Tested: Does Apple’s M2 chip cancel out graphics performance? -PCMag | Hot Mobile Press

Apple’s latest in-house chip, the M2, promises better performance, longer battery life, and improved graphics. We’ve already tested the new processor for general applications and tested the first laptop with it, the 2022 edition of the 13-inch MacBook Pro. We also commented on the enhanced capabilities this new M2 System-on-a-Chip (SoC) brings to the latest Macs. But what does the M2 have to offer for graphics and gaming?

According to Apple, the M2 delivers faster graphics and more computing power. Of course, this makes us curious to see how the upgraded GPU compares to that of the older M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, as well as the original M1. Does the M2 set a new standard for integrated graphics on Apple machines? We went back to the dyno to find out.


Apple M2: More power for entry-level graphics

The M2 chip brings a whole host of upgrades, from total transistor count to greater memory bandwidth, and it also has a faster neural engine and ProRes acceleration. But most important for this discussion: The M2 processor can have more GPU cores than the M1 chip. The base version of the M1 comes in variants with seven or eight GPU cores, while the M2 comes in versions with eight cores or 10 cores.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro uses the Apple M2 processor. (Photo: Brian Westover)

The added GPU cores means more power for graphics performance, but the chip’s other improvements, like increased bandwidth and more power-efficient design, should help as well.

Apple M2 GPU performance

According to Apple, the M2 offers 25% more graphics performance than the M1 for the same power consumption. At maximum power, the advertised performance increase climbs to 35% over the best the M1 can do. That should result in smoother, faster performance in games and other graphics-intensive apps for anyone using the new M2-powered MacBook Pro or MacBook Air.


M2 vs M1 Pro vs M1 Max

The M2 occupies a very specific place in Apple’s silicon family, with the M1 processor still available as a low-end model, and the more robust M1 Pro and M1 Max offered as premium options in pricier macOS systems. (A top M1 Ultra variant is also optionally available with the Mac Studio desktop.)

Apple Mac Studio

The Apple Mac Studio desktop uses M1 Max or M1 Ultra processors. (Photo: Molly Flores)

That means the M2 chip has to walk a tightrope between that upper and lower tier in terms of performance. In our review of the new MacBook Pro 13, we found that it delivers on that mission spot on, offering processing power that sits squarely between the original M1 and the higher-end M1 Pro and M1 Max.

But what about the graphics performance? Again, the M2 seems expertly tailored to its step-up-from-entry-level position. As mentioned, while the Apple M1 has seven or eight GPU cores, the M2 chip has eight to ten. But the M1 Pro has 14 or 16 cores depending on the specific chip model, and the M1 Max scales even higher with 24 or 32 GPU cores.

The bottom line is: Even in the area of ​​graphics, where the M2 promises the greatest improvement over the M1, it should not yet compete with the M1 Pro or M1 Max.


Apples on the bench: M2 graphics tests

To find out how much the M2 chip improves Mac graphics and gaming, we turned to our benchmark tests.

For most of our M1 comparisons, we’ve turned to the late 2020 M1 version of the Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch, which provides the most direct comparison to our recently reviewed Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (the 2022 M2 version). For some tests, however, we have more complete test data for the M1 version of the late 2020 Apple MacBook Air. On the whole, the two offer fairly comparable results, especially in the broader context of comparing them to the newer M2 and more powerful Pro and Max M1 models. models. However, it’s worth noting that both models use the eight-core GPU, instead of the lower-performing seven-core GPU that Apple offers for its most affordable configurations.

The first test we will look at is GFXBench, a cross-platform rendering test. We run two off-screen scenarios, the less demanding 1080p Car Chase and the more intense 1440p Aztec Ruins subtests. Both train graphics and compute shaders, but one focuses on hardware tessellation and the other on the OpenGL application programming interface (API). Higher numbers are better.

We then challenged the GPU with an example rendering workload in Blender. While this benchmark offers both CPU- and GPU-driven rendering tests, the latter is more relevant for GPU performance issues. Regardless, the new chip once again fell behind the M1 Pro and M1 Max, giving the older processors better bets on workstation-style graphics performance.

Recommended by our editors

Finally, for a look at real games, we ran an older benchmark – Rise of the Tomb Raider, one of the few AAA titles available for the Mac. The game’s built-in benchmarking tool showed us the same pattern we’ve seen in our other tests, with the M2 outperforming the M1, but not by a enough margin to threaten the M1 Pro or M1 Max chips. However, the M2’s GPU managed frame rates of 50 frames per second or more, even at high detail levels, so it’s certainly capable of running at least part of the limited Mac gaming library as long as the resolution stays reasonable.


Great graphics potential, but where are the games?

In fact, the biggest limitation for Apple fans hoping to play games isn’t performance, it’s the lack of support for most of the current big-budget titles. Apple’s gaming prospects have always been complicated, with fewer macOS games compared to the number of Windows titles available, and the Mac’s move away from Intel has made things worse as MacBooks no longer share the same processor architecture and graphics engines as Windows gaming rigs have. Some of this can be mitigated by running games in Rosetta 2 or even installing Windows under a tool like Parallels Desktop, but these aren’t always smooth and seamless solutions.

Apple has tried to expand its gamer appeal and bring some of the iPad’s gaming success to the Mac with Apple Arcade, but it’s still quite a niche segment with little overlap between Mac and Windows game libraries. The bottom line is that Apple makes great computers with high-performance graphics – especially for design professionals and digital content creators – but gamers will likely stick with Windows for the foreseeable future.


Apple uses M2 to thread the silicone needle

Ultimately, it’s hard not to be impressed with how perfectly Apple positioned the M2 chip. The new processor represents a solid evolution of the M1 and is the first example of Apple’s second generation internal CPU design and a winner in every respect.

However, it does so without stepping on the toes of the M1 Pro or M1 Max, allowing these more powerful chips to continue powering premium MacBook Pro models. While it’s likely we’ll see more M2 variants soon (M2 Pro and M2 Max, anyone?), they may not show up until 2023 at the earliest. Apple wants to keep selling the 14-inch MacBook Pro and the M1 Max 16-inch MacBook Pro to professionals, but it can’t do that when the cheaper MacBook Pro 13 packs a newer, better processor.

All in all, this makes the M2 a nice, but not essential, upgrade for people who need graphics power. The M2-based MacBook Pro is really only worth it if you already need a new MacBook, while the 2022 MacBook Air offers a far more comprehensive redesign to tempt buyers as well as a new processor.

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