit 4:2:0 variant. 

In our case we couldn't optimize it over lunch. We had two multicam teams shooting 4k non-stop, two drones in the air, 10 action cams, motion control cameras, etc. We could easily produce 1 terabyte per day of 4k H264 material. Just getting it offloaded, verified, logged and duplicated was a big job -- despite having dedicated offload technicians. We did later transcode to proxy but that was off site after production wrapped.

Since then we use only ProRes acquisition and the Inspire 2 drones record ProRes. That makes dailies a lot smoother but the data burden is about 6x higher. 

The old view was Long GOP is for amateurs, professionals use ProRes. However since then lots of new higher-end cameras like the Panasonic EVA-1, S1H, Sony FX3, etc record 4k 10-bit 4:2:2 Long GOP. Because of Intel's half-hearted support for Quick Sync and the balkanized state of other accelerators and associated software frameworks, there hasn't been a good answer.

The hope is that newer Apple Silicon Macs will be able to smoothly edit a wide variety of Long GOP codecs (inc'l 4k 10-bit 4:2:2) without transcoding. It would be a tremendous benefit for certain types of productions.

That said, our Sony FX6s don't even record Long GOP, only All Intra and that is easier to edit even on x86 Macs.
Larrie's Avatar
Larrie replied the topic: #117172 03 Nov 2021 04:10
I was all set to replace my 2013 MBP with a new 16” MBP. Then I saw the lead times jump from a few days to a month or more. Then I started seeing the large number of problems being posted by users that upgraded to FCP 10.6. Now am planning to wait until March to upgrade. Hopefully the 16” will be more available by then and 10.6.x will have fixed all the problems. Besides a 16” will make a nice birthday present for myself.
realworldmedia's Avatar
realworldmedia replied the topic: #117256 05 Nov 2021 03:14

Given the big speed increase in SSD storage, I’d be interested in seeing the speed of having the library and media stored internally. .

So we're supposed to save all our huge libraries and archives on the system drive? It'll fill up pretty quickly for me. I'd rather look at realistic workflows. Just saying...

I don't see anyone telling you what you are supposed to do, but your individual projects won't fit on an 8TB SSD?
Ben Balser's Avatar
Ben Balser replied the topic: #117260 05 Nov 2021 09:21
How many Macs out there have 8TB system drive? Hardly any.  And no, our professional projects won't. We use a 32TB RAID for our professional work. 
realworldmedia's Avatar
realworldmedia replied the topic: #117263 05 Nov 2021 10:39

How many Macs out there have 8TB system drive? Hardly any. And no, our professional projects won't. We use a 32TB RAID for our professional work.

This thread isn't about all macs. It's about the new 16" M1 Max MacBook Pro, which can be optioned to an 8TB SSD. Mine arrives in five days. My 2019 16" also has an 8TB SSD.

I think you're right in the bigger picture, that hardly any Macs have that kind of capacity, but in the editing world I can't imagine it's that uncommon. The vast majority of my projects are stored on a NAS, but having an 8TB onboard SSD has been a game changer for me.
Tom Wolsky's Avatar
Tom Wolsky replied the topic: #117323 07 Nov 2021 20:20
I don't need an SD port. I don't need an HDMI port. I have plenty of USBC to HDMI cables. So I have two honking big ports that do a single thing each, neither of which I need, and one less TB port. And I have the useful ports, including the headphone jack and the one trick power port all bunched on the same side. I'd rather have had five TB ports. I have a bunch of chicklet keys that are not fully system programable and are not adaptive to applications, and have no sliders and no gestural controls, just useless chicklets in place of the Touch Bar. This "update" is complete bullshit.
Ben Balser's Avatar
Ben Balser replied the topic: #117350 08 Nov 2021 13:05
Contrary to Tom, I use the SD and HDMI ports on my laptops daily and love not having to lug around dozens of dongles to do what pretty much every laptop in the world does much more easily. I use a MBP with the Touch Bar for one of my gigs, and I HATE it! I personally get much more use out of traditional function keys. The Touch Bar never gives me the tools I need, and do not find it easy to get to ergonomically. Just my personal experience.

Also, in all my years of professional work, I have know very few editors with internal drives over 1TB. We mostly use fast external SSDs, as the work eventually goes to a desktop computer for finishing.