What is MacBook M1 vs. M2: Differences Explained

MacBook M1 vs. M2

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Apple created its own M1 chip back in 2020 and stopped using Intel processors shortly after. The M1 provides a much-needed boost of power and makes MacBooks run more efficiently.

But in 2022, Apple released the M2 processor that delivers even faster speeds, particularly with regard to graphics.

MacBook M1 Specifications

MacBook M1 Specifications

The M1 chip is based on ARM architecture which is commonly used in mobile devices.

Apple designed the CPU as a replacement for Intel processors and began using the new chips in their MacBooks and desktops before later adding it to iPads. 

Let’s first take a look at the different types of M1 chips and then go over the MacBooks they come in. 

Chip Variations

One point of confusion is that Apple uses the term “M1” to refer to its new chip.

Apple uses this base-model processor in their MacBooks, desktops, and iPads. However, other variations of the M1 chip, offering more power, are available as an upgrade.


You get the standard M1 processor in the MacBook Air, Pro (13”), iMac, and Mac Mini. Depending on screen size and model year, there is an option to upgrade some of those models. 

The basic M1 processor has eight CPU cores, with four cores for performance and another four for energy efficiency. In addition, eight GPU cores are built into the chips (except on the M1 MacBook Air, which only has seven).

A major limiting factor of the M1 chip is it can only handle 16GB of RAM. It also has 16 neural engine cores, which is the same as all other M1 chips except the Ultra.

Altogether the M1 has a whopping 16 billion transistors on its 119mm die.

M1 Pro

The M1 Pro chip offers a moderate boost in performance and capabilities. It was specifically designed for the 14” and 16” MacBook Pro, which came out in 2021.

However, these buyers also had the option to upgrade to the M1 Max.

The M1 Pro chip has either eight or ten cores, depending on how many performance cores are included.

You could choose either six or eight performance cores on the 14” MacBook, with the 16” coming with eight performance cores. Both MacBook Pro sizes have two efficiency cores. 

Similarly, the number of GPU cores is related to the number of CPU cores. The 14” MacBook Pro with an eight-core CPU has a fourteen-core GPU, with the ten-core model having a sixteen-core GPU option.

The larger 16” MacBook Pro automatically comes with a sixteen-core GPU.

A major increase in power for the M1 Pro comes from its ability to handle 32GB of RAM, with buyers being able to choose how much they want.

There is also a ProRes accelerator.  All of this added power fits on a slightly larger 240mm chip that houses almost 34 billion transistors.

M1 Max

The M1Max provides another bump in performance for the MacBook Pro and is also used in the first Mac Studio, which came out in 2022.

The Mac Studio notably resembles a MacMini, but is much larger and has the option to upgrade to the M1 Ultra.

Apple’s M1 Max has ten total CPU cores, with eight for performance and two for efficiency. But unlike its counterpart, the M1 Pro, the M1 Max has a whopping 24 or 32 GPU cores, depending on your purchase needs. 

The processor can also handle a decent 64GB of RAM, which varies depending on the model you purchase. There are also two ProRes accelerators. In all, the M1 Max has 57 billion resistors on a 420mm chip.

M1 Ultra

The final M1 processor that Apple released is the M1 Ultra which didn’t come out until 2022 alongside the Mac Studio. Because it is only used in the Mac Studio, we won’t go into too much detail.  

However,  it does have an insane 20 cores, with a 48 or 64-core GPU. Additionally, it supports up to 128GB of RAM and has four ProRes Accelerators.

114 billion transistors create this insane amount of power on a massive 840mm chip.

MacBook Air

The 2020 MacBook Air was one of the first computers to use the M1 chip. There was only one version of the MacBook Air, which was 13.3” and used the base model M1 processor.

However, you did have some options with SSD and memory.

When Apple released the M2 MacBook Air in 2022, they kept selling the M1 version with some slight modifications.

M1 MacBook Airs sold in late 2022 have a deactivated performance core and some different storage options. Besides that, all of the M1 MacBook Air specs and those of M2 MacBook Air are the same.

MacBook Pro

The M1 MacBook Pro, on the other hand, is a little more confusing. In 2020 Apple released a 13.3” MacBook Pro with a standard M1 chip alongside the MacBook Air.

In fact, the only other M1 device to come out in 2020 was the Mac Mini.

The larger 14” and 16” MacBook Pros didn’t come out until 2021 and came with the more powerful M1 Pro or M1 Max processor.

All three of the M1 MacBook Pros were discontinued and replaced with similar models that use the M2 chips, offering improved performance, longer battery life, and a highly anticipated release of the MacBook Air M2.

MacBook M2 Specifications

MacBook M2 Specifications

Apple unveiled the M2 processor in June 2022 as a replacement for the M1. The most notable difference is that Apple fit about 25% more transistors onto the new M2 chips and GPU cores.

Apple’s M2 MacBook rollout closely resembled the M1’s.

Chip Variations

The naming scheme remains largely unchanged, with both a Pro and Max version available, in addition to the base model M2. Obviously, missing is an Ultra variant, which we could still see in the future if Apple releases a newer Studio desktop.  


The base model M2 came out in June 2022 on the new 13.6” MacBook Pro, followed by the 13.6” MacBook Air the next month.

They also used the M2 in the iPad Pro, which came out in the Fall, and the Mac Mini, which didn’t debut until 2023.

The M2 processor largely resembles its M1 predecessor with a total of eight CPU cores, four of those are for performance, and the other four are for efficiency.

A notable upgrade is that the M2 has either eight or ten cores. The MacBook Pro comes with a ten-core GPU, and the MacBook Air comes with either an eight or ten-core GPU.

The maximum memory also gets a substantial boost, with the M2 being capable of supporting 25GB. Additionally, it has a single ProRes accelerator. The M2 chip has approximately 20 billion transistors on a 155mm chip.

M2 Pro

The M2 Pro chip is a nice upgrade that comes standard in the 14” and 16” MacBook Pro. The only other device that currently uses the M2 Pro chip is the Mac Mini.

The M2 Pro chip came out roughly six months after the first base-model M2 chip. 

Apple’s M2 Pro comes with either ten or twelve cores. The 14” MacBook is available with either ten or twelve cores, while the 16” only comes with twelve cores.

The ten-core processor has six performance cores and four efficiency cores, while the twelve-core has eight performance cores and four efficiency cores.

The GPU has a similar difference with either a sixteen or nineteen-core version depending on the CPU core count. The M2 Pro supports up to 32GB of memory.

Finally, its chip has 40 billion transistors, whose die size has not been released.

M2 Max

The most powerful M2 chip so far is the M2 Max, known for its exceptional performance and efficiency.

While that could change if Apple decides to release an Ultra version, it nonetheless has some impressive specs, complemented by a stunning Liquid Retina display.

Unfortunately, this processor is only available in select MacBook Pro models.

The M2 Max comes in a twelve-core configuration with eight performance cores and four efficiency cores. However, it has a massive thirty or thirty-eight GPU cores.

You can upgrade both the 14” and 16” MacBook Pro to have a higher GPU core count. It also supports a staggering 96GB of memory and has 67 billion transistors.  

MacBook Air

The MacBook Air models received a complete redesign in 2022 to go along with its new M2 processor. Of course, it retained its sleek lines and compact size, but it also got a little less rounded.

Unfortunately, the MacBook Air still only has one screen size available, but it’s now slightly larger at 13.6”.

It’s also worth noting that Apple kept the older M1 MacBook Air around even after the new one came out as a more affordable option for price-conscious consumers.

However, the newer MacBook Air provides significant upgrades in power and performance, particularly for those with intense GPU needs, like gamers and video editors.

MacBook Pro

The MacBook Pro had already undergone a major redesign in 2020 and 2021, so not much is different physically. However, there are still some dramatic differences between the smaller 13” MacBook Pro and its larger counterparts.

The MacBook Pro is now only available with the more powerful M2 processors.

Since Apple has kept the 13” MacBook Pro separate from the larger models, it still doesn’t have the Pro and Max processors. Unfortunately, it does still have the keyboard Touch Bar.

Similarities and Differences between Macbook M1 and M2 

Similarities and Differences between Macbook M1 and M2

MacBooks using the M1 and M2 chips share a lot of similarities. Both processors are based on ARM architecture and use a system-on-chip design. But the M2 does see some major performance improvements, thanks to an additional two years of development. 

1. CPU

The M1 and M2 have very similar CPUs, taking advantage of numerous performance cores alongside efficiency cores. However, nearly all of the Macbooks with an M2 processor have more cores than their M1 counterparts.

All of the M2 processors have four efficiency cores, whereas the M1 Pro and Max only had two, while the M1 and M1 Ultra also had four.

This provides a noticeable bump in speed, even though most users don’t really need it. 

2. GPU

The GPU core in the M2 provides one of the biggest benefits. With up to ten cores in the standard M2 processor and the 38 cores found in the M2 Max, the MacBook can handle nearly any task you throw at it.

The one downside with the number of GPU cores is that the M1 Ultra still has significantly more cores than the M2 Max, but that is understandable since the M1 Ultra is designed for extreme performance.

Nonetheless, the higher number of GPU cores will easily handle games and video editing.

3. Memory

Memory also saw a major improvement, with the new M2 able to handle 24GB and the M2 Max being compatible with up to 96 GB. 

Of course, you still need to purchase a computer that actually has those large amounts of RAM, as most base-model MacBooks come with a more conservative amount. 

Unfortunately, the base-model M2 MacBooks still start with the same amount of memory as their M1 predecessors.

4. Chip Size and Transistors

Most chip manufacturers like AMD and Intel try to keep their processors relatively similar yearly to keep using the same connections and mounting components.

But with Apple developing all of its own technology, they are no longer bound by those constraints.

With that said, the M2 chips are slightly larger than their predecessors. Moreso, each M1 and M2 chip variant gets larger as its number of cores increases.

For instance, the standard M1 is about 119mm, while the M1 Ultra is an enormous 864mm. In comparison, the new M2 is slightly larger at 155mm. 

Unfortunately, there is no official data for the M2 Pro and M2 Max size yet. However, the M2, M2 Pro, and M2 Max processors have 20 billion, 40 billion, and 67 billion transistors, respectively.

While the M2 Max has 10 billion more transistors than its M1 counterpart, it is still nowhere near the M1 Ultra’s 114 billion transistors.

5. Variants

With the release of the M2 Pro and the M2 Max in early 2023, both the M1 and M2 lineup mirror each other nicely.

Each of the M2 processors provides a nice amount of extra power over its predecessor, which may make them worth upgrading.

However, you probably noticed an M2 Ultra missing from the new processor line. The M1 Ultra was the last of the M1 series, and it didn’t come out until March 2022.

There is no official statement from Apple on a timeline for an M2 Ultra, but there have been consistent rumors that they are working on one.

MacBook M1 VS. M2

MacBook M1 VS. M2

The biggest difference between the M1 and M2 MacBooks is the speed. The M2’s additional cores facilitate GPU-intensive processes like gaming. However, there are also cosmetic differences between the M1 and M2 MacBooks, and the M2 MacBooks are also newer and will therefore be supported longer.

Apple uses the new Silicon processors in all of their new computers (with the exception of the Mac Pro). But most consumers want to know about the MacBooks specifically.

Furthermore, the MacBook Air has seen some major changes since the first M1 chip.

MacBook Air

When the MacBook Air came out back in 2020, it was the first computer to receive the MacBook Air M1 processor. However, it also used the same basic housing as the prior generation MacBook Air, meaning it is roughly the same size and weight but has some technological advancements like improved WiFi and USB connections

The biggest drawback with the 2020 M1 MacBook is that it only supported one external display compared to its Intel predecessor, which supported two.

The computer also retains the fanless design that really allows it to achieve a narrow body. Like its predecessor, it is only available with a 13.3” screen.

The MacBook Air received a much-needed redesign in 2022 when the M2 chip came out. The redesign brought many essential upgrades, like a new 13.6” display and MagSafe charging.

Unfortunately, the computer didn’t get as much fanfare as the 2020 MacBook Air, thanks in part to its higher price tag.

When the 2022 MacBook came out, many assumed that Apple would begin phasing out the old model.

However, that was not the case, and Apple ended up deactivating a performance core on the M1 MacBook Air and kept selling it at a lower price as an entry model.

To make matters worse, some users reported overheating problems with their M2 MacBook Air. 

MacBook Pro

The MacBook Pro essentially has two different models under it.

The smaller 13” MacBook Pro is more like the traditional MacBooks, with its smaller processors. Whereas the 14” and 16” MacBook Pros are clearly designed with performance in mind.

13” MacBook Pro

The 13” MacBook Pro falls somewhere between the MacBook Air and its larger counterparts. Actually, the M1 version actually came out on the same day as the M1 MacBook Air and the M2 came out pretty close to the M2 Air’s release. 

Additionally, you can only get the base model M1 and M2 chips in the 13” MacBook Pro. The 13” even keeps some of the previous generation MacBook Pro design, including the ill-fated Touch Bar. 

But unlike the MacBook Air, Apple did discontinue the M1 13” MacBook Pro when the M2 was released in June 2022.

Besides the chip, the only difference between the M1 and M2 13” MacBook Pro is an improved headphone jack and a larger USB C power adapter.

14” and 16” MacBook Pro

The 14” and 16” MacBook Pros also stayed pretty much the same between the M1 and M2 chips. First, the screens are larger than the smaller MacBook Pro, but they, more importantly, use the better Pro and Max Silicon chips.

In 2021 Apple released the 14” and 16” MacBook Pro with an M1 chip as a complete redesign.

Unlike the 13” MacBook Pro and MacBook Air that came out the year before, these two models fixed some of the major past problems, like removing the Touch Bar and upgrading the webcam.

Less than two years later, Apple released another Pair of 14” and 16” MacBook Pros that remained largely unchanged but took advantage of the new M2 Pro and M2 Max chips.

However, they did take the opportunity to make some minor upgrades like WiFi and Bluetooth.

Beyond the minor upgrades and switch to the M2 processor, there was really no difference between the 14” and 16” M1 and M2 MacBook Pros. Much like the 13” model, Apple discontinued the M1 versions as soon as the M2 MacBook Pros launched.


Is MacBook M2 cheaper than M1? 

The M1 MacBook is not cheaper model than the M2 MacBook. Apple actually discontinued all M1 MacBooks except for the Air, which is significantly cheaper than the M2 version. Some reports of the M2 MacBook being cheaper are comparing M2 sale prices to M1 regular prices.

Why is Apple M2 slower than M1? 

Apple made a pretty big mistake with the base-model M2 chip by not using enough NAND chips on the SSD. This actually made the base-model M2 slower to load than the comparable M1. Fortunately, that isn’t a problem on the higher-end MacBooks that use the M2 Pro and M2 Max.

What is Apple M1’s weakness?

Many of the M1’s weaknesses were resolved with software updates. However, the limited ports on select models, like the MacBook Air, are a major problem for some users. Additionally, the M1 MacBook Pro and Air only support one external display. Fortunately, the M2 MacBook Pro added an HDMI port.


The M1 and M2 chips from Apple have been one of the largest changes in computing over the past decade. Not only did a major computer manufacturer begin developing its own processors, but it allowed them to make some incredibly small yet powerful computers.

The MacBooks are just the tip of the iceberg for Apple’s Silicon technology because their desktops, like the Mac Studio, are arguably more impressive. Nonetheless, Apple has managed to keep the price of MacBooks relatively affordable, despite the massive technological improvements.

If you are in the market for a new MacBook and aren’t sure whether to go with the M1 or M2, you really can’t go wrong with either. However, a good piece of advice is that the M1 MacBooks have already been out a couple of years longer and will therefore provide a shorter useful life if you do plan to keep it as long as possible.

About Christopher
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Christopher is a freelance writer from Louisiana. He primarily covers topics related to electronics and gaming, with a passion for how technology can make a positive impact.

Holding a bachelor’s degree in marketing and a master’s degree in hospitality, he also writes about various aspects of business and finance.

Outside of writing, Christopher’s hobbies include woodworking and building LEGO sets. In addition to his enthusiasm for all things nerdy, he loves collecting and playing video games, particularly older ones.

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