With Apple’s release yesterday of an M2 Mac Mini and a pair of 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros with the M2 Pro or M2 Max processor, the second generation of Apple Silicon has slipped into high gear. Apple is big on numbers, boasting of twice this and up-to-40-percent-of-that, but let’s look behind the hype and take a look at the real numbers.
Meet the Chips
M2 - A Look Back
Before we delve into just how much performance Apple has managed to squeeze out of the M2 architecture with the M2 Pro and M2 Max, it could be helpful to look at the baseline M2 processor. The M2 is designed with the same second-generation 5 nm process as the original M1 but with a modest – and we do mean modest – increase in CPU, GPU, and Neural Engine performance.
Through 8 CPU Cores, up to 10 GPU Cores, and 16 Neural Engine Cores, the M2 provides benchmarks of an 18 percent boost in CPU processing power over the M1, a 35 percent increase in GPU performance, and a 40 percent faster Neural Engine. The M2 also manages 50 percent more memory bandwidth from 24GB of unified memory compared to the M1’s 16GB of RAM.
In hard numbers, this translates to 100GB/s of memory throughput. The M2 also has a larger cache for even greater performance gains, especially during rendering.
Now, let’s look at how much power Apple has created in the M2 Pro and M2 Max designs.
Apple introduced the M2 Pro, which looks to be a supercharged M2 processor that has been scaled up to create forty billion transistors. M2 Pro delivers 200GB/s of memory bandwidth and supports 32GB LPDDR5 of memory. The M2 Pro has 12 CPU Cores with eight high-performance ores, four high-efficiency Cores, and 16 Neural Engine Cores. All in all, performance benchmarks indicate a modest 20 percent boost in performance over the previous generation M1 Pro.
As for GPUs, the M2 Pro has 19 GPU Cores capable of executing a 30 percent increase in graphics performance and a 40 percent increase in Neural Engine performance. The numbers are impressive, with over 15.8 trillion operations per second.
Compared to the M1 Pro of yesteryear, this second-generation sibling keeps mostly the same specs but increases the CPU and GPU Cores for a modest increase in speed. Putting the two side-by-side, you'd think these chips were more twins than cousins. However, the new Pro does win the end for one reason.
The M2 Max is all about the GPU. Essentially combining the 12 M2 Pro CPU Cores with a larger and more powerful graphics processor with up to 38 Cores. The M2 Max is stacked with 67 billion transistors, over triple that of the original M2 design and over 10 billion more than the previous generation of M1 Max. It is Apple silicon cranked to eleven.
The result is 400GB/s of memory bandwidth. It is up to 30 percent faster than the M1 Max and a 40 percent faster Neural Engine. The new chip is also expanding how much RAM it can support, with up to 96GB of unified memory. On a laptop, that's insane. Apples-to-apples, the two chips have a bit more different than the Pro series, but the difference may still be negligible for creatives jumping from one Max to the other.
Super Charged for 8K
All that power is quite alluring for filmmakers that are knee-deep into an 8K transition. Rendering times show that Apple's M2 Pro and M2 Max chips will provide much-needed horsepower when dealing with massive video files and longer rendering times.
Post-production artists using Apple Motion for animation rendering will enjoy M2 Pro performance times that are 20 percent faster than the M1 Pro. Colorists on Davinci Resolve can expect a 30 percent increase with the M2 Max. Both will see improvements of up to 80 percent over their i9 compatriots.
And for higher-end CGI work, the M2 Pro rendering out 3D graphics using Cinema 4D gets a performance boost that is 30 percent faster than the previous generation Max chip and over six times faster than the fastest i9.
However, we have to say that the Intel-based MacBooks are being used here for comparison and are using chips that are at least two generations behind what is currently on the market. So, take all of this with a little bit of salt. Having said that, it's undeniable that Apple silicon is fast and efficient. And if we're seeing gains over the last generation of SoCs, it's safe to say they're going to be solid options for creatives needing more oomph in their post-production workflow.
On the Horizon - an M2 Ultra?
With the development of the M2 Max finalized, it is expected that Apple is developing the M2 Ultra. Much like the first generation M1 Ultra, the M2 will use a joined CPU technology called Ultra Fusion Interconnect to bridge two M2 Max chips for double the performance.
According to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, the M2 Ultra SoC GPU could feature 24 CPU Cores, up to 76 GPU Cores, and at least 192GB of RAM. Gurman also speculates that the M2 Ultra will be easy to expand with additional memory, storage, and other components, but considering how the Silicon is all on one chip, how that will be implemented remains to be seen.
It is all blue sky thinking right now, and stories have already broke that Apple merging two Ultra configurations to produce an M2 Extreme design is no longer in development. This could be due to the company still dealing with complications while emerging from the worldwide chip shortage, or it could be that the M2 design only enjoys a modest increase in performance numbers.
But it’s even more likely that it’s simply not worth the effort. Apple’s Ultra Fusion Interconnecting Bridge communicating from one SoC to another is one thing, but fusing four of them and getting them to talk to one another is exponential and likely an effort of Sisyphean proportions.
In monetary terms, this means that the numbers wouldn’t add up for an M2 Extreme, no matter how fast it could theoretically be. “Using the highest-end M1 Ultra chip pushes the Mac Studio up to $5,000 — only $1,000 less than the current Mac Pro. That’s $3,000 more than the M1 Max Mac Studio,” Gurman writes in his Power On Newsletter. “Based on Apple’s current pricing structure, an M2 Extreme version of a Mac Pro would probably cost at least $10,000 — without any other upgrades — making it an extraordinary niche product that likely isn’t worth the development costs, engineering resources, and production bandwidth it would require.”
Moreover, at that price point, likely, even professionals wouldn’t upgrade a few years down the road for whatever comes after M2. The amount of effort it would take to craft an M2 Extreme design with four M2 Max fused together won’t be worth the results it could achieve because it couldn’t sell in large enough quantities to justify all the development and manufacturing costs. As such, Apple canceled it.
All is not lost for the delayed Mac Pro, however. A solitary M2 Ultra may find its way into a so-called “cheesegrater tower,” but don’t expect it any time soon.
Gurman says that since the company is no longer under the threat of tariffs for producing its computers in Asia, it has decided to move the production of the Mac Pro and other computers to Vietnam. The Mac Pro refresh is already overdue and will likely be delayed a little longer.
But there’s still plenty of time left in the year for new Macs to be introduced. If an M2 Ultra is coming, you can bet that a second-generation Mac Studio Ultra is also being tested. So, we’ve got that to look forward to.
An M2 To For Every Creative
How should filmmakers respond? Should they stay put and wait for an M2 Ultra or go ahead and buy into the Pro/Max generation? Well, the conventional wisdom is always that it doesn’t pay in the long run to wait for that "one more thing" from Apple. The M2 Pro and M2 Max are very fast and can support 8K ProRes rendering with impressive results.
Sure an eventual M2 Ultra will hit the market, and users will salivate at it. But in reality, it will only have a modest improvement over what Apple released yesterday. Unless filmmakers have a specific need for that last bit of boost, the fear of missing out is only imaginary.
But you can’t deny that the M2 platform screams, especially with the Max version running on all cylinders, and that means the 8K video party is now a rave. Drink responsibly.