Apple MacBook Pro 2021 M1 Max 16

In June, I purchased a nearly fully loaded M1 MacBook Pro 13” I wanted a fan to reduce throttling of the performance due to heat and I wanted more ports than the MacBook Air allowed. After a month, this was my main takeaway:

As for the system’s responsiveness it’s fine day to day. It’s most certainly and unequivocally slower by about 15% versus my iMac which I’ve used full time for a year that rarely has a fan that comes on. I knew it would be slower but I didn’t know I’d feel just how slow it was.

Going from a 27+32 inch setup at home with 16 virtual cores and 96GB of RAM to a 13” 8 core machine with 16GB of RAM and no external monitor has been very tough. I was truly hoping the M1 would be fast enough, cool enough, quiet enough and have a long enough battery that I didn’t miss the larger home setup but I do. Writing a long blog post on the MacBook Pro is just not satisfying given how much heat the machine puts out. I was going to sell the iMac and move the MacBook Pro between home and office and just dock it at each respective location. I don’t think I can do that now.

The machine was good and it was a leap forward for consumer machines from Apple but my iMac which was faster than most of the iMac Pro models really shined in speed, response, usability and thermal ability. An iMac has a better display, better sound, better I/O and the powerful Vega 48 GPU really left the 13” M1 in the dust. As soon as work sent us home again, I sold that machine and took a $250 hit on what I paid or essentially I paid $250 to rent it for 4 months. 

The Apple M1 Pro and Max were announced in October and I waited a full month to order one. I wanted to read the reviews and see the numbers because I’m not in a situation currently to purchase a fully loaded professional machine that is portable. Just a month or so before the new generation of professional Mac notebooks were announced, I had relegated myself (primarily due to COVID) to keeping my powerful iMac and pairing it with an iPad Pro. The iPad could do 75% of my computing tasks when mobile and creative works and serious business would still take place at home on the iMac that I was more than happy with. Work hasn’t sent us back to the office yet and so the iPad Pro has been a wonderful travel companion for 3 years thanks to the Magic Keyboard / Trackpad and the iMac has always been fast enough.

So what changed? 

The M1 Max reviews brought me around and since I purchased my first iMac back in 2009 and downgraded from a Core2Duo MacBook Pro to a MacBook Air (2 computer lifestyle), I have finally returned to a 1 computer lifestyle. This digression doesn’t mean much to most of you but since 2009, I have a fast iMac for ‘work’ and a slow portable for everything else. The iPad came out in 2010 and suddenly I was considering going iPad only for portable but luckily, I didn’t do that and kept a portable Mac for many years. From 2011-2020, I had a MacBook Pro at the office and on the go since I was doing more content creation while traveling and I always had an iMac @ home. I’d sometimes bring the MBP home but I didn’t need to and the world of cloud storage allowed me the ability to pick up where I left off when I arrived back home.

COVID caused me to sell my 2018 MacBook Pro for about half of what I paid for it and pocket that money into savings. I simply wasn’t using a portable laptop anymore. 

The decade I spent owning two computers and upgrading them every 3 years (1 year off, 1 year upgrade laptop, 1 year upgrade desktop) was out of necessity. Laptops weren’t fast enough and desktops weren’t portable. If my financial situation was different, I absolutely would have suffered with a 50% slower mobile computer when doing creative works and it would have been fine. 

…back to the impressions

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Apple MacBook Pro 2021 M1 Max 16

The hardware as in the design, features, functions of the fully redesigned 2021 14 and 16 inch MacBook Pro models is remarkable. This machine is thick and heavy, it has ports that I’ve been accessing 100% with dongles since 2016 and it has a very tall function row on the keyboard and TouchID and the thinnest bezels I’ve ever seen on a laptop with a huge wide and gorgeous 16” display that’s insanely bright and has gorgeous colors in Mail.app or in Lightroom / Final Cut. The trackpad is huge and tactile, the speakers and microphones seem to defy physics and the Notch isn’t in the way. The machine’s full rebuild was long overdue and Apple nailed it. This is a professional machine. I’d love to have Ethernet but that’s literally all that’s missing from this machine if I were to build something from my dreams. I haven’t seen one in person until I opened the box and it was like picking up a first generation MacBook Pro from 2006 with all of those ports and yet it’s here in 2021 and it has the space for a gigantic battery (the largest you can have and still be able to fly with it) and room internally to dissipate air and cool the machine without runnings the fans at full blast when you’re running Time Machine.

Speaking of speed and the system itself.

The M1 Max is not on par with my iMac. I know that’s not something you see often from reviews but a Core i9 (9900K Coffee Lake) and a Vega 48 are a great combo. That iMac’s fan ran constantly and it consumed a ton of power at full load and it was not an elegant machine. A mobile version of that computer existed in the 2018 MacBook Pro 16” and I owned one and it was so hot and loud that I was glad to have returned it because the throttling it would do after a few seconds at 100% load was too much. 

The M1 Max is very fast. It’s the first computer in a long time where the iPhoto Library analysis didn’t take 2 weeks. PhotoAnalysisD is done and the first Time Machine backup is also done. Importing 100 photos from my Canon 5D in RAW to Lightroom was slowed down by the I/O of the SD card itself. Lightroom importing, processing, editing and exporting is about 3-5 times faster than my Core i9 iMac with GPU acceleration enabled. Final Cut Pro is similar. The I/O of the SD card is the bottleneck and everything is 2-3X faster with transcode to ProRes at 5X faster thanks to the dual ProRes accelerators on-board in the M1 Max (one onboard for the M1 Pro). 

Frankly, the only thing slow about this computer is compressed exporting of HEVC/H265/H264 video from Final Cut Pro. This is about 10-25% slower than my iMac. It could just come down to clocks peed. The M1 Max is 10 cores with 8 of them at 3.2Ghz if I remember correctly. The Core i9 I had was 3.6Ghz and had 8 physical cores, 8 virtual (hyper threading) with a turbo boost of 5Ghz. I’d see about 4-4.5Ghz clock speed in iStat Menus on all 8 cores when exporting H.264 files so that 25% speed makes a lot of sense. The Vega 48 never did anything when exporting Final Cut Pro footage. 

It’s important to note that the iMac was 25% faster but used 2-3X the amount of power than the MacBook Pro. This M1 Max is 50% or more efficient in performance per watt than the 9900K Coffee Lake is so I’m doing most things at least 3X faster except for compressed video exporting but I’m doing it far more efficiently. I live in a quiet house with no kids or noises of any sort and I exported 100 30 megapixel DNG images to JPEG along with a 20 minute 4K HEVC video from my DJI Mavic 3 processed in Final Cut Pro and while my CPU & GPU were both pegged at 100% and the 140 watt power brick was boiling hot to the touch, the MacBook Pro didn’t get hot and the fans did not turn on in an audible way. I didn’t measure their RPM but this keyboard I’m typing on now is only as hot as the heat coming off my fingers where the previous Core i9 MacBook Pros I owned were constantly hot and constantly spinning up the fans. 

Another anecdote is that if I do that combined photo + video work or I import / transcode 4K HEVC files off the iPhone 13 while I’m editing photos in Lightroom, the mouse clicks and keyboard taps I’d do in Lightroom were slow like 2-3 second response times with FCP running in the background. Basically the Core i9 was struggling to allow me to edit a RAW image in Photoshop or Lightroom while Final Cut Pro was working. This MacBook Pro (other than iStat Menus showing 100% CPU) never did anything that felt slow or unresponsive no matter what I threw at it. It went slower but the response and latency of my inputs weren’t punished. 

Speaking of overall experience, I have all of my daily apps running right now including Lightroom and Photoshop, Omni apps, Office apps and Mail / reeder / news / music and on and Time Machine backup going and I’m using about 20% CPU at all times but the high performance cores are only at 5% usage while the high efficiency chips are running at around 80%. Apple definitely optimized this so those low-power cores are doing a lot of low-power work but at a high utilization and only a few tasks are being pushed off to the serious cores. Apple has optimized this very well. I’m at 90% battery with 6 hours remaining and have been typing for about 40 minutes on battery. I have the battery energy settings set to automatic versus low-power mode and I’m using about 26 gigabytes of RAM. That’s a pretty good scenario considering I’m on battery using a 16” computer at 100% brightness. 

Comparing this machine to the M1 13” MacBook Pro is really night and day. The 13” was hot, fans ran constantly and it struggled to let me work like this without feeling the slowness. It especially struggled when doing everything and pushing my 4K display that I tether to. The 13” MacBook Pro was really an air with more ports, a fan and a Touch Bar and it was a consumer machine through and through. 

This MBP is the professional machine. 

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Apple MacBook Pro 2021 M1 Max 16

Last bit of information, My iMac was about $4,000 in 2019 and AppleCare expires in April. I sold it for $2300 to a 3rd party trade-in website. The M1 Max MacBook Pro with AppleCare was around $4300 so a good depreciation in my eyes versus what I’ve been seeing lately. I was concerned, even with the M1 Max not being as fast as my iMac in some things that if an iMac Pro arrived in the Spring, my 2019 model would depreciate to the $1500 range and I’d feel that I missed the boat so given the timing of an incoming iMac, this was a good time to upgrade in my opinion. 

In short, 3 years after the amazing Core i9 Vega 48 iMac hit shelves, we have the same to around 3x faster performance with 1/4 the power usage in a laptop that costs exactly the same as that iMac costs. Amazing leap for Apple and this fanboy is back to being on just one computer (for now). 

My only complaint so far with this new MacBook Pro is the price of AppleCare. AppleCare for MacBook Pro is now $399. For iMac and iMac Pro, it’s only $169. AppleCare+ added damage protection and MacBook Pros go more places than iMacs so I’m willing to bet that AppleCare+ for portables is much higher because people damage these and that doesn’t really happen for desktops. I’ve never dropped a computer in my life so I’d prefer Apple sell me regular AppleCare for $239 (the old price) that didn’t include damage coverage. 

Here are a few more photos:

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