Even when unpacking, it becomes clear: This Mac is different, different in many ways. Compared to the just two-year-old Intel MacBook Pro with 16in display, the external changes are immediately noticeable.
The housing feels thicker, although it is actually a little thinner (if you don’t count the rubber feet). In fact the design reminds us of the MacBooks from the age before unibody design (before the end of 2008).
It is also striking that Apple dispenses with the “MacBook Pro” lettering below the display. This is in parallel with the M1 iMac, for which the Apple logo below the display has also been lost. Apple seems to want to establish a certain understatement here. Of course, the Apple on the back of the MacBook display still exists, and it even got a little bigger. The new modesty doesn’t go that far.
If you are interested in reading about the 14in MacBook Pro, which also comes with the M1 Max as a build-to-order option, read our
2021 14in MacBook Pro review.
When you open the display you see the next surprise: The TouchBar has disappeared. The experiment with the multi-touch touch-sensitive display strip, instead of mechanical function keys, is thus finally buried.
Personally, I found the TouchBar quite useful, although I rarely used it in practice. The additional information that appears on the TouchBar from time to time, depending on the app, is welcome, but it can be done without.
The next thing you notice is that the background of the keyboard is black and no longer the same as the housing colour. This irritated me at first, because the buttons can no longer be visually separated from each other. Luckily the lighting below the buttons solves this particular problem. Nevertheless, I wonder what prompted Apple to take this step. If you take a closer look, it becomes clear: Until now, Apple had to mill out the aluminum of the top case for each individual button. Now there is only one large milling and the keyboard is manufactured separately as a whole and fitted into the top of the case. This is likely cheaper and faster to manufacture. However, it does make the keyboard appear a little shaky with strong keystrokes. Regardless, keystroke and stroke are just as good as on the Intel-16in from 2019. There are no problems in everyday use.
Now comes the moment when the display activates, and … oh woe, a notch! Yes, the notch … this has been discussed a lot on the internet and, of course, mocked. Personally, I am rather pragmatic about the notch. The notch never really bothered me on the iPhone and she doesn’t bother me here either. On the contrary: Without the notch, the display would probably have been a little smaller in height, so I am not looking at the notch, but at the additional display area to the left and right of it. And that is truly welcome to me.
On the Mac, the notch is also significantly less noticeable than on the iPhone, because after all, the menu bar is (almost) always at the top of the edge. Apple has cleverly integrated the notch here, because the bar has become a little thicker in macOS Monterey, so that its height corresponds to that of the notch. Here you can see Apple’s sense of detail again, because on other Macs, the menu bar remains slimmer.
What happens if you use a program that displays so many or long menus that they slip into the notch? Well, too find out we quickly wrote a small app in SwiftUI that contains a lot of long menus. No surprise: macOS Monterey ensures that no menu disappears under the notch. As a developer, as long as you follow Apple’s specifications with your menus, everything should go smoothly.
There could be an even bigger problem in full screen mode, but Apple has a way to deal with that too. Almost every program can be operated full screen, just click on the green traffic light icon in the window at the top left. When you do so on the 2021 MacBook Pro macOS behaves cleverly. The full-screen mode does not reach the very top of the display edge, it ends below the notch. Only when you move the mouse all the way up does the menu bar appear around the notch. So again, Apple has done its homework.
Now to the display itself. Something huge has happened here – for the first time Apple uses mini LEDs. This means thousands of small white LEDs sit directly behind the LCD cells and illuminate them. Depending on the image content, the Mac dims these LEDs, summarized in so-called local dimming zones. Especially with dark image content, such as movies or videos, this should result in deep, rich blacks, which is usually only possible on OLED displays. The result is supposed to be an unprecedented contrast rate. We measured and actually determined a new record value of over 10,000 to 1 in contrast ratio.
And the display is also excellent in practice. The colours appear crisp, with wonderfully finely graduated gradients (internally the display works with 10 bits per colour channel), black is really black and not grey as with conventional LCD displays. Although colour shifts can still be perceived with the angle of view, these are not dramatic.
The brightness is also convincing, we measure almost 500 cd/sqm. In HDR mode, however, the display can briefly glow much brighter.
The new display intervenes massively not only in terms of backlighting, but also in frame rate. Apple calls the technique “ProMotion” and it adjusts the frame rate according to the requirements. In operation this means that the frame rate of static content decreases massively, i.e. when nothing moves on the screen the refresh rate is less. Apple does not specify, but it probably reduces to under 10 Hertz. This reduction saves battery capacity. On the other hand, however, it can go up to 120 Hertz if you quickly scroll up or down in long documents or websites, for example.
This can be seen in practice: scrolling is unspeakably smooth. Even with games, the ProMotion display can bring advantages and ensure a better reaction time for the players. If you still need a fixed frame rate, for example for video editing, this can be set in the Monitor System Preferences setting.
There are more interfaces again! Apple has gone back to the good old days and reintroduced various well-known ports. First and foremost the MagSafe 3 connection. This now comes in an even flatter plug, so it is not compatible with MagSafe 2 or 1, but there is now a fast charging mode that justifies the enclosed 140-watt power supply. If the battery is completely discharged the power supply pulls over 130 watts out of the socket during charging in the first few minutes and after about an hour and 45 minutes the battery is back to 100 percent. A great thing!
Also great: you can also charge the MacBook Pro via USB-C. So you don’t have to dispose of old chargers. The enclosed power supply sets a good example, because the MagSafe cable is not fixed, but connected via a USB-C socket. This allows you to use both the cable on other chargers and the power supply on other notebooks for charging. Yes, it was time!
There is also an HDMI port and an SD card slot. Both are interfaces that were painfully missed with the predecessor and had to laboriously retrofit with external adapters.
The HDMI port works according to the standard 2.0 and supports 4k displays with a maximum of 60 Hz. Unfortunately, Apple does not resort to the more modern HDMI standard 2.1, which delivers up to 120 Hz of 4k. This sounds like a limitation, but in practice this should have little significance. 4k resolutions in 120 Hz are mainly used in eSports, i.e. games. Even video editing professionals usually get by with 60 Hz.
You should not forget the three Thunderbolt 4 ports. Although this is less than the Intel predecessor, thanks to an additional MagSafe charging port, a USB-C port remains free.
Improved audio output
Although Apple has not communicated much about it, the headphone output has also been improved and adapted to meet professional requirements. It can now detect the connection resistance (impedance) of the connected device and adjust the level for headphones with low or high impedance as well as for audio devices with line levels. For headphones with an impedance of less than 150 ohms, the output now delivers up to 1.25 volts of voltage. For headphones with an impedance of 150 ohms to one kilo ohm, the voltage rises to 3 volts.
A test with a Sennheiser HD 820 (300 ohm impedance) clearly shows this effect. The volume increases significantly audibly compared to other Macs. The sound remains powerful, crisp and reaches deep into the bass range.
In addition, the internal DAC now converts at up to 96kHz, which enables lossless listening to HiRes recordings. Ultimately, this improved headphone output can make the purchase of an external DAC with headphone amplifier quite superfluous. So you save money.
New camera – but no center stage
Apple has finally improved the camera, which was long overdue. Video conferences in FaceTime, Zoom, WebEx, Microsoft Teams or other tools now look much better. But unfortunately, Apple did not integrate Center Stage.
Centre Stage makes video conferences much better, because it automatically adjusts to fit all the participants in view. That feature is based on an ultra-wide-angle camera and is currently only available for the iPad Pro and iPad mini 6. Too bad, we really would have liked to see that on the Mac.
CPU and GPU performance
Now let’s get to the highlight of this MacBook Pro: the M1 Max. Apple really has pulled out all the stops here. Now we can put the abilities of the M1 Max to test.
With ten CPU cores, eight of them high-performance (Firestorm) versions. It is no surprise that in multicore benchmarks, such as Geekbench 5 or Cinebench 23, the chip reaches new record values. Here are the results in detail:
One thing stands out above all in daily work: The MacBook Pro is fast, fast! This impression is based on fractions of seconds. When starting programs, clicking on buttons, triggering functions in menus, you never get the impression that something is hanging. The MacBook always reacts promptly, almost instantaneously. The infamous “beachball” did not appear once during the time we spent with this MacBook Pro.
In the Geekbench 5 tests we saw a multicore score of 12733 – almost double the 6663 seen with the 2019 MacBook Pro.
To address the field of video editing, we exported an almost five-minute HD video to ProRes 422 format. The 5GB result wrote to the MacBook Pro M1 Max SSD in 19 seconds. The 2.3GHz Intel predecessor in our 2019 model took more than twice as long at 42 seconds. Unbelievable!
The Geekbench Compute tests showed just how good the M1 Max is too: with a score of 64967 compared to 28851 from the 16in from 2019.
Cinebench R23 was a similar story, 11765.0 to the 8695.0 of the 2019 model. That same test saw the M1 Mac mini store 7761.0.
A “high power mode” is reserved exclusively for the 16in model. You activate it in the Battery system settings. We performed all performance tests once in high-power mode and once in the “Automatic” setting. However, we did not notice any significant changes. The high-power mode obviously only affects the fan control. With extremely high loads on the CPU and at the same time the GPU, the fans start earlier and should keep the computing power high for longer.
We ran a special long-term load test with our benchmark tool “APSI Bench”. This did not result in measurable changes in high-power mode. The CPU remained at about 90 percent of its performance even after 20 minutes of maximum load. The Intel MacBook of 2019, on the other hand, collapsed after about five minutes to only 49 percent of its performance.
Also amazing is the heat management of the M1 Max. Where the Intel Mac audibly turned up the fans after just a few seconds, the M1 Max remained steadfastly cool. After two weeks of operation with sometimes crazy CPU and GPU load, I didn’t really notice whether the MacBook had a fan at all. Only an extreme load test with the benchmark tool 3D Mark Wild Life Extreme, optimized for Apple silicon chips in a continuous loop, reveals audible fan noise, which remains rather moderate.
This means: In practice, you will not hear this MacBook! This is an invaluable advantage, especially in noise-sensitive environments such as recording studios.
Finally, we let go of our standard battery life tests for this computing monster. We ran two tests, one to address the worst-case scenario (playing MP4 video at 100 percent display brightness) and then a practical surfing test. In both battery tests the MacBook Pro achieved new records. It ran for almost 16 hours in the surf test and the video test resulted in an incredible 10 hours and 30 minutes. This is more than twice as long as the 2019 Intel MacBook. Bravo Apple!
Apple is driving this paradigm shift with giant steps. First the M1, which set standards for entry-level Macs, and now the MacBook Pro with M1 Max. Our test shows that the direction that Apple has chosen here not only works, it will revolutionize the market for mobile computers. Intel and AMD must react if they want to keep up here. It can be assumed that both chip giants will also turn to the SoC design with ARM cores. An ARM version of Microsoft Windows already exists, at least as a beta.
However, what Apple intends to do with a large iMac and ultimately with the Mac Pro remains exciting. In the iMac, the same M1-Max CPU should certainly initially provide sufficient performance, possibly with even better cooling and further limit clock frequencies.
With the Mac Pro, however, Apple has to come up with a little more, especially in terms of upgradeability. But this should be an issue for 2022.
The only problem with the 16in MacBpook Pro with M1 Max is getting hold of one – many resellers are out of stock and Apple has an 8-week wait for delivery. Check our guide to
where to buy the 2021 MacBook Pro for help finding one in stock.
This article originally appeared on
Macwelt. Translation by Karen Haslam.