Hands-on: M2 MacBook Pro
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Why does it exist?
This is a particularly interesting question in relation to the 2022 13-inch MacBook Pro, because this computer is nearly identical to the 2020 model with the exception of Apple’s new M2 system on a chip. In my eyes, this new MacBook Pro exists for a few key reasons:
- Apple sells a lot of 13-inch MacBook Pro machines
- The previous 13-inch MacBook Pro is approaching two years old in November, and was due for a refresh
- This is Apple’s entry-level “Pro” MacBook, and at $1299, its base configuration is $700 cheaper than the base model 14-inch MacBook Pro with M1 Pro chip
- R&D and manufacturing costs are minimized since this design has been used before
There’s no complex explanation here — Apple sells a lot of 13-inch MacBook Pro computers, so it was updated with Apple’s new M2 chip in order to keep selling more.
Who is it for?
I look at the MacBook Pro similarly to how I look at fleet vehicles. They are able to do the job, but don’t bring a lot of added bells and whistles to the table. The M2 MacBook Pro does the job, featuring a new “engine” with higher performance than its predecessor, but it’s not at all exciting, and saves all of the fancy stuff — XDR display, MagSafe, SD Card slot, extra Thunderbolt port — for its bigger siblings.
If you need a new MacBook, then the 2022 MacBook Pro is among the cheapest that you can buy brand new. It also comes with M2 Apple Silicon that should last plenty of generations of software updates going into the future.
“If you need a new MacBook, then the 2022 MacBook Pro is among the cheapest that you can buy brand new”
The chassis on this MacBook Pro — both inside and outside — is indistinguishable from its predecessor. It features the same I/O, including two Thunderbolt USB4 ports located on the left side of the machine, and the same 3.5mm headphone jack on the right side.
The screen is also identical to the previous model. It features the same 13.3-inch IPS display with 2560-by-1600 native resolution, along with other familiar specs: 500 nits of brightness, wide color support, and True Tone for accurate white balance in ambient light.
The 2022 MacBook Pro also ensures that the controversial Touch Bar remains available on a brand new Apple laptop for at least one more generation. The Touch Bar, which has received a lukewarm response since its debut back in 2016, has been eliminated on all of Apple’s laptops with updated designs starting with last year’s 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro releases.
With all of that being said, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is still a beautifully-designed laptop, and in most cases puts PC designs to shame. Just because it isn’t the latest and greatest design doesn’t automatically make it bad. 2020’s MacBook Pro blew everyone’s mind with how good it was, and that was mostly owed to Apple Silicon. For the most part, the same rings true with the M2-powered MacBook Pro.
The most important 2022 MacBook Pro feature is easily the Apple M2 Chip, which makes its worldwide debut in this machine. The M2 is the follow-up to the venerable M1 chip, the first such in-house-designed chip for Macs, and an utter game-changer performance-wise when compared to Intel chips.
The M2 builds on the M1 in several key ways. The M2 uses the same 5nm process, but features a noteworthy increase in transistors going from 16 million on the M1 to 20 million on the M2. The M2 features an 8-core CPU paired with a 10-Core GPU — two additional GPU cores than its predecessor.
The 16-core Neural Engine is now more capable than before. The upgraded Neural Engine can now perform 15.8 trillion operations per second which is a sizable step above the 11 trillion ops on the two-year-ago model.
Finally, the M2 features faster memory, with 100GB/s memory bandwidth versus roughly 70GB/s with M1. And buyers can configure up to 40% more unified memory than before, with users presented with an 8, 16, and new 24 GB build-to-order option. Although a far cry from the 64GB option on the 14-inch MacBook Pro, when coupled with the additional bandwidth, having 8GB of extra memory headroom will make a difference for video workflows, 3D rendering, virtualization, etc. when compared to M1.
One of the biggest weaknesses of the 13-inch MacBook Pro only affects the base model with 256GB of SSD storage. As revealed by Max Tech, Apple is using a single 256GB NAND module in its base model MacBook Pro instead of two 128GB NAND modules in parallel like it did in the M1-powered base machine. This change results in slower SSD speeds than the previous 13-inch base model MacBook Pro.
On one hand that is a problem, because the MacBook Pro should be at least as fast as its predecessor across the board. In terms of SSD speed for the base $1299 configuration with 256GB of storage, that is not the case.
Of course, one could make the argument that those who are concerned with the speed of the SSD wouldn’t be opting for the base configuration anyway, and I agree with this to an extent. The audience for this baseline MacBook Pro is generally not the same audience that cares about SSD performance beyond the fact that it be fast enough to do basic tasks competently, such as launching apps.
However, as others have said, I think this means that Apple should have simply set the new baseline at 512GB if doing otherwise yields performance that is demonstrably slower than its predecessor.
The other big weakness is that, because this machine isn’t powered by the higher end Pro and/or Max variants of the M2 chip, there’s not enough bandwidth to support more more than two Thunderbolt ports, which are located solely on the left-side of the machine. As someone who frequently interfaces with Thunderbolt and USB-C peripherals, this is a big downside for me, but your experience may vary.
At $1299 for the base model, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is easily the most affordable brand new MacBook Pro that you can purchase today. The higher-end 14-inch model starts at $1999, a $700 increase over the baseline 13-inch version. Hence, in terms of value when compared to the 14-inch model, there is a substantial amount of money to be saved.
If you’re coming from an Intel MacBook, then the M2 MacBook Pro will, like its predecessor, blow you away. The performance and battery life runs circles around MacBook Pro models with Intel chips. For those making the move from Intel hardware, you will be downright thrilled with the upgrade.
However, when compared to the previous M1 MacBook Pro, value is limited. For starters, you get a slower SSD in the base model, and outside of the M2 performance increases and build-to-order memory upgrade, it’s more or less the exact same machine design-wise and feature wise. With these things in mind, I’d say that the 2022 MacBook Pro provides a wide range of value propositions for perspective buyers.
The 2022 MacBook Pro is about as vanilla as it gets when it comes to Apple laptops. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the M2 chip that powers the machine is extremely capable, and will be a huge upgrade for those coming from Intel-powered MacBooks.
But if you already have 2020’s MacBook Pro or MacBook Air with the M1 chip, the upgrade is considerably less compelling. If I were looking to upgrade to the latest Apple Silicon, I’d instead wait for the M2-powered MacBook Air refresh that’s scheduled to come available later this month.
Despite being rated for two hours less battery life than the MacBook Pro, I think the upcoming MacBook Air is hands-down the better computer for the majority of users at this price tier. With the 2022 MacBook Air, you get all of the following advantages over the MacBook Pro:
- Brand new thinner design (0.44 inch vs 0.61 inches)
- Slightly larger 13.6-inch Liquid Retina display
- Much thinner bezels
- Lighter chassis (2.7 pounds vs 3.0 pounds)
- Silent, fanless design
- New exciting color options (Starlight and Midnight)
- MagSafe 3 support
- 1080p FaceTime HD Camera
- Full-size function keys
- No Touch Bar (for those that hate it)
- $100 cheaper for base model
Advantages of the MacBook Pro:
- No notch
- Active cooling for less throttling
- 67W USB-C Power Adapter vs 30W
- Battery life (20 vs 18)
- Touch Bar (for those that like it)
- Stereo speakers with high dynamic range
- Studio-quality three-mic array
In my opinion, none of those advantages add up to make the MacBook Pro a better machine than the MacBook Air, but if you really value the Touch Bar, or you value battery life over anything else, then those are areas you might possibly consider when making a decision. Personally, despite having not yet tested the MacBook Air, I think the decision is a no-brainer: skip the MacBook Pro, get the MacBook Air.