Early Reports Suggest MacBook’s New i9 Processor Isn’t Keeping Up

The jury might still be out on this, but it’s not looking promising.

Dave Lee, a popular YouTuber boasting 1.4 million subscribers, has denounced Apple’s latest 15-inch MacBook Pros. He claims that the Intel Core i9 is running slower than the previous i7 models, due to the laptop underclocking the CPU when it gets hot. Unfortunately that throttling is taking it from a 2.9 GHz base speed to 2.2 GHz — a far cry from the 4.8 GHz “Turbo Boost” capabilities Apple are claiming it can reach. Users on Reddit have been been talking this over since last night, without Lee being proved wrong.

It’s worth noting that Apple doesn't claim the chip will run at it’s best speeds all the time, claiming that it will run best when “workloads and system thermals allow.” Also it’s hardly unusual for a laptop to slow things down when temperatures rise. For all we know, Lee’s office space could be a balmy 100 degrees. However he did also take issue with Dell’s XPS 15 laptop throttling th i9 processor as well.

One concern I have with his test is that he’s running Premiere Pro, which is generally considered to be poorly optimized for a MacBook, and macOS in general. Perhaps Adobe isn’t playing well with the i9, and not using every available core as it should. Nonetheless, by testing it in the freezer I think we can see that heat is definitely a major factor.

Zollotech did a brief test with FCPX and the results weren’t promising, with the 2017 model beating the 2018. However Austin Evans did his own test a couple days ago, and found the CPU to outperform the 2016 model quite easily.

Has anybody else tested this? I haven’t been able to find a lot of reliable first hand accounts yet, and I don’t want to rely on Lee’s notoriety in the tech community as the be all and end all. I’d like to see more tests with Final Cut Pro X to see how much software plays a role in this issue.

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21 Comments

Guilherme Checchia's picture

I regret buying the macbook pro 15 touch bar 2017..... :(
Should have gone with the previous model

Jerome Brill's picture

It honestly doesn't matter if Premiere Pro or any program is poorly optimized. If the laptop is underclocking when the program needs it the most, that's an issue with insufficient cooing for that processor type. They should have chosen a different CPU or advertised it as having a lower clock. When I build a PC, it's run through the gauntlet at max power for a few hours. If it can't handle it I look at undervolting it and if that doesn't work I just get a better cooler that can handle it. Obviously a laptop is different. Although if you want to use a certain processor, stop making the laptop so small you can't accommodate it. Apple laptops are sleek for sure but at some point you have to choose function over form.

Tony Tumminello's picture

It's not just their laptops. They admitted in an interview that their Mac Pro ("trash can" model) was also thermally limited which didn't allow them to upgrade it as time went on. Sorta defeats the purpose of a "Pro" lineup when they're prone to so many issues, including abandonment in the sake of the Mac Pro, for the sake of making it a whole 8% shinier and 2% thinner. Just make a workhorse machine again...

Nick Rains's picture

So far I have not seen any choking on the new i9 MBP with 32GB RAM, 2TB SSD. I can't replicate the tests quoted above, but I can tell you that using Lightroom and generating full size previews for 123 Leica SL DNG files pushed the processors to over 95% so all 12 threads shows pretty much fully used in Activity Monitor. Temp ran up to about 80 degrees C and the processor frequency spiked briefly at 4.5GHz before settling down to about 3.1GHz for the time it took to complete the task (I didn't time it but maybe 3 mins). I'll do some FCP tests shortly and add the info here.

Guilherme Checchia's picture

How's the keyboard feels?
I will have to change mine... It doubles the "B" randomly, the "6" sometimes doesn't register....

Nick Rains's picture

Feels OK to me but I never used the previous year's models and I mostly use a bluetooth keyboard in the office. My other MBP is a 2013 model with the more prominent keys. None of my keys stick, that I have noticed anyway.

Stephen Kampff's picture

Thanks for the reply — part of me suspects that David Lee received a bad unit, however it's not beyond belief that i9 heat issues are common.

Perhaps this is a photographer's MBP, not a videographer's.

Spy Black's picture

Function following form, the Apple mantra.

Nick Rains's picture

A follow up:
Comparing the exact same export to 1080p in FCPX10.4, the i9 MBP took 128 secs vs 140 secs for an iMac 2017 4.2GHz. So it is faster than a beefy iMac and my simple test compares well enough with the Geekbench scores of 21000 and 19000 respectively.
However, of interest is the fact that the processor frequency ran at between 2.2 and 3.0, and never maxed out the CPUs (40-50%) although all 12 threads were being used (Lightroom used 95% in my previous test). Temp ran to about 70 degrees so it never got really hot.

barry cash's picture

LR and SL files won’t boil the temp run a big filter from PS, or try stitching 7 images into a pano
If your keeping the MacBook Pro of course it won’t throttle down.

Nick Rains's picture

Well of course it will throttle down at some point, as you say below, they all do it. I'm just not seeing it with LR. Regardless of the operation (filters, stitching etc), if the processors run steadily at 95% usage over all 12 threads and the CPU at about 3.1GHz for a few mins, then I'm happy with that. It's faster than my iMac, as it should be for the things I need to do, and it's portable.

EDIT: doublepost

Meanwhile 1000 USD Zenbook with i7 when tasked in sweating hot room to render in Premiere or Photomerge five 36MPix Raw files in Photoshop will raise from 2.4 GHz to its maximum possible Turbo freq - 3.5 GHz (well 3.495 GHz) while keepin temps between 50-55 Celsius.

Problem is that Macbooks starts with active cooling when it is too late .. that is why my coleague with highest MBP configuration (not the new 2018) is surprised that my other coleague cheap sub 1000 USD DELL is runnig faster when they do 30-40 layers compositions in PS, apply filters, etc ...
MBPs are great ... just keyboard and cooling is terrible .. specially for that money and supposed aim to profesional use ..

barry cash's picture

All competent reviews show over clocking the think thermal throttles so does every other laptop unless it’s water cooled which is a 9000.00 brick Acer

Anthony Cayetano's picture

I suspect that using the 32GB model heats up quite more due to the non LP version of the DDR4 RAM since Coffee Lake can only support 16GB with LPDDR4...

Mick Ryan's picture

So the jury’s out but, hey... that’s not going to stop us from writing yet another negative Apple story here at fStoppers. The laptop still has more power than most professionals need.

Paulo Macedo's picture

It happens on all laptops that use Desktop grade hardware confined to a small format form.
It should be expected that, even if the new MBP with the i9 excels and has some brute performance, it will be hit by thermals and hit hard.
Makes no sense to pay for i9's and non LP DDR4 clocked at 3000Mhz or more, if the machine won't be able to keep it fresh. It's basic physics.
So all of this means, that disregarding the fact of it being Apple, Dell or whatever, desktop grade hardware on a small format machine is not a good idea. You'll be paying for hardware that won't be able to keep up with the load.

As he points out, the Dell XPS has more or less the same issue. Put hot components in a thin and light laptop and there are going to be issues - they can't beat the laws of thermodynamics.

That said, I just had a look at the price of a 32Gb 2.9Ghz i9 model from both companies and the Dell came out around £1500 less expensive (£2900 for the Dell and £4400 for the MacBook). To me it'd be a bit more annoying to not get the full performance paid for when I've paid a premium price for a product.

It looks like a walk-in freezer is needed to realize the potential of the MacBook Pro.

People and companies may think these flaws are irrelevant, but this guy's video just help me save $3600+ on the new MacBook pro by not buying it, as I was this close to go to the Apple store and get it. I realize that this will only affect those who actually know what severe thermal throttling is and the implications of it, and there's a plethora of Mac users who only get these machines to go sit at Starbucks and somehow try to look "cool". But if you want to actually do some serious work, despite of the optimization of certain software for the hardware, you should be able to get what you're paying for period. But hey, thanks God this world is full of people who settle for much less all the time and just scream "take my money". Anyone who owns shares at companies like Apple should thank God every day for the amount of idiots it created. **Important Disclaimer: I'm not religious!