MacBook Pro (2021) vs. MacBook Pro (2019): Should you upgrade?

16-inch MacBook Pro display
16-inch MacBook Pro display (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

By all indications, the new 16-inch MacBook Pro should blow the 2019 model out of the water when it comes to performance, especially if you pay the money to upgrade the specs to your liking. However, the MacBook Pro has never been more expensive. And, while there are lots to like about the new MacBook Pro design, the notch at the top of the screen hasn't been the most well-received in the public eye.

MacBook Pro (2021) vs. MacBook Pro (2019): It's all about M1 Pro and M1 Max

M1 Pro Key Facts

M1 Pro Key Facts (Image credit: Apple)

Apple is very proud of its own silicon, as they spent a lot of time talking about just how powerful the M1 Pro and M1 Max are compared to other Intel chips. Apple's biggest claim so far is that the chip's performance while plugged in and running on battery should be about the same, which other high-end laptops have a hard time achieving.

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Header Cell - Column 0 MacBook Pro (2021)MacBook Pro (2019)
Starting price$2,499$2,400
Processor chipM1 Pro or M1 MaxIntel 9th-gen i7 or i9
GraphicsM1 Pro or M1 MaxUp to AMD Radeon 5500M
RAMUp to 64GBUp to 64GB
PortsThunderbolt/USB 4 (x3), SD card slot,Four USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports
RAMUp to 64GBUp to 64GB
Camera1080p FaceTime HD camera720p FaceTime HD camera
DisplayLiquid Retina XDRRetina display
Displa size16.2-inch16-inch

Not only do the spec sheets look quite different, but the laptops themselves have completely different designs. The MacBook Pro (2021) features a notch at the top of its 16.2-inch display where the 1080p camera is located, but it has a round design that is somewhat reminiscent of the older design from the early 2010s.

The MacBook Pro (2019) is still rocking the Touch Bar instead of the function keys featured on the 2021 model, and it has a squared-off design that the MacBook Pro had before. It also still only has USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, meaning you'll need dongles or adapters to plug in anything that doesn't use those ports.

MacBook Pro (2021) vs. MacBook Pro (2019): Let's talk displays

2021 Macbook Pro Connectivity

2021 Macbook Pro Connectivity (Image credit: Apple)

When it comes to displays, the MacBook Pro (2021) is impressive. The new model comes with a Liquid Retina XDR display that features ProMotion. The max refresh rate is 120hz, but it is adaptive, so it will refresh slower than the max when it makes sense.

The display on the MacBook Pro (2021) is also brighter, running at about 1000 nits compared to the 2019 model's 500 nits, but it can reach a max brightness of 1600 nits of peak brightness for HDR content. The 2019 model doesn't have any HDR ability.

When it comes to external displays, both the 2021 and 2019 models can support them with varying limitations. The MacBook Pro (2019) can support up to two displays with 6016x3384 resolution at 60Hz or up to four displays with 4096x2304 resolution at 60Hz.

If you get the M1 Pro chip inside your 16-inch MacBook, you'll be able to support up to two of Apple's Pro Display XDR, and if you move up to the M1 Max, you can support three Pro Display XDRs and a 4K TV at the same time. When it comes to the maximum available screen real estate, the 2021 model outclasses the 2019 model hands down.

MacBook Pro (2021) vs. MacBook Pro (2019): Should you upgrade?

As with most "pro" devices, it all comes down to your needs and workflow, and what works for one person may not work for someone else. On paper, I can tell you that the MacBook Pro (2021) looks to be more powerful and more useful than the 2019 model. However, in practice, it's possible that might not be true for your current situation.

What's apparent is that after the last few years, Apple has issued a Mea Culpa of sorts and given back features that the Pro community has been asking for since the redesign. The MacBook Pro (2021) has MagSafe charging, meaning you can't trip over your charging cable again. They have also reinstated an SD card slot and HDMI port, both of which are missing from the 2019 model. Plus, they got rid of the Touch Bar and added back a row of function keys to the built-in laptop.

Of course, some people love the Touch Bar (trust me, they exist), and maybe holding on to the 2019 laptop for a few more years won't hurt their workflow too much. If that sounds like you, then, by all means, feel free to skip this upgrade.

Luke Filipowicz
Staff Writer

Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way. 

Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.