When you need power from your laptop, it’s smart to plug in the charger to eke out as much performance as possible. However, Apple’s first M1-powered MacBook Pro models marked a sea change in this ideology, offering comparable performance whether you were hooked up to a wall outlet or not. The new 2023 MacBook Pro models—powered by the enhanced M2 Pro and M2 Max chipsets—progress the very same trick, though they don’t add much else.
The 2023 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models aren’t too different from the 2021 versions, so I’ll largely be focusing on the changes the new processors introduce, specifically the performance and battery life of the M2 Max on the 16-inch MacBook Pro, which is what I’m testing. Either way, if you’re chasing power on the go and you have a large budget, these machines are some of the best around.
The M2 Max sees Apple’s top laptop chip move up from a 10-core CPU and a 32-core GPU on the M1 Max to 12-cores and 38-cores, respectively. What this change doesn’t represent is a move from a 5-nanometer process to 3 nm for the silicon—this is expected to happen with the M3 Pro and M3 Max next year. With a smaller, more efficient chip, it should bring a more sizable boost in both performance and battery life, but that doesn’t mean the improvements in the second-gen chipsets aren’t impressive.
My test unit configuration is the 16-inch MacBook Pro with the M2 Max—the 12-core CPU, 38-core GPU version—with 64 GB of unified memory and a 2-terabyte SSD. This will cost you an eye-watering $4,299 (£4,549), and you can still spend more to upgrade it to 96 GB of unified memory and a 4- or 8-TB SSD. Wild. At these fully kitted-out levels, it still can’t quite reach the heights of the best laptop processors and graphics cards for raw performance. But it comes close and occasionally surpasses the competition in real-world tasks—and, I must emphasize, even on battery.
I’ve tested a lot of laptops in my time, and few have induced an audible “wow” as frequently as the MacBook Pro does. It draws less power than rivals, ultimately achieving better battery life across the board—from productivity to intense creative workloads—as well as producing far less noise and heat. The M2 Max model doesn’t reach the listed 15 hours of wireless web browsing that Apple claims; it settled closer to 12 hours. But crucially, during intensive work, it handily beats rivals that typically hit a maximum of two hours by an extra hour or two. When the time comes to top up, the 140-watt MagSafe charger will get you back to 100 percent in under 90 minutes.
The M2 Max laughs in the face of titanic productivity workloads. It’s a tab hoarder’s dream. But, that’s really not what this chip is for. I enlisted the help of experienced editor and WIRED creative development manager Anna O’Donohue to take our review model for a spin. We added a combination of 4K footage, image files, and 3D effects to a project in Adobe Premiere Pro. The M2 Max reacted breathlessly. Anna noted the smooth playback—she’d expected to have to lower the quality of the footage to avoid stutters. We were left with a speedy export time too.
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This chipset is made for tackling intensive graphically demanding production work, though it may have more horsepower than most video creators even need. I’d argue the M2 Pro is a better pick for the intermediate photo or video editor, as well as for anyone that doesn’t require lots of graphical power (like for music production).
Gaming on a Mac? For many a year, it was a pipe dream, a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But it’s here, and having it alongside the rest of this laptop’s performance capabilities feels like a victory lap for Apple. In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, you can hit roughly 70 frames per second at Quad HD on Ultra settings—a remarkable result given the Mac’s lackluster gaming performance over the years. Drop it down to 1080-pixel resolution and you can take full advantage of the 120-Hz screen refresh rate with the same Ultra settings. As long as the list of compatible games improves, gaming on Macs will become a pleasing nicety for creators who like to dabble in their downtime. Yes, it still falls well short of what mid to top-tier Nvidia graphics cards can achieve, but it’s a step forward.
Aside from the new chips, other welcome upgrades include a move to an HDMI 2.1 port, Wi-Fi 6E support (only useful if you have a Wi-Fi 6E router), Bluetooth 5.3, and MagSafe cables that match the Space Gray or Silver options. Who doesn’t love a bit of color matching? It still maintains the highlights of its predecessor, from a nice selection of ports and an upgraded 1080p webcam to excellent speakers, a great keyboard, and a roomy and responsive trackpad.
There’s still no form of Face ID for unlocking this machine, just Touch ID integrated into the keyboard. The only other gripe I have is that the edges of the MacBook feel a bit sharp, but I quickly got used to it.
The Complete Package
If you have an M1 Pro or M1 Max MacBook Pro, you absolutely do not need to upgrade now. Stuck on an older Intel-powered Mac? This will be a tremendous transition. If your current machine is holding out just fine, it might be worth waiting until 2024 for the M3 Pro and M3 Max built on the 3-nanometer process for an even more significant leap in power and battery life.
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Stuck on which MacBook Pro to buy? It’s down to how much you require top-spec performance and battery life. For power users who want a bigger screen and more battery, consider the M2 Pro paired with the 16-inch MacBook Pro. You might want to measure the dimensions of your backpack to make sure it will fit. It’s lighter than most high-powered Windows machines, and I had no trouble carrying it in my commuter bag, but your mileage may vary.
If you want enough performance for creator-centric workloads such as intermediate video editing, then the M2 Pro should more than suffice and will offer better battery life on both the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro. Combining the 14-inch MacBook Pro with an M2 Max seems like the configuration to avoid. Battery life won’t be all that great due to the smaller battery capacity and the power-hungry M2 Max chip. If you want that extra performance, the 16-inch chassis hones it more effectively. Some rivals may offer better raw performance, but for graphically-intense work— like 3D modeling, advanced graphic design, and complex video editing—the complete package of this MacBook Pro wins by knockout.