I’ve had my MacBook Pro for a couple of weeks and it’s working out very well. My MacBook Air has served me very well for the last two years, but it’s time to upgrade to something with more memory, storage, and processing power.
This new Mac was an opportunity to increase performance, but also storage space and memory. Knowing how Lightroom suffers with the 8 GB on my Air, and knowing it will use as much memory as it can find, I decided to future-proof a bit by going up to 32 GB.
I made a similar decision about storage space. I have 512 GB on my Air and it isn’t enough to keep my current year of photos locally. While I like my Envoy Express, it’s just another thing to drag around. I planned to upgrade to at least 1 TB but chose 2 TB instead. I can dedicate an entire terabyte to my current photos, have room left over for Smart Previews of my entire 60k image library, and still have at least 512 GB working space for apps and anything else. These upgrades were pricey since they had to be done up-front at Apple’s premium, but this should give me a good five years out of this machine.
I chose the higher-core count M2 Pro, but didn’t go for the Max. The CPU side of the Max is exactly the same as the 12 core Pro; any advantage comes from the extra GPUs. After watching video reviews of the M1 Pro compared to the Max for Lightroom, I found that there is almost no performance boost. Upgrading to the base Max with 30 GPU cores only cost $200 extra, but those extra cores don’t provide any performance benefit and would most likely impact battery life a bit. I decided to skip them.
In terms of size, the 14″ MacBook Pro is very similar to my Air, but a half inch wider and deeper. If you stack them on top of one another, the difference is difficult to see; they have to be stacked corner-to-corner to notice. It’s 25% heavier, but the weight is distributed better so the difference feels negligible. The result is something that is just as portable as my Air, but perhaps a tiny bit more comfortable due to the extra width.
The Pro is certainly thicker, at least compared to the tapered front of the Air, but the back is about the same. Overall I prefer the constant thickness to the Air’s tapered shape – it always felt unbalanced and back-heavy when I picked it up. I really like the boxier design – it reminds me of some of my favorite laptops: my 2004 12″ PowerBook G4 (the first brand new Mac I ever purchased) and my 13” Retina MacBook Pro from 2013. The thin screen and bezels also evoke the feel of the Titanium PowerBook G4, a Mac I never appreciated until I bought one for the museum a few years ago.
This model has far more ports than my Air’s two Thunderbolt and one headphone jack. There’s a dedicated MagSafe port for power, three Thunderbolt ports, a headphone jack, an HDMI port, and an SD card reader – similar to what I had on my 13″ MacBook Pro. The MagSafe port keeps Thunderbolt free for data and the SD card slot saves the need for an adapter. I really like having ports on both sides; it makes connecting the external RAIDs on either side of my desk easy without moving my laptop all over the place. I no longer have to compromise when plugging two things into my Mac for data transfer.
The Rest of It
Aside from being brighter, smoother, and higher contrast, the screen also provides about 20% more real estate than my Air, which I’ve already noticed in Lightroom. It’s just enough extra space to push the side panels out of the way and get a better view of my images. I can also more reasonably fit two Safari windows next to each other. The 120hz refresh rate is nice, but it isn’t as impactful as it is on an iPad or iPhone because I don’t interact with it directly through touch.
The keyboard is the same comfortable magic keyboard from my Air but with full-height function keys. It’s just cosmetic, but I prefer the shorter ones. I’ve never had an issue hitting them but it’s more of a nostalgic thing – those keys have been half-height since their introduction on the PowerBook 500 series in 1994. I think they look cool and I’m just so used to it!
I can’t finish the hardware review without talking about the speakers. Ever since it bought Beats, Apple has been improving its speakers in every new generation of its products. The 16″ Intel MacBook Pro from 2019 introduced new speakers with fuller sound and the M1/M2 Pro MacBooks Pro continue this trend. The audio really is better. It’s fuller, with balanced bass and crisp highs. It doesn’t rock you out of your chair but it sounds really, really good.
I’m going to post a more in-depth performance test to quantify the difference for tasks I do on a regular basis, but on the whole, the MacBook Pro is delivering the boost I want. My Air is great for regular workloads, but gets bogged down in hour-long Lightroom sessions with a lot of edits and masks. This was mostly due to RAM limitations, but I also noticed that loading 36 and 45 MP images took a bit longer too. Both of these operations, especially masks, are improved. Everything is fluid and smooth. Lightroom is happy to gobble up the extra memory I’m giving it, consuming 22 GB at some points, but it stays smooth and responsive. I can alsofinally use my 4K monitor to edit images without Lightroom grinding my system to a crawl. It’s been a real bummer that I haven’t been able to take advantage of my larger screen for the last couple of years.
Heat & Battery Life
I use a 2018 MacBook Pro with a Core i9 CPU for work and its fans are on almost non-stop all day long. They run on high while checking emails, using a web browser, participating in meetings, and even when idle doing nothing. I absolutely hate it and will replace it with an M2 Pro model once they’re available in our catalog. My Air has always been the opposite since it doesn’t have a fan and is thus silent, but that puts limitations on performance. With a much beefier chip and fans to cool it, my personal Pro could end up sounding like a wind tunnel just like my work one. Luckily that isn’t the case.
In regular web browsing, music listening, file moving, and video watching, the fans don’t run, making it the same as my Air. Long Lightroom sessions can make the fans spin up but they’re usually so quiet that I can barely hear them even if I put my ear up to the vents. I’ve verified through iStat Menus that they have only run at 2000 rpm so far and it’s imperceptible. They can be as loud as my i9 at full speed but they don’t seem to ever need to get there for what I do.
Battery life has been great so far. It feels better than my Air, but I haven’t drained the battery all the way down yet to confirm. So far I can get 6-8 hours of mixed Lightroom editing without an issue. Not having an external drive sucking up power helps, but having the extra performance without battery cost is pretty amazing.
My Pro is a pretty big investment for me – it’s the most expensive Mac I’ve ever purchased, but it will suit my needs for quite a while. As I plan to upgrade to a higher megapixel camera, I’ll need the additional power to crunch those bigger RAW files. The extra memory and GPU cores unlock Lightroom and allow me to take full advantage of my 4K monitor. The large, beautiful screen makes editing on the go more convenient. The extra storage space fits all of my images onto one machine and simplifies my workflow.
This is a great machine and has been well-worth the investment, and the wait.