The MacBook Pro 2020 has a big catch — read this before you buy

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The MacBook Pro 2020 (13-inch) may start at $1,299, but that entry-level model comes packing an annoying surprise: last year's processors. Oh, and you're also getting leftovers in the $1,499 13-inch MacBook Pro as well.

Unfortunately, the 10th Gen Intel CPUs are only available for those who pony up an extra $500, and get the 13-inch MacBook Pro at $1,799 or more. And that price only gives you a Core i5 chip, and not a Core i7. And while Apple now offers faster RAM on the new MacBook Pro, that is also reserved for pricier configurations.

Here's what you need to know if you want a MacBook Pro 2020 that's as future-proof as possible.

Yep, we've seen this processor before

I started poking around in 2019 MacBook Pro reviews to confirm my suspicion, and saw that those reviews listed the same clock speed and CPU generation as the entry-level models Apple is selling: a "1.4-GHz 8th-Gen Core i5 processor."

So, while Apple's press release touts that "The 13-inch MacBook Pro lineup now offers up to 10th-generation quad-core Intel Core processors with Turbo Boost speeds of up to 4.1GHz.," read that with an emphasis on up to. And anyone who bought a MacBook Pro last year? Well, unless you want to spend more, you won't see much of a difference in performance. 

Since there are a wide variety of Intel processors — and Apple typically doesn’t reveal the exact CPU model number — it's hard to say how big a gap in performance there will be between the 8th and 10th Gen quad-core processors. That being said, you shouldn't have to figure that out.

Spending $1,299 on a new MacBook Pro should get you the latest processors. The newest Dell XPS 13, for example, starts with a 10th Gen quad-core Core i5 chip, the Intel Core i5-1035G1. The Dell XPS 13 starts at $1,207 but weaker Intel UHD graphics. To get Intel Iris Plus graphics, you need to spend $250 more, but that comes with an Intel Core i7 CPU.

As my 8-year-old MacBook Pro can attest, Apple's laptops last a while and don't need annual updates, so we're guessing that most people who bought last year's model aren't in a need for speed. Anyone looking to invest in a MacBook Pro that goes the distance, though, shouldn't think that the entry-level model has today's processor.

The faster RAM is also reserved for those for deeper pockets

Stop me if you've heard this one before. Apple also makes you pay more for faster memory. The the entry-level MacBook Pro has 8GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 RAM, which is slower than the 3733MHz LPDDR4X memory in the $1,799 model. 

Again, Dell defaults to the modern component, as the XPS 13 starts with 8GB of 3733MHz RAM. This brings us to a little value showdown. When you customize both the 13-inch MacBook Pro and XPS 13 with 10th Gen Intel Core i5 CPUs, 16GB of 3733MHz LPDDR4X RAM and a 512GB SSD, the XPS 13 costs only $1,322, more than $400 less than the $1,799 MacBook Pro.

This MacBook's biggest features aren't its processors

The new MacBook Pro isn't a disappointment, though, as it delivers in two important qualities. First off, out goes the controversial and too-shallow Butterfly keyboard. The Magic Keyboard first seen in the 16-inch MacBook Pro last winter and this year’s MacBook Air 2020 finally hits the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

This upgrade is something you’ll notice right away and appreciate every day. We’ve found the new scissor switch keyboard to be comfortable and responsive — without causing annoying errors.

Apple's also taken one of its best value decisions from the MacBook Air 2020 and given it to the MacBook Pro. The 13-inch MacBook now starts with 256GB of SSD storage, rather than the 128GB formerly in its starting unit. That kind of decision had me hoping that Apple wouldn't make you pay more to get the correct processor in the entry-level MacBook Pro, which it has not.

Buying advice

So, yeah, I wouldn't buy the entry-level MacBook Pro 2020 (13-inch), because I want to invest in the future. That being said, as much as I'm frustrated by the uptick in pricing, the $1,799 version of this MacBook Pro also bumps you up to a 512GB SSD, and adds another two Thunderbolt 3 ports. That way you cancan charge from either side of the notebook (some say you should charge from the right to avoid performance issues). 

Is the entry-level MacBook Pro worth buying for anyone? It is more powerful than the MacBook Air, whose 10th Gen Core i5 chip is a less powerful dual-core processor. Even if you step up to the quad-core 10th Gen Core i5 in the MacBook Air, it’s still a less powerful Y series CPU than the 8th Gen U-series processor in the MacBook Pro.

Nevertheless, the new 13-inch MacBook Pro is a welcome update, especially for everyone like myself who skipped the entire generation of Butterfly-switch MacBooks, waiting for Apple to make the moves it's made over the last months. I just hope nobody's fooled by the $1,299 model’s specs and believes that it has the latest and greatest components.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.

  • y2kgtp
    Go basic model or all in, there is never a logical middle priced area with Apple Macs.
  • reza666
    So what is the CPU model number for i7 ? everyone write about i5 chip.