If you’re in the market for a desktop computer or laptop to do some serious photography work on, you might want to watch this 10-minute video first. Tech presenter Linus Sebastian of Linus Tech Tips explains why the thermals of Apple’s Mac products generally make them perform slower than rival PC equivalents on the market.
In 2018, Apple’s new top-of-the-line MacBook Pro caused a stir when reviewers found that heat issues caused major slowdowns that brought performance down to the level of lower-tier models. Apple then responded by saying that the CPU throttling was being caused by a software bug, and the fix did bring performance gains in official tests.
But in the video above, Linus argues that heat and CPU throttling are still big issues across many of Apple’s Mac products. In his own tests, he found that running a 2018 Mac mini and 2018 MacBook Pro in a custom chill box resulted in significantly better performance:
While most competitor laptops on the market also thermal throttle, many of them do so to a lesser degree, Linus says, and he believes that these throttling issues are intentional design decisions.
“We found that even with better cooling, temperatures were the same,” Linus says. “So Apple took advantage of the extra thermal headroom by keeping the fans low for as long as possible instead of attempting to boost the CPU’s performance for longer.
“I get it. Nobody wants their fans to ramp up like a jet engine just because they loaded a big file in Photoshop that made the CPU work for five seconds, but if we’re running an all-core load, we’re hitting 90 plus degrees for more than that, the system needs to kick its fans into overdrive in order to protect itself.”
By prioritizing the design and aesthetics of its products to focus more on consumers rather than professionals, Apple has made compromises in the area of performance that PC rivals don’t make (to the same degree), Linus argues. And instead of Apple going with slower processors that are more suited for the form factors and designs, Linus believes that it’s marketing that drives Apple to choose faster processors that do throttle.
“Remember: a slower CPU that doesn’t throttle is not slower than a faster one that does,” Linus says.
What this means for professional photographers and creatives is that while your Apple Mac product may look sexy, you may be able to have a noticeable increase in performance by going for a better-cooled and less-throttled PC with equivalent specs.
But one big exception to this warning may be Apple’s newly announced and completely redesigned Mac Pro, which starts at over $6,000 and can cost well over $40,000 when fully loaded. This time, Apple has made it a point to create “a state-of-the-art thermal architecture” that allows the up-to-28-core processor to run at full strength continuously.
Apple had previously apologized for the failures of its trash can-shaped Mac Pro in 2017 — it was crushed by a much cheaper PC in Photoshop tests at a fraction of the cost — while promising “something great” for professionals. If the refreshed Mac Pro is an indication of Apple’s new priorities, we may soon see new levels of performance out of the MacBook Pro line as well.