14-inch and 16-inch MacBooks with M1 Pro and M1 Max chips.
Apple

Apple Silicon-powered MacBooks just keep getting more powerful and impressive, but how much power do you really need? If you’re torn on which MacBook Pro is best for you, we’ll help make your decision a little easier.

How Are the M1 Pro and M1 Max Similar

The main differences in the M1 Pro and M1 Max chipsets come down to two things: graphics capabilities and the maximum amount of memory. If you know you need 64GB of unified memory, you can stop reading right now and go for the M1 Max, as it’s the only one of the two chips that supports it. (The M1 Pro can only go up to 32GB of unified memory.)

For everyone else, it’s a little more complicated. Both the M1 Pro and the M1 Max feature up to 10 CPU cores and a 16-core Neural Engine. Both also support hardware acceleration for media codecs, including H.264, HEVC, ProRes, and ProRes RAW.

These chips are more powerful than the 2021 M1 processor, which was able to handle 4K video workflows itself. With the added power, both the M1 Pro or M1 Max will provide more than enough power for standard video editing tasks.

How Does the M1 Max Differ From the M1 Pro?

The M1 Max doesn’t just add more cores to the M1 Pro and call it a day, but it does significantly up the number. The M1 Pro has an upper limit of 16 GPU cores, while the M1 Max doubles that number with up to 32 GPU cores.

The Apple M1 Max Chip Specs

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The memory bandwidth doubles as well, with the M1 Max offering up to 400 GB/s to the M1 Pro’s 200 GB/s. As memory increases, so does the cost of moving items around within that memory, so this increase in memory bandwidth will be most noticeable with heavy-duty 2D or 3D video work.

Speaking of video, the M1 Max doubles another number here. The M1 Pro has a single ProRes encode/decode engine and another video encode engine. The M1 Max bumps this up to two ProRes encode/decode engines and two video encode engines.

Who Needs the M1 Max?

The way the M1 Pro and M1 Max work means that there’s no downside to opting for the M1 Max aside from the price. It’s not going to negatively affect battery life if you’re using the M1 Max for light-duty web browsing instead of the M1 Pro. Instead, you just won’t be using all the power you paid for.

When it comes time to start working on heavy-duty audio or video projects, that’s where the extra power will come in handy. Even then, the M1 Pro is likely the better choice for most people.

16-inch and 14-inch MacBook Pro
Apple

If you’re editing 4K video, either the M1 Pro or M1 Max will probably handle everything you need. Multiple video-encode engines are the type of feature most of us don’t need to worry about. These are the features that truly make these laptops fit for pro users, but they also carry a price tag to match.

That said, if you work with motion graphics, 3D, or other heavy lifting, choose the M1 Max and rest safe in the knowledge that you couldn’t possibly have a better Apple laptop, at least for the time being.

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On the other hand, that 400 GB/s memory bandwidth isn’t far off from what the Sony PlayStation 5 offers, so we might see developers coming up with games or apps to make use of that power in the future.

14-inch or 16-inch MacBook?

It wasn’t that long ago that the larger MacBook Pro was the computer for “real pros,” while the smaller was the “lite” version. With the M1 Pro and the M1 Max, that is no longer the case.

You can get the M1 Max and 64 GB unified memory in either the 14-inch or 16-inch MacBook Pro, along with as much storage as you want. As for sheer graphical performance, you’re pushing more pixels with the 16-inch screen, but these chips are capable of driving multiple 4K+ displays, so that isn’t much of a consideration.

Most Powerful MacBook

16-inch MacBook Pro (M1 Pro, 2021)

Whether you choose a 14-inch or 16-inch display, the 2021 MacBook Pro with the M1 Pro or M1 Max will handle anything you can throw at it.

Do You Even Need a MacBook Pro?

A half-open MacBook.
Apple

As of October 2021, you can’t really go wrong buying a Mac laptop. Now that Apple is fully focused on Apple Silicon, you don’t need to worry about whether your computer will seem hopelessly outdated in a year.

A question worth asking is whether you need a MacBook Pro at all. Wanting one is an entirely different story. Even the base model MacBook Air is a pretty capable computer at this point, especially if you’re doing typical office work on it. If you want something a little higher-end than a MacBook Air, you can still get a less expensive 13-inch MacBook Pro with an M1 chip, too.

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If you’re doing heavy video or audio editing, a MacBook Pro is an appropriate tool for the job, especially if you’re using Final Cut Pro, Logic, or other native Apple Silicon apps. One note is that you probably don’t want to opt for the 13-inch model, which is dated at this point. Whether you go 14-inch or 16-inch, you’ll likely be thrilled with the results.

Meanwhile, if you need help picking the right Apple laptop for you, take a look at our roundup of the best MacBooks you can buy.

The Best MacBooks for 2021

Best MacBook Overall
MacBook Pro 14-inch (M1 Pro, 2021)
Best Budget Option
2020 Apple MacBook Air Laptop: Apple M1 Chip, 13” Retin...
Best for Students
2020 Apple MacBook Air Laptop: Apple M1 Chip, 13” Retin...
Budget 4K Monitor
Dell S2721Q 27 Inch 4K UHD, IPS Ultra-Thin Bezel Monitor,...
Best MacBook for Gaming
MacBook Pro 16-inch (M1 Pro, 2021)
Profile Photo for Kris Wouk Kris Wouk
Kris Wouk is a freelance tech writer and musician with over 10 years of experience as a writer and a lifetime of experience as a gadget fan. He has also written for Digital Trends, MakeUseOf, Android Authority, and Sound Guys. At MakeUseOf, he was Section Editor in charge of the site's Mac coverage.
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