At the WWDC event in June 2022, Apple unveiled the M2 chip, ushering in the second generation of Apple silicon chips. Being a second-generation chip, you’d expect the M2 to outperform most if not all of its predecessors. However, is that really the case?
Let’s compare the M2 chip to the entire M1 range to see if that hypothesis holds any truth. We cover everything: the CPU and GPU, memory and bandwidth, performance and other important details to consider.
CPU and GPU cores
All of Apple’s silicon chips use the company’s unified memory architecture, which puts the CPU, cache, neural engine, GPU, security, and more on a single chip, which translates into faster communications. At the heart of the M2 chip is an eight-core CPU with four high-performance cores clocking at 3.49GHz and four power-efficient cores clocking at 2.06GHz.
Efficiency cores are similar to the cores available in the base M1 chip. To differentiate itself from the M1, the M2 has two additional GPU cores, 10 in total.
The M1 Pro and M1 Max go a mile further than the M2, including a 10-core CPU and up to 16 and 32 GPU cores, respectively. The M1 Ultra, the largest of them all, has a 20-core CPU with up to 64 GPU cores. However, the M1 range has lower maximum CPU clock speeds compared to the M2.
Memory and bandwidth
Memory bandwidth also varies and, as expected, the M1 Ultra still takes the cake with up to 800 GB/s. It is followed by the M1 Max (up to 400 GB/s), M1 Pro (up to 200 GB/s), M2 (100 GB/s) and finally the M1, at around 68 GB/s. As for the memory, the M1 Ultra supports up to 128 GB of unified memory, followed by the M1 Max with half less.
The M1 Pro comes in at 32 GB, 8 GB more than the M2 at 24 GB. The M1, on the other hand, is the smaller brother and only supports up to 16 GB of memory. And since Apple uses a unified memory architecture, you can’t upgrade your memory after purchasing a device. Therefore, before spending, we recommend that you check the amount of memory you need†
Aside from all the bells and whistles that tech companies are promoting, raw performance is all you should care about. As long as a chip’s performance meets your everyday needs, that’s all that matters. And this is where things get a little complicated. To compare the four chips, we took data from the Geekbench 5 tests and averaged it to find the most accurate value for comparing the chips.
First, the results in multi-core Geekbench 5 tests are exactly what you’d expect. The M1 Ultra, a combination of two M1 Max chips, takes the lead at about twice the performance of the M1 Max. The 10-core M1 Pro chip has a huge advantage over the 8-core variant, thanks to the two extra CPU cores.
Unsurprisingly, the M2 blows the M1 out of the water with about 20 percent higher multi-core performance. For reference, Apple claimed that the M2’s CPU is 18 percent faster, which turns out to be true. However, compared to other chips in the M1 range, the M2 still doesn’t stand a chance. Our chart shows that the M2 is six percent slower than the M1 Pro.
Where the M2 shines is in single-core performance. With the M2, Apple uses four performance cores with a maximum clock speed of 3.49GHz, which is, believe it or not, faster than what you get in the 20-core M1 Ultra. That shows the power of the new high-performance cores in the M2 chip.
The M2 is also built using the second-generation five-nanometer technology that Apple uses in the A15 Bionic chip that powers the iPhone 13 series. For the rest of the M1 series, the M1 Ultra leads in single-core performance, followed by the M1 Max, M1 Pro and M1.
One of the major improvements we saw with the announcement of the M2 over the M1 is the new media engine. On the M2, the media engine adds a higher bandwidth video decoder, enabling support for 8K H.264 and HEVC video. You can also have multiple streams of both 4K and 8K video with Apple’s built-in ProRes video engine.
Both are not available in the base M1 chip. However, the M1 Pro and M1 Max share the same powerful media engine, although the latter has up to two times faster video encoding than the former, due to the dual video encoding engines available.
The M1 Ultra has the most powerful media engine on any Apple silicon chip at the time of writing, with two video decoding and four video encoding engines, plus four ProRes encoding and decoding engines. So if you do a lot of editing, you may have to sacrifice more and pay more to get a better media engine than what the M2 offers.
Which chip should you buy?
First and foremost, all four chips are powerful enough for everyday tasks like browsing, using social media, writing, or even watching YouTube videos. However, your mileage will differ depending on what your “daily” tasks involve. If it’s resource-intensive activities like video editing, you’ll undoubtedly benefit from the extra multi-core performance of chips like the M1 Pro, Max or Ultra.
However, your budget also matters and determines which chip you get. Of all the options, the M1 is the entry-level model. You can get an M1 MacBook Air for $999. The M2, on the other hand, will set you back a minimum of $1199 for the M2 MacBook Air. The higher-end chips in the M1 range cost at least $1999, for the 14-inch M1 Pro MacBook Pro, one of the best MacBooks available†
The higher number of GPU cores available in the higher-end chips in the M1 line will come in handy for graphics-intensive tasks like gaming. Of course there is also the question of whether you should buy the iMac, Mac Studio, MacBook Air or MacBook Proas that determines which chips are available to you in the first place.
The M2 succeeds Apple’s M1 chip
The comparisons show that the M2 chip is a direct successor of the M1. As you would expect, it does not disappoint in any way. The M2 significantly improves on what Apple did with the M1 by providing extra performance while trying to maintain or even minimize battery consumption.
The M2 also beats the entire M1 range in single-core performance, largely due to the new high-performance cores. However, if we take multi-core performance into account, it is still behind the M1 Pro, M1 Max or M1 Ultra.
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