When Apple released the M1 chip in 2020, it caused a significant shift in the industry—by abandoning Intel, Apple’s silicon achieved impressive benchmark numbers that widened the gap between Apple and its competitors.
The laptop game was changed again, and Apple was leading the charge.
With the M2 chip, not much has changed since the introduction of the M1. The design of the MacBook Pro and specs are mostly the same, except for a small bump in performance. You still get blistering performance, just a bit faster than the M1. It’s nothing to sing from the hilltops about but nothing to complain about.
I was deciding between the MacBook Air M2 and the MacBook Pro M2. The obvious difference between them is price. The MacBook Air is considerably cheaper but isn’t as high spec’d (topping out at 24 GB of ram). I almost pulled the trigger on a blue MacBook Air with 24 GB of RAM and 1 TB of storage.
Even though 24 GB is plenty, I run VMs, and Google Chrome with many tabs. I do video editing and music production. The extra 8 GB can make the world of difference when a bunch of Docker containers use almost 8 GB of ram.
Before deciding on the MacBook Pro, I explored other options, such as the Thinkpad, Dell XPS, and even a MacBook Pro with an M1 chip (which is still an excellent and much cheaper alternative). In fact, I would highly recommend the M1 MacBook Pro in many cases. However, I prefer the added future-proofing of the newer chip.
The deciding factor in choosing a MacBook Pro over a cheaper alternative was the quality of Apple devices. Not only are you purchasing hardware built to high-quality assurance standards, but Apple Care is unparalleled. No other manufacturer offers a device care program that compares to Apple’s.
The longevity of an Apple laptop is reflected in its price. While they are expensive, even after three years, the resale value of these laptops remains high. No Windows PC comes close to retaining its value like a Mac. They are a solid investment and are known to last for years.
In this review, I won’t discuss screen brightness nits or other inconsequential things most users don’t care about. It’s a Mac, you know the screen is great before you even buy it. I will be talking about the MacBook Pro 14” with the M2 Max chip from the perspective of a front-end developer.
Here is a quick overview of the specs:
- 14-inch display
- Apple M2 Max 12-Core CPU 30-Core GPU
- 32 GB RAM
- 1 TB SSD
Initially, I grappled with whether 512 GB would be sufficient for development purposes. However, if you’re buying this device with the intention of development, the 512 GB should suffice. That being said, I personally opted for the 1 TB option due to the space taken up by my numerous open-source projects, which can add up astronomically fast.
The MacBook Pro M2 is one of the fastest laptops I’ve ever used. Even when I am not doing anything performance-intensive, the speed is noticeable. It boots instantly. When I log in, everything runs without hesitation.
Opening up apps is like watching lightning strike the ground. Instant.
The MacBook Pro is designed for professionals who need to perform intensive tasks. While the MacBook Air with the M2 chip can handle many of these tasks, the advantages of extra memory, CPU, and GPU cores become apparent. For example, some audio projects I work on require many VST plugins. For instance, one of my current songs has over 20 tracks, most of which include VSTs such as the Neural DSP Archetype plugins for bass and guitars, Superior Drummer for drums, and various equalisers and compressors. These plugins require not only CPU performance but also a lot of RAM.
Unless you’re training artificial intelligence large language models or trying to mine cryptocurrency, you will never hit a performance wall. The M2 chip allows the MacBook Pro M2 to top out at a whopping 96 GB of ram. Which is obviously way more than any sane-minded person would ever need, but it’s there.
My average day-to-day with my MacBook Pro is:
- Running Docker containers
- Running Node.js servers
- Working with Node.js dependencies (those npm installs can be mammoth)
- Coding in Microsoft Visual Studio Code
- Google Chrome with 20+ tabs open
- Listening to music through Spotify
- Running a Git GUI (Gitkraken)
- Working inside the Terminal
- Microsoft Teams
To be honest, most of my daily development activities don’t require a MacBook Pro. However, Docker for Mac is the most resource-intensive item on my list. It uses a lot of memory when working on one of my main projects and drains my battery quickly when I’m not plugged in.
Outside of this, I also work with Reaper for audio projects, using many VST plugins and tracks (as mentioned above). I also edit Adobe Premiere Pro, sometimes working with large video files and editing YouTube and Twitch stream clips. The MacBook doesn’t break a sweat opening up large files in Premiere Pro.
Here’s the thing: if you’re a developer, the two most important factors are memory and storage. In most cases, 16 GB of memory is plenty for development needs, and the CPU is less important because most development tasks aren’t CPU or GPU-intensive.
Storage is one of the most crucial considerations. While 512 GB would suffice, having 1 TB to focus on your work is better than worrying about space. 1 TB is the sweet spot, but more storage is always better. However, going above 2 TB is probably unnecessary, as you’ll likely never reach that limit unless you’re working on 1000 projects at once (GitHub exists for a reason, right?).
Once again, I could have purchased a high-end Windows laptop. However, some caveats can make the process painful when it comes to developing on Windows (despite Microsoft making it easier). Compatibility with some tooling is still turbulent.
Although Microsoft has made great strides with Windows Subsystem for Linux, there are still some serious issues. I previously tried to get Docker to work efficiently with WSL, but it proved to be a gargantuan task. Eventually, I decided to rip off the bandaid and install Linux.
One benefit of using a Mac is that it is built on a Unix operating system, which perfectly aligns with Linux. Many of the commands in the Terminal are the same or very similar, making it easier to use. If you’re a developer, you’re probably already accustomed to working on a Unix command line.
And then there is the one compelling reason to buy a Mac: battery life.
The battery life of modern Apple Silicon laptops is unbeatable. No other PC laptop comes close to matching the battery life of a MacBook Pro or Air. While running Docker does hurt battery life, under normal usage, the battery can last a full day without recharging.
Arguably, the battery life was the deciding factor in purchasing the MacBook Pro. The 14-inch screen size is also the sweet spot for a development laptop. It’s not too big to dominate everything but not too small to hinder your ability to code.
At the end of the day, the M2 chip is just the newer and shinier evolution of Apple’s modern silicon devices—performant, unrivalled battery life and aesthetically pleasing.