When you need power from your laptop, it’s smart to plug in the charger to eke out as much performance as possible. However, Apple’s first M1-powered MacBook Pro models marked a seachange in this ideology, offering comparable performance whether you were hooked up to a wall outlet or not. The new 2023 MacBook Pro models—powered by the enhanced M2 Pro and M2 Max chipsets—progress the very same trick, though they don’t add much else.
The 2023 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro models aren’t too different from the 2021 versions, so I’ll largely be focusing on the changes the new processors introduce, specifically, the performance and battery life of the M2 Max on the 16-inch MacBook Pro, which is what I’m testing. Either way, if you’re chasing power on the go and you have a large budget, these machines are some of the best around.
Power and Freedom
The M2 Max sees Apple’s top laptop chip move up from a 10-core CPU and a 32-core GPU on the M1 Max to 12-cores and 38-cores, respectively. What this change doesn’t represent is a move from a 5-nanometer process to 3 nm for the silicon—this is expected to happen with the M3 Pro and M3 Max next year. With a smaller, more efficient chip, it should bring a more sizable boost in both performance and battery life, but that doesn’t mean the improvements in the second-gen chipsets aren’t impressive.
My test unit configuration is the 16-inch MacBook Pro with the M2 Max—the 12-core CPU, 38-core GPU version—with 64-GB unified memory and a 2-terabyte SSD. This will cost you an eye-watering $4,299 (£4,549), and you can still spend more to upgrade it to 96 GB of unified memory and a 4- or 8-TB SSD. Wild. At these fully kitted out levels, it still can’t quite reach the heights of the best laptop processors and graphics cards for raw performance. However, it comes close and occasionally surpasses the competition in real-world tasks—and, I must emphasize, even on battery.
I’ve tested a lot of laptops in my time, and few have induced an audible “wow” as frequently as the MacBook Pro does. It draws less power than rivals, ultimately achieving better battery life across the board—from productivity to intense creative workloads—as well as producing far less noise and heat. The M2 Max model doesn’t reach the listed 15 hours of wireless web browsing claim from Apple but settled closer to 12 hours. But crucially during intensive work, it handily beats rivals that typically hit a maximum of 2 hours by an extra hour or two. When the time comes to top up, the 140-watt MagSafe charger will get you back up to 100 percent in under 90 minutes.
The M2 Max laughs in the face of titanic productivity workloads. It’s a tab hoarder’s dream. But, that’s really not what this chip is for. I enlisted the help of experienced editor and WIRED creative development manager Anna O’Donohue to take our review model for a spin. We added a combination of 4K footage, image files, and 3D effects to a project in Adobe Premiere Pro. The M2 Max reacted breathlessly. Anna noted the smooth playback—she’d expected to have to lower the quality of the footage to avoid stutters. We were left with a speedy export time too.
This chipset is made for tackling intensive graphically-demanding production work, though it may even have more horsepower than most video creators even need. I’d argue the M2 Pro is a better pick for the intermediate photo or video editor, as well as for anyone else that doesn’t require lots of graphical power (like for music production).