M2 MacBook Pro 2023 vs 2021: Which should you buy?

In October 2021, Apple finally listened to critics and released a MacBook Pro that (once again) included Pro features such as multiple ports, including MagSafe, an HD camera system, and much more. Less than two years later, the next-generation model has arrived, once again with either a 14.2- or 16.2-inch display. The MacBook Pro 2021 and MacBook Pro 2023 offer the same design and nearly the same internals. The differences between the two are basically confined to the available chips. Where the 2021 model provides the Apple M1 Pro and Apple M1 Max, the 2023 model includes either an Apple M2 Pro or Apple M2 Max. 

MacBook Pro 2023 vs 2021: Breaking it down

As you can see in the spec sheet below, the main differences between the MacBook Pro 2021 and MacBook Pro 2023 are limited to CPU, GPU, memory, and battery life. Storage availability remains the same on both models. 

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SpecsMacBook Pro 2021MacBook Pro 2023
CostFrom $1,999From $1,999
Display14.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display, 16.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display14.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display,16.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display
Resolution3024x1964 pixels, 3456 by 2234 pixels3024x1964 pixels, 3456 by 2234 pixels
SecurityTouch IDTouch ID
CPUUp to 10-coreUp to 12-core
GPUUp to 32-coreUp to 38-core
Memory16GB 32GB 64GB (M1 Max)16GB 32GB 64GB (M2 Max) 96GB (M2 Max with 38-core GPU)
PortsThree Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C) portsHDMI portSDXC card slotThree Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C) portsHDMI portSDXC card slot
Camera1080p FaceTime HD camera1080p FaceTime HD camera
AudioHigh-fidelity six-speaker sound system with force-canceling woofersHigh-fidelity six-speaker sound system with force-canceling woofers
Headphone jack3.5 mm headphone jack with advanced support for high-impedance headphones3.5 mm headphone jack with advanced support for high-impedance headphones
Dimensions0.61 x 12.31 x 8.71 inches, 0.66 x 14.01 x 9.77 inches 0.61 x 12.31 x 8.71 inches, 0.66 x 14.01 x 9.77 inches
Weight3.5 pounds, 4.7 pounds0.60 x 12.31 x 8.71 inches 0.66 x 14.01 x 9.77 inches
Battery Life17 hours, 21 hours18 hours, 22 hours

Ultimately, the decision to purchase the MacBook Pro 2021 or MacBook Pro 2023 could come down to price. Because the former is no longer available through Apple, whatever stock that's left will eventually be offered at decent discounts. You'll receive the same display, storage, speakers, and ports as the newer model. 

If you're the type of person that always wants (or needs) the best MacBook Pro Apple can provide, the MacBook 2023 is undoubtedly the one for you. The 14- and 16-inch versions are precisely the same except for the display size (14.2 inches versus 16.2 inches) and battery life (up to 18 hours on the smaller model and up to 22 hours on the larger one). 

From a chip perspective, the MacBook Pro 2021 comes with either an Apple M1 Pro or an Apple M1 Max silicon chip. Conversely, the MacBook Pro 2022 comes with an Apple M2 Pro or an Apple M2 Max chip. 

The Apple M2 Pro includes 40 billion transistors, which is 20% more than the M1 Pro and twice that of the M2. There's also double the memory bandwidth of M2. The Apple M2 Max comes with up to 96GB of unified memory and 6 billion transistors. This is over 10 billion more than the M1 Max and over three times more than the M2. The M2 Max is also noted for delivering twice the memory bandwidth of the M2 Pro and four times that of the M2. 

There are also additional performance cores and efficiency cores on the newer models. This includes up to 12 CPU cores and up to 38 CPU cores. In addition, the faster 16-core Neural Engine promises to execute up to 15.8 trillion operations per second. 

MacBook Pro 2023 vs 2021: Which should you buy?

The best of the best is now the MacBook Pro 2023. It's undoubtedly about to top the best MacBook list for the year. If price isn't a factor, there's no reason not to purchase the 2023 model. It's the one with the latest Apple silicon chip, better battery life, and more. Better still: It's priced the same as the old model was before it was retired by Apple. 

If you want a 14- or 16-inch MacBook Pro and wish to save cash, look for a discounted MacBook Pro 2021 model. These discounts might be challenging to find in the short term, however. When you find one, keep in mind that you're still getting an incredible machine with 90% of the same features found on the newer version. 

What about upgrading from the MacBook Pro 2021 to the MacBook Pro 2023?

Unless your 14-inch or 16-inch MacBook Pro 2021 has become sluggish in performing your everyday tasks, there's no reason to upgrade to the latest model. As noted above, the models are nearly the same. Instead, save money for the first MacBook Pro touch-screen models that could launch in 2025. 

Bryan M Wolfe
Staff Writer

Bryan M. Wolfe has written about technology for over a decade on various websites, including TechRadar, AppAdvice, and many more. Before this, he worked in the technology field across different industries, including healthcare and education. He’s currently iMore’s lead on all things Mac and macOS, although he also loves covering iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Bryan enjoys watching his favorite sports teams, traveling, and driving around his teenage daughter to her latest stage show, audition, or school event in his spare time. He also keeps busy walking his black and white cocker spaniel, Izzy, and trying new coffees and liquid grapes.