Maxed out MacBook Air & MacBook Pro - what you get for the money

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in Current Mac Hardware
Maxing out a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro can be pricey, but we've compared these high-end configurations with their respective base models to determine if it's worth the cost.

It isn't always worthwhile to max out specs on a MacBook
It isn't always worthwhile to max out specs on a MacBook


Apple offers a wide variety of MacBooks priced from $999 to $6,499 that can meet nearly any computing need. The entire MacBook lineup has moved to the M2 processor line, so speccing these products out will depend mostly on RAM and processor CPU needs.

Speccing out a Mac has become much less complicated in recent years thanks to Apple Silicon. Users only need to choose their display size, processor version, RAM, and storage before checking out. Before, Intel complicated things with various processor generations and clock speeds that were insurmountable for most customers.

We've configured each of Apple's MacBooks with the maximum available upgrades and compared them to their respective base models to determine if the upgrades are worthwhile.

MacBook Air

Apple's most popular laptop holds that title for a good reason -- it's also the cheapest. However, that low price tag can easily match the base 16-inch MacBook Pro with only a couple of clicks.

The cheapest M2 MacBook Air has an 8-core CPU and an 8-core GPU with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. It is priced at $1,199, though there is an even cheaper option for $999 with an M1 and an old design.

Other than low storage, the base M2 MacBook Air should be plenty for most users
Other than low storage, the base M2 MacBook Air should be plenty for most users


Those modest specs will cover most consumer-focused use cases, including basic video and photo editing. The M2 is even good enough to play some games, but the battery will run out within a few hours.

Maxing out the M2 MacBook Air won't give the user much additional performance. Going up to the 10-core GPU will mean better graphics performance, and 24GB of RAM is nothing to sneeze at, but those specs just translate to more parallel tasks and improved gaming, not more processing power.

The price for this maxed-out budget model reaches $2,499 with a $300 increase for the 10-core GPU M2, $400 for 24GB of RAM, and $600 for 2TB of storage.

This machine would be great for someone who wants the most out of a compact laptop. However, a specced-up 14-inch MacBook Pro could match this price and offer a better processor, a vastly better display, and a larger battery.



It's tough to imagine who would max out a MacBook Air when the price places them firmly in the MacBook Pro range. However, the added performance, better display, and variety of ports won't always entice customers to leave the thin and light form factor.

13-inch MacBook Pro

The 13-inch MacBook Pro is an anomaly in Apple's lineup that seems to exist only to satisfy businesses. It uses the same M2 processor found in the MacBook Air but offers active cooling, which can extend peak performance.

The base model has an 8-core CPU and a 10-core GPU with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. It is priced at $1,299, which is $100 more expensive than the MacBook Air, but it does gain those two GPU cores.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro sits at an awkward place in Apple's lineup
The 13-inch MacBook Pro sits at an awkward place in Apple's lineup


It isn't clear why someone would choose the 13-inch MacBook Pro over the M2 MacBook Air, especially when the one with a redesigned chassis is cheaper. The specs will provide enough performance for any consumer-focused task.

Maxing out the 13-inch MacBook Pro works out similarly to the MacBook Air too. Since it'll have the same M2 core configuration, only the added RAM will affect performance.

The price for this maxed-out budget model reaches $2,499, $400 for 24GB of RAM, and $800 for 2TB of storage.



There isn't much reason for customers to consider the 13-inch MacBook Pro and even less reason for speccing it out. Unless they're really attached to having a Touch Bar, they should stick to the MacBook Air at the low end or jump to the 14-inch MacBook Pro.

16-inch MacBook Pro

Apple's most performant and expensive laptop has a lot of space between its base and maxed-out price. That's partially because there are two processor types available for this model -- the M2 Pro and M2 Max.

The base model 16-inch MacBook Pro has an M2 Pro with a 12-core CPU and a 19-core GPU with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. It costs $2,499.

While the 512GB of storage might not be ideal for professional developers or videographers, the base 16-inch model packs plenty of punch. The M2 Pro processor and 16GB of RAM are more than enough for most tasks.

The 16-inch MacBook Pro is a powerhouse regardless of how it is configured
The 16-inch MacBook Pro is a powerhouse regardless of how it is configured


Maxing out the 16-inch MacBook Pro very nearly triples the price, but not for the reason you might think. Solid-state storage gets incredibly expensive at Apple's required specs, so going up to 8TB adds $2,400 on its own.

Increase the RAM to 96GB for $1,200 and get the M2 Max processor with a 12-core CPU and 38-Core GPU for $400. That brings the grand total to $6,499 for a maxed-out MacBook Pro.

This machine would be a development powerhouse or an incredible mobile movie production studio. The M2 Max doubles the number of GPU cores and Media Engine components for massively improved graphics and media workflows.

The RAM and storage at that level are also unparalleled for a MacBook. While it is much more expensive, you're getting what you paid for. However, customers might be better off cutting that storage to 1TB and using an external drive to save $2,200.



We didn't include the 14-inch MacBook Pro because it is identical to the 16-inch MacBook Pro except for the size. So, the prices would be lower by $200, but everything else is the same.

Read on AppleInsider

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 12
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 2,588member
    It’s my understanding that the Air can drive one external monitor. Can the Pro drive more than one? 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 12
    mikefmikef Posts: 698member
    "those specs just translate to more parallel tasks and improved gaming"

    If you're gaming, you're on the wrong platform. Why even mention this? Nobody is gaming on a MBA
    edited January 25 entropysCluntBaby92
  • Reply 3 of 12
    DAalseth said:
    It’s my understanding that the Air can drive one external monitor. Can the Pro drive more than one? 
    Yes, the Pros can drive 2 external. So 3 total.
    DAalsethwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 12
    JP234JP234 Posts: 827member
    You want to know what you get for buying a maxed out MB Air or Pro?

    A lot of debt. Or a thinner wallet. Apple is the greatest company in the world, but their upgrade prices are insanely overpriced. $540 to upgrade from 256GB to 2TB? You can buy a 2TB SSD for less than $200. Or an HDD for $75 or less. You can buy a 20TB external drive for $449 from Western Digital.

    And $200 extra for an extra 8GB RAM? Well, since they now solder it on the logic board, you're stuck on that one. The last upgradeable MB Pro I had, I was able to get two 8GB chips for $50. And that was 2012.
    williamlondonappleinsideruserwatto_cobraCluntBaby92
  • Reply 5 of 12
    jSnivelyjSnively Posts: 369administrator
    mikef said:
    "those specs just translate to more parallel tasks and improved gaming"

    If you're gaming, you're on the wrong platform. Why even mention this? Nobody is gaming on a MBA

    Great, now I have to go to the dark corner and calm down Apple Arcade again. 
    watto_cobraFileMakerFellerbestkeptsecret
  • Reply 6 of 12
    DAalseth said:
    It’s my understanding that the Air can drive one external monitor. Can the Pro drive more than one? 
    Yes, the Pros can drive 2 external. So 3 total.
    It can be more than this if you get the MacBook Pro 16" Pro Max - 

    It simultaneously supports full native resolution on the built-in display at 1 billion colors and:

    Up to four external displays: Up to three external displays with 6K resolution at 60Hz over Thunderbolt and one external display with up to 4K resolution at 144Hz over HDMI

    Up to three external displays: Up to two external displays with 6K resolution at 60Hz over Thunderbolt and one external display with up to 8K resolution at 60Hz or one external display with 4K resolution at 240Hz over HDMI

    jeromecDAalsethwatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 12
    entropysentropys Posts: 3,793member
    I don’t believe maxed out MBPs are very good value for money. in fact they are bad value for money. And I wouldn’t touch the 13 inch MBP.
     
    All I would do to a get an M2 Max with the 32GB of RAM. That gives you a very powerful device, and the important thing is if that is all you do, the price is comparable to a high performance windows workstation like a Dell Precision, HP Zbook or a Lenovo thinkpad p.  And a 14 or 16 inch MBP, especially on battery, would absolutely flog any of them. Upgrading RAM and storage means the comparable value proposition rapidly falls, as you can upgrade those windows workstations with aftermarket RAM and storage at your convenience, and importantly, as your needs change.

    unfortunately, for engineering purposes the macs are let down by the available software and sadly aren’t a sensible option. If only Siemens NX and DS SOLIDWORKS had a proper Mac version.

    what do Apple engineers use I wonder? I would hate to think they resort to a windows workstation.
    edited January 25 williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 12
    XedXed Posts: 1,601member
    JP234 said:
    You can buy a 20TB external drive for $449 from Western Digital.
    Such a weird reason not to get a Mac If you're looking for a 3.5" HDD then you really shouldn't be reading about a Mac laptops nor any laptop for that matter.
    edited January 25 watto_cobrawilliamlondonurashid
  • Reply 9 of 12
    thttht Posts: 4,730member
    entropys said:
    I don’t believe maxed out MBPs are very good value for money. in fact they are bad value for money. And I wouldn’t touch the 13 inch MBP.
     
    All I would do to a get an M2 Max with the 32GB of RAM. That gives you a very powerful device, and the important thing is if that is all you do, the price is comparable to a high performance windows workstation like a Dell Precision, HP Zbook or a Lenovo thinkpad p.  And a 14 or 16 inch MBP, especially on battery, would absolutely flog any of them. Upgrading RAM and storage means the comparable value proposition rapidly falls, as you can upgrade those windows workstations with aftermarket RAM and storage at your convenience, and importantly, as your needs change.

    unfortunately, for engineering purposes the macs are let down by the available software and sadly aren’t a sensible option. If only Siemens NX and DS SOLIDWORKS had a proper Mac version.

    what do Apple engineers use I wonder? I would hate to think they resort to a windows workstation.
    For financial, engineering and content creation workflows - for bigger outfits, not 2 or 3 person shops - a $10k hardware purchase is peanuts. The cost of software will be 10x the cost of the hardware itself. 

    You want to use Matlab? $5k per year per machine per user if you work in a big for profit company. There is software that is per CPU core or per CPU socket. A required video-photogrammetry tool? It could be 10k per year. MKBHD bought a $50K Mac Pro. I bet they are paying for software that costs them more than $50k per year. 

    Too many of the mainstream media just don’t understand how much things cost in enterprise and corporations, or higher end shops, where hardware is the cheapest thing. 

    Oh, I went to hire someone to do this job for 400 hr? That could cost $200 per hour depending the contract situation. $80k to pay some body for 10 weeks of work. 

    The price consciousness that I see in these types of articles are entirely from a personal consumer or even prosumer point of view, with modest computing needs. If your job requires 8 TB of storage or 96 GB of RAM, $7000 for a laptop isn’t pricey over 3 or 4 years of usage. 

    If someone has a 20 year career where they are storing a lot of data, be it videos, images, data, etc, it’s very nice if you could have it all in a local drive. You accrue stuff over 20 years. So, having all that storage is great for that person. 
    FileMakerFeller
  • Reply 10 of 12
    JP234JP234 Posts: 827member
    Xed said:
    JP234 said:
    You can buy a 20TB external drive for $449 from Western Digital.
    Such a weird reason not to get a Mac If you're looking for a 3.5" HDD then you really shouldn't be reading about a Mac laptops nor any laptop for that matter.
    You're certainly correct. It's for iMacs, Mac Minis & Mac Pros. But it was for comparison. I think we can both agree that Apple upgrades are no bargain. But if you need them, think you need them, or just want them, go for it.
  • Reply 11 of 12
    pbpb Posts: 4,250member

    MacBook Air

    ...
    Maxing out the M2 MacBook Air won't give the user much additional performance. Going up to the 10-core GPU will mean better graphics performance ...

    The price for this maxed-out budget model reaches $2,499 with a $300 increase for the 10-core GPU M2, $400 for 24GB of RAM, and $600 for 2TB of storage.

    This machine would be great for someone who wants the most out of a compact laptop. However, a specced-up 14-inch MacBook Pro could match this price and offer a better processor, a vastly better display, and a larger battery.
    ...
    It's tough to imagine who would max out a MacBook Air when the price places them firmly in the MacBook Pro range. However, the added performance, better display, and variety of ports won't always entice customers to leave the thin and light form factor.

    13-inch MacBook Pro

    The 13-inch MacBook Pro is an anomaly in Apple's lineup that seems to exist only to satisfy businesses. It uses the same M2 processor found in the MacBook Air but offers active cooling, which can extend peak performance.
    ...
    It isn't clear why someone would choose the 13-inch MacBook Pro over the M2 MacBook Air, especially when the one with a redesigned chassis is cheaper. The specs will provide enough performance for any consumer-focused task.

    The statement about the MBA GPU is correct in theory only. It has been demonstrated that the 2 extra cores offer nothing in practice, for $100 more in the final price.

    The 13-inch MBP on the other hand seems to be an anomaly but in reality it is not. You explained it already. It is essentially a MBA with active cooling, so thermal throttling is much less of a problem. It is addressed to people who need the maximum performance out of M2 for the longest possible run time, without spending that much for a M1(2) Pro/Max MPB. The only problem I see with the 13-inch M2 MBP is the touch bar. Personally I would prefer the normal keys found in the other models but I understand that, depending on the software used, it can simplify some tasks.


    edited January 26 FileMakerFeller
  • Reply 12 of 12
    neilmneilm Posts: 964member
    We have a 16" M2 Max MacBook Pro, BTO 64GB/1TB scheduled for delivery tomorrow.

    Usage is professional video editing, including in the field during shoots. Price was $3899 +tax, which is certainly the most I've ever paid for a laptop, even if it's far from the top end if you were to get frisky with Apple's storage options. Frankly I wanted to spec a 2TB SSD, but since we're server based in the office and not working on multiple projects simultaneously in the field, we can get by with the built-in 1TB (plus external storage as necessary). The 64GB RAM is necessary for performance and to avoid excessive paging to the SSD.

    Should make for a pretty happy user (not me).
    CluntBaby92
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