Apple’s M2 Pro beats last year’s M1 Max in CPU performance: MacBook Pro and Mac mini (2023)

MacBook Pro/Mac mini 2023
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In a surprise move, Apple quietly unveiled its M2 Pro/M2 Max chips last week, along with a refreshed 14-inch/16-inch MacBook Pro and Mac mini (2023).

Visually, both devices look identical to their predecessors, which makes sense given that the MacBook Pro was redesigned in 2021, and the Mac mini is not really needs a facelift due to its comparatively cheap and simple design (how much more can you really do with it?).

The main question surrounding the two new devices is how the M2 Pro and M2 Max chips compare to the M1 Pro/M2 Max, and whether Apple’s upgraded chips offer a notable improvement over the somewhat disappointing M2, which was only a marginal upgrade over the M1. .

Mac mini with Studio Display

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get my hands on a MacBook Pro with the M2 Max chip, but with the below M2 Pro benchmarks in mind, it’s safe to assume that it would outperform all existing M2 Apple chips and likely come close to matching last year’s M1 Ultra in terms of performance (I’ll update this story with M2 Max benchmarks if I can put one through its paces). I have also not tested the 16-inch version of the MacBook Pro (2023).

But before we dive into the benchmarks, let’s examine the subtle hardware changes offered by the 14-inch MacBook Pro and Mac mini (2023).

14-inch MacBook Pro (2023)

While the overall design of Apple’s flagship laptop remains the same, there are minor hardware changes under the hood of the new MacBook Pro.

First, the MacBook Pro (2023) supports Wi-Fi 6E, an upgrade over the Wi-Fi 6 offered by the M1 Pro and M1 Max versions. This gives the new 14-inch/16-inch MacBook Pro access to a 6GHz frequency band as long as you have a router that supports it (Google’s recently released Nest Wifi Pro includes Wi-Fi 6E, for example).

The laptop also supports Bluetooth 5.3 and finally HDMI 2.1, which could be a notable upgrade if you own a high-end monitor that offers a refresh rate above 60Hz (it’s puzzling that the 2021 redesign didn’t already include HDMI 2.1).

Apple’s MacBook Pro (2021) has an HDMI 2.0 port, which outputs to a single 4K display at 60Hz. You can reach higher refresh rates via a USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 to Display Port adapter, despite Apple’s claims (this is what I did with my LG UltraGear display). However, this requires an expensive cable rather than a standard HDMI 2.0 cable.

With the MacBook Pro (2023), you can now use the laptop’s built-in HDMI 2.1 port to connect to an 8K display at up to 60Hz or a 4K display at 240Hz, as long as you have a compatible HDMI cable. This makes it easier to take advantage of the higher refresh rate that some 4K displays offer.

Apple also claims about an hour improvement in battery life with the M2 Pro/M2 Max. I’ve only spent a few hours with the laptop, so I’ll have to take the tech giant’s word on that estimate, but to Apple’s credit, its battery life estimates are usually accurate.

And finally, both the “Space Gray” and “Silver” versions of the MacBook Pro (2023) have a color-matched braided MagSafe cable, just like the MacBook Air (2022). This obviously doesn’t improve the laptop’s performance, but it’s still a cool design change.

Mac Mini (2023)

On the Mac mini (2023) side, the situation is largely the same in terms of hardware upgrades beyond the new M2 or M2 Pro chip (there’s no M2 Max mini, with Apple likely to keep that chip for a future Mac Studio upgrade ). The new desktop unit features Wi-Fi 6E, HDMI 2.1 and Bluetooth 2.1, just like its 14-inch and 16-inch laptop counterparts.

Updates unique to the Mac mini (2023) include an optional 10GB Ethernet port, additional RAM (8GB, 16GB, or 24GB), and storage options (512GB, 1TB, or 2TB).

It’s also worth mentioning that the slightly cheaper $799 price tag ($100 cheaper than the M1 Mac mini was) for the entry-level M2 Mac mini is a rarity in Apple’s world, given that the company usually charges more for newer devices. If you already own a mouse, keyboard and monitor, the new M2 Mac mini is an even better deal now.

The benchmarks

That’s probably what you clicked on this story for, so let’s get into it.

In terms of Geekbench 5 single-core and multi-core power, the MacBook Pro (2023) M2 Pro 12-core CPU and the Mac mini (2023) M2 Pro 10-core CPU far outperform the M1 Max 12-core CPU and the M1 Max 10-core CPU included in Mac Studio and Macbook Pro respectively.

Given the somewhat disappointing benchmarks we saw with the 13-inch M2 MacBook Pro last year, I wasn’t expecting much of a boost and assumed the new chip would only come close to matching the M1 Max and not surpass it, so this is a welcome surprise.

Next up we have GPU performance. These results are somewhat disappointing but also make sense given that the M1 Max Mac Studio I has a 24-core GPU and the M1 Max MacBook Pro includes a 32-core GPU. Fewer cores in an integrated GPU usually equals lower performance, and that’s what we have to show here.

Still, both devices outshine last year’s 14-core M1 Pro, but not by a huge margin. As noted in the chart, Apple’s M1 and M2 chips are not compatible with Heaven’s ‘Extreme’ setting and only work with ‘Basic’, skewing these results compared to the Windows devices. However, all Mac comparisons are correct.

Finally, we have the Cinebench R23 CPU score, which gives similar results to Geekbench 5. Both of the M1 Max-powered devices in the chart are boosted by the new M2 Pro, an impressive feat on Apple’s part. That said, as you can see from the results, the MacBook Pro and Max mini (2023) are not comparable that much better.

My main takeaway from these benchmarks is that the M2 Pro outperforms the M1 Pro and, in my tests, even the M1 Max in CPU power. That said, it lags slightly behind the M1 Max in pure GPU power as both variants I tested offer fewer cores. This means that if, like me, you currently use an M1 Max-powered MacBook Pro and do a lot of GPU-intensive tasks (Premiere, Photoshop), the performance is so close between the chip generations (with the M1 Max pulled out of the mix), that it doesn’t is worth the upgrade.

That said, in real-world performance, I’m not sure I’d notice that much of a difference, at least with how I use my MacBook Pro. I’ve only spent a few hours with the MacBook Pro (2023) so far and will update this story if I run into any notable performance issues with my day-to-day use.

This should make anyone who paid the extra cash for an M1 Max-powered Apple device over the past few years feel a little better about their purchase. Still, it’s surprising to see the M2 Pro take down the M1 Max in some of the above benchmarks.

Apple’s 14-inch M2 MacBook Pro starts at $1,999 for the 10-core CPU/16-core GPU version. In this story, I compared the more expensive $2,499 32GB 12-core CPU/19-core GPU iteration. As for the Mac mini, the desktop starts at $599 for the M2 8-core/10-core GPU version. For this story, I compared the 10-core/16-core GPU iteration with 16GB of RAM, which costs $1,299.

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