Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch M1 Pro Review (2021)
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The newest 14-inch MacBook Pro with an M1 Pro chip (available at Amazon for $1,949.99) is a conundrum. Its GPU performance is the best we’ve ever seen out of an integrated graphics card. Apple finally added a bunch of useful ports and brought back MagSafe charging. The keyboard even feels a tad snappier. But outside of a few niche uses, all of that new stuff isn’t enough to totally justify its $1,999 price tag. Apple’s 13-inch M1 MacBook Pro—and even the M1 MacBook Air—are still the best choice for most people looking to get the most bang for the buck.
About the Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch M1 Pro (2021)
Here are the specs of the laptop we tested:
- Processor: M1 Pro (8-core CPU, six performance cores, two efficiency cores)
- Memory: 16GB
- Storage: 512GB M.2 SSD
- Display: 14.2-inch (3024 × 1964) Liquid Retina XDR display
- Ports: 3x USB-C Thunderbolt 4, HDMI, SDXC card, 3.5mm headphone jack, MagSafe 3 port for charging
- Graphics: Integrated (14-core GPU)
- Wireless: Bluetooth 5.0, 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6
- Battery: 70Whr
- Weight: 3.5 pounds
- Dimensions: 12.31 x 8.71 x 0.61 inches
This configuration is the base 14-inch MacBook Pro model. You can upgrade the M1 Pro chip to a 10-core CPU and a 14-core ($2,199) or 16-core GPU ($2,299), or pick the M1 Max chip with up to a 10-core CPU and a 24-core GPU ($2,899) or 32-core GPU ($3,099).
The 16-inch base model starts with an M1 Pro chip with 10 CPU cores and 16 GPU cores for $2,499. If you opt for an M1 Max chip with a 10-core CPU and a 24-core GPU, the price goes up to $3,099, and the M1 Max 10-core CPU and 32-core GPU option runs $3,299.
All the above configuration options and prices do not include an increase in memory or storage, but you can configure the 14-inch MacBook Pro with up to 32GB of RAM and up to 8TB of SSD storage. The 16-inch MacBook Pro can be configured with up to 64GB of RAM and up to 8TB of storage.
What we like
Mind-blowing integrated GPU performance
Some of our in-game benchmarks like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Total War: Warhammer II are compatible with macOS—even on Apple Silicon thanks to Rosetta 2, a specialized program that translates the coding from Intel/AMD-based programs so they can run on the M1 processors. (If you are curious as to the difference between x86 and ARM chips, check out this deep-dive.)
We were able to compare the average frames per second to the Windows results on other systems we tested and holy moly! The M1 Pro’s 14-core GPU can reach an average of 42-44 frames per second (fps) at 1080p (or 1920 x 1200) set to the highest graphics preset. That’s the equivalent of a discrete, mobile GTX 1650 graphics card.
Nvidia’s GTX 1650 is pretty far down the list when it comes to discrete mobile graphics cards, but for gamers on a budget, it gets the job done. If you lower the graphics preset, you can get over 60 fps in games like the ones mentioned above, and again, for an integrated GPU that is highly impressive.
Compared to Intel’s 11th-gen mobile processors with Iris Xe graphics, well, there actually is no comparison. If you want to get close to the same numbers with that CPU, you’ll have to turn the game resolution down to 720p. The 14-core GPU in the M1 Pro processor runs circles around Intel’s Iris Xe integrated graphics.
You’re also going to see better performance in real-world tasks like rendering 3D images and transcoding video files—especially in apps optimized for Apple’s new chips. Compared to the M1, the M1 Pro renders a 3D image of a car in Blender a minute faster with the CPU cores, and about 50 seconds faster with the GPU cores. Transcoding a 12-minute 4K video file to 1080p in Handbrake with the M1 Pro was a full minute and 30 seconds faster than the M1.
However, AMD mobile processors can still sometimes kick out better performance in real-world tasks. AMD’s Ryzen 9 5900HX, for instance, can render the same file in Blender a full minute faster than Apple’s M1 Pro, but it’s a full minute behind in the Handbrake transcoding task. By comparison, Intel’s Core i7-11375H trails the M1 Pro by one or two minutes in the same rendering task and by three or four minutes in the transcoding task. For now, the M1 Pro seems to be the most well-rounded processor for creative tasks.
Lower power consumption
During its most recent event, Apple boasted that the new MacBooks used 70% less power than PC laptops with a discrete GPU. Any System on Chip (SoC) like Apple’s M1 Pro is going to use less power than a discrete GPU, so the more interesting comparison is not between Apple’s integrated GPU and a discrete mobile GPU from Nvidia or AMD, but between its own chips.
To test power consumption, we used the Kill A Watt Meter, an electricity usage monitor that plugs directly into your wall outlet. With the MacBook Pro 14-inch plugged into the meter, we ran the Cinebench processor benchmarking software and the in-game benchmark for Shadow of the Tomb Raider and did the same for the 13-inch MacBook Pro. The results showed a much clearer picture of the M1 Pro’s power consumption compared to what Apple showed during its event.
The M1 Pro did use less power than the M1, but only during our Cinebench test. For single-core workloads, the M1 Pro used an average of 15 Watts and used an average of 38 watts during the multi-core test. In contrast, the M1 uses 45-50 watts during the single-core test and around 51 watts during the multi-core.
Both chips have an 8-core CPU, but the M1 has four performance cores and four efficiency cores, while the M1 Pro has six performance cores and two efficiency cores (which also explains why the M1 Pro has slightly more processing power in our benchmarks). So the M1 Pro is the more impressive chip when it comes to power consumption in this area.
But running heavy GPU workloads is a different story. Since the 13-inch MacBook Pro we tested has an 8-core GPU, it wasn’t surprising that it used less power than the 14-inch MacBook Pro, which has a 14-core GPU. While benchmarking Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the M1 chip used around 25 watts of power, while the M1 Pro averaged 42 watts and peaked at 50 watts several times.
50 watts is still a low number for intensive tasks, especially since the M1 Pro’s discrete GPU equivalent, the GTX 1650, can use up to 83 watts while idling. However, that’s not the 70% difference Apple mentioned—it's closer to a 40% decrease in power consumption. If Apple was comparing its GPU to higher-end discrete GPUs, sure, 70% sounds more accurate. Comparing a 14-core integrated GPU to something like Nvidia’s mobile RTX 3060 is like comparing Apples to, well, not Apples.
For our battery test, we set the display brightness to 200 nits and automatically cycled through dozens of websites with Chrome until the battery died. (200 nits is about 50% brightness when browsing the web or using this MacBook Pro normally—Apple claims it can reach a sustained brightness of over 1000 nits, which we did see, but only with HDR-encoded videos and not regular stuff like web browsing.) Even with all that power savings, though, the 14-inch MacBook’s battery life capped out at ten hours and 25 minutes in our test. All-day battery life is what we like to see, but the MacBook Air lasted just under 12 hours and the 13-inch MacBook Pro M1 lasted nearly 14 hours in our tests.
However, for a laptop that can do video and photo editing fairly well, over ten hours is exceptional. It's worse than the other MacBooks, so for basic work tasks it's not worth the sacrifice but between that and other laptops like Razer's Blade 15, it's a big difference.
Bless those ports!
One of the worst things about the 13-inch MacBook Pro is its port situation: two USB-C ports, and one of them you have to use for charging the laptop. That’s it. But the holidays came early with this latest MacBook; Apple added three USB-C Thunderbolt 4 ports, an HDMI port, an SD card reader, a headphone jack, and brought back its MagSafe port for charging.
We still wish there was just one USB-A port for connecting wireless devices like mice and keyboards, but Bluetooth generally has that covered these days. And if you haven’t started using USB-C flash drives, now is the time to start.
What we don’t like
For a long time, the MacBook Pro’s trackpad has always had an edge over its Windows PC and Chromebook competition. It was more than smooth; it was fluid like your fingers were gliding on water. We’re not sure what happened with this new iteration of MacBook Pros, but the trackpad on this model doesn’t have Apple’s usual finesse.
The trackpad is rough. Like, sometimes your fingertips will hop and skip like a bowling ball thrown down a lane that isn’t greased enough. Unlike the trackpad on the MacBook Pro 13-inch M1 model, this one sometimes catches your fingertips, squeezing them slightly, and oh boy does it feel strange.
To make up for that roughness, the trackpad is incredibly responsive, so it’s not a complete downgrade. But it feels rough enough to where I want to use a separate mouse.
No touch bar
The touch bar on yester-year’s MacBooks is controversial, to put it mildly. Some people find it distracting or that it gets in the way of their typing. Some people just prefer the unchangeable function key layout, and that’s totally fine! I am not in that camp, however, so I’m quite disappointed that Apple not only decided not to include the touch bar on its new MacBook Pro 14 and 16-inch laptops but also decided not to include it as an option.
One of the best parts about the touch bar is its predictive text and typo correction If you’re a writer looking to maximize your workflow, that feature is a god-send. Instead of retyping or highlighting a word and right-clicking on it to fix a spelling error, you just tap the correction on the touch bar and continue typing. It takes some getting used to, but once you’re used to it, it’s hard to go back to anything else.
The touch bar also showcased menu options from whatever program you are running, which is great for Chrome because it actually has a refresh button on the touch bar. (Unlike some, I never had an issue with my fingers accidentally pressing it.) Now that the touch bar is gone, there isn’t a super-fast way to refresh a page in Chrome; there’s no option on the function keys. Sure, you can hit Command + R, but one quick button tap is so much more convenient.
Speakers are only a smidge better
Putting the 13-inch MacBook Pro and the 14-inch MacBook Pro side by side and playing the same song, it’s obvious the newer MacBook has better sound. The base in songs like Rob Zombie’s “Dragula” (any other Matrix fans here?) and Swarm’s “Alpha & Omega” are heavier and cranked up to full volume the chassis even pulses subtlety from the boom.
However, the treble still sounds sort of tinny, and it’s most noticeable in “Dragula” and other songs that aren’t filled beginning to end with heavy bass. Apple’s MacBook Pro speakers still can’t hold a flame to something like the sound system on HP’s ZBook Create G7, so if you’re a creative professional looking for something with great sound, we recommend bringing your own headset or looking at HP’s ZBook line of laptops.
Should you buy it?
Yes, but only if you need the ports and extra speed
If you did not buy into the first wave of Apple Silicon devices, now is a good time to get in on the fun. The integrated GPU performance is killer, and you get a better display with a higher native resolution, slightly better speakers, and loads more ports. Just keep in mind this base 14-inch MacBook Pro model will run you over $2,000 with tax, $700 more than the base 13-inch MacBook Pro model.
There is little benefit to upgrading from a 13-inch M1 MacBook Pro to the one reviewed here, though. Processor performance is only slightly better in both real-world and synthetic benchmarks, and that’s why the new MacBook Pros are more niche than the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro; This laptop with an M1 Pro is best for people with minimal photo and video editing needs, or for people who need a ton of RAM and ports—but most people won’t need all that. If you need more speed than what the M1 Pro can offer, you might want to go with Apple's M1 Max chip instead.
Little oversights like a rougher trackpad are also things you’ll have to contend with. You can make the top-notch disappear with an app but at the cost of widening the top bezel. The keyboard itself is fine but touch bar fans will definitely feel the weight of its absence.
Is the 14-inch MacBook Pro worth the $1,999 price tag? It all depends on your fondness for Apple laptops, which apps you use, and how badly you need ports built into the machine versus using a USB-C hub. You can get a Razer Blade 15 or MSI Delta 15 for the same price or less with a more powerful gaming-ready GPU.
But if you want an actual Apple laptop, the 14-inch MacBook Pro is overpowered for basic work tasks. If you really need that HDMI port and SD card reader, get the 13-inch MacBook Pro and save yourself hundreds of dollars by getting something like an Elgato Thunderbolt dock if you’re suffering from sticker shock.
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