Apple M2 vs M2 Pro vs M2 Max Chipset: What’s the Difference?
Apple uploaded a 19-minute video on 17th January on their official YouTube channel. This wasn’t exactly a launch event. The video was a direct press release for their new MacBooks and a new Mac Mini product.
The event kicked off with the M2 Mac Mini. The M1 Mac Mini was a fabulous product and a significant hit among enthusiasts and the public for its incredible performance. The new Mac Mini packs the M2 chip in a compact form factor. It also starts at a lower 599$ price.
The MacBook Air M2 was the first product with the M2 chip, now featured in the Mac Mini. Apple also released two more chips; the M2 Pro and the M2 Max.
The 14″ and 16″ M2 Pro and M2 Max MacBook Pro models are identical to the 2021 models in every way except the new chip. They share the same incredible 120Hz MiniLED screens, good build quality, excellent speakers, and industry-leading efficiency per watt.
The first device to feature the new M2 Pro chip is the Mac Mini. Apple packed the M2 Pro chip in in the same compact form factor. The new MacBooks still have a top-notch design, no FaceID and the same 1080P Webcams.
The MacBooks also have 8K Display Support, more battery (advertised 22 hours battery life), Wi-Fi 6E, and up to 96GB of unified RAM. The upgrades to the 2021 models are incredibly minor, with nothing new except the chips, which are minor too.
The new M2 Pro and M2 Max chips have slightly improved video rendering, colour grading, and photo editing speeds. But the gains are minor compared to the previous models.
Apple M2 vs M2 Pro vs M2 Max: Comparison
- 8 cores vs 10/12 cores vs 12 cores.
The M2 chip has an 8-core CPU built on TSMC’s 5nm node. It features four efficiency cores and four performance cores. The chip has 16MB of L2 Cache. The M2 has nearly 20 Billion transistors.
The newly announced M2 Pro improves on M2’s architecture. It uses TSMC’s 2nd gen 5nm technology, which now has a 10 or 12-core CPU. The M2 Pro has nearly 40 Billion transistors, double that of the M2.
The maxed-out version has eight performance cores and four efficiency cores. They are advertised as 40% faster, and the better efficiency cores give you more battery life.
Apple markets the M2 Max as the best, most efficient chip on a laptop. The M2 Max has 67 Billion transistors, much more than the 40 Billion on the M2 Pro. The Max has the same 12-core CPU found on the M2 Pro.
Both chips have Apple’s new 16-core Neural Engine that can do nearly 15.8 Billion operations a second. It can be up to 40% faster than the previous neural engine, but real-life differences remain to be seen.
As usual, the CPU is incredibly efficient and consumes less energy per watt. The chips deliver the same performance, whether plugged or unplugged, which makes them genuinely portable devices.
You don’t have to plug into a charger to unlock the maximum performance; plugging in an adapter does nothing.
- 8/ 10 cores vs up to 19 cores vs up to 38 cores.
The GPU for the M2 contains either 8 or 10 cores. This improved from the 7 or 8-core GPU found on the M1. The M2 chip had significant GPU bumps, as opposed to the CPU.
The M2 Pro takes the GPU game further with up to 19 cores, up from 16 on the M1 Pro. It also has a larger L2 Cache. The GPU is 30% faster than the M1 Pro. This results in better gaming (if you’re someone who dares to game on a Mac).
The real-world use cases are photo and video editing, professional 3D and graphic designing, CAD Rendering, etc. Image processing happens slightly faster as a result.
While the CPU on the M2 Max is identical to the M2 Pro, the GPU sees significant upgrades. 38 cores are great, and there’s a larger L2 cache. Apple advertises the GPU to be 30% better than the M1 Max.
Graphic-intensive tasks, stitching together and editing huge images, visual effects and other heavy GPU-intensive processes will now work slightly better than the M1 Max.
According to the marketing material, the M2 Pro is 40% faster than the M1 Pro in Photoshop.
RAM & Storage
On the M2 MacBook Air, you can pick between 8, 16, and 24GB of RAM. For the internal storage choices, you can choose between 512GB, 1TB, and 2TB SSDs. The new M2 Mac Mini offers the same 8/ 16/ 24GB RAM and the same storage options.
You can pick between 16 and 32GB of RAM on the M2 Pro and go from 512GB to 8TB SSDs. A “Pro” laptop at nearly 2000$ in 2023 should start at 1TB, but Apple’s laptops still start at 512GB. The M2 Pro Mac Mini offers similar RAM and storage options.
RAM options for the M2 Max models begin at 32GB and go up to 96. There’s an in-between 64GB option too. The SSDs start at 1TB for the Max and go up to 8TB, the same as the M2 Pro models.
What happened to 3nm?
Earlier, there were rumours of Apple booking 3nm chips from TSMC. Many people assumed they would be the M2 Pro and M2 Max chips.
Since the M2 came with 5nm fabrication, people thought Apple was reserving the 3nm chips for the higher-end laptops. However, the announcement already happened, and none of the chips has TSMC’s 3nm fabrication.
The chips have TSMC’s 5nm “next generation” fabrication. It will not be as efficient as 3nm, but 5nm is good enough. TSMC probably ran into last-minute supply chain issues or heating problems.
To increase performance and efficiency, you have to make the transistors smaller. Smaller transistors will mean you can cram more of them into a tiny space. However, there are several problems with smaller transistors.
They run into issues with yield rate and suffer heating problems if not done right. Making chips with such tiny transistors crammed into a small place is difficult, and there were probably a lot of semiconductor problems when trying to do so.
3nm TSMC chips also have a meagre yield rate, which could be another reason why the new laptops don’t have them. The upcoming iPhone 15 Pro models might feature the 3nm TSMC tech for the A17 Bionic, and it will probably make its way to the M3 chips.
Benchmarks and Real-World Use
The M2 does not have an extremely significant bump from the M1 in terms of CPU performance. The GPU handles a select few optimised games better. Light graphic design and simple video edits are faster, thanks to a better Media Engine.
The M2 Pro, however, has a mighty and efficient new media engine with hardware-accelerated H.264 and HEVC CODECs.
You also have ProRes Video encode and decode. You can play multiple streams of 8K videos at high frame rates with no issues. The new media engines supposedly make video encoding much better.
There are no official benchmarks yet because the laptops were just announced today. We will wait for more real-world tests before judging the new chips and whether they have any problems with heat.
The M1 was power efficient and ran pretty cool, but the M2 was reported to have thermal throttling problems and heating problems under stress. So, it remains to be seen whether or not the M2 Pro and M2 Max have these issues.
According to NanoReview, M2 scores around 1500 on CineBench R23’s Single-Core tests and an average of ~8600 on the Multi-Core. If we follow Apple’s advertisements, the M2 Max is 15.9X faster than the 2019 Intel MacBook Pro.
Considering that Apple compared their new chips to five-year-old hardware, it signifies that these chips aren’t a significant leap forward. Most comparisons were made with cheaper Windows machines or their old Intel MacBooks.
Which chip is correct for you?
If you’re a casual user who uses your laptop or PC for web browsing, watching videos, social media, etc., then even the M1 chip will suffice. The M2 chip is slightly improved in all areas that might not be noticeable in real-life use.
The M2 Pro chip is probably the maximum performance most people will need. This chip can handle heavy streams of 8K video editing, even multiple in the timeline. Audio Engineering is fast on the M2 Pro.
You can easily use the M2 Pro for graphic design and programming, and it will fly through all multitasking workloads.
The M2 Max is only for extreme power users who feel that the performance of the M2 Pro isn’t enough. Heavy CAD rendering, compiling a lot of lines of code at once while running other heavy projects in the background, etc., are tasks for which the M2 Max is built.
The M2 MacBook Air starts at 1199$, and the M2 Mac Mini starts at 599$. Each storage and RAM upgrade will cost you more. The M2 MacBook Pro 13″ begins at 1299$.
The new 14″ MacBook Pro with M2 Pro (16GB+ 512GB) starts at 1999$, and upgrading to the M2 Max will cost 500$ more.
For the 16″ models, it’s priced at a whopping 2499$. Fortunately, there’s no price increase from the 2021 models. And rightly so, since nothing has changed except very slightly improved chips.
The 16″ M2 Pro (12-core CPU, 19-core GPU) model starts with 16GB of RAM and 1TB of storage. This variant is priced 2499$, and memory and storage options will cost extra. A chip upgrade will jack up the price by quite a bit.
For people who aren’t really into the new M2 stuff, waiting for the M1 Pro and M1 Max models to drop in price is a better deal. Refurbished M1 Pro and Max MacBook Pro models will sell at much lower than the initial price.
You can see how M2 Pro and M2 Max stack up compared to the Intel‑based MacBook Pro (16-inch Model):
We can see that the M2 Pro and M2 Max are iterative upgrades. There isn’t much difference, and they’re still based on the TSMC 5nm fabrication. They didn’t upgrade to the 3nm fab, which is the main reason for the low margins of improvements.
The 14″ and 16″ models of MacBook Pros launched in 2021 are identical regarding the screen, speakers, trackpad, build, and other internal components except for the chip. So, most people don’t need to upgrade from the 2021 models.
The 13″ MacBook Pro model from 2022 was identical to the M1 MacBook Pro 13″ internally and externally, except for a chipset difference. Apple’s new strategy with laptops seems to be just re-using the same design but putting in a new chip.
Also, it’s worth noting that all of these chips are built with ARM architecture and not X86. The ARM architecture is hyper-efficient since all the components, like RAM, CPU, GPU, etc., are soldered onto one main chip.
This results in effective communication between parts, especially the cache, RAM, and SSD. It also has disadvantages. It’s not the best for cross-platform app development, and there’s no option to natively dual-boot Windows.