Should You Buy the 13-Inch MacBook Pro?
The MacBook Pro is one of Apple's flagship laptops, featuring greater performance, active cooling, and the Touch Bar. As a vital product in the Mac lineup, Apple typically updates the 13-inch MacBook Pro on an annual basis.
There are two different 13-inch MacBook Pro models currently available. They look almost identical, but one is positioned as a lower-end model with an Apple-designed M1 chip, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, and a price starting at $1,299, while the other is positioned as a higher-end model with an Intel processor, four Thunderbolt 3 ports, and a price starting at $1,799.
Announced in November of 2020, the M1 MacBook Pro is among the newest Macs in Apple's lineup and it is still believed to be fairly early in its product cycle.
On the other hand, the high-end Intel models that remain in Apple's lineup launched in May of 2020. These models are believed to be approaching the end of their product cycle. Apple is phasing Intel-based Macs out of its product lineup in favor of its own more powerful and efficient custom silicon chips, and a major overhaul of the high-end 13-inch MacBook Pro is expected to arrive later this year.
Users who are looking for a high-end MacBook Pro should wait for updated models with larger displays, more ports, and Apple silicon chips to launch later this year. We do not recommend buying an Intel-based MacBook Pro at this time.
Although the high-end MacBook Pro is expected to be replaced with a redesigned model later this year, it is likely that the current M1 MacBook Pro will remain in the lineup as the lower-end option. In spite of this, customers interested in the more affordable MacBook Pro may be better off getting the M1 MacBook Air instead.
The M1 MacBook Air starts at a price point $300 cheaper than the M1 MacBook Pro, and offers the same chip with many of the same features, such as the Magic Keyboard, Touch ID, and two Thunderbolt ports. The only advantages to buying the M1 MacBook Pro over the MacBook Air are the Touch Bar, active cooling, a longer battery life, a brighter display, speakers with high dynamic range, and an extra GPU core if you're getting the entry-level MacBook Air. Unless these features are worth the additional $300 in your personal use case, you should buy the MacBook Air instead.
The M1 MacBook Pro
Apple refreshed the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro models in November 2020, adding an Apple-designed "M1" Arm-based chip to replace the prior Intel chips. M1 chips bring significant speed and efficiency improvements.
Apple is selling the new 13-inch M1 MacBook Pro models alongside the higher-end and more expensive 13-inch MacBook Pro models with Intel chips that were introduced in May 2020. The 16-inch MacBook Pro models with Intel chips are also still available and have not yet been updated with M1 chips.
The M1 chip is Apple's first System on a Chip for Mac that integrates the CPU, GPU, RAM, and more all together. The M1 has an 8-core CPU with four high-efficiency cores and four high-performance cores along with an integrated GPU that has 8 cores. Compared to the prior-generation MacBook Pro models, the new M1 MacBook Pro's CPU is up to 2.8x faster and the GPU is up to 5x faster.
Machine learning tasks that use the Neural Engine are up to 11x faster, making the MacBook Pro quicker at ML-based features like face recognition and object detection. With a new storage controller, SSD is up to 2x faster, with the M1 MacBook Pro able to be configured with up to 2TB storage.
Apple introduced a new active cooling system in the M1 MacBook Pro to eke out more processor performance while also ensuring quiet operation.
As with the prior entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro models, RAM maxes out at 16GB, but the higher-end models that continue to have Intel chips are configurable with up to 32GB RAM. Battery life in the M1 MacBook Pro models is much improved, offering up to 17 hours of web browsing and up to 20 hours of video playback in the Apple TV app.
There are no external design changes to the MacBook Pro and it continues to feature the same aluminum body with large Force Touch trackpad, speakers at the side of the keyboard, and 13.3-inch display with slim black bezels. The MacBook Air comes in Silver and Space Gray color options.
The display features a 2560x1600 resolution, 500 nits brightness, P3 wide color support for vivid, true-to-life colors, and True Tone that matches the color temperature of the display to the ambient lighting for a more natural viewing experience that's easier on the eyes.
Apple's M1 MacBook Pro includes a 720p FaceTime HD camera, which is the same as the camera in the prior model, but Apple says the M1 improves picture quality with better noise reduction, better dynamic range, and other features.
Like the Intel MacBook Pro models, the M1 MacBook Pro features a Magic Keyboard with a refined scissor mechanism that's more reliable than the previous butterfly mechanism, offering up to 1mm key travel for a stable key feel. There's a Touch Bar at the top with touch-based controls and a Touch ID fingerprint sensor that can be used to unlock the Mac, make purchases, and more, with Touch ID protected by the Secure Enclave.
As an entry-level model, the M1 MacBook Pro has two Thunderbolt 3/USB 4 ports that support up to a 6K external display, while the Intel MacBook Pro models offer four Thunderbolt 3 ports. The M1 MacBook Pro works with WiFi 6 or 802.11ax and Bluetooth 5.0. There are stereo speakers with wide stereo sound support, studio quality mics, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
The M1 MacBook Pro is priced starting at $1,299, and it is sold alongside Intel options with quad-core Core i5 Intel chips and Intel Iris Plus Graphics, with those models priced starting at $1,799. Given the major speed improvements introduced with the M1 MacBook Pro models, it's best to hold off on an Intel purchase until a clear comparison between the available models can be made and the performance differences are better known.
Apple eventually plans to bring Apple Silicon chips to its entire Mac lineup, so expect the Intel MacBook Pro models to be discontinued in the future and replaced with updated models that are equipped with Apple's chips.
Apple also sells 16-inch MacBook Pro models equipped with Intel chips, and details on those larger machines can be found in our 16-inch MacBook Pro roundup.
Note: See an error in this roundup or want to offer feedback? Send us an email here.
How to Buy
The new M1 MacBook Pro models can be ordered from the online Apple Store at prices starting at $1,299 or purchased in Apple retail stores. The Intel-based 13-inch MacBook Pro models are also available from the online Apple Store, and as of February 2021, Apple is selling refurbished M1 13-inch MacBook Pro models at a discount.
If you're trying to decide between purchasing the M1 MacBook Air or the M1 MacBook Pro, our Buyer's Guide goes through the similarities and the differences to help you figure out which machine best meets your needs.
Apple in macOS Big Sur 11.2.1 addressed an issue that could prevent the battery from charging in some 2016 and 2017 MacBook Pro models. In an Apple support document released alongside the update, Apple says that a small number of customers with 2016 and 2017 MacBook Pro models have experienced a bug that causes their batteries not to charge past 1 percent, an issue macOS Big Sur 11.2.1 fixes.
Affected customers who ran into the problem with an earlier version of macOS Big Sur will also see a "Service Recommended" notice and will need to contact Apple for a free battery replacement. If you have a MacBook Pro model that is experiencing problems prior to macOS Big Sur 11.2.1, see Apple's support document for instructions on a replacement.
Some M1 Mac users have noticed that their machines are seeing high drive writes over a short period of time. In extreme cases, M1 Macs are consuming as much as 10 to 13 percent of the maximum warrantable total bytes written (TBW) value of their SSDs, which is not typical.
SSDs can only be written to a set number of times before they become unstable, and one user found that his M1 Mac had already consumed one percent of the SSD after just two months, while another found that three percent of a 2TB SSD had been used. It's not clear how widespread this issue is, but it's possible the bug is not limited to M1 Macs and that Apple will have a fix in a future update.
M1 MacBook Pro Reviews
Reviews of the M1 MacBook Pro were overwhelmingly positive, which is no surprise given how much of an improvement it is over the prior generation in terms of CPU and GPU performance.
TechCrunch said that the M1 MacBook Pro is fast enough that it launches apps "before your cursor leaves your dock," and "every click feels more responsive," much like an iOS device.
The Verge said that the MacBook Pro's fan doesn't often come on, resulting in mostly silent operation. It also didn't seem to significantly outperform the MacBook Air for that reason, but things that normally trigger the fan on an Intel Mac, such as Google Meet in Chrome, "barely register on the M1 MacBook Pro."
As for battery life, The Verge saw at least 10 hours of battery life even under a heavy load, and had to push things to drain the battery within eight hours. The Verge said that it considered giving the M1 MacBook Pro a 10/10 score, but the one negative was the poor 720p camera.
For more opinions on the MacBook Pro and the other M1 Macs, make sure to check out our full M1 Apple Silicon review guide.
The M1 MacBook Pro continues to feature the same design that Apple has been using for years now with a uniform rectangular shape, aluminum body, and slim bezels around the display. The MacBook Pro models come in silver and space gray.
There's a large trackpad, thin hinge, Touch Bar, Apple logo at the back, two to four ports on the side depending on model, and side speaker grilles. The MacBook Pro measures in at 11.97 inches long, 8.36 inches wide, and 14.9mm thick. It weighs three pounds and is 0.2 pounds heavier than the Macbook Air.
Apple sells the 13-inch MacBook Pro alongside the larger 16-inch model, which measures in at 14.09 inches long, 9.68 inches wide, and 16.2mm thick. It weighs in at 4.3 pounds.
Inside, there's a new active cooling process that's meant to keep the MacBook Pro cooler while the M1 chip is in operation for faster performance.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro models feature a Retina display with 500 nits of brightness, P3 Wide color support, and True Tone functionality. The display has a resolution of 2560 by 1600 resolution at 227 pixels per inch.
The True Tone feature uses a multi-channel ambient light sensor that's included in the new MacBook Pro models, which is able to determine both the brightness of the room and the color temperature. After detecting the white balance, the MacBook Pro is able to adjust both the color and intensity of the display to match the room's lighting for a more natural, paper-like viewing experience that also cuts down on eyestrain.
P3 Wide color support features a greater color range than standard sRBG displays for more vivid and realistic colors.
The MacBook Pro uses the same redesigned Magic Keyboard that was first introduced in the 16-inch MacBook Pro. The Magic Keyboard does away with the butterfly mechanism that Apple has been using since 2015 as it was riddled with issues that led to key failure due to dust and other small particulates.
The scissor mechanism in the MacBook Pro's keyboard offers 1mm of key travel and a stable key feel, plus it uses an Apple-designed rubber dome that stores more potential energy for a more responsive key press.
The keyboard also features backlit keys controlled by an ambient light sensor to light up the keys in dark rooms.
Touch Bar and Touch ID
All MacBook Pro models have a Touch Bar, which is a small OLED retina multi-touch display built into the keyboard where the function keys traditionally go. The Touch Bar is contextual and can perform a range of different functions on the Mac depending on which app is in use.
The Touch Bar is a matte-style display that blends right in with the rest of the keys on the keyboard, and in all modern MacBook Pro machines, it supports True Tone, allowing the white balance to be adjusted to match the ambient lighting conditions.
Interacting with the Touch Bar is done through taps, swipes, and other multi-touch gestures, with support for up to 10 fingers at a time available.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro models also have a Touch ID fingerprint sensor that's located next to the Touch Bar above the keyboard. Touch ID is protected by a Secure Enclave that keeps your fingerprint data and personal information safe.
Touch ID on the MacBook Pro can be used instead of a password, unlocking the Mac when a finger is placed on the sensor. It also replaces a password for password-protected apps, and it can be used to make Apple Pay purchases in Safari.
The MacBook Pro has a large Force Touch trackpad that has no traditional buttons and is instead powered by a set of Force Sensors, allowing users to press anywhere on the trackpad to get the same response.
A Taptic Engine powered by magnets provides users with tactile feedback when using the trackpad, replacing the feel of a physical button press. The Force Touch trackpad supports a light press, which is used as a regular click, along with a deeper press or "force click" as a separate gesture that does things like offer up definitions for a highlighted word.
The entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro models, which are the ones with M1 chips, feature two USB-C ports with support for USB 4 and Thunderbolt 3 for Thunderbolt transfer speeds of up to 40Gb/s and USB transfer speeds of up to 10Gb/s. With Thunderbolt 3, the MacBook Pro models can support a single 6K display at 60Hz.
Apple says that the M1 MacBook Pro is limited to one display up to 6K resolution, but using DisplayPort adapters, M1 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models can run up to five external displays. This is only possible when using a mix of 4K and 1080p displays as the Thunderbolt ports do not have the bandwidth to run five 4K displays.
The higher-end Intel MacBook Pro models have four Thunderbolt 3 ports. Each port on the MacBook Pro models is identical and can be used for the same functions, so every one can be used to power the machine. All ports support the following connections: power, Thunderbolt, USB, DisplayPort, HDMI, and VGA.
M1 Apple Silicon Chip
The M1 MacBook Pro is one of the first Macs to be updated with an Apple-designed Arm-based chip rather than an Intel chip like prior MacBook Pro models. These chips are called "Apple Silicon," and the chip used in the 2020 lower-end 13-inch MacBook Pro is the M1.
The M1 is Apple's first System on a Chip designed for the Mac, which means it has the processor, GPU, I/O, security features, and RAM all one chip that's inside the Mac. Apple says that this allows for better performance and power efficiency for longer battery life.
Like Apple's latest A14 chips, the M1 is built on a 5-nanometer process, which makes it smaller and more efficient than Apple's prior chips. It has 16 billion transistors, which Apple says is the most that it has put into a single chip.
Unified Memory Architecture
One of the features of the M1 is a unified memory architecture, or UMA, It unifies high-bandwidth, low-latency memory into a single pool. This means that the technologies in the M1 chip can access the same data without copying it between multiple memory pools for dramatic performance improvement across the entire system.
The M1 features an 8-core CPU and an integrated 8-core GPU (there's also a 7-core GPU option as explained below). The CPU has four high-efficiency cores and four high-performance cores. When doing simple tasks like browsing the web or reading email the MacBook Pro engages the high-efficiency cores to preserve battery life, but for more system intensive tasks like photo and video editing, the high-performance cores are used.
Compared to the high-performance cores, the high-efficiency cores use a tenth of the power while still delivering the performance that Mac users need for everyday tasks.
According to Apple, the M1 chip's CPU is up to 2.8x faster than the Intel chip in the prior MacBook Pro, and GPU speeds are up to 5x faster. All M1 MacBook Pro models come with the 8-core GPU, unlike some MacBook Air models that have a 7-core GPU.
The M1 is designed to offer higher performance at every power level compared to competing laptop chips. It offers 2x faster CPU performance than the latest PC laptop chip while using 25 percent of the power.
Building projects with Xcode is up to 2.8x faster, ProRes transcode in Final Cut Pro is up to 2.8x faster, multicore vector performance is 2x faster in Affinity Photo, and Logic Pro supports 1.8x more Amp Designer plug-ins.
In Geekbench benchmarks, the M1 chip, which has a 3.2GHz frequency, earns single-core scores that exceed 1700, and multi-core scores around 7500, which makes it faster than the high-end 16-inch MacBook Pro models released in 2019. Those 16-inch MacBook Pro models are equipped with Intel's latest 10th-generation chips.
Further, the M1 chip offers the single-core performance that is better than any other available Mac. It outperforms the Intel-based MacBook Pro models that it is sold alongside, but may not exceed them in GPU performance.
Even when emulating x86 under Rosetta 2, the M1 Macs are still faster than all previously released Macs. With Geekbench running through Apple's Rosetta 2 translation layer, the Macs are achieving 78 to 79 percent of the performance of native Apple Silicon code.
R23 Cinebench benchmarks of the M1 chip come in at 7508 for multi-core and 1498 for single-core.
Comparatively, the high-end 2020 16-inch MacBook Pro with 2.3GHz Core i9 chip earned a multi-core score of 8818. The 2.6GHz low-end 16-inch MacBook Pro earned a single-core score of 1113 and a multi-core score of 6912 on the same test, and the high-end prior-generation MacBook Air earned a single-core score of 1119 and a multi-core score of 4329.
The 8-core GPU in the M1 chip is integrated (which means it is not a separate chip), and Apple calls it the world's fastest integrated graphics in a personal computer. It can execute 25,000 threads at a time and combines improved graphics performance with lower power consumption.
Apple says that 3D titles render 5.9x faster in the new M1 MacBook Pro, 3D performance in Shapr3D is 3x faster, and game performance with Shadow of the Tome Raider is 2.9x faster all thanks to the M1 GPU.
In GFX Bench 5.0 benchmarks, the M1 beat out the GTX 1050 Ti and the Radeon RX 560 with 2.6 TFLOPs of throughput.
There's a new, more advanced Neural Engine in the MacBook Pro that is up to 11x faster for machine learning tasks. The Neural Engine has a 16-core design that can execute 11 trillion operations per second, and along with machine learning accelerators, it makes ML-based tasks much faster.
Apps like Final Cut Pro, Pixelmator, and others that use machine learning for video, photo, and audio editing purposes benefit from the Neural Engine.
The M1 chip is built on an Arm architecture instead of an x96 architecture like Intel chips, but it still run apps designed for Intel machines thanks to Rosetta 2, a translation process that runs in the background and is invisible to the user.
Apple is also encouraging developers to create Universal apps that use a single binary and run on both Apple Silicon Macs and Intel Macs. Further, Apple Silicon Macs are able to run apps that are designed for iPhone and iPad.
We have details on apps that have been updated with native or universal support, gaming on the M1 Macs, running homebrew apps, and more. Check out our M1 tidbits guide for details.
The higher-end MacBook Pro models that are priced starting at $1799 continue to use 10th-generation Intel Core i5 chips. The base model uses a 2.0GHz quad-core processor, which can be customized to a 2.3GHz quad-core processor. Both Intel models feature Intel Iris Plus graphics.
Comparatively, the top Intel processor in these machines falls far behind the performance of the M1 with a single-core score of 1240 and a multi-core score of 4517. Most people are not going to want to purchase an Intel-based 13-inch MacBook Pro at this time due to the much faster M1 chip in the lower-end models.
M1 Battery Life
With the efficiency improvements introduced with the M1, the MacBook Pro has impressive battery life that far exceeds the battery life of the prior-generation model.
There's a 58.2WHr battery in the M1 MacBook Pro models that lasts for up to 17 hours when browsing the web and up to 20 hours when watching movies in the Apple TV app.
The Intel-based MacBook Pro models last for up to 10 hours when browsing the web and up to 10 hours when watching movies in the Apple TV app.
In a test compiling open source code for WebKit, Apple's M1 chip excelled. The M1 MacBook Pro and MacBook Air compiled the code more quickly than equivalent Intel based models, but more notably, still had 91 percent battery life remaining at the end of the test, while a high-end 16-inch MacBook Pro had 24 percent battery life remaining and an Intel 13-inch MacBook Pro had just 24 percent battery life left.
Base M1 models come with 8GB RAM, which can be customized up to 16GB. Higher-end Intel models support up to 32GB RAM. Tests suggest that there isn't a whole lot of difference between M1 models with 8GB RAM and 16GB RAM except when doing heavily system intensive tasks.
With the new SSD controller integrated into the M1 chip, the SSD in the M1 MacBook Pro is 2x faster with sequential read speeds of up to 3.3GB/s. M1 MacBook Pro models can be equipped with up to 2TB SSDs, with storage starting at 256GB, while Intel models can be equipped with up to 4TB of SSD storage.
The M1 MacBook Pro supports 802.11ax WiFi, which is known as Wi-Fi 6, the newest WiFi protocol that's faster and more efficient than the prior-generation 802.11ac WiFi with up to 1.2Gb/s throughput. It also supports Bluetooth 5.0.
The Intel MacBook Pro is limited to 802.11ac WiFi, aka WiFi 5.
FaceTime Camera and Mics
There's a 720p HD camera built into the front of the MacBook Pro for FaceTime calls. Apple has used a 720p front-facing camera for multiple years now and has not upgraded the quality, but this year says that the M1 chip allows for clearer, sharper images.
The M1 chip offers better noise reduction to pull more detail out of shadows and highlights, and the Neural Engine uses face detection to adjust white balance and exposure for more natural-looking skin tones.
The MacBook Pro also features studio-quality mics for better sound on FaceTime calls.
There are four standard configuration 13-inch MacBook Pro models available from Apple:
- $1,299 - Apple M1 chip, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD.
- $1,499 - Apple M1 chip, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD.
- $1,799 - 2.0GHz quad-core Core i5 processor, Intel Iris Plus Graphics, 4 TB3 ports, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD.
- $1,999 - 2.0GHz quad-core Core i5 processor, Intel Iris Plus Graphics, 4 TB3 ports, 16GB RAM, 1TBGB SSD.
Build to Order Options
Entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro with 256GB storage:
- 16GB RAM - +$200
- 512GB SSD - +$200
- 1TB SSD - +$400
- 2TB SSD - +$800
Entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro with 512GB storage:
- 16GB RAM - +$200
- 1TB SSD - +$200
- 2TB SSD - +$600
Mid-level 13-inch MacBook Pro:
- 2.3GHz quad-core Core i7 processor - +$200
- 32GB 3733MHz LPDDR4 RAM - +$400
- 1TB SSD - +$200
- 2TB SSD - +$600
- 4TB SSD - +$1,200
High-end 13-inch MacBook Pro:
- 2.3GHz quad-core Core i7 processor - +$200
- 32GB 3733MHz LPDDR4 RAM - +$400
- 2TB SSD - +$400
- 4TB SSD - +$1,000
M1 Mac How Tos
Since the M1 Macs are using a new type of chip designed by Apple, there are some tips and tricks for doing things like transferring files, entering recovery mode, and finding apps optimized for the new machines. We have several M1-specific how tos that are worth checking out.
- How to Install Rosetta on Your M1 Apple Silicon Mac
- How to Start Up in Safe Mode on an M1 Apple Silicon Mac
- How to Use Apple Diagnostics to Test Your Mac
- How to Tell Which Apps Are Optimized for M1 Apple Silicon Macs
- How to Transfer Files Between an Apple Silicon Mac and Another Mac
- How to Reinstall macOS on an M1 MacBook Air, M1 MacBook Pro, and M1 Mac Mini
- How to Install Any iPhone or iPad App on an M1 Mac
What's Next for the MacBook Pro
Apple introduced a new M1 MacBook Pro in November of 2020, but the new model didn't include any design changes. That's going to change in 2021, and there are multiple rumors suggesting Apple is working on new 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro models.
The upcoming MacBook Pro models will feature the most significant design overhaul to the MacBook Pro line that we've seen since 2016, and the updated machines will also address complaints that users have had with the MacBook Pro for years by bringing back older features that include MagSafe, more ports, and physical function keys.
The 14-inch MacBook Pro that's in the works will replace the existing 13-inch version, while the 16-inch model will be a successor to the current 16-inch MacBook Pro. The 14-inch model is expected to feature slimmed-down bezels, though the casing may also be slightly larger.
Both new models will have a flat-edged design that has been described as "similar to the iPhone 12" with no curved edges like current models, but in practice, the design changes may be smaller than expected.
Along with a flat-edged design, the revamped MacBook Pro models could have more ports than prior models, including an SD card slot and an HDMI port. Apple is expected to return to MagSafe connectors rather than opting for charging over USB-C. The new MacBook Pro models will also do away with the Touch Bar that Apple first debuted in 2016, with Apple instead opting for physical function keys.
Other new features will include Apple silicon chips and brighter, higher-contrast display panels and it is possible Apple will opt to use mini-LED display technology, which was already introduced in the 2021 iPad Pro.
Apple is developing an "M2" chip that allegedly entered mass production in April, which means it could be ready to debut in new MacBook Pro models as soon as July.
Schematics that hackers stole from Apple supplier Quanta Computer confirm Apple's plans to add additional ports to the MacBook Pro and reintroduce MagSafe.
The plans display the logic board of the MacBook Pro. On the right side of the machine, there's an HDMI port accompanied by a USB-C/Thunderbolt port and followed by an SD Card reader. The left side features two additional USB-C/Thunderbolt ports and a MagSafe charging slot, for a total of three USB-C/Thunderbolt ports instead of four as we have today.
The codename for the Mac is "J316," which suggests that the logic board that we've seen is for the 16-inch MacBook Pro. There's also a "J314" model that likely correlates to the 14-inch MacBook Pro that Apple is also rumored to be working on. Both machines are expected to feature the new ports, MagSafe charging option, and upgraded Apple silicon chips.
The new MacBook Pro models are expected to launch in the second half of 2021. For more on what to expect, make sure to check out our dedicated MacBook Pro rumor guide, which has all the detail that we know about the new machines so far.