Benchmark test shows Core i9 severely throttled in 15-inch MacBook Pro

YouTuber Dave Lee is reporting what we already expected would happen with Apple’s latest 15-inch MacBook Pro refresh with the Core i9-8950HK six-core processor crammed inside: Performance throttling. There is just simply not enough space in the 0.61-inch-tall chassis to sufficiently cool the chip, thus to prevent damage from overheating, the MacBook Pro throttles down its speed.

The Core i9-8950HK is Intel’s first “Core i9” chip for mobile, and one of the company’s first six-core chips for laptops. Launched in April, it has a base speed of 2.9GHz, a maximum speed of 4.8GHz, 12MB of cache, and an integrated UHD Graphics 630 component. It’s a powerhouse of a mobile chip, but because of the MacBook Pro’s thin environment, the chip reportedly isn’t reaching its potential.

According to Lee, you can see the throttling begin after a few seconds of rendering in Adobe Premiere. It can’t even maintain its base speed of 2.9GHz, he says, and forget about hitting that maximum turbo speed. To give a taste of the throttling problem, he provides a rendering test.

In a normal office environment, the Core i9 rendered a 4K clip (H.264) in 39 minutes and 37 seconds. That is a few minutes slower than the Core i7-7820HQ four-core chip in 2017’s 15-inch MacBook Pro, which rendered the same clip in 35 minutes and 22 seconds. But when he ran the same rendering test in an open freezer, the Core i9’s time dropped down to 27 minutes and 18 seconds. That’s a 12-minute 19-second difference.

“This degree of thermal throttling is not acceptable,” he says. “This is isn’t something Apple should put out on the market and just blindly sell to people because people that purchase this device will never know their laptop is throttling to this degree. This type of thermal throttling affects the end user.”

This is a significant problem. Professionals looking for high-performance laptops will see these six-core chips — Intel’s Core i7-8750H is the cheaper option of the two — as a selling point for their investment. The base configuration with the Core i7, 16GB of memory and 512GB of storage is $2,799. Bump that configuration up to the Core i9 and you’re paying $3,099. For that price, you should get every ounce of performance the six-core chip provides.

That said, if you’re only using the MacBook Pro with Intel’s Core i9 to troll Facebook or shop on Amazon, you will never see the throttling. But the MacBook Pro really doesn’t target the mainstream user: It’s a MacOS laptop built for professionals that likely use Final Cut, Adobe Premiere, and/or develop software. It’s the “extended computational work” where the MacBook Pro throttles the Core i9’s performance.

Unfortunately, he didn’t go into details about the Core i7’s performance, but the report is good food for thought if you were eyeing the Core i9 version and its hefty ball-and-chain price tag. We expect to see more benchmarks pop up over the coming weeks as testers get their hands on the new MacBook Pros released last week.

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