Which MacBook Pro should you buy?

Macbook Pro 2021 Space Gray Apple logo on lid

Kris Carlon / Android Authority

The Apple MacBook Pro has long been a go-to machine for professionals, power users, and enthusiasts. After a few years of iterations that weren’t well-received, Apple finally updated the MacBook Pro in 2021 and gave it a makeover worthy of the Pro tag it carries.

Now, with the older 13-inch Pro available alongside the new 14 and 16-inch models, the question is — which MacBook Pro should you buy? There are a lot of configurations, and buying the right MacBook Pro is a tough decision. So, to answer all your burning questions here is our complete Apple MacBook Pro buying guide.

Related: Want an Apple laptop? Here are the best you can buy right now

Apple MacBook Pro at a glance

Apple MacBook Pro 2021 on cafe table

Kris Carlon / Android Authority

The MacBook Pro currently comes in three sizes. One is a 2020 model, while the other two are the latest 2021 models, which launched on October 18, 2021, at Apple’s Unleashed event.

The 2021 Pro is more of a reboot than a refresh. You get a new 14-inch model — a first for MacBooks. The 16-inch model replaces the older 16-inch Pro that was the last remaining model to still run on Intel chips. With the 2021 MacBook Pro, the entire lineup now runs on Apple Silicon. The 14 and 16-inch models also get a new design reminiscent of the classic MacBook Pro 2015 design, with some elements from the 2016 design baked in.

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch

The last-generation 13-inch MacBook Pro is a mix of old and new. It comes with Apple’s debut M1 chip and carries the familiar last-gen MacBook design. It starts at $1,299, making it the most affordable Pro on offer.

The 14-inch MacBook Pro is Apple’s new portable powerhouse. It brings in the new hardware, offering the new Apple Silicon chips — M1 Pro and M1 Max. It’s the most affordable of the 2021 Pro models you can buy, starting at $1,999.

The 16-inch MacBook Pro is Apple’s flagship MacBook, offering the best of Apple’s new hardware, down to the processors. It’s the most “pro” MacBook you can get and comes with a price tag to match, starting at $2,499.

Should you buy a MacBook Pro?

Apple MacBook Pro 2021 review ports on 20201 and 2015 MacBook Pros

Kris Carlon / Android Authority

Apple has always marketed the MacBook Pro as a machine for professionals, even though that hasn’t stopped non-professionals from buying a Pro all these years. With the new 2021 Pro refresh, these machines are gunning for the professional market even harder.

So, if your question is, “Should I buy a MacBook Pro?” then the answer depends on what you will use it for. While the Apple M1-powered 13-inch MacBook Pro may make for a great machine for everyday home, office, or educational use, the new MacBook Pro models are overkill for such light workloads. The M1 is solid enough to handle that kind of workload and will be for a good while.

The M1 Pro and M1 Max chips found in the 2021 MacBook Pros are geared towards heavier workloads, like high-resolution photo and video editing, color grading, VFX work, CAD, programming, and the likes. These new machines are meant for workloads that require a powerful CPU and GPU and will benefit from the efficiency of these chips when it comes to these tasks.

So, if you need that level of power, buy a 2021 MacBook Pro. If you need a powerful laptop, but not for CPU-intensive tasks, then you can settle for the 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro. As far as the older Intel-powered MacBook Pro models go, it’s no longer a good idea to buy those. Unless you’re getting a reasonably priced pre-owned machine or a substantially heavy discount, you should stick to Apple’s Silicon-powered MacBooks.

Understanding MacBook Pro configurations

This MacBook Pro buying guide focuses on the currently available models and not the retired Intel models. The Pro has three models available as of now. With three M1 family chips available across these models, multiple chipset configurations, and variations with RAM and storage, there are a lot of MacBook Pro configurations available to buy right now. Take a look at the spec sheets of the three models compared.

MacBook Pro 2020 (13-inch)MacBook Pro 2021 (14-inch)MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch)
Display

MacBook Pro 2020 (13-inch):

13-inch Retina display, LED-backlit IPS LCD
2,560 x 1,600 pixels
227 ppi
Wide color (P3)
True Tone technology
Touch Bar

MacBook Pro 2021 (14-inch):

14.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR
3,024 x 1,964 pixels, 254 ppi
Wide color (P3)
True Tone technology
Adaptive ProMotion (24-120Hz)

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch):

16.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR
3,456 x 2,234 pixels, 254 ppi
Wide color (P3)
True Tone technology
Adaptive ProMotion (24-120Hz)

CPU/GPU

MacBook Pro 2020 (13-inch):

Apple M1
8-core CPU with 4 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores
8-core GPU
16-core Neural Engine
68GB/s memory bandwidth

MacBook Pro 2021 (14-inch):

Apple M1 Pro/M1 Max
From 8-core CPU and 14-core GPU to 10-core CPU and 16-core GPU
16-core Neural Engine
M1 Pro: 200GB/s memory bandwidth
M1 Max: 400GB/s memory bandwidth

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch):

Apple M1 Pro/M1 Max
From 10-core CPU and 16-core GPU to 10-core CPU and 32-core GPU
16-core Neural Engine
M1 Pro: 200GB/s memory bandwidth
M1 Max: 400GB/s memory bandwidth

RAM

MacBook Pro 2020 (13-inch):

8GB
Configurable to 16GB

MacBook Pro 2021 (14-inch):

16GB
Configurable to 32GB (M1 Pro) or 64GB (M1 Max)

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch):

16GB
Configurable to 32GB (M1 Pro) or 64GB (M1 Max)

Storage

MacBook Pro 2020 (13-inch):

256GB/512GB SSD
Configurable up to 2TB

MacBook Pro 2021 (14-inch):

512GB SSD (M1 Pro and M1 Max)
Configurable up to 8TB

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch):

512GB SSD (M1 Pro and M1 Max)
Configurable up to 8TB

Cameras

MacBook Pro 2020 (13-inch):

720p FaceTime HD camera

MacBook Pro 2021 (14-inch):

1080p FaceTime HD camera

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch):

1080p FaceTime HD camera

Audio

MacBook Pro 2020 (13-inch):

Stereo speakers with high dynamic range
Wide stereo sound
Support for Dolby Atmos playback
Three-mic array
3.5 mm headphone jack

MacBook Pro 2021 (14-inch):

Six-speaker sound system
Force-cancelling woofers
Wide stereo sound
Spatial audio
Three-mic array
High-impedance 3.5mm headphone jack

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch):

Six-speaker sound system
Force-cancelling woofers
Wide stereo sound
Spatial audio
Three-mic array
High-impedance 3.5mm headphone jack

Battery

MacBook Pro 2020 (13-inch):

58.2Wh lithium-polymer battery
61W USB-C charging

MacBook Pro 2021 (14-inch):

70Wh lithium-polymer battery
96W charging
MagSafe 3

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch):

100Wh lithium-polymer battery
140W charging
MagSafe 3

Network

MacBook Pro 2020 (13-inch):

802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 wireless networking
IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac compatible
Bluetooth 5.0

MacBook Pro 2021 (14-inch):

802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 wireless networking
IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac compatible
Bluetooth 5.0

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch):

802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 wireless networking
IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac compatible
Bluetooth 5.0

Connectivity

MacBook Pro 2020 (13-inch):

Two Thunderbolt / USB 4 (USB-C) ports with support for:
Charging
DisplayPort
Thunderbolt 3 (up to 40Gb/s)
USB 4 (up to 40Gb/s)
USB 3.1 Gen 2 (up to 10Gb/s)

MacBook Pro 2021 (14-inch):

SDXC card slot (UHS-II 250MB/s)
HDMI 2.0
Three Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C) ports with support for:
Charging
DisplayPort
Thunderbolt 4 (up to 40Gb/s)
USB 4 (up to 40Gb/s)

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch):

SDXC card slot (UHS-II 250MB/s)
HDMI 2.0
Three Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C) ports with support for:
Charging
DisplayPort
Thunderbolt 4 (up to 40Gb/s)
USB 4 (up to 40Gb/s)

Software

MacBook Pro 2020 (13-inch):

macOS Monterey

MacBook Pro 2021 (14-inch):

macOS Monterey

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch):

macOS Monterey

Dimensions and weight

MacBook Pro 2020 (13-inch):

1.56 x 30.41 x 21.24 cm
1.4kg

MacBook Pro 2021 (14-inch):

1.55 x 31.26 x 22.12 cm
1.6kg (both chips)

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch):

1.68 x 35.57 x 24.81 cm
2.1kg (M1 Pro)
2.2kg (M1 Max)

Colors

MacBook Pro 2020 (13-inch):

Space Gray or Silver

MacBook Pro 2021 (14-inch):

Space Gray or Silver

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch):

Space Gray or Silver

Biometric security

MacBook Pro 2020 (13-inch):

Touch ID

MacBook Pro 2021 (14-inch):

Touch ID

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch):

Touch ID

Here are the available configurations for each size.

13-inch MacBook Pro (2020)

MacBook Pro 13 inch white bg 1

The 13-inch MacBook Pro (2020) is available with just one chipset configuration — the Apple M1, with a 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU, and a 16-core Neural Engine. There are two base configurations by storage — 256GB and 512GB. You can configure the storage to 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB. Memory options are fewer, with options between 8 and 16GB. The 13-inch Pro goes up to $2,299 for a maxed-out configuration.

14-inch MacBook Pro (2021)

MacBook Pro 14 inch white bg

The 14-inch MacBook Pro has a lot of configurations. You get the M1 Pro in three trims: 8-core CPU/14-core GPU, 10-core CPU/14-core GPU, and 10-core CPU/16-core GPU. Memory options for the M1 Pro are 16 and 32GB.

Then there’s the M1 Max, which comes in two trims — 10-core CPU/24-core GPU, and 10-core CPU/32-core GPU. Memory options for the M1 Max models are 32 and 64GB. Storage options for all models go up to 8TB SSD. The base model with the 8-core CPU/14-core GPU gets a 67W USB-C power adapter by default, with the option to upgrade to the 96W adapter for $20. The latter is standard for all other configurations. The maxed-out configuration comes in at $5,899.

16-inch MacBook Pro (2021)

MacBook Pro 16 inch white bg

The 16-inch MacBook Pro has fewer configurations than the 14-inch model. You get one M1 Pro configuration — 10-core CPU/16-core GPU, and two M1 Max configurations — 10-core CPU/24-core GPU, and 10-core CPU/32-core GPU. Memory options are the same as the 14-inch model, with the M1 Pro models getting an option between 16 or 32GB, and the M1 Max getting 32 or 64GB. Storage goes up to 8TB SSD for all models. The fully specced-out model comes in at $6,099.

Note that the memory is unified memory. This means that the CPU and the GPU share it. As such, you will need to factor in the memory required by the GPU before making your choice. You also cannot upgrade this memory yourself, so make sure to buy a higher memory configuration as per your usage.

Also read: The best MacBook deals

What are the experts saying?

Macbook Pro 2021 keyboard detail

Kris Carlon / Android Authority

We didn’t review the 13-inch MacBook Pro, but we do have a deep dive into the M1 chip present in it. Here’s what our very own Gary Sims thinks about the Apple M1.

“The M1 is fast. Is it the fastest chip on the planet? No, but it isn’t designed to be. Is it the fastest processor ever used in a Mac laptop? Absolutely. Will it handle your workloads? Almost certainly.”

Read more: Apple M1 tested — Performance benchmarks and thermal throttling

We also reviewed the new 16-inch Pro, where we called it the best MacBook Pro in years, and said it redefines what you can expect from a laptop. It also scored 4.5 out of 5 stars and got our Editor’s Choice award. We had the M1 Pro model, and Android Authority’s Executive Editor Kris Carlon called the new Pro “the first viable desktop replacement for many serious professionals.”

What other reviewers are saying about the new MacBook Pro

Here are some summaries of what reviewers from other publications say about the MacBook Pro, to give you a complete overview of these machines.

  • The Verge’s Nilay Patel and Monica Chin reviewed the MacBook Pro 14 and 16-inch, and noted they were “the fastest laptops we’ve ever tested in some tasks, with some of the longest battery life we’ve ever seen.” They also note while the MacBook Pros “feel like the future,” the software ecosystem feels like it’s yet to catch up to the hardware.
  • Andrew E. Freedman from Tom’s Hardware reviewed the 16-inch model with M1 Max, and called it “purpose-built.” He notes that the new design makes this machine a serious option for “any videographer, photographer, artist, music producer, coder or anyone else who was turned off by the missing function keys and ports on prior models.”
  • Laptop Mag’s Sherri L. Smith reviewed the 14-inch model with M1 Pro, and said it was “practically perfect.” She notes, “The MacBook Pro 14 combines a little bit of old with a whole lot of new for a tantalizing product that will bring a lot of consumers to the yard — especially content creators and consumers who are looking to upgrade.” She also noted that the pricing wasn’t the best, but the machine was still a worthwhile investment.

Our full review: The MacBook Pro (2021) is proof the customer is always right

MacBook Pro performance

The performance of the MacBook Pro is unquestionably its greatest strength. We’ve taken a deep dive into the M1 chip that goes into the 13-inch Pro and have embedded the video above. In short: the Apple M1 is a solid performer. Even though we tested the MacBook Air, which doesn’t have active cooling with fans, the M1 held its own. The 13-inch Pro gets active cooling, giving some more headroom with performance.

Our performance tests for the MacBook Pro 16-inch

Coming to the new Pro, we tested the 16-inch model with the M1 Pro (10-core CPU, 16-core GPU). Here are our benchmarking results.

In Geekbench 5, our 10-core M1 Pro-powered MacBook Pro 16 scored 1,774 in single-core and 12,596 in multi-threaded performance. In Cinebench R23, it scored 1,533 for single-core and 12,341 for multi-core. 3DMark Wild Life Extreme Unlimited turned in an impressive figure of 10,404 (62.3fps).

In our custom Speed Test G PC benchmark, the M1 Pro clocked 52 seconds, an improvement against the M1 chip’s 56 seconds. It’s a CPU-only benchmark, so it did not test GPU performance.

The GPU temperature peaked at 76 degrees Celsius during the benchmarking and the CPU at 66 degrees Celsius. They didn’t get any hotter when rendering out 4K video. However, the fans did eventually kick in. This was likely because rendering is a sustained workload rather than a quick-fire test that is a benchmark. The temperature was fine even under that load, both internal and on the lap.

In our testing, the Pro 16-inch was over twice as quick in Final Cut Pro render times than on the M1. The only noticeable issue was a slight delay between hitting the space bar and resuming playback. No dropped frames were noticed, even when exporting or scrubbing a busy timeline.

Overall, the performance was better than most PC laptops you can find today. Not to forget, the Pro doesn’t have a performance drop while on battery in comparison to the power adapter. As such, it’s a great little powerhouse with a unique portability advantage.

MacBook Pro battery life

Macbook Pro 2021 MagSafe cable detail

Kris Carlon / Android Authority

The MacBook Pro 13-inch has a claimed battery life of up to 17 hours of wireless web browsing and up to 20 hours of video playback. Multiple reviews have cited between 10 and 12 hours of battery life in real-world conditions, which is great.

Apple reports up to 21 hours of video playback and up to 14 hours of wireless web browsing for the 16-inch MacBook Pro, tested on a model with the Apple M1 Pro, 10-core CPU, 16-core GPU, 16GB of RAM, and 1TB SSD, which is the same configuration we had in for review.

We got about 10-12 hours of screen-on time with brightness at around 50%. Standby battery drain was about 2% per day. The bundled 140W charger gave a 50% charge in 30 minutes. From 10% battery to 100% only took an hour and a half. The workload for our review included writing, watching videos, editing, web browsing, and using a lot of cloud-based apps like Lightroom and Photoshop. More intensive workloads will get lower battery life.

With the 14-inch model, the promised figures are up to 17 hours of video playback and up to 11 hours of wireless web browsing, tested on a model with the Apple M1 Pro, 8-core CPU, 14-core GPU, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB SSD. Real-world battery life as tested in multiple reviews seems to be around 7-11 hours.

Of course, battery life heavily depends on your workload. The baseline is that these machines can give you considerable time away from the plug without a performance drop and can restore the lost charge pretty quickly.

The competition

razer blade 15 6

Igor Bonifacic / Android Authority

The MacBook Pro 13-inch, 14-inch, and 16-inch all share competitors, being high-performance premium laptops. Some alternatives will give you a similar level of portability but not the same performance, and vice versa. However, if you like the Windows side of things, there are a few competitors that may catch your fancy.

Right now, no PC laptops quite match the performance-to-portability ratio of any of the MacBook Pro models, but a few come close. Some solid competitors to the Pro include the i7-powered Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio ($2,699), the i7 Razer Blade 15 Advanced with RTX 3070 ($2,599), or the i7-powered Asus ZenBook Pro Duo OLED with RTX 3070 ($2,749).

If you’re looking for something a little closer to the 14-inch Pro’s size, check out the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 with RTX 3060 ($1,849) or the i7-powered Dell XPS 13 ($2,399 with Windows 11). If you want a 13-inch option, the ROG Flow X13 ($1,250) is a solid pick too.

Relevant: The best laptops you can buy

MacBook Pro vs. MacBook Air

Apple MacBook Air M1 partly open

Gary Sims / Android Authority

Regarding competition to the MacBook Pro, you may wonder whether Apple’s other notebook — the MacBook Air, is a better fit for you. MacBook Air is a very capable machine in itself. For most light workloads, like home, office, and educational use, and basic tasks like document processing, web browsing, or media consumption, the MacBook Air is excellent. It has the M1 chip under the hood, making it good enough for some more intense workloads as well. However, it comes without active cooling, which limits its performance to some degree.

Where to buy

There are a lot of retailers selling the MacBook Pro. However, these retailers usually have pre-configured models. That means that if you want the custom configurations, you will have to buy from Apple themselves. You can get at-home delivery or arrange for a store pickup for your custom configuration.

Alternatively, you can walk into your nearest Apple Store to get your hands on the Pro as well.

MacBook Pro 13 inch

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch

The M1 champion with the older design.

The MacBook Pro 13-inch is the only MacBook Pro that carries the older design, but it is still new, with the Apple M1 chip and the Magic Keyboard.

MacBook Pro 14 inch

Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch

The smallest latest-gen powerhouse you can buy.

The new 14-inch MacBook Pro gets all the new bells and whistles, including chipset options between the M1 Pro and the M1 Max, and all the Pro features we have been asking for.

MacBook Pro 16 inch

Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch

The new flagship for the MacBook Pro range.

The new 16-inch MacBook Pro gets all the bells and whistles you can expect from the flagship MacBook Pro, including the new M1 Pro and M1 Max.

MacBook Pro accessories

Apple MacBook Pro 2021 review SD card slot closeup

Kris Carlon / Android Authority

The 13-inch MacBook Pro is the last one to exclusively stick to USB-C ports, with Thunderbolt 3 support. The 14 and 16-inch models won’t need as many dongles as the 13-inch ones. Here are our accessories recommendations for the MacBook Pro.

  • Satechi Thunderbolt 4 Dock — This is a particularly great way to add some extra functionality to your MacBook Pro, with additional USB ports, ethernet, and an SD card slot. The Thunderbolt 4 support makes this a great companion for the new 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro models.
  • Apple AirPods Pro — Want some quality wireless earbuds to go along with your Pro machines? The Apple AirPods Pro is an excellent pair for precisely that. This new second-generation AirPods Pro is an upgrade just in time for the new Pro machines.
  • Sabrent Rocket XTRM-Q External SSD — While Thunderbolt 4-based external SSDs are yet to take off, in the meantime, this Thunderbolt 3/USB 3.2 SSD will make a great addition to your Pro, especially if you need speedy mass storage.
  • Amazon Basics Felt Laptop Sleeve — If you’re planning on taking your Pro around a lot, a laptop sleeve/case is among the smartest investments to make. Amazon Basics has this classy option with a felt exterior. Although the official sizes are 13 and 15.4 inches, they should fit all three Pro models well.
  • Logitech MX Master 3 — If you want an excellent mouse to go along with your Pro, this one is the way to go. Our review called it a “stylish productivity dream with few to no caveats.”

More options: The best Apple MacBook accessories

AppleCare+ for MacBook Pro

Macbook Pro 2021 app dock detail

Kris Carlon / Android Authority

If you’re planning on getting a MacBook Pro, it makes sense to get some additional protection since it’s a heavy investment. Apple’s service methods are a little tricky, so there’s no better way to go about this than Apple’s first-party service and protection plan, AppleCare+.

AppleCare+ extends your warranty coverage from the plan purchase date. In addition, you get up to two incidents of accidental damage protection every 12 months. These aren’t entirely free, and the repair will be subject to a service fee. Apple lists a $99 fee for screen damage or external enclosure damage, and $299 for other damage, plus applicable tax. Also included is battery coverage for batteries that retain less than 80% of their original capacity. You also get 24/7 priority support by chat or phone.

So, how much is AppleCare+ for the MacBook Pro? AppleCare+ prices are as follows.

  • 13-inch — $89.99/yr, annual coverage until canceled, or $249.00 for three years of coverage.
  • 14-inch — $99.99/yr, annual coverage until canceled, or $279.00 for three years of coverage.
  • 16-inch — $149.99/yr, annual coverage until canceled, or $399.00 for three years of coverage.

You can buy AppleCare+ for your MacBook Pro on Apple.com. If you’re buying through a third-party retailer, you can buy AppleCare+ by choosing the protection plan option.

Is AppleCare+ worth it? Absolutely. The Pro is a tough machine to repair with Apple’s custom silicon. As such, having Apple on your side in case of any issues is a big plus. AppleCare+ is reasonably priced for what it offers, especially given how much these new machines cost. We recommend that you choose the three-year plan.

Frequently asked questions

Q: Which is better — MacBook Pro or Air?
A: If you’re talking about absolute power, the Pro is better. It’s not the right fit for everybody, though, and the Air is better for lighter workloads like home, office, and educational use.

Q: Is the MacBook Pro a touchscreen laptop?
A: No, the MacBook Pro does not have a touchscreen.

Q: Does MacBook Pro have a USB port?
A: The Pro comes with USB-C ports, but not the regular USB Type-A ports.

Q: Can you upgrade the RAM on MacBook Pro?
A: No, you cannot. The MacBook Pro uses a unified memory design now, making it impossible to upgrade the RAM on these machines.

Q: How much does a MacBook Pro weigh?
A: MacBook Pro 13-inch weighs 1.4 kg/3.0 pounds, and the 14-inch model weighs 1.6 kg/3.5 pounds. The 16-inch MacBook Pro M1 Pro model weighs 2.1 kg/4.7 pounds, and the M1 Max model weighs 2.2 kg/4.8 pounds.

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