Apple‘s brand new M2 chip is here, promising speed and efficiency improvements over their incredibly fast M1 predecessor. But with M1 Macs still going strong after almost two years, is upgrading to M2 a worthwhile move? Or is Apple‘s latest silicon more marketing hype and margin boost than real-world difference maker?
As someone who‘s used both the M1 and M2 MacBook Air extensively, I‘ve experienced the performance firsthand. In this in-depth look at M2 versus M1, we‘ll benchmark the gains, study real-world usage data, and decipher if the upgrade is justified. Buckle up your CPU cores, we‘re going deep on Apple‘s latest silicon advancements!
At a Glance: M2 vs M1 Performance Comparison
Before diving into the nitty-gritty technical details, here‘s a high-level snapshot of how M2 and M1 measure up across key areas based on Apple‘s data:
|Spec||M1 Chip||M2 Chip||% Improvement|
|CPU Performance||Up to 3.7GHz||Up to 3.49GHz||Up to 18%|
|GPU Cores||7-8||9-10||Up to 25%|
|Neural Engine Cores||16||16||0%|
|Memory Bandwidth||68.25GB/s||100GB/s||46% Faster|
We‘ll contextualize these numbers with real-world data soon. But on paper, the M2 brings solid improvements to the components that matter most: the CPU, GPU, and memory architecture.
Upgrading to M2 means you can expect snappier performance in creative apps, games, video editing, and other graphically-intensive workflows. But just how much snappier depends heavily on the workload, thermal constraints, and silicon lottery. Let‘s break things down further!
M2‘s New CPU Cores Are Up to 20% Faster…On Paper
The M2 chip features Apple‘s latest second-generation 5nm transistor technology just like M1. And it still packs the same 8 CPU cores split into 4 high-performance and 4 high-efficiency cores.
But the high-performance cores have been substantially overhauled for greater per-core performance. Enhancements include:
- Larger L2 cache per core, from 12MB to 14MB
- Higher peak clock speeds reaching 3.49GHz versus 3.2GHz on M1
- Increased vector engines per core for ML tasks
- Overall redesign to boost IPC (instructions per cycle)
These architectural improvements allow each M2 high-performance core to execute tasks up to 15% faster than M1 in Apple‘s internal testing. For single-threaded apps that rely on 1-2 cores, most benchmarks show performance gains in the 10-20% range:
|CPU Test||M1 Score||M2 Score||% Change|
|Cinebench R23 (Single)||1520||1779||+17%|
|Xcode Build||45 sec||36 sec||-20% faster|
So for launching apps, browsing, and other light workflows, the M2‘s peppier cores give it a tangible speed advantage over M1. These brief bursts of activity finish around 15-20% quicker before any thermal limits kick in.
But for sustained multi-threaded tasks that leverage all 8 cores simultaneously, the M2 slightly trails the 10-core M1 Pro/Max chips. Based on Geekbench‘s multi-core test:
- M2: 15,353 points
- M1 Pro: 14,769 points
- M1 Max: 15,045 points
So while M2 is Apple‘s fastest 8-core chip, it doesn‘t surpass the 10-core M1 units in prolonged all-core work. The rumored 12-core M2 Pro/Max chips later this year may tell a different story.
M2 Graphics Are Up to 35% Faster Thanks to More GPU Cores
While the CPU core count remains the same, M2 flexes its graphical muscle with upgrades to the GPU design:
- 9 or 10 GPU cores options versus 7 or 8 on M1
- 25% higher memory bandwidth to feed those GPU cores
- Redesigned encode/decode engines for video playback
In graphics and gaming benchmarks, these improvements deliver sizable gains:
|Test||M1 Score||M2 Score||% Change|
|Rise of the Tomb Raider (FPS)||57||75||+32%|
|Shadow of the Tomb Raider (FPS)||55||72||+31%|
For AAA gaming, creative apps, video editing, 3D CAD, and other GPU-accelerated tasks, expect performance upticks of 25-35%. That could shave minutes off video export times or provide a much smoother gaming experience.
The GPU improvements are less pronounced in real-world usage though, especially in non-Pro laptop models more prone to thermal throttling under load. But in brief bursts, the M2‘s graphics power shines over M1.
More Memory Bandwidth Keeps M2‘s Cores Fed
M2 uses faster LPDDR5 RAM versus LPDDR4X in M1, while remaining limited to 24GB maximum. The LPDDR5 spec nearly doubles the peak memory bandwidth:
- M1: 68.25GB/s
- M2: Up to 100GB/s
This added memory throughput feeds the data-hungry CPU and GPU cores more quickly. Memory bandwidth is crucial for sustained workloads like video editing that need to shuffle lots of asset data on each render or effect.
The 50% extra bandwidth helps M2 avoid bottlenecks when under load. And it future-proofs new Macs for the likely RAM demands of macOS software down the road.
For current real-world use, an M1 and M2 Mac with 16GB of RAM will perform similarly thanks to Apple‘s excellent memory compression. But M2 has growth headroom with its improved memory architecture.
M2 Speed Holds Up…Until Thermals Strike Back
So by the raw performance numbers, M2 appears nicely faster than M1 in both CPU and graphics. But speed isn‘t much good if the system overheats and has to throttle back under sustained loads.
Reviewers found the fanless, thin-and-light M2 MacBook Air hit thermal limits much more quickly than the M2 Pro laptops. To avoid overheating, it throttled down to nearly M1 performance after just 1-2 minutes of intensive exporting or rendering.
For example, The Verge saw a 3x video encoding advantage over the M1 Air disappear entirely after 90 seconds once heated up. Both ended up taking about the same time to finish due to throttling.
Unlike the Airs, the M2 Pro and Max MacBook Pros use fans to cope with heat better. Less aggressive throttling means export times were indeed 20-30% faster than M1 Pro/Max models as Apple claims.
The takeaway is M2 performance expectations need calibration based on workload duration. For short tasks, the gains shine through brightly. But for marathon sessions of video effects or 3D animation, even M2 starts to falter once thermally constrained.
M2 Benchmark vs. Intel Core i7 and Ryzen 7 6800U
To put Apple‘s silicon in context, here‘s how the M2 fares against new 13" laptop chips from Intel and AMD:
|CPU||Geekbench Single-Core||Geekbench Multi-Core|
|Ryzen 7 6800U||1501||8085|
For lightly threaded work, the M2 wins handily with its blazing fast single-core speed. But for parallel tasks using many cores, the Ryzen and Raptor Lake i7 close the gap while still trailing the M2.
Of course, benchmarks alone don‘t tell the full story. Based on my experience, Apple‘s unified memory architecture and software optimizations give it a far snappier real-world feel compared to Windows laptops with the same specs.
Should You Upgrade from M1 to M2? It Depends…
For those rocking an M1 Mac already, upgrading to M2 offers questionable value unless you need specific improvements like:
- More memory – M2 supports up to 24GB versus 16GB on M1
- Advanced video editing – ProRes processing up to 2x faster
- 3D rendering and CAD – Scenes export ~30% quicker in tests
- Development work – Quicker builds and test cycles
- Music production – Support for more plug-ins and instruments
Or if you care about the MacBook Air‘s redesign like the new display, MagSafe charging, 1080p webcam, and speakers.
For most tasks, the M1 still delivers excellent performance that will easily last 3-5 years minimum. I‘d only upgrade from M1 if your daily workflow is significantly hindered by its limitations. Otherwise, better to save your money!
M2 Pro and Max Chips Promise Another Big Leap
While the standard M2 provides a solid generational uplift, rumors point to far more powerful M2 Pro and M2 Max successors later in 2022 and 2023. The key upgrades in the works:
- Up to 12 high-performance CPU cores versus 10 max on M1 Pro/Max
- Up to 38-core GPU offerings dwarfing M1‘s best 32-core GPU
- Even higher memory bandwidth than M2‘s 100GB/s
- Enhanced media engine, display engine, and other specialty accelerators
These pro-focused chips will deliver performance closer to 2x over standard M1/M2 silicon for demanding creative workflows. The 10-core CPU jump and massive GPU core counts point to sizable real-world speed-ups compared to today‘s models.
If your daily workload already pushes an M1 Mac to its limits, holding out for M2 Pro/Max makes more sense than settling for a standard M2. For pros truly living on the bleeding edge, the biggest gains still lie ahead!
Final Verdict – Modest Improvements But M1 Still Going Strong
The M2 chip does advance Apple‘s laptop performance in measurable ways thanks to CPU, GPU, and memory upgrades. For short bursts of intense activity, it solidly outruns the M1 before thermals hit.
But for marathon workloads, gains are blunted by thermal constraints. And the M1 remains shockingly capable even in demanding creative applications two years after its debut.
Ultimately, M2 offers streamlined speed but not a revolutionary leap beyond M1. It feels more like a refined "M1X" than a groundbreaking next-gen chip. Upgrading only makes sense if you need specific improvements today. Otherwise, it‘s hard to justify the spend when M1 machines have so much headroom left.
For most users, holding out for the rumored M2 Pro/Max still seems prudent. Those chips positioned above M2 promise the sizable performance jump pros have been waiting for.
The M2 is an impressively engineered chip continuing Apple‘s silicon success. Just don‘t expect it to wow quite like the original M1 unless you specifically need the upgraded graphics or memory bandwidth today. For everyone else, the M1 magic lives on!