Apple MacBook Pro 2021: M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, display notch, and more

After many months of anticipation, new MacBook Pro models are finally here. Just like in 2020, this time around the highlight of these new Mac models are the new processors powering the laptops. Apple now has two new custom CPUs — the M1 Pro as well as the M1 Max.

You’ll find these CPUs exclusively in the new 14-inch MacBook Pro and the more premium 16-inch MacBook Pro. So, if you’re curious about what’s changed and new in these Macs over last year’s 13-inch M1 model, we have you covered with a look at price, release date, features, and more.

Price and release date

On October 18, Apple held its “Unleashed” event, and the company announced both the 14-inch MacBook Pro, as well as the 16-inch MacBook Pro. Pre-orders for both laptops are now available, with the machines set to ship out on October 26.

The base MacBook Pro 14 inch starts at $2,000. That includes an 8-core CPU, 14-core GPU, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage. As for the base model MacBook Pro 16 inch, it starts at $2,500 and includes a 10-core CPU, 16-core GPU, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage.

The jump in screen size between two MacBook models essentially costs $500. So, be sure to pick a screen size that you think is right. Do note, though, that you also can jump up to the more powerful M1 Max CPU on all-new base model MacBook Pro models if you want. The price difference from a starting 14-inch model will be $500 extra. On the entry-level 16 inch MacBook Pro, it’s a total of $200 extra.

Apple Unleashed Macbook Pro

As for other pricing changes, there are actually two base model 14-inch MacBook Pros. The $2,000 model has an 8-core CPU and 14-core GPU with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. A $2,500 model has a 10-Core CPU, 16 core GPU, 16 GB of RAM, and 1 TB of storage.

The base 16-inch MacBook Pro has a 10-core CPU, 16-core GPU, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage. A $2,700 model has the same CPU, and GPU and RAM, but 1TB of storage. Finally, at the top of the top is the $3,500 model, which has a 10-core CPU, a 32-core GPU, and 1TB of storage.

We don’t think you’ll ever need the top-range MacBook Pro 14-inch or MacBook Pro 16-inch model unless you’re into some serious stuff that requires a lot of computing power. For most people, the entry-level models should be just fine, especially considering all the power of Apple’s new chips.

Performance

John Ternus introducing the new cooling system in Apple's MacBook Pro 14.

Apple laid down a lot of claims when it comes to the computing power in these new M1 Pro and M1 Max MacBook machines.

These new MacBooks claim to be significantly more powerful than the M1 MacBooks. When it comes to numbers, Apple claims that the CPU in M1 Pro and M1 Max can deliver up to 70% faster performance.

Now, we will need to test that in our labs, but it definitely seems plenty promising for people who might be using MacBook machines for heavy tasks like video editing, photo editing, and other creative endeavors.

The advancements Apple has made in these areas are catered to professionals who use MacBook machines for intensive tasks. Nonetheless, we still want to mention the basics anyway because when it comes to web browsing, day-to-day use, and social media, these M1 Pro and M1 Max Macs will be more than powerful.

If you opt for that base model MacBook Pro 14-inch we mentioned earlier, expect to see these benefits. On paper, the base model 14-inch MacBook Pro comes with an 8-core CPU that isn’t much different from the old M1 when it comes to raw CPU power. The old 13-inch M1 Macs had an 8-core CPU, as well as an 8-Core GPU. Base model 14-inch MacBook Pros have a faster 14-Core GPU, but the CPU is essentially the same amount of cores on paper.

But these MacBook Pros also have a redesigned thermal solution, which should also help them take full advantage of these new chips. Some early leaked benchmarks of the M1 Max showed a 56% jump over the M1 MacBook Pro in multi-core Geekbench performance.

Apple's M1 Lineup.

The integrated GPU in the M1 Pro is up to 2x faster than the one found on the M1 MacBooks. When it comes to the M1 Max, Apple claims for four times faster graphics performance when compared to the M1 chip. That’s the difference between the 16-core and 32-core GPUs in the M1 Pro and M1 Max.

That’s because it has up to 64GB of unified memory, shared between both the CPU and GPU. We’ll have to see just how that plays out, but the M1 Max is really all about improved GPU performance, to say the least.

Of course, there’s also a media engine and display engine built into the M1 Pro and M1 Max. That means you can get more out of Thunderbolt displays, as well as 8K and 4K files.

Apple said nothing of gaming performance, of course. Even though the M1 Max models will likely get decent frame rates in games, gaming is still not a focus.

At the end of the day, we need to test Apple’s claims more. But considering all that power, there’s no reason any models of these new Macs won’t speed you through web browsing or even gaming. The M1 Pro and M1 Mac chips are a beast, and will even allow you to enjoy Apple Universal Apps from iPads OS and iPhones on these new Macs for added convenience.

Portability and battery life

Apple made some big changes when it comes to portability and battery life on these new MacBook models. While the old M1 Macs were known to be slim and light at 3.0 pounds, these new Mac machines are quite heavier. Apple says battery life is also significantly improved over the older models.

We’ll start first with the overall weight of these MacBook models. The 14-inch MacBook Pro starts at 3.5 pounds in weight. The 16-inch models, meanwhile, come in at 4.7 pounds on the M1 Pro model and 4.8 pounds on the M1 Max model. So these 16-inch models will be a lot heavier, but fairly close to the Intel-based 16-inch 2019 MacBook Pros.

In terms of ports, both the 16-inch MacBook Pro and the 14-inch MacBook Pro come with a full-size SDXC card slot, an HDMI port, and a 3.5 mm headphone jack, as well as three Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports and a MagSafe 3 charging port.

Connectivity on the new 2021 Macbook Pro. SD reader, USB-C port, HDMI port.

That’s a change from previous M1 Macs, which only had two Thunderbolt 3 ports. Note that there’s actually a USB-C Thunderbolt 4 port on the right side of the MacBook this year. USB-C can be used for charging, in addition to MagSafe.

Battery life is also improved on these models. Apple claims that you can expect up to 17 hours of battery life for video playback on 14-inch MacBook Pro models. Meanwhile, on the 16-inch model, you can expect up to 21 hours of battery life. We’ll need to test those claims, but there’s little reason to believe it’s not true, as M1-powered MacBook Pros achieved well over 16 hours of battery in most of our tests.

Keyboard

The top row of the keyboard on the M1 Pro Mac.

Usually, we bundle in the keyboard section with portability, but the MacBook Pro 2021 models have a new keyboard. Apple has dropped out the Touch Bar found on previous MacBook Pros. These new MacBooks also have the standard Magic Keyboard. The difference, as you can see, is that it’s set in a double-anodized black well to highlight the backlighting on the keys.

The physical function keys are also back, including a wider escape key. Apple says the new keyboard is the perfect complement to the Force Touch Trackpad, and we look forward to testing it.

Display

Lifestyle image of someone using the new Macbook Pro 2021.

You probably heard that the new MacBooks have a notch in the display, which are bound to be the most controversial feature of these new laptops. But when it comes to the display itself, these new MacBook Pros claim to have the best display yet, with Apple saying it’s the best display you’ll find on any laptop.

Like the iPad Pro, Apple is using a Liquid Retina XDR mini-LED display on these new MacBook Pros. On the 14-inch model, it comes in at 3024 x 1964 native resolution at 254 pixels per inch (ppi). On the 16-inch model, it’s even better at 3456 x 2234 native resolution, also at 254 ppi. The choice of mini-LED display also means that the MacBook can backlight the screen in more efficient ways, and dim individual zones as needed for deeper blacks and more vibrant images.

Speaking of brightness, that is rated at up to 1,000 nits sustained and 1,600 nits of peak brightness. If that turns out to be true, that means these screens could be more than twice as bright as the previous models. Apple says the contrast ratio is rated at 1,000,000:1 on all models. And, on both models, the displays feature ProMotion technology, supporting up to 120Hz refresh rates. Again, that’s the same technology as found on the iPad Pro, which allows the system to dynamically change between 25Hz and 120Hz to save battery life when necessary. The refresh rate can also be locked at a refresh rate you choose.

A 1080p webcam, improved speakers and mics

The webcam on the new MacBook Pro 2021 models.

We’ll end by touching on the webcam. The new MacBook Pro has a 1080 FaceTime HD camera. It doubles up the resolution and low-light performance of the webcam on the previous M1 MacBook Pro. Apple also says that the camera system taps into the powerful image signal processor (ISP) and Neural Engine of the M1 Pro and M1 Max for computational video that enhances video quality — so users appear sharper with more natural-looking skin tones.

Basically, your calls will look better on this MacBook model, but Apple claims you’ll also sound better, too. The new MacBook Pro has studio-quality mics that have an even lower noise floor.

The high-fidelity six-speaker sound system features also has two tweeters for a clearer soundstage. Four force-canceling woofers results in 80 percent more bass. The sound system also supports spatial audio, which should be familiar to AirPod Pro users.

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