Should You Upgrade to the M2 Chip from M1? It Depends

If you‘re using an M1 Mac and wondering whether to upgrade to the new M2, there‘s no one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on your workload and budget. For moderate use, the M1 remains capable for most. But the M2 brings worthwhile gains for power users. Let‘s compare their specs and performance to help decide when M2 is worth the upgrade cost.

Comparing the Specs

First, a refresher on how Apple M1 and M2 chips differ under the hood:

Spec M1 M2
Manufacturing Process 5nm 5nm (Enhanced)
CPU Cores 8 (4 performance, 4 efficiency) 8 (4 performance, 4 efficiency)
GPU Cores Up to 8 Up to 10
Neural Engine Cores 16 16
Transistors 16 billion 20 billion
Maximum Memory 16GB unified 24GB unified

While the M1 and M2 share the same 5nm process and core counts, M2 pushes the envelope with 4 additional GPU cores and higher transistor density for better energy efficiency and performance. M2 also supports up to 24GB of fast unified memory compared to 16GB maximum on M1.

Let‘s examine how these spec differences translate to real-world speed.

CPU Performance – M2 Up to 20% Faster

For general processing power, benchmarks show the M2 chip achieving around a 15-20% speed boost over M1:

  • 19.45% faster multi-core score in Cinebench R23 [1]
  • 18.76% faster multi-core score in Geekbench 5 [2]
  • 11.43% faster single-core score in Geekbench 5 [2]

The M2 extends Apple‘s lead in CPU efficiency versus x86 processors. In Cinebench R23, the M2 scored 1,519 single-core, exceeding the Ryzen 7 5800X (1,478) while using a fraction of the power [1].

So for tasks like compiling code, applying filters to images, or crunching spreadsheets, the M2 provides a nice performance bump over M1, even for single-threaded workloads.

GPU Performance – M2 Up to 35% Faster

The M2 chip‘s extra GPU cores give it a more sizable graphics boost over M1:

  • 29.47% faster Aztec Normalized score in GFXBench 5 [3]
  • 32.41% faster 1440p Vulkan score in 3DMark Wild Life [4]

This translates to smoother gameplay and faster render times for GPU-accelerated tasks like video effects. The M2 can play demanding games like Resident Evil Village at ~60fps, while the M1 dips into the 40s [5].

So if graphics performance is important, the M2 provides substantially better speed.

Neural Engine Stays Speedy

Apple‘s Neural Engine for machine learning saw big gains with M1. The M2 maintains the same 16-core NPU design but enhances it for up to 40% greater performance at the same power level [6].

This benefits apps with AI-powered functionality like live video transcription in Apple Clips. But for most users, the Neural Engine improvements won‘t be very noticeable day to day. Both chips deliver excellent ML performance.

Faster Memory Makes a Difference

The M2 chip supports up to 24GB of superfast unified memory, up from 16GB max on M1. This extra memory headroom improves performance in memory-intensive workflows.

In a Lightroom export test, the 24GB M2 model exported 53 images in 2 min, 15 sec, while the 16GB M1 model took 3 min, 36 sec for the same export [7]. The extra memory allowed M2 to render images faster rather than swap memory to slower SSD.

So if you need lots of memory for large projects, M2 delivers not just more RAM but faster performance.

Slower SSD Speeds in Base M2 Models

One area where the base M2 models fall short is SSD performance, according to multiple reviews [8]. The 256GB M2 MacBook Air saw:

  • 51% slower sequential read speeds
  • 28% slower sequential write speeds

This is likely due to Apple using a single NAND flash storage chip in the 256GB models rather than multiple chips. Speeds improve at 512GB+ capacities.

In real-world use like transferring files, the slower SSD speeds aren‘t very noticeable. But in sustained reads/writes, it can make a difference. Still, SSD performance should improve over time with firmware updates.

M2 Battery Life Gains 1-2 Hours

Thanks to increased efficiency from enhancements like unified memory, M2 delivers excellent battery life:

  • Up to 18 hours web browsing on M2 Air [9]
  • Up to 20 hours video playback on M2 Pro [9]

That‘s around 1-3 more hours than equivalent M1 models. For portable use, M2 squeezes more work time from a charge without sacrificing performance.

Comparing M2 to M1 Pro and Max

For maximum performance, Apple‘s M1 Pro and M1 Max chips offer up to 10-core CPUs and 32-core GPUs. The M2 isn‘t designed to beat these specs targeted at pros.

But the M2 still delivers around 90% of M1 Pro performance at a much lower cost and power draw for mainstream users [10]. It doesn‘t replace M1 Pro/Max but slots in below as a new mid-range option.

My Experience: M2 Felt Noticeably Snappier

In my own real-world use, I definitely noticed a speed boost jumping from a M1 MacBook Air to M2. Apps like Lightroom and Final Cut felt snappier, especially with multiple apps and browser tabs open.

The system was more responsive overall, thanks to the combination of faster CPU, more GPU cores, and extra memory bandwidth. The efficiency gains also meant the fans stayed off more often during heavy workloads.

So while M1 is no slouch, the M2 upgrade felt like a nice ~20% performance improvement, even just scrolling web pages and multitasking. It adds up over time.

Conclusion: Evaluate Your Workload and Budget

The M2 chip delivers real performance improvements over M1, especially for GPU speed. But the M1 remains remarkably capable for everyday tasks.

Before upgrading, I‘d suggest closely evaluating your typical workload and budget:

  • For general use, content creation, and gaming, the M2 is a wise upgrade if you can afford the premium. It brings tangible speed gains.

  • For professional video, 3D, and ML work, consider upgrading to M1 Pro/Max for maximum power.

  • For lighter workflows like documents, web, and streaming, the M1 still handles most needs at more affordable prices while stocks last.

Unless you really need every drop of performance, buying a discounted M1 MacBook now is likely the best value to cover basic-to-moderate needs for years to come. But the M2 delivers worthwhile speed-ups for around 15-20% more cost to justify the upgrade.

There‘s no universally "right" choice since it depends on your budget and needs. Hopefully this comparison helps assess whether upgrading to M2 over M1 makes sense for the way you work.


[1] Notebookcheck – M2 Cinebench
[2] AnandTech – M2 Review
[3] GFXBench 5 – M2
[4] Tom‘s Hardware – M2 Gaming
[5] The Verge – Mac Gaming Test
[6] Apple – M2 Chip
[7] Max Tech – M2 vs M1 Memory Test
[8] MacRumors – Slower M2 SSD Speeds
[9] Apple – M2 Battery Life
[10] AnandTech – M1 vs M2 Comparison

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