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2016 Macbook Pro Review Thunderbolt3/USB3 Type C
by Rick Stephens
I'm enjoying myself typing away on a new at this time Late 2016 15 inch MacBook Pro. Seems like forever since I got to put a new Mac through its paces, and this one is definitely all different with its four newly birthed Thunderbolt3/USB-C ports. There's nothing else there except for a headphone jack. T3 and USB-C is the new 'one connection to rule them all' standard. Going to be interesting to see how they measure up.
Wanting the best longevity we dug a bunch deeper in the piggy bank and ordered up the top of the line model with 2.9 GHz processors and the Radeon 460 Pro Graphics. And we're driving an extended pair of big DVI monitors, something I had never been able to do on a laptop before. The graphics power on the new MBP is spectacular.
It was a snap getting up and running, a real pleasure with its lightening fast responsiveness (credit the blazing speedster PCIe based internal drive at 3Gb/sec!) and crisp crystal clear graphics on what was the first Retina display for MacGurus to own as a test and workstation machine. From the standpoint of moving my stuff and getting my applications running, Apple has always made that easy and we weren't disappointed. We had, still have, a few issues with 'pre-rental' CS5 Photoshop behaviors with Sierra. And Sierra totally killed the version of Dreamweaver we run, so I'm writing this on BBEdit (barebones rocks! or as the developer says: It doesn't suck.) Lastly we installed Windows10 on a bootcamp partition and also set up Parallels to run it in virtual mode at need.
But now the hard part - all these damn ADAPTERS!
I have what is approaching several hundred dollars in little dongles, gadgets and widgets to attempt to hook anything (well, more like *everything* so we can test them all) to the Thunderbolt3 ports. Worst of all, many of the adapters, like Apple's Thunderbolt3 (T3) to Thunderbolt2 (T2) adapter, don't work with everything as you might expect. One such failure is the afore mentioned DVI monitors. I have yet to find a simple Thunderbolt3 to Thunderbolt2 adapter that also supports display port connection, which shares a common connector with Thunderbolt2. Looks like those adapters will only work with Thunderbolt monitors. This is less than optimum since we want to run Thunderbolt2 based RAID arrays and chain our monitors off them. No such luck as these adapters don't appear to pass the display port signal through.
The one saving grace here are the inexpensive USB3 Type C adapters on the market. For far less money we found these usually work well. Downside is, no chaining, so you run out of ports quick. So my two DVI/HDMI Displays have been attached using either USB-C to DVI or USB-C to HDMI adapters costing under each. My apologies for not carrying any of these, I have yet to figure a way to purchase and then price them anywhere in the ballpark with Amazon or other of the big online sellers. One upside, the USB-C adapters did work chained off of native Thunderbolt3 devices.
What adapters did we end up with attached? First was the couple of previously noted Cable Matters USB-C to DVI adapters. After trying several different USB hubs we ended up staying with the IOGear USB-C to 3 x USB3.0 ports plus ethernet. This lets us hook up wired keyboards and other traditional USB devices like USB3 storage, and connect the MBP to MacGurus' hardwired network.
Next we had to get some big storage running and see what would work with Thunderbolt3. Note, Mac developers haven't had test machines until this new MBP showed up, so most of the Thunderbolt3 devices are not yet supported by Mac OSX. So we used a hack that makes your operating system skip checking whether a device is supported or not, and carried on. So far, I haven't found anything that was buggy, which is good indicator that developers can get things approved in short order.
First thing up, Thunder3 Quad with 4 SSDs in a RAID0. Figured I'd see what speed is. Figured wrong. Not for sure and for certain why yet, but fastest speeds I could achieve were 1050MB/sec. Far below the Thunderbolt3 promise of nearly 3G. My first guess is that the cause is this MBP has bridged Thunderbolt3, not native Thunderbolt3 since the i7 processor isn't capable of supporting that. I have tried everything in my current arsenal and that has been the limit of bandwidth, so far. All my devices behave in very dignified manners from drive enclosures to PCIe card adapters and RAID controllers. But all share this same bandwidth limitation. I'm hoping it is me. I was expecting that with enough SSDs I could smoke through any numbers achieved on Macs before. Success with that has been illusory. Everything works, but at best at Thunderbolt2 speeds.
The 2016 MBP is a beast of a machine. Chews up graphics, video and photo jobs like only a MacPro tower has for me in the past. All with incredibly beautiful graphic quality in a slim lightweight, and well behaved, laptop. My only question is its ability to IO data at promised performance levels. Here's hoping I'm missing something. Wouldn't be the first time. ~Rick