Does Apple’s M2 chip set a new bar for graphics performance?

Does Apple's M2 chip set a new bar for graphics performance?

Tech Highlights:

  • According to Apple, the M2 delivers faster graphics as well as more processing power. Naturally, that makes us curious about how its beefed-up GPU compares to those 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 test bench to find out.

  • The 2022 MacBook Pro will debut Apple’s newest M2 processor, which promises enhanced graphics performance. If you have a computer with M1, M1 Pro, or M1 Max graphics, is it worthwhile to upgrade? Look at the standards. The M2, Apple’s newest internal chip, promises improved performance, increased battery life, and improved graphics. We’ve already evaluated the first laptop with the new processor, the 13-inch MacBook Pro from 2022, and tested it out for ordinary computing tasks. We have also discussed the improved capabilities that the newest Macs receive via the M2 system-on-a-chip (SoC). But what gameplay and graphical features can the M2 offer?

Apple M2: More Muscle for Entry-Level Graphics. The M2 chip brings a laundry list of upgrades, from its total transistor count to wider memory bandwidth, and it also boasts a faster neural engine and ProRes acceleration. Most important to this discussion, though: 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 of eight cores or 10 cores.

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

According to Apple, the M2 packs 25% higher graphics performance than the M1 when using the same amount of power. At maximum power, the advertised performance boost climbs to 35% over the best the M1 can do. That should translate into smoother, faster performance in games and other graphics-intensive apps for anyone using the new M2-powered MacBook Pro or MacBook Air. The M2 occupies a very specific place in the Apple silicon family, with the M1 processor still available as a lower-tier model and the more robust M1 Pro and M1 Max offered as premium options in more expensive macOS systems. (A tip-top M1 Ultra variant also is available as an option with the Mac Studio desktop.)

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


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