M2 MacBook Pro Review: Gen Two Apple Silicon Delivers Power And Efficiency
The second generation of Apple’s self-made computer chip is official, and while this silicon—named the M2—is very exciting because it will power almost everything Apple in the near future, ranging from iPads to iMacs to even the long rumored mixed-reality headset, the first product available to consumers with the M2 is a rather boring product: the 2022 13-inch MacBook Pro.
I say “boring” because all the new upgrades Apple introduced to last year’s 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros, including a new design with thinner bezels and a superior display panel, somehow did not make it over to this new 13-inch machine. In fact, this 2022 M2-powered 13-inch MacBook Pro looks identical to the 2020 MacBook Pro, and the 2018 one, too. It’s literally using the same components as before, just with the M2 chip, and a slightly larger battery.
But while this 13-inch design feels dated—not just compared to the aforementioned other MacBooks, but also most 2022 Windows machines, too—it is perhaps what’s on the inside that counts. And the M2 is a tremendous performer at this $1,200-$1,800 price range that this MacBook Pro model falls into. It is at least as powerful as any Windows laptops at this price range, but it’s so much more efficient.
A brief recap of Apple silicon
Before we continue it’s worth recapping the history of Apple silicon for readers who may not be familiar. The silicon industry is dominated by two architecture types: ARM-based architecture, built on Reduced Instruction Set Computing (RISC); and Intel’s X86 architecture, which is built on Complex Instruction Set Computing (CISC). As their instruction set implies, ARM-based silicon are less complex, prioritizing efficiency over raw power output. These are usually called systems-on-chip (SoC) because all the required computing bits are stored in one tiny chip. Intel’s X86 architecture silicon are more complex, larger in size, capable of more power, but may require other parts to fully do its job.
For well over a decade, the conventional wisdom in the computing space was that smaller, more efficient ARM chips are great for small, frequently used devices like smartphones and tablets, but for “real computers,” it’s best to stick with the more complex X86 silicon because they offer higher performance.
A little more than two years ago, Apple essentially threw that conventional wisdom out the window by announcing it was ditching Intel silicon in favor of its own chips built on ARM architecture. It stunned the computing industry.
And Apple delivered. The gen-one chips, M1, came out in late 2020 and surprisingly was able to power Apple’s portable and deskbound computers fine, and it was significantly more efficient than Intel-powered laptops.
The second generation
Now comes the M2, which Apple claims offers an 18% CPU improvement and 35% GPU improvement over the M1, and whether it was benchmark tests or real world tests, my M2 MacBook Pro did indeed deliver those performance gains.
I was particularly impressed by video rendering. Exporting 4K/30fps videos practically moves at 3x speed of the actual video length, meaning if I’m exporting a five minute video, the export process finishes in under 90 seconds.
Just for testing, I tried exporting a four minute long 8K/30 video (8K video is so high resolution that most screens today still can’t play it, so this test is purely to push the machine), and the 13-inch MacBook Pro rendered the clip in Final Cut Pro in under four minutes. The same rendering process on a 2020 MacBook with an Intel processor took almost 17 minutes.
These video rendering tests were done on Final Cut Pro, which is optimized for Apple hardware. Moving to a neutral third party software like Adobe Premiere Pro, the export times grew much longer, but the new 13-inch MacBook Pro still finished at twice the speed of my 2022 Huawei MateBook X Pro with Intel’s 11th generation i7 chip.
And as mentioned, the most amazing thing about Apple silicon isn’t raw power, but efficiency. In all of those rendering tests and benchmark tests, the MacBook Pro remained cool and didn’t need the fan, only getting slightly warm during the most intense 8K sessions. Intel-powered machines would need the fan within minutes of heavy work, because they’re not as efficient and thus need to dissipate heat.
The rest of the hardware is solid, decent, fine
Outside the M2, which did not disappoint in delivering power efficiently, the rest of this MacBook Pro package is fine if I want to be generous, or decent if I want to be harsh. As I said, since this laptop brings back the exact same design and parts as before, everything is at least several years old. The inch-thick bezels that wrap around the screen look dated next to any Windows laptop from 2019 on, and the 60Hz LCD screen is fine, but nothing amazing. Any recent iPad Pro, or Apple’s 14- and 16-inch MacBooks of last year offer more vibrant visuals.
The keyboard and trackpad are excellent, as has been the case since 2020, and battery life is excellent thanks to the M2’s efficiency. Expect 13-15 hours of use for basic computer tasks like web surfing, YouTube watching, typing words, etc. If you are doing intensive tasks like video editing, the MacBook will still go a solid four to six hours, which is much better than Windows machines.
The biggest complaint I have, however, is the lack of ports. This machine only comes with two USB-C ports, with a headphone jack. Charging is done via USB-C, too, so if you’re charging the laptop, you only have one free port.
Starting at $1,299 it’s affordable enough for many
What this MacBook Pro lacks in exciting design, it more than delivers in power and endurance. And with a starting price of $1,299 (and equivalent worldwide), it’s cheap enough for not just Apple fans, but most working professionals in countries like the U.S., China, Japan and parts of Europe to consider.
There is, however, an elephant in the room. At the same event that Apple launched this MacBook Pro, Apple also introduced a MacBook Air that runs on the exact same M2 chip. That Air machine has a smaller battery, and doesn’t have a fan, but in return gains the new design introduced in their other MacBooks. It’s also $100 cheaper. So for those who know they won’t push the MacBook too hard (video editing, gaming, or 3D graphics creation), they are probably better off buying the MacBook Air.