2021 MacBook Pro cheat sheet: Everything you need to know

Apple's latest MacBook Pro redesign promises massive improvements in performance and battery life, but is it a good investment for professionals?

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The new 2021 MacBook Pro in 14" and 16" models. 

Image: Apple

Apple surprised everyone with the announcement of a second fall event at which it released several new products, but it was the 2021 MacBook Pro that stole the show. 

SEE: 2021 MacBook Pro cheat sheet: Everything you need to know (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The new MacBook Pro has all the usual upgrades you'd expect from a new generation of laptop: better screen, improved memory, faster hard drives and the like. It's not those things that make the new MacBook Pro exciting, though.

It's the new chips, the M1 Pro and M1 Max, where the new MacBook Pro really shines. The massive performance boosts that both new chips offer is sure to be of interest to professionals, and some may reasonably question interrupting their upgrade cycle with the release of this beast of a machine. 

SEE: How to migrate to a new iPad, iPhone, or Mac (TechRepublic Premium)

What is the 2021 MacBook Pro?

The previous update to the MacBook Pro was a big deal internally (with the addition of the Apple Silicon M1), but not much changed that was noticeable to users. Complaints from previous generations (like the Touch Bar and lack of ports) went nowhere, and Pro users were ultimately left wanting more.

Consider the 2021 MacBook Pro to be Apple saying, "Yeah, we heard you."

The touch bar is gone, and in its place is a beautiful, full-sized row of function keys. The new Pro is down to only three USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 ports, but that's not a bad thing when you realize what's returned: other, more useful ports that don't require a dongle.

To the left of the keyboard sits a beautiful sight: A MagSafe jack, two USB-C ports, and a headphone jack that supports high-impedance headphones. To the right is another USB-C port, along with an HDMI port and an SDXC Card slot. That's right: You can finally put that dongle in a desk drawer to collect dust.

SEE: All of TechRepublic's cheat sheets and smart person's guides

In addition to those changes, the new generation of MacBook Pro, which comes in 16" and 14" models, is also getting a big boost in size thanks to the reduction in bezels. Compared to the previous MacBook Pro model, the 2021 version has 24% thinner side bezels and a 60% thinner top bezel. That big reduction on top comes with a tradeoff: There's a camera bump at the top of the screen now. Luckily, Apple made good use of that bump and, like on newer iPhones, put the menu bar aside the notch to provide more screen real estate for apps. 

The front camera, which sits in that notch, has received a huge boost to 1080p. It also has twice the low-light performance and uses machine learning to enhance visual quality. A new three-mic array with a 60% lower noise floor is also included, as is a six-speaker sound system with new woofers that Apple said provide 80% more bass and can go half an octave deeper than its previous woofer design. 

What are the specs for the 2021 MacBook Pros?

2021 MacBook Pro 14"

2021 MacBook Pro 16"

Dimensions

0.61"x 12.31"x 8.71"

0.66" x 14.01" x 9.77" 

Weight

3.5 lbs

4.7 lbs w/M1 Pro, 4.8 lbs w/M1 Max

Display

14.2" Liquid Retina XRD display at 3024x1964 w/ ProMotion refresh rates up to 120 Hz

16.2" Liquid Retina XRD display at 3456x2234 w/ ProMotion refresh rates up to 120 Hz

Chipset

M1 Pro or M1 Max w/various configuration options

M1 Pro or M1 Max w/various configuration options

Memory

16GB w/ 32GB option for M1 Pro and Max or 65GB for M1 Max

16GB w/ 32GB option for M1 Pro and Max or 64 GB for M1 Max

Storage

512GB, option for 1TB, 2TB, 4TB or 8TB

512GB, option for 1TB, 2TB, 4TB or 8TB

Ports 

3x Thunderbolt 4/USB-C ports, 3.5mm headphone jack, HDMI port, SDXC card port, MagSafe 3

3x Thunderbolt 4/USB-C ports, 3.5mm headphone jack, HDMI port, SDXC card port, MagSafe 3

Connectivity

Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0

Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0

Battery and charging

70-watt-hour LiPo battery, 17 hours video playback, 11 hours wireless web

100-watt-hour LiPo battery, 21 hours video playback, 14 hours wireless web

What is the biggest new feature in the 2021 MacBook Pro? M1 Pro and M1 Max Apple Silicon chips

The M1 chip has been a successful endeavor for Apple, and the announcement of two new versions of the M1 system-on-a-chip (SoC) is a glimpse into the future of Apple's silicon creation capabilities that, if the trend continues, will be impressive. 

The new generation of MacBook Pros comes with the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, both of which blow the original M1 out of the water in terms of performance. 

The M1 Pro, for example, has three times the memory bandwidth of the M1, with speeds capable of reaching 200 GB/s, Apple said. In addition, the M1 Pro supports up to 32 GB of unified memory, has twice the number of transistors, has a 10-core CPU with 70% faster performance over the M1 and a 16-core GPU with twice the graphics performance. 

SEE: Why I will buy Apple's new MacBook Pro (TechRepublic)

Unsatisfied with making the M1 seem obsolete, the M1 Max was also created for this new generation of MacBook Pro. It improves on the Pro by offering double the memory bandwidth (400 GB/s), a 32-core GPU with four times the performance of the M1 and up to 64 GB of unified memory.

For those not interested in abstract numbers, Apple provides this helpful way to visualize what these chips are capable of. The M1 Pro can support up to 20 streams of 4K ProRes video playback, and the M1 Max can handle up to seven streams of 8K ProRes video. 

Apple calls the new MacBook Pros "supercharged." Absent a hands-on, the specs (if accurate) seem to support that claim. 

Is the 2021 MacBook Pro a good laptop for professionals?

With each new laptop, smartphone and tablet released the question is the same: Are the new features and performance upgrades worth the cost of upgrading? With all that Apple has brought to the new MacBook Pro in terms of design changes and features there's a compelling case to be made for upgrading, particularly if you're a professional user handicapped by the drawbacks of previous models, like a lack of ports.

SEE: M1 MacBook Pro vs. M1 iPad Pro: Which is the quickest in the real world? (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Mikako Kitagawa, research director at Gartner, echoes those sentiments. "These products are very good for the creative professional who has been waiting for an M1 device," Kitagawa said. She also said that the performance boost of the new M1 chips was impressive, and might even be a reason for those who currently own an M1 MacBook to buy the latest Pro models regardless.

It isn't just creative professionals who can make good use of the new MacBook Pros with the M1 Pro and M1 Max: Anyone who needs high performance computing in a small package will find a good fit in the 2021 MacBook Pro, Kitagawa said. 

Much of the decision to upgrade may come down to price, and these machines (like previous MacBook Pro models before them) aren't cheap. The 14" model starts at $1,999 and the 16" at $2,499, making them a hefty purchase, especially if you're still paying off last year's M1 MacBook Pro. 

Still, the performance boosts that Apple is advertising are pretty mind blowing, and could open up a new world of portable high-performance computing for professionals of all stripes, be they data analysts or graphic designers.

When will the 2021 MacBook Pro be available?

Interested parties can place an order for a new MacBook Pro now, and the machines will be generally available starting October 26, 2021. 

Two colors are available, Silver and Space Grey, and both models can support the M1 Pro and M1 Max, as well as having the same new features and improvements. You're free to pick the features, with the only real difference being how large a screen you want.

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