Consult with Lloyd for any kind of computer purchase, RAID setup, backup strategy, Photoshop optimization, etc.
Apple MacBook Pro M1 Max/M1Pro at B&H Photo. B&H Photo has graciously agreed to send a loaner 16" MacBook Pro 32GB/1TB/32GPU for review/testing, which will arrive when it becomes available, perhaps in a month or so.
Two new MacBook Pro models (14/16-inch), based on the revised “Apple silicon” Apple M1 chip platform. And now enhanced to the M1 Pro or M1 Max designations. The 13" MacBook Pro remains, with the original M1 CPU.
The real professional chip is the “M1 Max”, but the "Pro" chip is a less capable semi-pro-grade starter option. Got that?
M1 Pro = 32GB max memory, 16 GPU cores, 200 GB/sec memory bandwidth, up to two 6K displays
M1 Max = 64GB max memory, 16 or 32 GPU cores, 400 GB/sec memory bandwidth, up to three 6K displays
I don’t see anything “pro” about the M1 Pro chip—half the memory, half the memory bandwidth, half the GPU cores = “pro”? Fairly powerful... sure, but pro—no. Dumb-ass naming conventions that only marketing could invent.
Stick with the M1 Max even if you go with only 32GB memory, because you get 24 GPU cores (up from 16), better video support and twice the memory bandwidth, and higher performance in “high power mode” for better performance under load (16" model only). It will cost you $200 more but if you intend to actually use all those CPU and GPU cores with unified memory, half the memory bandwidth could hamper performance. Or maybe not much—hard to say for sure without A/B testing.
Doubling the GPU cores from 16 to 32 on the M1 Max for $400 might be worth it for some users, but 24 GPU cores for only $200 more plus twice the memory bandwidth makes sense to me. But it is not likely that 32 cores vs 24 cores will make a noticeable difference for much of anything except video work, and transient improvements for photography. There are exceptions, such as certain long-running tasks in programs like Topaz Gigapixel AI.
Ports — not a win, and maybe a loss
The downgrade from 4 to 3 Thunderbolt ports 9vs prior models) is disappointing (a full 4 ports plus Magsafe charging would be ideal). While you do get a crappy HDMI port (zero use to me, can't do 5K display) and a SD Card slot (very useful to me), the loss of one port has practical implications. Already, 2 Thunderbolt + 4 USB-A ports on my iMac 5K are a total PITA, so I don’t know how half that many can satisfy without add-ons, so that means plugging in at least one OWC USB-C Travel Dock, leaving only two ports, so that means (for docking use) also buying an OWC Thunderbolt Dock for “docked” usage at home/office. Unless your work is like all the advertisements—a desk free of anything but a standalone MacBook Pro and a smiling face behind it.
What you need to know, real simple:
- For all around puttering (web, email, etc), any of these models will do—pick the screen size (form factor) as the only thing that actually matters—size and weight and your preference for display area. Then buy the minimal configuration, but see the next note.
- For light duty use, 8GB memory and 256GB SSD are fine, but with nowhere to go if you need more functionality later. Consider bumping up memory to 16GB and SSD to 512GB as a sort of insurance, should your needs become more demanding. And may such foolishly small and non-upgradeable SSD and memory configurations be relegated to the trash heap history soon.
- While 16GB memory will perform fine for many uses, no photographer or videographer should consider less than 32GB memory and 2TB SSD. It is so easy to run short on memory doing even simple things like Photoshop + focus stacking + Lightroom + your other apps. A fast CPU is not fast if things are not in memory! And a too-small SSD is a terrible nuisance in many travel situations (always plugging in extras).
- Photographers/videographers: M1 Max CPU is required to get to 64GB memory.
- Display area matters a lot to me, the bigger the better. But for some people, smaller and more portable is their thing. You get 3456 X 2234 in the 16" model, or 3024 X 1964 in the 14" model. That’s half the pixels of an iMac 5K even in the 16" model, one reason to greatly prefer a desktop 5K display.
- Memory cannot be upgraded. As a $400 upgrade to go from 32GB to 64GB, it is foolish for any professional user (photographer, videographer) to get only 32GB as the upgrade cost is little more than the cost of the sales tax and/or AppleCare. [Here in the tax-pig haven of California, sales tax is 9.25%, which on a $4500 Mac is $416].
- SSD cannot be upgraded. While you can add a speedy external SSD later, this is a hassle for travel if it ends up being a requirement just to use Your Stuff. Pro users should not get less than a 2TB SSD, and 4TB is the sweet spot for most. If the machine is to be the one and only with a lot of use, then go for 8TB. But even for me that would be foolish, as 4TB is ample even for my longest trip and largest project on the road.
- GPU cores are an expensive upgrade offering a poor value proposition. When more GPU cores are used, the benefits are usually transient—98% of the time no difference, so you win only the 2% of the time they actually get used for more than a few seconds—that doesn’t make life better.. Exception: extended video processing, gaming, high-end image scaling (e.g. Topaz Gigapixel AI), and similar stuff done often that takes a long time to run (minutes or hours).
With no USB-A ports on the new laptops, you’ll want at the minimum something like the OWC USB-C Travel Dock.
You’ll want at least one backup drive. An SSD whose capacity matches the internal SSD is the ideal choice, and that’s relatively cost effective up to 4TB.
Don H writes:
You might want to mention that buying larger storage capacity can potentially extend the life of the SSD (less daily wear over the same limited storage capacity), which is obviously important for any machine with a non-replaceable SSD.
I think the lifespans of SSDs keeps improving, although it’s hard finding true data on that. Nonetheless, why end up replacing a perfectly suitable computer because the internal (soldered-in) SSD becomes the first component to wear out?
MPG: it’s true that SSDs have a limited lifespan for writes; they have a limited amount of spare flash cells to replace failed ones. Once these are used up, the SSD is locked into read-only mode. So buying a 512GB SSD and using it the same amount as a 256GB SSD means 1/2 the relative amount of wear, 1/4 the wear for 1TB SSD, etc.
OTOH, it is the rare user will ever write enough data to wear it out before moving onto to some newer model. Only if you regularly write a lot of data (every day) should this be a concern.
But it is why programs like Lightroom and Photoshop that used to rewrite the whole DNG file for one trivial metadata change were very poorly designed for modern storage. For example, with 500GB of DNG files (I might shoot 200GB on just one trip of many trips in a single year), just doing one metadata change per file meant rewriting 500GB—that's a ton of wear on an SSD. But now that my suggestion has been implemented by Adobe—an option for using sidecar XMP files instead—that source of wear is elimiated if you use the option.