The upgraded older chips still mostly win

The upgraded older chips still mostly win

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Now that the second generation of Apple Silicon for Mac has landed (albeit in a machine almost nobody should buy), it’s time to look at the performance of the M2 versus the M1 Pro, M1 Max, and M1 Ultra.

We don’t yet have any M2 benchmarks, but we still know a lot from Apple’s own statements …


You can read a more detailed piece on the launch of the M1 chip, but here’s the potted history:

Apple unveiled its first batch of M1 Macs with the M1 MacBook AirMac mini, and MacBook Pro – all of them being well-praised. Since then, the company announced its first desktop with the M1 chip, the 24-inch iMac, redesigned the MacBook Pro with more powerful variants M1 Pro and M1 Max, then its powerful Mac Studio with the M1 Ultra chip, which can even surpass the 2019 Mac Pro.

Apple announced the M2 at WWDC, first available in a very minor upgrade to the 13-inch MacBook Pro, to be followed by the 2022 MacBook Air. Unless you’re in love with the Touch Bar, the latter will be the one to buy.

M2 versus M1 Pro/Max/Ultra

We’ll need to wait for M2 benchmarks, but in the meantime Macworld carried out its comparisons using Apple’s own statements about the performance offered by each of the chips in question.

M2 versus M1 Pro

With twice as many performance cores, it’s already a win for the upgraded versions of the older chip.

The M1 Pro generally offered CPU performance more about 60 percent higher than the M1. Apple says the M2’s CPU is 18% faster than the M1, so there’s still a pretty substantial gap there. When the benchmarks arrive, we suspect the M1 Pro will still deliver multi-core performance that is around 35 percent higher than the M2.

The M2’s GPU is 35 percent faster than that of the M1, according to Apple. But the M1 Pro, with up to 16 GPU cores and way more memory bandwidth, is about twice as fast as the M1. So expect the M1 Pro to still come in around 40 percent faster than the M2.

You can also have more memory, and get twice the memory bandwidth, with the M1 Pro. The one area where the M2 wins is in the Neural Engine, where the 2nd-gen chip is 40% faster – so if you’re using AI applications, that may be a factor worth considering.

M2 versus M1 Max

As you’d expect, a comparison favors the M1 Max even more.

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 there won’t change–still likely about 35% faster than the M2.

The GPU is twice as big, and it offers twice the maximum memory with twice the memory bandwidth as the M1 Pro. Expect GPU performance roughly 2.5x that of the M2. The M1 Max has two media engines, giving it similar features but double the performance of the M1 Pro or M2. 

The same Neural Engine rider applies.

M2 versus M1 Ultra

No surprise that glueing two M1 Max chips together to create the M1 Ultra doubles the gap.

You actually get 20 CPU cores, so it’ll be more than 2.5x faster than the M2’s CPU. The GPU is up to 64 cores, and is likely 5x faster than the M2. There are four media engines, too. 

In fact, the M1 Ultra will actually beat the M2 in every way, including the Neural Engine, because it has two 16-core Neural Engines. While they each do 11 trillion ops, the combined 22 trillion ops is still about 40% faster than the next-generation Neural Engine in the M2.

Bottom line

Basically, if you’re buying now, and are not heavily AI-based, then it’s no contest: buy a machine with one of the upgraded M1 chips. Of course, everything will change when the M2 Pro/Max/Ultra chips land, but there will always be a better machine on the way no matter when you buy.

Check out the full Macworld piece for more.

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