November can’t come soon enough.
That’s when I’ll get my hands on my brand-new 16” MacBook Pro, complete with M1 Max chip, loads of graphics cores, and, finally, an SD card slot!
However, I’m not convinced that Apple is making it particularly easy to choose between these two new chips. The numbers attached to the M1 Pro and the M1 Max indicate that they are, clearly, rather different animals.
But how do you know which one is right for you?
As always, I can’t answer this question for you, because everyone’s use case, budget, and priorities differ, but I can furnish you with some details that’ll help you spend the right kind of money.
M1 Pro vs M1 Max: the similarities
The M1 Pro and M1 Max share some common features. They’re also available in their full range of spec options on both the 14-inch and 16-inch versions of the new MacBook Pro. Which is nice.
They’re both available with a 10-core CPU and 16-core neural engine. They also include Apple’s new ‘media engine’ which offers hardware acceleration for working with video formats such as H.264, HEVC, ProRes, and ProRes RAW.
Beyond the chip itself, the M1 Pro and M1 Max can also be joined by up to 8TB of SSD storage, which is more than enough space for anyone on the planet.
But that’s where the similarities end.
Differences between the M1 Pro and the M1 Max
Let’s look at what separates these chips in the key areas of performance:
- the base model comes with an 8-core CPU and 14-core GPU
- has 200GB/s memory bandwidth
- the GPU can only be specced up to 16-cores
- starts with 16GB of unified memory (supports up to 32GB)
- features one ProRes encode and decode engine
- has a single video encode engine
- has 400GB/s memory bandwidth
- the base model comes with a 24-core GPU
- can be configured with a 32-core GPU
- starts with 32GB of unified memory (supports up to 64GB)
- features two ProRes encode and decode engines
- has two video encode engines
As you’d expect, you’ll need to stump up some extra cash as you move between the various configurations above.
M1 Pro vs M1 Max: the pricing
If you want to go from the base-level, 8-core configuration of the M1 Pro to the 10-core version, you’ll need to spend an additional $200. For an extra $100, you can then move the 14-core GPU up to the 16-core version.
Fancy the M1 Max instead? Jumping from the base-level M1 Pro to the base-level M1 Max costs an extra $500. That nets you the M1 Max with a 10-core CPU and 24-core GPU. If you then want to push it all the way up to 32-cores of GPU, you’ll need to spend another $200.
When it comes to RAM, you simply need to add $400 for each upgrade. For the M1 Pro, that means $400 to switch from 16GB to 32GB, and for the M1 Max, $400 to go from 32GB to 64GB.
So, which one is for you: the M1 Pro or M1 Max?
So many numbers and prices, right?
When it comes to Pro versions of Macs, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds when choosing your own machine.
This year, it’s made all the more difficult by the fact that none of us really know just how powerful these chips are in any of their configurations. I’ll of course be doing my own real-world tests, but all we have to go on at the moment is benchmarks and Apple’s own hyperbolic marketing. Neither of which means much to the average user.
On that note, why don’t we take a quick look at how Apple distinguishes the two chips?
For the M1 Pro, they tell us that it “can easily run multiple pro applications at the same time. It is equally capable of handling CPU‑intensive tasks like photo editing and compiling code and GPU‑driven tasks like 3D visualizations and processing video effects”.
The M1 Max? Well, according to Tim and co., that chip is “even more powerful than M1 Pro”. What does that mean? Well, apparently, the ability to configure up to 64GB of RAM on the M1 Max “can dramatically improve performance, especially when you’re working with very large files such as augmented reality models, music scores with large virtual instrument libraries, or 8K video timelines”.
But what about graphics performance? How does the M1 Max stack up against its little brother? According to Apple, “with its additional GPU power, M1 Max is designed for graphics-intensive workflows like multicam video editing or rendering complex 3D scenes. Its powerful media engine lets you play back up to 5 streams of 8K ProRes 422 video. And M1 Max supports up to four external displays”.
So, if you’re a video editor and work with 1080p or 4K video, the base-spec M1 Pro will serve you just fine, given my experience with editing around 80 4K videos on the 16GB M1 Mac mini.
I’d only push beyond that and into M1 Max territory in terms of CPU and GPU cores if you work with 8K video or require a NASA-like setup of multiple displays. And when it comes to unified memory, 16GB will still suit the vast majority of users; I’d only go for more if you work with very large files in video or audio production, development, or anything that is significantly mathematically intensive.
Of course, the other reason you may want to spec yours up is simply because you want the machine to last many years – or you just want the most powerful MacBook Pro you can afford. Both of those justifications are, of course, totally fine! But I can’t make that particular decision for you.
So, which spec are you going for?