With the release of the 2023 MacBook Pro and 2023 Mac mini, the second generation form of Apple Silicon on the Mac has been revealed. Unsurprisingly, this is sort of a repeat of the first generation: Apple has divided its chips into several different varieties.
As with the M1 generation, the new M2 Pro and M2 Max chips are closely related to each other and to the M2 chip introduced last summer. They are all based on the same foundation, but each chip has different characteristics. When it comes time to decide how much to pay for a Mac mini or MacBook Pro, these differences matter.
Round 1: M2 vs M1
Before comparing the M2 Pro and M2 Max, it’s worth discussing the M2, which debuted last June with the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro. The CPU and GPU cores in the M2 are the same as those in Apple’s A15 chip, which formed the basis of the iPhone 13 line.
Apple chips are getting faster. Overall, each M2 CPU core is about 12 to 15 percent faster than the equivalent M1 core. As a result, the transition from M1 to M2 cannot provide the quantum leap provided by Apple’s transition from Intel to its own processors. Instead, the Mac is now on the slow but steady path of progress that we see every year with the introduction of a new iPhone processor.
However, Apple continues to improve from generation to generation. With the M2, Apple has eliminated one of the biggest drawbacks of the M1 processor: the limited amount of RAM. The M2 can support up to 24GB of combined storage, up from the 16GB limit that made many potential M1 Mac buyers wince. Apple has also increased memory bandwidth from 68GB to 100GB per second.
While the M2 retained the same configuration of CPU cores as the M1 – eight cores, four for performance and the other four for efficiency – the maximum number of GPUs available on a chip has been increased from eight to ten. which slightly increased the maximum graphics performance. The next generation Neural Engine on the M2 is over 40 percent faster in machine learning operations.
Perhaps most importantly, M2 offered video encoding acceleration. In the previous generation of chips, Apple added special hardware to the high-performance M1 Pro, Max, and Ultra chips so they could encode and decode ProRes video files much more efficiently. Apple brought this capability to M2, making Macs with M2 processors much more powerful video editors.
The M2 is an impressive chip, but it really pales in comparison to the M2 Pro and M2 Max. The M2’s four high-end processor cores make it surprisingly powerful, but the M2 Pro and Max offer twice as much, which doesn’t double the processor’s performance… but is still about 1.6 times faster. And then there’s the GPU side, where the M2’s 10 maximum GPU cores go against the M2 Pro’s 19 GPU cores and the M2 Max’s staggering 38 maximum GPU cores.
And while the M2’s 24GB of maximum RAM is much better than the M1’s 16GB, the M2 Pro can go up to 32GB while the M2 Max can go up to 96GB. The M2 Pro has twice the memory bandwidth of the M2 and four times the memory bandwidth of the M2 Max.
Throw in the limited USB/Thunderbolt ports and video-out support, and you’ll see there’s a lot more to the high-performance chips than the M2. That doesn’t mean the M2 is a failure anyway! It is actually a very powerful chip. But Apple designed the M2 Pro and M2 Max for the more demanding user.
Round (M)2: Pro vs. Max
As with the M1 Pro and M1 Max, it’s important to note that the M2 Pro and M2 Max are identical in many ways. Apple offers M2 Pro chips with fewer than 12 CPU cores, but if you purchase the 12-core model, you’ll get the same 12 cores as on the M2 Max. Processor power will be the same. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look:
Everywhere is a different story. Apple has limited the M2 Pro to 19 GPU cores, but the M2 Max can have up to 38 GPU cores. This means that if you need graphics power, M2 Max is the way to push it to the max.
Similarly, the M2 Pro’s maximum memory is 32GB, but the M2 Max can handle up to 96GB. And the memory bandwidth of the M2 Max is twice that of the M2 Pro. And M2 Max encodes video better when decoding because it has two video encoding engines and ProRes video engines for M2 Pro. This means that for some video encoding tasks, the M2 Max will be twice as fast, as shown by our Final Cut Pro export.
M2 Pro vs M2 Max: choose wisely
Basically, you can think of the M2 Max as an M2 Pro with a little extra – and based on photos of Apple’s chips, you can take that literally. The two chips appear to be identical when viewed from the top down on the M2 Pro… but the M2 Max is larger, continuing a bit further. In this new area, Apple added a second bank of GPUs, an extra memory bus, and additional video encoding engines.
So what will it be, Pro or Max? If your workflows rely heavily on CPU speed, the extra GPU cores of the M2 Max chips won’t help you, making the M2 Pro a better buy. That’s unless you need massive amounts of very fast RAM, in which case, again, the M2 Max is the better choice. Video encoding will be faster on the M2 Max, but perhaps not enough to justify the higher prices.
Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro (2023, M2 Max, 12/38 cores, 1TB)
Apple 14-inch MacBook Pro (2023, M2 Pro, 12/19 cores, 1 TB)
Read our comparison between Mac Studio (M1 Max) and Mac mini (M2 Pro).