MacBook Pro 2021 looks like the biggest upgrade in a decade — here's why

MacBook Pro M1 sale
(Image credit: Apple)

Normally I'm more excited about rumors for new iPhones than MacBooks, but not this year. You can take your iPhone 13 leaks, as I'm busy chewing on the MacBook Pro 2021 perks I hope to be enjoying before the end of this year.

As much as I liked the first Apple silicon MacBook Pro in my MacBook Pro M1 review, it was too similar to the MacBook Air M1 to justify the $300 premium. Yes, you get slightly better performance with more graphics cores, even longer battery life and more room for cooling, but that's not enough for me. 

However, the rumored MacBook Pro 14-inch looks like it could be the biggest upgrade in a decade, stepping out of the MacBook Air's shadow in a big way. And I can see myself investing my own money in what could be the best laptop yet.

MacBook Pro 2021: mini-LED is a leap forward

The MacBook Pro 2021's biggest, most in-your-face upgrade will likely be the new mini-LED display. Apple is expected to use the same display found in the new iPad Pro 12.9-inch for the new MacBook Pro. The Liquid Retina XDR panel boasts 1,000 nits of brightness along with a 1 million to 1 contrast ratio, offering stellar image quality and overall performance.

We don't know if the MacBook Pro will offer the same level of performance as the iPad Pro, but it should blow away the MacBook Air's screen. 

And because the MacBook Pro 2021 is tipped to offer a 14-inch panel, you should get more screen real estate — and less bezels — in a similar size or even more compact chassis. It's about time that Apple caught up to the likes of the Dell XPS 13 in the bezel department. 

MacBook Pro 2021: More ports, MagSafe returns

I'm also very encouraged by the reports that Apple will offering more ports for the MacBook Pro 2021. These will apparently include an HDMI port, an Ethernet port and a high-speed UHS-II SD Card reader.

Yes, as versatile as Thunderbolt ports are, there are times where you want and need dedicated ports for connecting a monitor or jacking into a higher-speed internet connection. And photographers and video editors will very much appreciate the ability to just plug in an SD Card from their cameras. (Alas, there's no AirDrop for DSLRs yet.)

Last but not least, Apple is expected to bring MagSafe back to the MacBook Pro. Having a magnetic connection for the power cord should help prevent any accidentally drops when someone inevitably trips on the cable. Oh, and I definitely don't mind that the Touch Bar is reportedly getting killed; it added zero value to my work life. 

MacBook Pro 2021: Get ready for M1X

Apple is reportedly prepping a new M1X chip for the MacBook Pro 2021 this fall, and it should offer even more power than today's M1. We're talking about up to 10 CPU cores (up from 8 cores) and as many as 16 to 32 cores for the GPU (up from 8).

There's some debate around the amount of RAM the new MacBook Pro 2021 will support, but we're hearing anywhere from 32GB to 64GB.

At the same time, we'd expect the MacBook Pro M1X to offer the same or better endurance as the previous model. In our web surfing battery test, the MacBook Pro M1 lasted an astonishing 16 hours and 25 minutes. The MacBook Air M1 lasted 14:41.

MacBook Pro 2021: Finally, a 1080p webcam

While Apple silicon helped improve the image quality of the MacBook Pro's 720p webcam, there's only so much you can do with computational photography tricks. The MacBook Pro 2021 is tipped to offer a 1080p webcam (via iOS developer Dylandkt), which should be a major upgrade for those of us stuck on hours upon hours of video calls.

Having a sharper webcam would also be a welcome upgrade for taking better advantage of macOS Monterey, which offers features like SharePlay in FaceTime. You'll look better as you watch shows and movies together with friends and family, and you should look better when you engage Portrait mode for video chat.

Bottom line: No longer in MacBook Air's shadow

If you add up all of the rumored improvements, the MacBook Pro 2021 is shaping up to be the biggest upgrade to the lineup I've seen in a long time. And that's a good thing, as my 2019 MacBook Pro 13-inch is starting to show its age. I want more speed, more ports, a brighter display and longer battery life. And I should get it all if the leaks come true.

At the same time, the MacBook Pro 2021 should create more separation between the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. The introduction of M1 has brought almost too much parity to the Apple laptop lineup, but it looks like Apple is making the necessary changes to make the Pro live up to its name. 

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.

  • dstrauss
    I'm curious about the supposed Ethernet port you cited - I have not heard that one previously, and unless it is one of those drop jaw mechanisms that are so finicky how will they do this?
  • RapidRabbit11485
    I will be shocked...shocked I tell you - if either a SD card reader or Ethernet jack is present on any future MacBook Pro. Apple cares about the thinness of their laptops far too much to ever put a full sized Ethernet jack on a laptop again. They would never put in a folding mechanism for an Ethernet port like Dell and HP do, it's too anti-Apple's design aesthetic. As for the SD card reader, just why? There are dongles for that already and it hurts their minimalism for something very few people actually use, outside of photography professionals. They could have added these back at any point in the last decade and it would have been praised, yet they chose not to. Why would they reverse course this year when there are already more attractive reasons to upgrade like the processor and screen? This is the company that told us we couldn't have a headphone jack anymore, if anything I suspect they will remove the headphone jack AND not give you those port options. As for HDMI, I'm kind of mixed on it, they might do that. But at the same time, it works perfectly fine over USB-C, there really is no reason for it other than convenience, and that just isn't something they do things for. They can sell more adapters if they don't do these things, which seems to be a primary motivation for both the removal of the headphone jack and the chargers from the Apple Watch and iPhone.