2023 MacBook Pro Review: A Refined Second Generation
2023 MacBook Pro Review: A Refined Second Generation
Apple’s laptop update is led by the M2 Pro and M2 Max and better connectivity. One interesting side effect of Apple’s move to use its own silicon in the Mac is that the Mac update cycle now looks a lot more like the iPhone’s: regular updates that mostly improve performance and maybe add a few tweaks or new features.
The 2023 MacBook Pro is a good example of this. It’s the 2021 MacBook Pro as far as most people are concerned. The only difference is that the new M2 Pro and M2 Max chips are used instead of the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips from 2021. These chips improve CPU, graphics, and machine learning performance over 2021’s M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, and they also improve connectivity, which fixes some of our minor complaints about the otherwise excellent 2021 models.
Still, the 2021 MacBook Pro wasn’t a letdown when it came out, and the market hasn’t changed enough in the past two years to make the 2023 models less appealing. These are still some of the best laptops you can buy, as long as you don’t mind spending a lot of money.
Details and plans
The 14-inch MacBook Pro and the 16-inch MacBook Pro are mostly the same as they were last year.
In fact, they look exactly the same. Even with the M2 Max, the 16-inch model still weighs 4.8 pounds (2.2 kg) and is 0.66 by 14.01 by 9.77 inches (1.68 by 35.57 by 24.81 cm). The 14-inch model with the same chip is 0.61 by 12.31 by 8.71 inches and weighs 3.6 pounds (1.63 kg) (1.55 by 31.26 by 22.12 cm). From the outside, neither of them looks any different from what they were in 2021.
I still think, as I did in 2021, that the 16-inch model is too big and hard to use by today’s standards, while the 14-inch model is almost perfect except that it has a smaller screen, but your opinion may be different. Check out our review of the 2021 MacBook Pro for more in-depth thoughts on how it looks.
The only other thing I don’t like about the laptop’s design is that Apple put a camera notch at the top of the screen, like on the iPhone, to give the laptop a little more screen space overall. Most of the few apps that had problems with this design have been updated by now, but there are still a few outliers.
But those are more the exception than the rule, so I think most people will quickly get used to the notch.
Ports and ways to connect
Also, the ports are mostly the same. Both sizes have three Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports that can handle up to 40GB/s, a MagSafe port, a 3.5 mm headphone jack, and an SDXC card slot. The HDMI port is also back from 2021, but it has been improved, which fixes one of the few things we didn’t like about the previous models. You are no longer limited to HDMI 2.0. This means that you can now get 4K at refresh rates higher than 60 Hz or even 8K at 60 Hz over HDMI.
Apple says that the port can even handle 4K video at a whopping 240 frames per second. That’s strange because HDMI 2.1 can do 48Gbps, which is usually not enough for 4K above 120 Hz. It seems likely that there is some kind of display stream compression going on here, but I haven’t been able to confirm it yet because I didn’t have a 4K 240 Hz monitor with me when I was testing.
But we didn’t have a 4K 240Hz monitor on hand for a good reason: There aren’t many. For the near future, most people won’t need much more than 4K at 120Hz, so any debate about 4K at 240Hz is mostly academic right now.
Any way you look at it, the jump to HDMI 2.1 is a good thing. It was clear that the old MacBook Pro could do 4K at 120 Hz through Thunderbolt, but it seemed strange that such a high-end device used the older HDMI standard. That problem has been fixed, and the laptops look a little better because of it.
As for wireless connections, the MacBook Pro now has Wi-Fi 6E, which is a step up from the Wi-Fi 6 on the previous model and a welcome answer to one of our minor complaints. Bluetooth 5.3 is also coming.
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M2 Max and M2 Pro
Apple’s second-generation Mac silicon is the show’s main attraction. The M2 Pro and M2 Max are made with a 5 nm process, and they promise CPU performance that is 20 percent faster, GPU performance that is 30 percent faster, and NPU performance that is 40 percent faster than the M1 Pro and M1 Max.
Most people weren’t unhappy with how well the M1 series worked, so those improvements are just extras for all but a few of us. Some people, like game developers and people who encode a lot of videos, will benefit even more from the changes.
The M2 chips use a little less power than the M1 chips, so the new generation should also have a slightly longer battery life.
The 40 billion transistor M2 Pro has a 10- or 12-core CPU (six or eight performance cores and four efficiency cores), a 16- or 19-core GPU, and a 16-core NPU, as well as one ProRes accelerator that can handle up to 23 streams of 4K ProRes or five streams at 8K. The machine can have either 16GB or 32GB of unified memory, with a memory bandwidth of up to 200GBps.
For the M2 Max, which has 67 billion transistors, there is only one CPU configuration with 12 cores (eight performance, four efficiency). The GPU comes with 30 or 38 cores, while the NPU always has 16 cores. Since the chip has twice as many ProRes accelerators as the M2 Pro,
Apple says it can handle up to 43 streams at 4K or 10 streams at 8K. Also, the memory bandwidth is double that of the M2 Pro, at 400GBps, and it can be set up with 32GB, 64GB, or 96GB of memory, which is almost too much. (You can only get 96GB of RAM if you also choose a GPU with 38 cores.)
There are also a few small changes. For example, the image signal processor (ISP) has been slightly improved to reduce noise when the built-in camera takes a picture in low light.
We’ll talk more about what this all means in the performance section of this review, but the short version is that Apple’s claim that the CPU and GPU have improved by 20–30% between generations isn’t too far off.
Screen and other specs
We’ve already gone over all the differences between the 2023 MacBook Pro and the 2021 MacBook Pro, so let’s go over a few more specs quickly.
Still, the screen is about as good as it gets for a consumer laptop. The resolution is not the best, though. The 14-inch screen has 3,024 x 1,964 pixels, while the 16-inch screen has 3,456 x 2,234. There are a lot of Windows laptops with 4K screens in these sizes, but I don’t think that’s the most important thing.
What matters is color, contrast ratio, and peak brightness around highlights, and the MacBook Pro is still almost unbeatable in these areas. Some laptops have OLED screens that can show complete black, but the MacBook Pro’s screen can show highlights that are up to 1,600 nits bright, which those laptops can’t do at all. Most of the time, when watching SDR content, you’ll reach a peak brightness of 500 nits. However, when watching or working on HDR movies or games, the higher peak value kicks in.
And the Mini LED technology, which has many local dimming zones, does a good job of keeping dark parts of an image dark.
Like the older models, these laptops have a display with a variable refresh rate that can go up to 120 Hz. The refresh rate changes automatically to save battery life. You probably won’t notice it going below 120 Hz when you use it.
It’s important to note that, unlike many of its Windows competitors, the display can’t be used with a touch screen. Apple has always been against this feature, but there are rumors that this could change in a couple of years. Touchscreens on laptops are too awkward to be worth it, in my opinion, but if you’ve been using a Windows convertible for years and love it, you might not like losing this feature.
After the screen, you can set up the laptop with a 512GB, 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, or even 8TB solid-state drive for storage. Keep in mind, though, that this is the fastest way to send the price through the roof.
There is also a 1080p front-facing camera, a six-speaker sound system, a solid keyboard with a full row of function/media keys, and a huge, high-quality trackpad.
Depending on the configuration, prices range from an already-high $1,999 to an out-of-this-world $6,499. Even though these machines work well and have great features, most people don’t need them. If you do, you know who you are. If you have to ask, you should get a MacBook Air.
This update is mostly just a small bump in specs, and the M2 Pro and M2 Max don’t have a very different design from their M1 predecessors. We did our usual benchmarks, which mostly show how fast things can go for a short time. We could use a 16-inch MacBook Pro with an M2 Max that had 38 GPU cores.
Most of the time, Apple’s claims about performance improvements are accurate, and that’s almost the case here, at least with the M2 Max. (Read our review of the Mac mini to learn more about the M2 Pro.) These machines are at least 20% faster, which is a big difference.
It’s been about a year and a half since the first Apple Silicon MacBook Pro laptops came out, and this bump beat my expectations for a year-over-year upgrade. It’s at least as good as the upgrades we usually see with iPhone chips from year to year, and it might even be better. If Apple keeps improving its M-series chips at this rate, it will be interesting to see where things are in a few more years.
For now, if you already bought an M1 Pro or M1 Max Mac, this doesn’t quite justify an upgrade. But if you’re coming from an Intel Mac or most Windows laptops, you’re in for a treat with the 2023 MacBook Pro.
If this review seems short, it’s because there isn’t much to talk about. This is basically the same thing as the 2021 MacBook Pro, but it’s 20–30% faster at some tasks and has better connections than you’d expect from a pricey laptop like this.
And that’s fine, because the MacBook Pro from 2021 was great. The version from 2023 is the same, but a little bit better. Many people like the M2 Pro and M2 Max because they work well and are easy to use.
Still, you shouldn’t spend this much money on performance if you don’t need it, and let’s be honest: most people don’t. Many people’s needs can be met just as well by the MacBook Air or one of a few very strong Windows ultrabooks, like the Dell XPS 13. They are also a lot cheaper and easier to carry around.
You should also stay away if you need to run Windows programs for your work. Most of the time, the MacBook Pro can’t do this because it switched from Intel CPUs to Apple Silicon, which is based on ARM64. Some Windows programs can be run in an emulation environment, but it doesn’t always work, and even when it does, it’s usually not as good as it used to be.
But if you need (or want) this much speed and don’t need Windows, there’s no question that this is the best laptop you can buy right now.
We don’t recommend upgrading from the last model because the small performance improvements in the second generation aren’t enough to make it worth spending thousands of dollars. But if you’ve used any other laptop in the past or present, the 2023 MacBook Pro will be a huge upgrade.