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M1 vs M2: Apple Silicon Buyer’s Guide [2023 Edition]

Apple’s M1 and M2 chipsets, in their varying configurations, provide myriad configuration options. But how do they compare and which is superior? Here’s a complete breakdown…



To say Apple’s current approach to chipsets is confusing would be the understatement of the century. While there are only two Apple Silicon chips in production right now, the M1 and the M2, there are multiple variations of each designed to target different types of users – from casual users to professionals. 

If you’re in the market for a new Mac, navigating Apple’s M1 and M2 chipsets can feel like quite a daunting task. There’s a lot to unpack, a lot of stuff to understand, plenty of nuance, and quite a bit of technical jargon that will be lost on all but the most hardcore of geeks. 

Do you go for a base-level model or the newer M2 variant? Are you better off future-proofing your Mac by getting a more powerful version like the M1 Max or M1 Pro? Is the M2 that much more powerful than the M1? I work mostly online, for instance, and I recently purchased a refurbished M1 MacBook Pro to supplement my Mac Studio when I’m traveling. For my needs, it’s perfectly potent enough.

Your needs might be different, however, so this article is designed to navigate everything you need to know about Apple’s M1 and M2 chips, and all of their various configurations, so read on to get yourself up to speed with Apple’s constantly growing slew of Apple Silicon chips… 

Apple M1 vs Apple M2 – What’s The Difference? 

FeatureM1 SeriesM2 Series
Based onA14 Bionic chip from iPhone 12A15 Bionic chip from iPhone 13
Node5nm node (N5)Enhanced 5nm node (N5P)
CPU clock speed3.20 GHz3.49 GHz
Core TypeHigh-performance “Firestorm” and energy-efficient “Icestorm” coresHigh-performance “Avalanche” and energy-efficient “Blizzard” cores
Neural EngineYes40 percent faster Neural Engine
Video decode engineYesHigher-bandwidth video decode engine
Image signal processor (ISP)Yes“New” image signal processor (ISP)
Launch DateNovember 2020 to March 2022June 2022 to early 2024
Memory bandwidth68.25GB/s100GB/s
Media engineFor hardware-accelerated H.264 and HEVCFor hardware-accelerated H.264, HEVC, ProRes, and ProRes RAW
ProRes encode and decode engineYes

Apple’s M1 and M2 series represent a significant advancement in the computing capabilities of Mac computers. Both chipsets are built on the foundation of Apple’s Bionic chips, widely recognized for their efficiency and performance.

Let’s now delve into the key characteristics of the standard M1 and M2 chips, highlighting their differences, the implications of these differences, and the types of user each chip is aimed at.

M1 Series

The M1 series is based on the A14 Bionic chip found in the iPhone 12. Manufactured using a 5nm process node, the M1 series runs at a CPU clock speed of 3.20 GHz. The chip consists of high-performance “Firestorm” cores and energy-efficient “Icestorm” cores, working in tandem to balance power and efficiency. It also includes a Neural Engine for AI-based tasks, a video decode engine, and an image signal processor (ISP).

With a memory bandwidth of 68.25GB/s, it can swiftly handle data, and its media engine is optimized for hardware-accelerated H.264 and HEVC codecs. However, it lacks a dedicated ProRes encode and decode engine.

A user who mostly uses their Mac for everyday tasks such as browsing, document editing, light photo editing, or streaming content would find the M1 more than capable.

M2 Series

The M2 series is a step up in every aspect. It’s based on the more advanced A15 Bionic chip from the iPhone 13 and uses an enhanced 5nm node. This results in a higher CPU clock speed of 3.49 GHz. The M2 chipset introduces high-performance “Avalanche” cores and energy-efficient “Blizzard” cores, an improvement over the M1’s cores.

The Neural Engine in the M2 series is 40 percent faster than its M1 counterpart, offering more power for AI tasks. The video decode engine is also higher bandwidth, and the image signal processor (ISP) is new, promising enhanced imaging capabilities.

The M2 chipset delivers a memory bandwidth of 100GB/s, significantly more than the M1, enabling faster data handling. The media engine now also supports hardware-accelerated ProRes and ProRes RAW codecs, and a dedicated ProRes encode and decode engine is included.

The M2 would be ideal for users involved in more demanding tasks. Whether you’re a content creator working with complex video editing, a 3D artist rendering intricate models, a researcher running data-intensive machine learning algorithms, or a gamer seeking top performance, the M2 series is designed to meet such high-demand needs.

Bottom Line?

Both the M1 and M2 chipsets offer remarkable performance and efficiency. However, the M2’s enhancements, from the faster Neural Engine to improved cores, higher memory bandwidth, and superior media engine, position it as the more powerful option, suitable for high-intensity professional tasks.

Meanwhile, the M1 remains a robust choice for less intensive, everyday computing needs. Your specific usage scenario is key to determining which chipset is the best fit for you.

M1 vs M2: Standard, Pro, Max or Ultra?

What Mac Should I BuyPin
  • M1 and M2 (Standard): These are like the everyday workhorses. They offer a good balance between power and efficiency and are perfect for common tasks like surfing the web, sending emails, and using standard office apps.
  • M1 Pro and M2 Pro: These are for those who need a bit more “oomph” from their computers. Maybe you like to edit photos, create videos, or use some specialized software for work or hobbies. These chips have more power and can handle more information at once than the standard versions, making everything run a little smoother and faster.
  • M1 Max and M2 Max: These are for the power users. If you’re into things like professional video editing, 3D rendering, or serious gaming, these chips have even more power and can handle a lot more information at once than the Pro versions, giving you the best graphics and performance.
  • M1 Ultra and M2 Ultra: These are the top-of-the-line, most powerful chips that Apple makes. They essentially combine two Max chips for double the performance. If you’re a professional who needs the absolute best performance for things like complex video editing, high-end game development, or heavy-duty scientific computing, these are the chips for you.

Mac Configurations Potentials: Which Macs Use Which Chip? 

StandardProMaxUltra
‌M1‌MacBook Air (2020)
Mac mini (2020)
MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2020)
iMac (2021)
MacBook Pro (14-inch and 16-inch, 2021)MacBook Pro (14-inch and 16-inch, 2021)
‌Mac Studio‌ (2022)
‌Mac Studio‌ (2022)
‌M2‌‌MacBook Air‌ (2022, 2023)
MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2022)
Mac Mini (2023)
MacBook Pro (14-inch and 16-inch, 2023)
‌Mac mini‌ (2023)
MacBook Pro (14-inch and 16-inch, 2023)
‌Mac Studio‌ (2023)
‌Mac Studio‌ (2023)
‌Mac Pro‌ (2023)

The base versions of the Apple Silicon chips (M1 and M2) are used in the entry-level and mid-tier devices like the MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and Mac mini. In contrast, the Pro, Max, and Ultra versions are reserved for the most powerful and professional-oriented devices like the larger MacBook Pro models, Mac Studio, and Mac Pro.

Here’s how it all breaks down inside Apple’s current 2023 Mac lineup:

M1 chip

Apple’s first system-on-a-chip for Mac. It’s used in:

  • MacBook Air (2020): This is Apple’s entry-level MacBook, hence it uses the base version of Apple Silicon at the time of its release. The M1 provides a good balance of power and energy efficiency, which is critical for a thin and light device like the MacBook Air.
  • Mac mini (2020): The Mac mini is a compact desktop computer that also benefits from the efficiency and performance of the M1 chip.
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2020) and iMac (2021): These devices are more powerful and hence make use of the higher performance that M1 offers. Yet they don’t necessarily require the more robust capabilities of the Pro and Max chips that are designed for the most demanding professional users.

M1 Pro and M1 Max

Introduced in 2021, these chips are more powerful iterations of the M1 chip, targeted at professional users. They’re used in:

  • MacBook Pro (14-inch and 16-inch, 2021): These devices are designed for professionals who need more computational power, hence the use of these high-performance chips.
  • Mac Studio (2022): This desktop computer is also targeted at professionals, hence it uses the Pro and Max versions for higher computational power and graphical performance.

M2 chip

The second generation of Apple Silicon chips. It’s used in:

  • MacBook Air (2022, 2023): The M2, being the base chip of its generation, is again used in the entry-level MacBook Air. It offers better performance and power efficiency compared to the M1.
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2022): This device gets a performance upgrade with the M2, making it a compelling choice for users who need more power than the Air but don’t necessarily need the professional-grade capabilities of the Pro, Max, or Ultra chips.
  • Mac mini (2023): Like the previous Mac mini, the 2023 version uses the base chip of its generation, as it’s a compact desktop solution and doesn’t require the high-end performance of the more advanced chips.

M2 Pro, M2 Max, and M2 Ultra

These are more powerful versions of the M2 chip designed for professional-grade devices. They’re used in:

  • MacBook Pro (14-inch and 16-inch, 2023): These laptops cater to professionals who require top-notch performance and capabilities.
  • Mac mini (2023): The Pro version of the M2 in this device suggests a more powerful, professional-oriented variant of the Mac mini.
  • Mac Studio (2023): Like its predecessor, this desktop computer uses the most powerful chips to cater to the needs of professionals.
  • Mac Pro (2023): The Mac Pro is the most powerful Mac available and thus uses the M2 Ultra, the most powerful Apple Silicon chip available at the time of its release.

Memory Options

StandardProMaxUltra
‌M1‌8GB
16GB
16GB
32GB
32GB
64GB
64GB
128GB
‌M2‌8GB
16GB
24GB
16GB
32GB
32GB
64GB
96GB
64GB
128GB
192GB

The more RAM you have, the more stuff you can do at the same time. Certain professions, VFX and video-edituing, for instance, require HUGE amounts of RAM, while other professions do not. Accordingly, Apple offers different RAM options for their M1 and M2 chips, allowing users to choose a configuration that matches their exact needs and budget.

So, how much RAM do you really need inside your new MacBook or Mac computer? Let’s unpack all the current options for RAM inside Apple’s M1 and M2 chipsets and find out…

Here’s the breakdown:

M1 Chip Memory Options:

  1. M1 Standard (8GB, 16GB): This configuration would be suitable for most casual users or students. These users primarily browse the web, stream media, use office applications, and perhaps some light photo editing.
  2. M1 Pro (16GB, 32GB): This is suitable for power users or creative professionals who need more RAM for intensive tasks like video editing, 3D modeling, or professional-grade photo editing.
  3. M1 Max (32GB, 64GB): This is aimed at high-end professionals who are doing heavy multitasking with professional applications. These users might be video editors working with 4K or 8K footage, 3D animators, or data scientists working with large datasets.
  4. M1 Ultra (64GB, 128GB): This is the ultimate configuration for power users who need the maximum possible RAM. This would be for professionals doing very high-end work such as 3D rendering, complex scientific computations, or working on complex machine learning tasks.

M2 Chip Memory Options:

  1. M2 Standard (8GB, 16GB, 24GB): Like the M1 Standard, this is ideal for casual users or students, but the additional 24GB option could be useful for power users who are doing a little more multitasking or light creative work.
  2. M2 Pro (16GB, 32GB): This caters to power users or creative professionals who need more RAM for tasks like video editing, 3D modeling, and professional-grade photo editing. The extra processing power of the M2 chip combined with these RAM options make it a powerhouse for creative work.
  3. M2 Max (32GB, 64GB, 96GB): This configuration is for high-end professionals who are doing heavy multitasking or working with large files in professional applications. The 96GB option extends its applicability to those dealing with larger 4K or 8K video files, 3D animation, or extensive data processing tasks.
  4. M2 Ultra (64GB, 128GB, 192GB): This provides the maximum amount of RAM and is targeted at the highest-end power users. This could include scientists working with extremely large datasets, 3D artists rendering complex scenes, or film professionals working with high-resolution footage.

How much RAM do you need for your Mac? The base memory configurations (8GB, 16GB) would be sufficient for most casual users or students. The middle tiers (16GB, 32GB, 24GB for M2) are for power users and creative professionals who do more intensive tasks.

The high-end configurations (32GB, 64GB, 96GB for M2, and 64GB, 128GB, 192GB for M2 Ultra) are for professionals who need the most multitasking capabilities and are working with professional-grade applications that require a lot of RAM.

CPU and GPU Cores: A Deep-Dive on What Makes Them Tick

ChipsetCoresGPU
M1 Standard4 high-performance, 4 energy-efficient cores7- or 8-core GPU
M1 Pro6 or 8 high-performance, 2 energy-efficient cores14- or 16-core GPU
M1 Max8 high-performance, 2 energy-efficient cores24- or 32-core GPU
M1 Ultra16 high-performance, 4 energy-efficient cores48- or 64-core GPU
M2 Standard4 high-performance, 4 energy-efficient cores8- or 10-core GPU
M2 Pro6 or 8 high-performance, 4 energy-efficient cores16- or 19-core GPU
M2 Max8 high-performance, 4 energy-efficient cores30- or 38-core GPU
M2 Ultra16 high-performance, 8 energy-efficient cores60- or 76-core GPU

Before we delve into the differences between each of Apple’s M1 and M2 platforms, with respect to cores and GPUs, let’s start with an understanding of what cores and GPUs do because, unsurprisingly, most people haven’t got the foggiest:

  • Cores: A core is a part of a CPU (Central Processing Unit). It is capable of independently executing instructions given to it by the operating system. This means that more cores allow for more tasks to be processed simultaneously, which can lead to faster and smoother performance, especially when multitasking or running complex software.
  • GPUs (Graphics Processing Units): A GPU is a type of processor designed to handle graphics. It is very efficient at performing calculations related to rendering images, animations, and videos on your screen. A GPU with more cores can process more graphical data simultaneously, leading to smoother animations and higher-quality images, especially in visually demanding tasks like 3D rendering, gaming, or video editing.

Now let’s take a look at the different Apple M1 and M2 chip variants, with respect to their number of cores and GPU and how this affects performance and the chipsets’ overall abilities:

  1. M1 Standard: With 4 high-performance and 4 energy-efficient cores, this chip is balanced between performance and power efficiency, making it ideal for general use, such as web browsing, office work, and light multimedia consumption. Its 7- or 8-core GPU is capable enough for light graphics work and casual gaming.
  2. M1 Pro: This chip has more high-performance cores (6 or 8) than the M1 Standard, and only 2 energy-efficient cores. This means it can process more complex tasks more quickly, making it suitable for power users or professionals who regularly use resource-intensive applications. Its 14- or 16-core GPU is good for professional graphics work, such as video editing or 3D modeling.
  3. M1 Max: This chip has even more high-performance cores (8) and a larger GPU (24 or 32 cores), making it faster and more capable in both general processing and graphics processing. This would be suitable for high-end professional users who need to perform heavy multitasking and run complex graphical applications.
  4. M1 Ultra: With 16 high-performance cores and a 48- or 64-core GPU, this chip offers the highest level of performance in the M1 series. It would be suitable for extreme workloads like complex 3D rendering, large-scale scientific computations, or running multiple virtual machines.
  5. M2 Standard: This chip maintains the 4 high-performance and 4 energy-efficient cores configuration of the M1 Standard, but it features an improved GPU (8 or 10 cores). This would provide slightly improved graphics performance, benefiting users doing moderate graphics work.
  6. M2 Pro: With more high-performance cores (6 or 8) and an increased number of energy-efficient cores (4), this chip can handle more demanding tasks and multitasking while maintaining efficiency. The upgraded 16- or 19-core GPU means improved graphics performance, making it suitable for more serious graphics work or gaming.
  7. M2 Max: This chip features 8 high-performance cores, 4 energy-efficient cores, and a larger GPU (30 or 38 cores). This makes it a powerful choice for high-end professional users who need to run multiple resource-intensive applications simultaneously or perform heavy graphics work.
  8. M2 Ultra: As the most powerful chip in the lineup, the M2 Ultra has the highest number of both high-performance cores (16) and energy-efficient cores (8). Its massive 60- or 76-core GPU is designed to handle the most demanding graphics tasks. This chip would be suitable for users with the most extreme workloads, such as 3D animators, scientists working with large data sets, and film professionals working with high-resolution footage.

In summary, more cores (both CPU and GPU) generally mean better performance, especially for heavy multitasking and graphics-intensive tasks. But more cores also consume more power and generate more heat, so there’s always a balance to be struck between power and efficiency. The energy-efficient cores in Apple’s chips help achieve this balance, enabling powerful performance while maintaining long battery life.

Which Apple Silicon Chip is Best For Me?

oled macbooksPin

We’ve covered A LOT of ground in the post, detailing all the variations and differences between Apple’s M1 and M2 chipsets. If you’re still not quite sure which Apple Silicon chip to go with inside your Mac, here’s a kind of TL;DR, key takeaways of everything discussed above – it should help you understand which Apple Silicon chip is best for your exact, specific needs and requirements. 

M1 and M2 Standard

Ideal for everyday users or students who use their Mac for tasks like browsing the web, streaming content, and light office work. They provide a good blend of power and efficiency for most common computing tasks. These chips deliver fast performance while consuming less power.

M1 Pro and M2 Pro

Best for power users or professionals whose work involves more intensive tasks like video editing, 3D modeling, or professional-grade photo editing. These chips offer more high-performance cores and twice the memory bandwidth (200GB/s) of the standard M1 or M2, which translates to faster data processing and improved overall system performance.

M1 Max and M2 Max

Suitable for high-end professionals involved in heavy multitasking, working with large video files, or 3D animations. These chips double the number of GPU cores and memory bandwidth (400GB/s) compared to the M1 Pro or M2 Pro. This results in significantly enhanced graphics performance, making them a perfect fit for tasks like 3D rendering or professional video editing.

M1 Ultra and M2 Ultra

Recommended for users with the most extreme workloads such as complex 3D rendering, large-scale scientific computations, or running multiple virtual machines. These chips essentially combine two M1 Max or M2 Max chips, doubling the overall CPU and GPU performance and offering twice the memory bandwidth (800GB/s). This leads to unrivaled performance for the most demanding tasks.

Bottom line? Your choice of Apple Silicon chip will depend on your specific requirements and the type of tasks you intend to perform on your Mac. The M1 and M2 standard chips are perfect for everyday tasks, the M1 Pro and M2 Pro offer increased performance for professional work, the M1 Max and M2 Max provide superior graphics performance for high-end professional tasks, and the M1 Ultra and M2 Ultra deliver unmatched performance for the most extreme workloads.

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Richard Goodwin

Richard Goodwin has been working as a tech journalist for over 10 years. He has written for Den of Geek, Fortean Times, IT PRO, PC Pro, ALPHR, and many other technology sites. He is the editor and owner of KnowYourMobile.

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