FAQ | Are Apple’s New MacBook Pros for Me? Are They Worth the Extra Money?

New MacBook Pro 2021 Credit: Apple
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This week, driven by advances in its M1 chip architecture, Apple was able to announce the most insanely powerful MacBook Pro lineup that it’s ever made, and there’s absolutely no doubt that these new MacBooks are game-changers in just about every way.

While it’s easy to drool over all the power that the new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models offer, we also shouldn’t count out Apple’s original M1 chip. In fact, with Apple Silicon, the lines between Apple’s standard and “pro” Macs have become more obscure than ever before.

Just under a year ago, Apple unveiled its first piece of Apple Silicon for the Mac, the M1 chip, using it to unveil a whole new MacBook Air lineup, alongside an entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro and even a new M1-powered Mac mini. A few months later, this M1 chip became the foundation of a completely redesigned 24-inch iMac.

Now, Apple has brought us the M1 Pro and M1 Max, two extremely powerful chips that are designed to meet the needs of actual creative professionals — folks like photographers, graphic designers, game developers, and cinematographers, to name a few.

For people in these fields of work, there is absolutely no doubt that the capabilities of the new M1 Pro/Max chips are going to make a big difference. For everyone else, however? Maybe not so much.

Apple’s standard M1 chip already runs circles around every Intel-based Mac ever made. When it was released last year, the most affordable M1 MacBook Air outperformed every other Mac that had ever been made when it came to normal, everyday tasks. It demolished the Intel variants — even when running x86 apps in Rosetta 2 emulation mode, and an entry-level M1 MacBook Pro can hold its own against a $6,000 Mac Pro for complex video rendering.

High-end Windows games also run amazingly well on the M1 MacBooks, even when factoring in the Rosetta 2 translation layer. An M1 Mac mini even runs the ARM version of Windows 10 better than Microsoft’s own Surface Pro X, and the battery life of the M1 MacBooks is so unbelievable that Apple’s executives thought it was a bug. There’s clearly more than enough power to spare here for normal users.

Who Needs the New 14- or 16-inch MacBook Pro?

All that having been said, the original M1 chip has one glaring limitation — it lacks a discrete GPU — and this is where Apple’s old Intel-based MacBooks still had an advantage, especially in the case of the 16-inch MacBook Pro with its discrete Radeon 5600M GPU.

A GPU, or graphics processing unit, is designed to handle the rendering of complex graphics. It offloads these tasks from the main processor, but it also has specialized features that make it much better at handling things like real-time 3D rendering of animations, video effects processing, and more.

Like most Intel chips, Apple’s standard M1 includes integrated graphics, which means that it can still handle some of these tasks without the need for a separate GPU. This makes it more than suitable for most everyday tasks, but it’s not designed to handle the needs of creatives that do advanced video editing with many layered effects, or game developers and professional animators.

For users in those professions or even hobbyists who dabble in these things, this is what the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips are designed to solve.

With up to 32 GPU cores combined with even more CPU cores than the standard M1, the M1 Pro/Max chips can chew through complex tasks involving graphics in a fraction of the time that even the standard M1 requires.

Apple touched on this when it announced the new M1 Pro/Max chips, with its head of chip design, Johny Srouji, saying that the new M1 chips were designed for those users who need more than what the M1 can offer. Apple’s product page also clearly highlights the new MacBook Pro models as “Supercharged for pros.”

See the New MacBook Pro on Amazon

Apple gave us a pretty good idea of who those users are when Craig Federighi highlighted the companies and developers building their apps for the M1 Pro and M1 Max. This list includes tools that most non-pro users have likely never heard of, such as DaVinci Resolve, Unity Editor, Adobe Premiere Pro, Octane X, Cinema 4D, Redshift, and more.

This promo video gives a pretty good overview of what the M1 Pro and M1 Max are designed to accomplish, but unless you’re rendering a 100GB cutaway of the Starship Enterprise, you probably don’t need an M1 Max chip in your MacBook Pro.

Other Benefits of the New MacBook Pro

As amazing as the new M1 Pro/Max chips are, it’s also fair to say that the new MacBook Pros aren’t just about raw performance, and there are other valid reasons why some users may opt for the higher-end models:

  1. More Ports: If you’re tired of using dongles, the return of the HDMI port and SD card slot will be a welcome change. We’ll likely have to wait until next year to see if Apple decides to bring these down to its more affordable models, or if it plans to reserve them for the needs of professional users.
  2. Mini-LED 120Hz ProMotion Display: It’s hard to argue that the new display is substantially better than anything Apple has ever put into a MacBook before. This alone may be more than enough to justify springing for one of the more expensive models, even if you’re not going to take advantage of the extra power.
  3. More External Displays: The M1 MacBooks only allow you to connect a single external display. The M1 Pro allows for up to two, while the M1 Max will get you up to four — three of which can be 6K Pro Display XDR screens.
  4. Faster Charging: Thanks to the MagSafe 3 connector, the new MacBook Pro models also charge much faster, going from 0-50% in 30 minutes.
  5. 1080p FaceTime Camera: By itself, a better FaceTime camera probably isn’t worth paying $700 more over the 13-inch M1 MacBook Pro, but it may be enough to tip the balance if you’re considering jumping into one of the higher-end models for other reasons.
  6. More RAM: The M1 Pro can handle up to 32GB of RAM, the M1 Max can go as high as 64GB. The standard M1 caps out at 16GB. Thanks to the M1 architecture, however, you probably need less RAM than you think you do.
  7. Size: The 14-inch MacBook Pro offers a modest but still noticeable screen boost over the 13-inch version, but if you want the largest canvas possible, you’re going to have to go with the M1 Pro-powered 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Of course, there’s no reason to shy away from the higher-end M1 Pro/Max MacBook Pro models if you have the money to spend, as they’re great machines, but they’re also clearly designed for the needs of serious professional users.

If you’re not someone in that category, you’ll probably find yourself using a fraction of the power that’s offered by these chips.

With five M1 Pro/Max chip configurations, this also means you shouldn’t waste your money upgrading to a higher-end configuration unless you’re absolutely sure you’re going to need it. The entry-level M1 Pro on the $1,999 14-inch MacBook Pro provides 8 CPU cores and 14 GPU cores, which is already more than most non-professionals will ever need.

However, don’t be fooled into thinking that the standard M1 MacBook Pro is suddenly “old” technology just because these more powerful options are available, since that original piece of Mac Apple Silicon still leaves Intel’s chips in the dust for the most common, everyday tasks.

Thanks to the M1 architecture, even an 8GB MacBook is more than enough for many people — an amount of RAM that was almost laughable on an Intel MacBook.

Personally, I picked up a base model 13-inch M1 MacBook Pro earlier this year, originally expecting that I’d just use it to tide me over until the more powerful models arrived. However, a funny thing happened on the way to the M1 Pro/Max chips, as I found that this very affordable and modest little 13-inch MacBook more than met all of my daily needs, and then some.

My M1 MacBook Pro can easily handle complex multi-layered video projects in Final Cut Pro, advanced Photoshop editing, and dozens of tabs open in Safari and Chrome without skipping a beat. I had opted for the 8GB memory because that’s what was available off-the-shelf, and I’ve only rarely bumped up against those limits.

If I had to do it again, I might have opted to wait for the 16GB configuration, just to give me a bit more headroom, but I’ve never run into any serious limitations having only 8GB, as the memory management of macOS, the ultra-fast memory bandwidth on the M1, and the SSD all combine to make the best possible use of the memory you have.

While I’m fortunate to have a Mac Pro at my disposal, since getting an M1 MacBook Pro I’ve rarely used it for most of my video editing projects, as the M1 is just as fast and capable. Where the Mac Pro stands out is for handling more advanced 3D effects in Final Cut Pro, especially across multiple video layers. This is the only thing that’s ever brought my M1 MacBook to its knees, and likely provides one of the best examples of what the M1 Pro/Max can do that the M1 really isn’t quite capable of, thanks to the discrete GPU cores that are specifically designed to handle tasks like this.

See the New MacBook Pro on Amazon
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