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Apple MacBook Pro 16 buying guide: Everything you need to know

The MacBook Pro 16 was the biggest overhaul of Apple’s top-end laptop in years, bringing a new keyboard, better graphics cards, a redesigned cooling system, and a sleeker, more modern look. But is it right for you? And if it is, which model should you buy?

Our MacBook Pro 16 buying guide will take you through your choices, laying out exactly which components are worth your hard-earned cash. If you’re thinking of getting the MacBook Pro 16, you’re in the right place.


Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The MacBook Pro 16 is designed for professional users with demanding workloads, and that’s reflected in the processor choices it offers. The base model comes with a 2.6GHz six-core Intel Core i7 processor with a Turbo Boost of up to 4.5GHz. If you go for the high-end MacBook Pro 16, by default you get a 2.3GHz eight-core Intel Core i9 processor with a 4.8GHz Turbo Boost. Both models can be upgraded to a 2.4GHz eight-core Intel Core i9 with a 5.0GHz Turbo Boost. No matter which you go for, every chip is a 9th-generation model.

This isn’t the first time you’ve been able to get an Intel i9 processor in a MacBook Pro. Before it morphed into the 16-inch version you see now, the MacBook Pro 15 could be configured to have an i9 chip. However, it was severely throttled due to the insufficient cooling system, meaning you paid through the nose for lackluster performance.

Thankfully, that’s all changed thanks to the redesigned cooling system in the MacBook Pro 16. Apple says this has a 35% larger heatsink and has increased airflow by 28%, all resulting in less inhibited performance. We found that to be true in our testing, with our reviewer stating, “the 16-inch MacBook Pro leaves its predecessor in the dust in every benchmark and real-life test I threw at it.”

That means the i9 is now a great choice. If you’re looking at the MacBook Pro 16 in the first place, an i7 processor may not cut it for you, so we recommend stepping up to the 2.3GHz i9 model. However, unless you really need it, it’s probably not worth it to go whole hog and opt for the 2.4GHz i9 upgrade. It only offers 0.1GHz more base performance and 0.2GHz more Turbo Boost power yet comes with a $200 premium. That’s expensive for what you get.

Note that going for the “mid-range” processor option (if an i9 can ever be considered mid-range) means a few other components also get upgraded — you get a better graphics card and double the storage of the base model, in exchange for a $400 price increase. We’ll cover these components shortly, but considering the prices Apple usually charges to upgrade components, that $400 isn’t too bad.


Image used with permission by copyright holder

Memory has always been one of the most expensive components to upgrade in Apple’s computers, and the MacBook Pro 16 is no different. Every model starts with 16GB of 2666MHz DDR4 RAM, which can be expanded to either 32GB for a hefty $400 or 64GB for an eye-watering $800.

These days, if you’re doing serious work, 16GB is the minimum RAM you’re likely to be considering, so it’s good that the MacBook Pro 16 starts with that rather than the 8GB default in the MacBook Pro 13. But what if you need more than that? Is it worth paying Apple’s astronomical prices?

Unfortunately, this is one area where you don’t have a lot of choice. As iFixit found when they performed their MacBook Pro 16 teardown, Apple has soldered the RAM to the laptop. That means once you’ve bought it, it’s all but impossible to switch it out for more should you find yourself wanting to expand. You’re stuck with whatever choice you make at the checkout.

As a result, you’ll need to think very hard about how much memory you need. Does your current computer have 16GB and is constantly maxed out? Is your workload likely to increase soon, necessitating more RAM? These are questions you need to ask yourself before deciding how much memory to buy.

Most people are unlikely to need as much as 64GB of RAM, so having to pay $800 is a rare case. But whatever you go for, make sure it’s the right amount for you.


Photos by Riley Young

If you decide to opt for the 2.3GHz Core i9 processor, you automatically get bumped up to 1TB of SSD storage; if not, the MacBook Pro 16 starts with a 512GB SSD. Either way, both are far more spacious than the 128GB or 256GB SSDs the MacBook Pro 13 models start with, which is very welcome.

The price to increase the MacBook Pro 16’s storage varies depending on which model you pick. Starting with the 2.6GHz i7 model, you can upgrade to a 1TB SSD for $200, 2TB for $600, 4TB for $1,200, or a whopping 8TB for an equally whopping $2,400. The prices on the i9 model, interestingly, are slightly cheaper. You’ll pay $400 to step up to 2TB, while the 4TB SSD costs $1,000 and the 8TB monster is $2,200.

These prices may seem quite expensive for their respective capacities, but it should be noted that Apple uses some of the fastest SSDs on the market. These aren’t your standard SATA drives that hit a puny 500MBps — Apple claims its drives can reach a searing 3.2GBps. While you might pay more than other laptop manufacturers for storage, you know you’re getting a blisteringly fast drive to make up for it.

So, which capacity should you go for? That really depends on your work. If you want to use the MacBook Pro 16 for photo editing or video production, it’s likely you’re going to need more storage space than someone who uses it for web development, for example.

Another key consideration is where you’ll be using the laptop. If you’ll solely use it at home or in an office, you’d be better off using a dedicated file server or large external hard drive, which will be far more affordable than Apple’s larger storage options. If, on the other hand, you regularly need to take your laptop out and about, having lots of internal storage will be preferable.

The final note is that you can also offload a lot of your files to iCloud using your Mac’s Optimize Storage setting, which stores files to the cloud and lets you re-download them when you need them. If you can’t afford Apple’s larger SSDs in the MacBook Pro 16, an iCloud storage plan and Optimize Storage could help.


Image used with permission by copyright holder

Unlike its 13-inch sibling, the MacBook Pro 16 has discrete graphics card options, making it a better choice if you want to play games, render videos, or run any other task that’s particularly graphics-intensive.

The entry-level MacBook Pro 16 has an AMD Radeon Pro 5300M with 4GB of video memory, while it can be upgraded to an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 4GB of RAM (the default in the high-end MacBook Pro 16), or an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 8GB of RAM.

If your work is more processor-focused and you don’t need a beefy graphics card, the 5300M should suit you fine. And if you decide to go for the 2.3GHz i9 model with the 1TB SSD, you get the 5500M with 4GB of RAM included anyway.

If you can afford it (and if you need it), we’d recommend stepping up to the 8GB 5500M, as it only costs $100 more than the 4GB 5500M. That’s not a bad upgrade price to get double the video memory, which will come in handy in games that use a lot of large textures, for example. Regardless of what you buy, don’t get expect it to be a killer gaming laptop.

Which MacBook Pro 16 model should you buy?

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Some choices for the MacBook Pro 16 are relatively easy to make, while others depend a lot on your circumstances. For our money, though, we’d recommend the following model.

Start by going for the 2.3GHz i9 processor. That will automatically bump you up to a 1TB SSD and an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 4GB of video RAM. We reckon you should stick with the 1TB SSD and expand with an external storage drive if you need more space, but upgrade the graphics card to the 8GB model for $100 more — doubling the video memory should come in very handy. The final piece of the puzzle is memory, and this really depends on your use case. 16GB should be fine unless you’re doing memory-intensive work.

That configuration will cost $2,899. It’s a lot of money, but the MacBook Pro 16 is easily the most capable, performant Mac laptop you can buy right now. If you have a demanding workload, you’ll be glad for the extra power under the hood.

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