Apple’s M2 is here…or will be soon, when the 13-inch MacBook ships on June 24. As expected, the M2 is a nice upgrade over the M1, but not revolutionary. There are improvements in every part of the system-on-chip; the CPU, GPU, Memory System, Neural Engine, and Media Engine.
Obviously the M2 is superior to the M1, but now the question arises: is it worth buying another Mac with the M1 Pro, M1 Max or M1 Ultra? Just because the second-generation Apple silicon is here, does that mean the first-generation has reached the end of the line?
We don’t have any benchmarks yet, but generally the answer will be yes, with the differences getting bigger as you move up the performance stack. In any case, it’s those who are considering the M1 Pro just to get more memory or GPU performance that may be tempted by the M2. This is how the products pile up.
M2 vs M1 Pro
The M1 Pro has a CPU with up to eight performance cores (twice as many as in the M2) and two efficiency cores (half that of the M2). It’s 10 cores for the M1 Pro versus 8 cores for the M2, but with the M1 Pro leaning more towards performance cores.
The M1 Pro generally offered CPU performance that was about 60 percent higher than the M1. Apple says the M2’s CPU is 18 percent faster than the M1 (and recently leaked benchmarks back those numbers), so there’s still a pretty big gap. When the benchmarks arrive, we suspect the M1 Pro will still deliver multi-core performance that’s about 35 percent higher than the M2.
The M2’s GPU is 35 percent faster than the M1’s, according to Apple. But the M1 Pro, with up to 16 GPU cores and much more memory bandwidth, is about twice as fast as the M1. So expect the M1 Pro to still come in about 40 percent faster than the M2.
Likewise, the M2 offers more maximum memory (24GB) and memory bandwidth (100GB/sec) than the M1. But the M1 Pro allows up to 32GB of memory and 200GB/sec of memory bandwidth.
Interestingly, the upgrade from the M2 to the media engine actually appeared in the M1 Pro. You get improved H.264 and HEVC encoding and decoding performance and ProRes support in the M1 Pro, while you didn’t in the M1. As far as we can tell, it’s the same media engine – it just landed first in the M1 Pro.
The only area where the M2 has a clear performance advantage over the M1 Pro is the Neural Engine–Apple custom hardware to accelerate machine learning and AI software. They both have a 16-core Neural Engine, but the M1 Pro has the same Neural Engine as the M1 (and A14), capable of 11 trillion operations per second. The M2’s newer-generation 16-core Neural Engine can handle a reported 15.8 trillion operations, making it more than 40 percent faster.
In short, expect a Mac with the M1 Pro to be a good 30 to 40 percent faster than the M2 in every way, with the exception of the media engine (which appears to be the same) and the Neural Engine (in which the M2 is 40 percent faster).
M2 vs M1 Max
If the M1 Pro is faster than the M2 in most ways, the M1 Max certainly will be. It has the same CPU, so performance won’t change there — still probably about 35 percent faster than the M2.
The GPU is twice the size and offers twice the maximum memory with twice the memory bandwidth as the M1 Pro. Expect GPU performance around 2.5x that of the M2. The M1 Max has two media engines, giving it similar features, but doubling the performance over the M1 Pro or M2.
But the M1 Max only has one 16-core Neural Engine, the same generation as those in the M1 and M1 Pro, meaning the M2’s Neural Engine is likely to be 40 percent faster.
M2 vs M1 Ultra
The M1 Ultra is essentially two M1 Max chips sewn together with a super-fast connection so you can take everything about the M1 Max and double it up. You’re actually getting 20 CPU cores, so it will be over 2.5x faster than the M2’s CPU. The GPU has a maximum of 64 cores and is probably 5x faster than the M2. There are also four media engines.
In fact, the M1 Ultra will even beat the M2 in each way, including the Neural Engine, because it: two 16-core neural motors. While they each perform 11 trillion operations, the combined 22 trillion operations is still about 40% faster than the next-generation Neural Engine in the M2.
M2: External Display Support
If you really want to connect your MacBook to multiple external displays, you should know that the first products to include the M2, the new MacBook Air and the updated 13-inch MacBook Pro, only support one external display with a resolution of up to 6K at 60Hz. In that respect it is just like the M1. You can get around the limitation with DisplayLink adapters and drivers, but you can’t just connect two monitors.
It is unclear whether this is a limitation of the chip itself or the products in which it is used to date. A hypothetically updated Mac mini or other product with more than one pair of Thunderbolt ports may support more displays, but such a product may never exist. The current M1 Mac mini has a pair of Thunderbolt ports that support a single 6K display and an HDMI port that supports up to 4K at 60 Hz.
The M1 Pro supports two external 6K displays, and the M1 Max supports three 6K displays and one 4K display on the MacBook Pro. The Mac Studio supports four 6K displays and one 4K display via HDMI, otherwise you have the M1 Max or M1 Ultra.
Should you wait for M2 Pro, M2 Max or M2 Ultra?
We’re certainly not quite sure what to expect from the M2 Pro, Max and Ultra. It seems reasonable to expect that Apple will follow the same strategy as with the M1, increasing the number of CPU and GPU cores, memory bandwidth and media engines, while keeping the Neural Engine the same (except for the M2 Ultra).
But we don’t really expect these chips to come anytime soon. It will probably be at least late 2022 before an M2 Pro and/or M2 Max is announced, and at least another six months after that before we get the M2 Ultra. We may not see those chips until mid-2023.
And of course they will appear in more expensive Macs, while the M2 Ultra, like the M1 Ultra, probably won’t show up in a laptop. If you’re considering buying the $1,999 entry-level 14-inch MacBook Pro, which features an M1 Pro with an 8-core CPU and 14-core GPU, along with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, you may want to seriously consider the upcoming M2 MacBook Air instead. Configured the same way, it would cost $1,699, and you’d just give up a few ports, a little bit of screen size, and a little bit of performance. It could well be worth the lower price, not to mention the size and weight.
If you want a MacBook Pro with the full 10/16-core M1 Pro configuration, or something more powerful than that, you probably shouldn’t worry about the M2’s existence just yet. It’s only when the M2 Pro, Max and Ultra hit the market that it really matters, and that’s probably at least six months away.