MacBook Pro 16-inch 2023 vs 2021: The biggest upgrades

MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch) review unit sitting on a coffee table
(Image credit: Future)

Apple has just announced the new MacBook Pro 16-inch 2023, along with the MacBook Pro 14-inch 2023. Packing new M2 Pro and M2 Max chips, these laptops promise the longest battery life ever in a Mac — not to mention deliver the most power of any Apple laptop yet.

With the new MacBook Pro 16-inch arriving on January 24, it's good to know how it differs from its predecessor the MacBook Pro 16-inch 2021. Is new silicon from Apple reason enough to upgrade from the 2021 model? Or are there some other features that merit moving up to the latest MacBook Pro? Read on to find out all the differences between the MacBook Pro 16-inch 2023 and the MacBook Pro 16-inch 2021 .

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MacBook Pro 16-inch 2023MacBook Pro 16-inch 2021
Starting price$2,499$2,499
Screen16.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display (3456x2244 pixels, 254ppi)16.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display (3456x2244 pixels, 254ppi)
ProcessorM2 Pro (12-core CPU, 19-core GPU), with optional M2 Max with up to 12-core CPU and 38-core GPUM1 Pro (10-core CPU, 16-core GPU) | M1 Max (10-core CPU, 32-core GPU)
Battery size100Wh100Wh
Battery life (claimed)Up to 15 hours of web surfing over Wi-FiUp to 14 hours of web surfing over Wi-Fi
Storage512GB to 8TB512GB to 8TB
Memory16GB to 96GB (96GB only available on units w/ maxed-out M2 Max chip)16GB to 64GB
PortsThunderbolt 4 (x3), HDMI, MagSafe 3, headphone jack, SD memory card slotThunderbolt 4 (x3), HDMI, MagSafe 3, headphone jack, SD memory card slot
Webcam1080p FaceTime HD camera1080p FaceTime HD camera
Wi-Fi802.11ax Wi-Fi 6E802.11ax Wi-Fi 6
BluetoothBluetooth 5.3Bluetooth 5.0
Dimensions14 x 9.8 x 0.7 inches14 x 9.8 x 0.7 inches
Weight4.7 pounds (M2 Pro) - 4.8 pounds (M2 Max)4.7 pounds (M1 Pro) - 4.8 pounds (M1 Max)

MacBook Pro 16-inch 2023 vs 2021: Price and availability 

The MacBook Pro 16-inch comes in a variety of configurations, with the base model starting at $2,499 / £2,699 / AU$3,999. This version comes with an M2 Pro chip featuring a 10-core CPU, 16-core GPU and 16-core Neural Engine. It comes with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD for storage.

MacBook Pro M2 Pro 14-inch and 16-inch

(Image credit: Apple)

But if you want a fully loaded MacBook Pro 16-inch you'll need to shell out a staggering $6,499 / £6,749/ AU$10,099. You definitely get what you pay for with this configuration though — an M2 Max chipset with a 12-core CPU, 38-core GPU and 16-core neural engine, 96GB of RAM and a massive 8TB SSD. Those specs are truly stunning and only the heaviest of power users probably need them.

At launch, the 2021 MacBook Pro 16-inch started at $2,499, which is the same starting price as its newer iteration. Apple no longer has this laptop listed in its store, but you can still buy it from places like Amazon and Best Buy or even at physical Apple stores if they happen to have stock on hand (but this is rare). These older models are available for various prices, depending on the spec sheet.

MacBook Pro 16-inch 2023 vs 2021: Design 

MacBook Pro M2 Pro

The new MacBook Pro 14-inch looks virtually identical to its previous incarnation from 2021, pictured above. (Image credit: Apple)

The new MacBook Pro 16-inch looks essentially the same as the MacBook Pro 16-inch 2021. The previous MacBook improved across the board so it wasn't surprising that the new version features no significant design changes. But again, that’s not a bad thing since the current design is already excellent.

It's not a surprise then that the dimensions and weight didn't change from the 2021 16-inch MacBook Pro. It still weighs 4.7 pounds when equipped with the Pro chipset and 4.8 pounds when equipped with a Max processor. Both versions measure a sleek 14 x 9.8 x 0.7 inches.

The display on the new laptop is — unsurprisingly — still great. The new MacBook Pro 16-inch has a Liquid Retina XDR display with a 3456 x 2234 pixel resolution and a peak brightness of 1,600 nits for HDR content. You also get Apple's ProMotion technology for a 120Hz adaptive refresh rate.

In terms of other design features and ports, the MacBook Pro 16-inch 2023 has a 1080p FaceTime HD camera, a six-speaker sound system, and three “studio-quality” mics for video/voice calls. For ports, you get three Thunderbolt 4 ports, an SDXC card slot, a 3.5mm headphone jack and MagSafe 3 charging. The only upgrade of note here is an "advanced HDMI output" that allows for 8K resolution output at up to 120Hz refresh rate or 4K resolution at up to 240Hz refresh rate.

MacBook Pro 16-inch 2023 vs 2021: Specs

Apple M2 Max chip logo on a pastel background

(Image credit: Apple)

The main difference between the 2023 and 2021 MacBook Pros is that you can configure the newer models with Apple's more recent M2 Pro and M2 Max chips. The 16-inch is no exception.

The M2 Pro chip features a 10-core or 12-core CPU with up to eight high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores. Apple claims that these cores deliver 20% greater performance than the M1 Pro. The new chip also has 200GB/s of unified memory bandwidth, which is double the amount of the base M2 chip and can have up to 32GB of RAM. In addition to the CPU cores, Apple says the M2 Pro's 19-core GPU can deliver up to 30% better graphics performance and that the 16-core neural engine is 40% faster than the previous version.

If you want the cream of the crop though, you'll want the M2 Max. Apple's most powerful M2 chip (for now) has a GPU with up to 38 cores. Apple says it delivers up to a 30% improvement in graphics performance over M1 Max. It also includes 400GB/s of unified memory bandwidth, double what you get from the M2 Pro. The M2 Max chip can be configured with up to 96GB of RAM — a stunning amount. Apple claims this chip is 20% faster than the M1 Max, which is notable since we were already blown away by the performance of the M1 Pro and M1 Max in the 2021 MacBook Pros.

This isn't to say that the M1 Pro and M1 Max on the MacBook Pro 16-inch aren't impressive. The 2021 model features an M1 Pro with a 10-core CPU with eight performance cores and two efficiency cores and supports up to 32 GB of RAM with a memory bandwidth of up to 200 GB/second. 

The M1 Max also has a 10-core CPU but features 57 billion transistors (over 3x the number on the original M1) and supports up to 64 GB of RAM, with up to 400 GB/s of memory bandwidth. While that falls short of the M2 Max on paper, that's still an incredibly powerful SoC chipset.

Apple M2 Max chip schematic on a pastel background

(Image credit: Apple)

Aside from the silicon, there are a couple of additional minor performance upgrades. The new 2023 MacBook Pro supports Wi-Fi 6E, allowing for faster network speeds. It also upgrades the Bluetooth on board from Bluetooth 5.0 to Bluetooth 5.3, which should lead to improved sound quality and potentially better battery life for connected devices.

MacBook Pro 16-inch 2023 vs 2021: Battery life

MacBook Pro M2 Pro

(Image credit: Apple)

The MacBook Pro 16-inch with M2 Pro is rated for up to 22 hours of movie playback through Apple TV via its 70Wh battery. That’s effectively all-day battery life and Apple claims it's the best battery life of any Mac — ever.

We’ll need to conduct our own battery test to see how long the new 16-inch Macbook Pro lasts. If Apple’s claims are accurate, it’s possible this laptop could beat out the MacBook Pro 16-inch 201, which lasted 15 hours and 31 minutes in our battery testing.

MacBook Pro 16-inch 2023 vs 2021: Verdict

MacBook Pro 16-inch 2021

The MacBook Pro 13-inch M2 (pictured above) has the longest lasting battery of any laptop we've tested. Can the new MacBook Pros beat it in this category? (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The new MacBook Pro 16-inch 2023 definitely took the attitude of if it isn't broken, it doesn't need to be fixed. Aside from a few minor upgrades like Wi-Fi 6E support and an upgraded HDMI port, the only change was the upgraded M2 Pro and Max chipsets.

So whether or not it is worth it to upgrade really comes down to how much the upgraded silicon boosts the new model and does that boost matter to you. Without getting our hands on it yet for testing, the early specs from Apple certainly suggest a significantly upgraded boost in power from the new M2 Pro and M2 Max chips. People who want to push their machines to the limit with video and image editing, software development, music production and other high-intensity tasks may want to consider purchasing the new MacBook Pro 16-inch 2023, which seems to be Apple’s most powerful — and longest-lasting — laptop yet.

With that said, not everyone needs an ultra-beefy computer. If you want a MacBook for everyday usage, the MacBook Air M2 remains a solid Apple laptop — as is the MacBook Air M1, which is still quite capable and relatively affordable with a starting price that's less than $1,000. If you want a laptop with insanely long battery life, 2022’s 13-inch MacBook Pro is also worth considering, even if its design is decidedly dated. Plus, while Apple has discontinued the MacBook Pro 16-inch 2021, there are still deals to be found on our roundup of the best MacBook deals that allow you to get a powerful Mac at a great price, even though it's no longer the most powerful MacBook.

Malcolm McMillan
News Writer

Malcolm McMillan is a News Writer for Tom's Guide, writing about the latest in tech, gaming and entertainment with a particular focus on phones and virtual reality. Before writing for Tom's Guide, he worked many retail jobs and many Black Fridays, including a stint for Microsoft so he knows all about finding the best prices for the latest tech. Malcolm had also been a fantasy football analyst for several years prior to his time with Tom's Guide. He is passionate about video games and sports, though both cause him to yell at the TV frequently. He proudly sports many tattoos, including an Arsenal tattoo, in honor of the team that causes him to yell at the TV the most.