Apple M2 Pro and Max Chips repeat successful upgrade strategy

Apple M2 Pro and Max Chips repeat successful upgrade strategy

With its M2 Pro and M2 Max processors, Apple is repeating a strategy that worked well for its earlier M1 designs. By grafting some additional circuitry onto the efficient chip base, Apple can offer a significant upgrade to its new M2-based MacBook Pro laptops without completely redesigning the chip.

Apple introduced its first in-house Mac processor, the M1, for the MacBook Air laptops arriving in 2020. The M1 already used chip design work for the A-series iPhone chips, but Apple beefed up the M1 with more processor cores to make the M1 Pro and M1 Max late 2021 for higher-end MacBook Pro laptops. Then in 2022, he glued two M1 Max chips together into the top-of-the-line M1 Ultra.

Now Apple is heading down the same path with the M2, which debuted in 2022 and is now joined by the M2 Pro and M2 Max for the new MacBook Pro models. If history continues to repeat itself, we could see a Mac Pro based on the beefy M2 Ultra processor in the coming months.

The chip’s speed boost over the M1 equivalents that debuted 15 months ago is significant—at least 20%, according to Apple’s measurements. Owners of year-old M1 generation MacBook Pro laptops to upgrade. But for those using older Macs based on older Intel chips that Apple has phased out of its lineup, the speed boost and better battery life may be more compelling.

“These new Macs should help attract the switch from Intel to the M series in 2023,” Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin he said in a tweet Tuesday. His firm estimates that 42% of Mac owners in the US still use Intel-based models, and the proportion is likely higher worldwide.

Apple did not respond to requests for comment. Intel declined to comment.

How did Apple speed up the M2 Pro and M2 Max chips?

The M2 Pro and Max chips are faster thanks to a new design of the chip’s central processing unit cores for general calculations and graphics processing unit cores for processing graphics tasks and some other tasks that work on the GPU. The new designs also have more CPUs, GPUs and another type of core to speed up AI tasks, which Apple calls its Neural Engine.

The M1 Pro has eight or 10 CPU cores, depending on configuration, and the M1 Max has 10. The M2 Pro has 10 or 12, and the M2 Max has 12. The M2 generation is 20% faster, Apple said, citing unspecified standard industry tests speed.

CPU performance is at the heart of everything a processor does, and all M Pro and Max series models use four power-efficient CPU cores for better battery life. The remaining CPU cores offer higher performance cores for more important work. Intel also adopted this approach, promoted for smartphones.

For GPUs that are used for tasks like gaming and photo and video editing, the M1 Pro came with 14 or 16 cores and the M1 Max with 16 to 32 cores. The M2 Pro ups that to 16 or 19 GPU cores, and the M2 Max to 30 or 38. The M2’s GPU performance is 30% faster, though some of the speed boost comes from better on-chip cache, Apple said.

The Neural Engine has 16 cores on both the M1 and M2 generations, but Apple boasts that AI performance is 40% faster with the new chips. AI software is still in its infancy, but it’s used in important tasks like some Adobe Photoshop image editing, and you can expect AI power to become more important as more developers figure it out.


Apple’s M2, M2 Pro, and M2 Max processors have 20 billion, 40 billion, and 67 billion transistors, respectively.

Apple; images compiled by Stephen Shankland/CNET

The speed gains compared to Intel-based Macs that use years-old Intel chips are more pronounced. Apple says the M2 Pro is 2.5 times faster when compiling software and 80% faster when editing images in Photoshop compared to the older 16-inch MacBook with an Intel i9 processor. As for the M2 Max, it’s twice as fast in video color editing and six times faster in Da Vinci Resolve video editing.

Part of the speed boost on the M2 Max comes from faster memory transfers, doubling to 400 megabytes per second, which helps with data-intensive tasks like video editing and 3D modeling. The new M2 Max models also pack up to 96GB of memory, up from 64GB in the M1 Max.

We won’t see third-party speed tests until reviews of the MacBook Pro with M2 Pro and Max processors arrive. CNET editor Dan Ackerman reported M2-based MacBook Air – Editors’ Choice accolades citing its “excellent performance and battery life”.

However, this model came with a price increase of $200 over its predecessor, and the M2 generation MacBook Pro laptops are not cheap either. The 14-inch model with the lowest 10-core M2 Pro costs $1,999; with the 12-core M2 Max and other upgrades, the price rises to $3,099. The 16-inch models start at $2,499, but go up to $3,499 with the M2 Max processor and more storage.

How are the M2 Pro and M2 Max chips made?

As with all processors designed by Apple over the past few years, the chips are manufactured by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC).

Like the M2, the M2 Pro and Max are manufactured using a second-generation 5-nanometer manufacturing process. (A nanometer is a billionth of a meter, and chip manufacturing processes with lower nanometers refer to more advanced manufacturing processes. For years, however, the numbers have been mere labels of convenience, not actual measurements of real progress in miniaturization.)

New manufacturing processes are shrinking the basic electronic elements of chips, called transistors, although this miniaturization is more difficult these days. This allows for more circuitry on a chip. The proportion of transistors increased from 33.7 billion in the M1 Pro to 40 billion in the M2 Pro; Max models increased from 57 billion to 67 billion.

TSMC has begun mass production of products on the newer 3 nanometer (3nm) process. Expect it to be used for future iPhone, iPad and Mac processors, a move that should allow for even more transistors.

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