Logo of Apple M2 Processor Chip

Is the Apple M2 chip in a MacBook worth the upgrade?

Updated Dec 13, 2023

Apple’s M2 chip is the powerful and efficient core featured in MacBook M2 models like the 13-inch Macbook Air (2022) and 13-inch MacBook Pro (2023). In 2020 Apple switched from Intel cores to its own “system on a chip” (SoC) units, beginning with the Apple M1. The next generation of SoC was the M2, which made the performance of MacBook CPUs, GPUs, and Neural Engines truly distinguished from competitors.

But there’s a catch. With the increased power and efficiency in the Apple M2 comes a higher price tag, leaving you wondering whether to opt for a MacBook Air M2 or the more affordable M1 version. So, is the chip upgrade really worth breaking the bank on a new or refurbished MacBook? Let's discuss.

What MacBooks contain the M2 chip?

The M2 chip was unveiled in mid-2022, so it is primarily used in MacBook models from 2022 and 2023. Newer MacBooks do not contain the M2, but instead have an even more advanced version like the M2 Pro, M2 Max, or something from the next-generation line of M3 chips now on the market.

So although the M2 is no longer the latest and greatest chip available, its credentials are worth comparing to the M1 if you are shopping for cost savings on used or refurbished MacBooks from previous years. You will find the M2 chip in the following MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models:

  • MacBook Air 13-inch 2022

  • MacBook Air 15-inch 2023

  • MacBook Pro 13-inch 2022

Besides MacBooks, other Apple devices that use the M2 chip include the iPad Pro (2022) and Mac Mini (2023).

M1 vs. M2 chip: Side-by-side comparison

The M2 chip from 2022 represents a significant technology upgrade over its 2020 predecessor, the Apple M1. But what exactly was improved with the M2? Let’s start with this side-by-side comparison of the tech specifications for each chip, then we’ll explore exactly what the numbers mean in terms of real performance.

Spec

Apple M1 chip

Apple M2 chip

CPU cores

7-8

8

GPU

8

8-10

Media Engine

H.264 and HEVC only

H.264 and HEVC videos and ProRes and ProRes Raw video

Transistors

16 billion

20 billion

Memory Bandwidth

68.25GB

100GB

Cores

Icestorm and Firestorm

Avalanche and Blizzard

Price (Starting Price*)

$999 (MacBook Air 2020)

$1,199 (MacBook Air 2022)

*Source: https://www.apple.com/shop/buy-mac/macbook-air/13-inch-m2 (Prices as of Dec 2023)

M2 vs. M1 performance: How much better is the M2?

According to Apple, the M2 chip significantly leads the M1 in per-watt performance. Built using the next-generation 5-nanometer technology, the M2 has 20 billion transistors while the M1 contains 16 billion — giving a 25% advantage to the M2. All the M2’s power efficiencies and performance improvements are anchored in this upgraded fabrication process.

CPU performance vs. power

Apple’s description of the M2 chip’s performance can be verified by Geekbench 5 scores, which tested the M2’s multi-core performance at 20% faster than its predecessor, and single-core performance at 12% faster without using significantly more power than the M1. This supports the general claim of 18% greater multithreaded performance in the M2.

The M2’s faster per-watt performance is due to the four high-performance and high-efficiency cores. Although the cores are available on both chips, M2 uses the superior Avalanche and Blizzard cores from the A15 Bionic chip. Contrarily, Pro M1 employs the A14 Bionic chip’s Firestorm and Icestorm cores, which are not quite as powerful. The difference will ultimately be noticeable in tasks that require a lot of CPU power, such as video editing and gaming.

GPU performance vs. power

With its in-house lines of SoCs, Apple now prides itself on exceptional graphics performance. M2 features 25% better graphics than M1 at the same power level and 35% better at maximum power — thanks to its additional two GPU cores. Additionally, the M2 chip uses an advanced 8-core GPU by default. However, you can upgrade your 8-core GPU to a 10-core GPU for your most graphic-intensive assignments.