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Article updated on February 9, 2023 at 3:06 PM PST

M2 Pro MacBook Pro 16 Review: Apple Amps Up Its Creative Workhorse

Upgraded Wi-Fi and new M2 Pro and M2 Max processors deliver a nice generation-over-generation uptick.

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Lori Grunin
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Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography | PCs and laptops | Gaming and gaming accessories
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Apple MacBook Pro 16 (M2 Pro, 2023)

Pros

  • Fast with solid battery life
  • Good, bright screen
  • Wi-Fi 6E and HDMI 2.1 support

Cons

  • Heavy
  • That notch

Apple's 2023 update to its flagship MacBook Pro 16-inch line follows the company's usual MO. It offers a modest refresh from the more significantly redesigned 2021 model; notably, upgrades to the latest generation of M2-class processors, Wi-Fi 6E and HDMI 2.1, which means support for displays up to 8K/60Hz and 4K/240Hz as well as variable refresh rates. The combination of the old and new enhances the Editors' Choice-winning laptop's chops as a Mac powerhouse computer for creation and development work. 

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These updates add to the more significant noncosmetic changes introduced with the 2021 MacBook Pro 16: We see a return of the HDMI connector, SDXC card slot, MagSafe charging connector and function key row on the keyboard because buh-bye Touch Bar. There's also a vastly improved 1080p webcam and, the biggie, a migration of the line to Apple's own silicon for the CPU with integrated GPU. 

The Apple MacBook Pro 16 open in front of a studio's multicamera video control setup
Lori Grunin/CNET

I don't want to apply the marketing kiss of death and call it a "mobile workstation," but yeah, that's what it is. And that's the primary way to justify the price, especially for the $3,499 configuration we're testing and the types of applications Apple highlights performance for. (Apple's aiming for the market I tend to mentally classify as "people who create shows for Apple TV Plus, Disney and the like.") 

There's a much easier case to make for gaming laptops at that price, but sorry, Apple, still no. And given the entry price of $2,499, there's a big hole for recommendations of a big-screen Apple laptop, for people who just want to be able to see more but don't need performance beyond a MacBook Air.

Furthermore, that base configuration includes only a 512GB SSD. The base M2 Pro processor with 12 CPU cores (eight performance and four efficiency) and 19 GPU cores delivers fine performance for a lot of photo editing -- I'd probably go higher for, say, medium format work. If you're performing tasks that require the outlay for the laptop, you likely need at least 1TB SSD, and would probably benefit from upping to 32GB RAM. That bumps the price to almost $3,100.

Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2023)

Price as reviewed $3,499, £3,699, AU$5,499
Display 16-inch 3,456x2,234 254ppi 3:2 aspect ratio; 500 nits SDR, 1,600 nits HDR
CPU 3.3GHz Apple M2 Pro 12 cores (8P/4E)
Memory 32GB LPDDR5
Graphics Apple M2 Pro integrated 19 cores
Storage 2TB Apple SSD AP2048Z, SD card slot
Ports 3 x USB-C/Thunderbolt 4, 1 x HDMI 2.1, 3.5mm audio
Networking Wi-Fi 6E (802.11ax), Bluetooth 5.3
Operating system MacOS Ventura 13.2
Weight 4.7 lbs/2.2kg

Going all-out with the configuration, with an M2 Max (12 core CPU/38 core GPU) 96GB memory and 8TB SSD will run $6,499, which is a lot to swallow and excessive for the components, at least on paper. It's a little more annoying that it doesn't support 128GB RAM, but 96GB is still more than the last model's 64GB maximum. I suppose more memory will have to wait for the equivalent of an Ultra chip, though that never made it into a laptop for the M1 generation.

The nice thing, though, is that performance for Apple's CPUs is consistent across the lines, meaning the same chip delivers roughly comparable performance in a similarly equipped Mac Mini as it does in a MacBook Pro. On one hand, It would be nice if you got better performance on more expensive hardware, but the consistency makes buying decisions a little easier. 

Read more: M2 Mac Mini 2023 Review: Apple Adds M2 and M2 Pro Chips to This Tiny Desktop

Design and performance

As mentioned earlier, the design hasn't changed since we first saw it in 2021, and hasn't started looking old yet. I love the features Apple's brought back, especially the dedicated function key row and SD card slot, and the screen seems to still be excellent, at least pending my formal screen testing. 

I do have some nitpicks. The notch at the top of the screen bothers me, though not nearly as much as it does on the iPhone -- there it's functionally intrusive because you're actually losing space to display necessary information, but here it's just aesthetically annoying. 

And I'm probably in the minority on this, but I don't like MagSafe power connectors and I never have. While I think magnets usually make everything better, with MagSafe the power cord disconnects more frequently than I need it to, like if I put it down on the bed when it's plugged in. (A power corollary to that is I'm really ready for Apple to redesign its awful brick-with-plug that requires babying to remain in almost any outlet I've ever plugged it into.) Plus, despite the previous generation's webcam upgrade, there's still no Face ID support. 

I had some initial issues with Wi-Fi 6E, such as connecting to and staying connected to my router (an Asus ROG Rapture GT-AXE11000E), but finally narrowed them down to a default. After I switched "wake for network access" in the battery settings from "only on power adapter" to "always," it connected immediately and stayed connected. It's been okay ever since, albeit with one glitchy episode. I don't know yet what impact that might have on battery life. 

I generally get more reliable performance from Wi-Fi 6E than 6, at least in my environment. For instance, a casual Speedtest run delivered a consistent 483Mbps download on 6E but an average 392Mbps on 6 (for 400Mbps service). The latter started higher but dropped partway through as well. 

MacOS has two power settings for on-battery performance. The default leaves the system running at full power draw, as if it was plugged in. On that setting, you'll get speed that's nearly identical to when it's plugged in. But it also delivered excellent battery life in testing, usually about 24 hours on the default (at least for our online video streaming test). 

On the low power setting that's intended to run more quietly and for longer, single core performance dropped the most between power settings (no worse than Intel, though). GPU showed the least differential, though the tests I ran aren't terribly stressful GPU tests. Multicore differences fell about where I expected, and I've yet to figure out what my web numbers (HTML5, Javascript and WebAssembly) reveal. 

I couldn't get longer battery life in low-power mode, though, which did surprise me, since it automatically drops the maximum screen brightness across the range. That mode seems mostly for those days when you need a quieter, please-don't-scorch-my-lap system. (It's also on the heavy side, but, unfortunately, that's how these dense power laptops roll.)

Side view of a closed MacBook Pro 16 showing the SD card slot, a USB-C connector and HDMI connector

Apple has upgraded its HDMI connector to support HDMI 2.1 with variable refresh rate support.

Lori Grunin/CNET

You'll likely get more of a general performance uplift in creative applications that are really optimized for Metal and Mac than those written for cross-platform compatibility or that have tasks that are basically constrained by CPU or memory performance. For example, file import and thumbnail generation in Photoshop Lightroom Classic is still bound by the number and speed of CPU cores and amount of memory; it will saturate them both. And when importing a medium-size shoot (42MP Sony A7R3 files) with 1:1 preview generation, my typical workflow, it still seemed to take frustratingly long for the previews to finish. The same goes for applying Blur Gallery blurs on selections.

AI-enhanced activities like generating sequences for different aspect ratios using Premiere Pro's Auto Reframe (on 5K video) or automatic subject and object selection in LRC and Photoshop do happen quickly, but they don't usually take all that long on a decent relatively recent system.

Variable refresh rate over HDMI works -- I tested it with the Sony InZone M9 monitor -- but it seems like a bit of a blunt instrument. If you turn it on, it's always on, like a phone or tablet, not application-enable dependent. Battery powered devices tend to save juice by dropping the refresh rate when you don't need it to be high for smooth motion, so even in YouTube it goes up and down unnecessarily.

Unless you need every little speed increase you can get, you needn't feel the FOMO if you've got the last-generation MacBook Pro 16. But if you didn't jump onto the Apple Silicon bandwagon last go-round and don't rely on any applications that will only run on the Intel processors, it's probably smart to consider the upgrade this time around. 

Preliminary performance tests

Geekbench 5 (multicore)

Apple Mac Mini (M2 Pro, 2023) 15,013Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2023) 15,009Apple Mac Studio (M1 Max, 2022) 12,871Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2021) 12,627Apple MacBook Pro (14-inch, 2021) 12,259Apple Mac Mini (M2, 2023) 9,003Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2022) 8,592Apple Mac Mini (M1, 2020) 7,758
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench 5 (multicore)

Apple MacBook Pro 14 (M1 Pro 10/16, 2021) 12,259Apple MacBook Pro 16 (M1 Max 12/32, 2021) 12,627Apple Mac Studio (M1 Max 10/32, 2022) 12,871Apple MacBook Pro 16 low power battery (M2 Pro 12/19, 2023) 13,420Apple MacBook Pro 16 (M2 Pro 12/19, 2023) 15,009Apple Mac Mini (M2 Pro 12/19, 2023) 15,013
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench 5 (single core)

Apple MacBook Pro 16 low power battery (M2 Pro 12/19, 2023) 1,510Apple Mac Studio (M1 Max 10/32, 2022) 1,798Apple Mac Mini (M2 8/10, 2023) 1,951Apple Mac Mini (M2 Pro 12/19, 2023) 1,952Apple MacBook Pro 16 (M2 Pro 12/19, 2023) 1,966
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R23 CPU (multicore)

Apple MacBook Pro 14 (M1 Pro 10/16, 2021) 12,302Apple MacBook Pro 16 (M1 Max 12/32, 2021) 12,365Apple Mac Studio (M1 Max 10/32, 2022) 12,389Apple MacBook Pro 16 low power battery (M2 Pro 12/19, 2023) 12,820Apple MacBook Pro 16 (M2 Pro 12/19, 2023) 14,803Apple Mac Mini (M2 Pro 12/19, 2023) 14,814
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

3DMark Wild Life Extreme Unlimited

Apple Mac Mini (M2 8/10, 2023) 6,925Apple MacBook Pro 14 (M1 Pro 10/16, 2021) 10,264Apple MacBook Pro 16 low power battery (M2 Pro 12/19, 2023) 12,264Apple MacBook Pro 16 (M2 Pro 12/19, 2023) 12,989Apple Mac Mini (M2 Pro 12/19, 2023) 13,048Apple MacBook Pro 16 (M1 Max 12/32, 2021) 17,640Apple Mac Studio (M1 Max 10/32, 2022) 20,297
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Default battery setting vs. low power battery setting

3DMark Wild Life Extreme Unlimited 2.81%Geekbench 5 Metal 7.43%Geekbench 5 multicore 8.64%Jetstream2 (Safari) 8.85%WebXPRT 4 (Safari) 11.28%WebXPRT 4 (Chrome) 11.55%Cinebench R23 multicore 13.49%Geekbench 5 single core 21.92%Cinebench R23 single core 22.17%Jetstream2 (Chrome) 23.21%
Note: Shorter bars indicate a smaller percentage difference between the two settings

Configurations

Apple Mac Mini (M2, 2023) MacOS Ventura 13.2; Apple M2 (8 CPU cores, 10 GPU cores); 8GB LPDDR5 RAM; 256GB SSD
Apple Mac Mini (M2 Pro, 2023) MacOS Ventura 13.2; Apple M2 Pro (12-core CPU,19-core GPU); 16GB LPDDR5 RAM; 1TB SSD
Apple Mac Studio (M1 Max, 2022) MacOS Monterey 12.3; Apple M1 Max (10 CPU cores, 32 GPU cores); 64GB RAM; 2TB SSD
Apple MacBook Pro (14-inch, 2021) MacOS Monterey 12.4; Apple M1 Pro (10 CPU cores, 16 GPU cores); 32GB LPDDR5 RAM; 1TB SSD
Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2021) MacOS Monterey 12.4; Apple M1 Max (12 CPU cores, 32 GPU cores); 32GB RAM; 512GB SSD
Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2023) MacOS Ventura 13.2; Apple M2 Pro (12 CPU cores, 19 GPU cores); 32GB LPDDR5 RAM; 1TB SSD

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