Apple M2 Max: Everything you need to know

Apple M2 Max chip logo on a pastel background
(Image credit: Apple)

There's a new top dog in the land of Apple silicon, and it's called the M2 Max.

Debuting in the new MacBook Pro 2023 laptops that Apple unveiled today (January 17), the M2 Max and its less powerful sibling the M2 Pro are the new top tier of performance for MacBooks, which are already among the best laptops on the market. 

The Apple M2 Pro and M2 Max are simply beefier versions of the Apple M2 chip, which itself is an upgrade over the M1 chip, Apple's inaugural slice of bespoke silicon for Macs. Soon the M2 Pro and M2 Max chips will be available for purchase in two new models of MacBook — the MacBook Pro 14-inch (2023) and the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023)

The latest Apple laptops are almost identical to their predecessors on the outside, which is great since we loved the 2021 MacBook Pros. But on the inside, they're packing these more performant M2 chips, and that makes the M2 Pro and M2 Max the key selling points of Apple's latest pro MacBooks. 

To give you a better sense of what sets the M2 Max apart from earlier Apple chips, here's everything you need to know about the most powerful piece of MacBook silicon yet.

Apple M2 Max chip: Price and release date

The M2 Max will initially be available solely as an upgrade for the new 2023 MacBook Pros, which will go on sale January 24 on Apple's website. Prices start at $1,999 for the 14-inch model and $2,499 for the 16-inch version. As usual, Apple sells its MacBook Pros in two colors: Silver or Space Gray.

MacBook Pro 2021 on pastel background

Both the 14-inch and 16-inch 2023 MacBook Pros can be configured with M2 Pro or M2 Max (Image credit: Apple | Remix by Nick Bush)

By default, both models ship with an entry-level M2 Pro chip, though the entry-level 16-inch MacBook Pro 2023 has a more performant M2 Pro than the entry-level 14-inch model. However, you can order both the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros with up to the top-tier M2 Max chip, so favoring the 14-inch size won't limit which chips you can order.

In general, expect to pay about $1,000 extra to upgrade your 2023 MacBook Pro to an M2 Max. The $1,999 14-inch MacBook Pro 2023 jumps to $3,099 if you just upgrade to the M2 Max, while the $2,499 16-inch MacBook Pro 2023 costs $3,499 if you want it with the M2 Max.

That's roughly in line with how much it cost to get an M1 Max when buying the 2021 MacBook Pros, though it was a bit cheaper last time around: $600 to upgrade the 14-inch Pro 2021 to M1 Max, and $900 to do the same on the 16-inch model.

Apple M2 Max chip: Specs

Apple has improved on the design of the 2021 M1 Max chip, though the core fundamentals remain the same. The M2 Max features a scaled-up version of the same core architecture we saw in the M2, the M1 Max and the original M1. They're all SoCs (systems-on-chips), which means they integrate the CPU and GPU together, drawing from a pool of unified RAM memory in the name of higher efficiency and decreased latency.

Apple M2 Max chip schematic on a pastel background

(Image credit: Apple)

The M2 Max has 67 billion transistors, which is 10 billion more than the M1 Max's 57 billion and over three times as many as on the base M2 chip. Again, that's right in line with the M1 Max, which also offered more than 3x the transistor count of the initial M1 chip.

The M2 Max offers the same 12-core CPU (8 performance cores, 4 efficiency cores) as its cheaper sibling the M2 Pro, but it includes much bigger and more performant GPU options.  You can configure a 2023 MacBook Pro with an M2 Max chip that has up to 38 GPU cores, the most GPU power we've ever seen on a MacBook chip.

Of course, the M2 Max still can't match the Apple M1 Ultra chip for sheer core count, but the Ultra (with its 20-core CPU and 64-core GPU) is only available in the deskbound Apple Mac Studio — if you prefer the portability of a MacBook, the M2 Max is the best you Apple silicon can get right now.

The M2 Max also has the same 16-core Neural Engine as its predecessor, though Apple claims its up to 40% faster than the previous generation. Apple's Neural Engine helps out with tasks that rely on machine learning, like image processing and computational video processing, which in practical terms help you look better on video calls using the 2023 MacBook Pro's 1080p webcam.

Last, but certainly not least, the M2 Max supports 400 GB/s of memory bandwidth (the same as its predecessor) and up to 96GB of RAM. Yes, you read that right: 96 gigabytes of RAM in a MacBook.

Apple provided this chart visualizing how much faster the M2 Pro is at processing images than its predecessors. The M2 Max is presumably even faster. (Image credit: Apple)

That's a remarkable amount of memory for a laptop, the kind you usually only find in Windows laptops that cost $4,000 to $6,000 and are meant to be used as workstations by creative professionals. While it will cost about as much to kit out a MacBook Pro 2023 with 96GB of RAM and a top-tier M2 Max chip, the performance you expect out of a laptop like that could be worth it for video editors and other creative professionals who need to get work done on the go.

Apple M2 Max chip: New features

Speaking of creative pros, Apple continues to market its MacBook Pros (and the top-tier Apple silicon inside) to video pros on the go. If you work in video editing, Apple has upgraded the M2 Max in some ways that could be key to your workflow,

Most notably, the M2 Max offers a more powerful hardware-accelerated media engine than either the M2 Pro or the last-generation M1 Pro and M1 Max. While both the M2 Pro and M2 Max offer hardware-accelerated video encodes and decodes (including support for H.264, HEVC and ProRes), the M2 Max offers two video encode engines and two ProRes engines, which Apple claims allows it to deliver up to double the video encode speed of an M2 Pro. 

In terms of output performance, Apple claims the M2 Max can deliver multiple streams of 4K and 8K ProRes video simultaneously. It also appears to support HDMI 2.1, an improvement over the base HDMI 2.0 support offered by the last generation of Apple silicon.

Apple M2 Max chip: Outlook 

The M2 Max is upon us, and with it comes a new ceiling for MacBook performance. While the cost of upgrading to Max is a bit higher on the 2023 MacBook Pros compared to the 2021 models, the power may well be worth it — especially for creative types who want a beefy machine for editing photos, cutting video or compiling apps on the go.

It's also nice to see Apple finally getting on board with HDMI 2.1, and since the M2 Max now supports external displays up to 4K 240Hz (or 8K 60Hz), it may be a watershed moment for high-framerate gaming on a MacBook. 

Of course, we'll have to wait until we get some new MacBook Pros sporting the M2 Max in for testing to know how it stacks up to the competition. Stay tuned!

Alex Wawro
Senior Editor Computing

Alex Wawro is a lifelong tech and games enthusiast with more than a decade of experience covering both for outlets like Game Developer, Black Hat, and PC World magazine. A lifelong PC builder, he currently serves as a senior editor at Tom's Guide covering all things computing, from laptops and desktops to keyboards and mice.