When Apple announced its latest M2 Pro- and M2 Max-based MacBook Pros last week, the company boasted about performance gains (up to a 20 percent uplift for the CPU, up to 30 percent for the GPU) and improved battery life. Unfortunately, it appears that one area of performance has taken a step backward for M2 Pro-based MacBook Pros, at least for the $1,999 base model with a 512GB SSD.
Multiple reports confirm that the SSD on the 2023 14-inch MacBook Pro (M2 Pro, 512GB) is significantly slower than the one found in the 2021 14-inch MacBook Pro (M1 Pro, 512GB). The first word about the performance downgrade came from @ZONEofTECH, who compared the two systems. The M2 Pro system scored 2929 MBps write and 2703 MBps read using the AJA System Test Lite benchmark. Its M1 Pro-based predecessor scored 3450 Mbps on the write test and 4081 MBps on the read test.
BREAKING: We’ve just discovered that the base 14” M2 Pro MacBook Pro (512GB) is considerably slower than the previous 14” M1 Pro model. Apple is likely using single SSD modules again (like the base 256GB M2 Air and M2 MacBook Pro). More testing to come. pic.twitter.com/3kMiHVDxaFJanuary 24, 2023
In his tweet, @ZONEofTECH opined, "Apple is likely using single SSD modules again (like the base 256GB M2 Air and M2 MacBook Pro)."
Further confirmation came this afternoon from Mac-centric website 9to5Mac, which also noticed slower performance with the new base model MacBook Pro. The publication used the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test on the 2023 MacBook Pro (M2 Pro, 512GB) and recorded writes of 3154.4 MBps and reads of 2973.4 MBps. For comparison, the 2021 MacBook Pro (M1 Pro, 512GB) on hand put up higher numbers at 3950.8 MBps and 4900.3 MBps, respectively.
Given the performance degradation, 9to5Mac decided to open the case on the new MacBook Pro to see if the chip configuration had changed compared to the previous generation. "Sure enough, where the 512GB M1 Pro MacBook Pro had two NAND chips visible on the front of the motherboard and another two on the back, the M2 Pro MacBook Pro had only one visible on the front of the board," the publication wrote. "There is likely a second NAND chip directly opposing this, as the M1 had."
According to iFixit, the 2021 MacBook Pro's 512GB SSD is split among four 128GB NAND chips. Its 2023 MacBook Pro counterpart instead uses two 256GB NAND chips in parallel. That could account for the performance decrease for the new MacBook Pro.
Interestingly, this performance downgrade extends to the 256GB variant of the 2023 Mac mini with the M2 SoC. When Apple announced the M2- and M2 Pro-based Mac minis last week, the company also reduced prices for the base model. The M1 Mac mini had a starting price of $699, while the new M2 Mac mini dropped that price to just $599.
Base model Mac mini:2018 Intel Write: 16272018 Intel Read: 24852020 M1 Write: 27332020 M1 Read: 28542023 M2 Write: 14312023 M2 Read: 1482January 24, 2023
Now, we know how Apple was able to achieve at least some of those cost savings: it skimped out on storage performance. The 2020 Mac mini (M1, 256GB) uses two 128GB NAND chips in parallel and achieves 2733 MBps write and 2854 MBps read with the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, according to Twitter user @t4bl3r0n3. Conversely, the 2023 Mac mini (M2, 256GB) sees its results roughly halve to 1431 MBps and 1482 MBps, respectively. Brandon Geekabit also confirmed these storage performance drops in a YouTube video.
If all of this sounds familiar, Apple performed the same SSD switcheroo with the base version of the MacBook Air (M2, 256GB). Using slower SSDs on the 2023 MacBook Pro and 2023 Mac mini could impact file transfer performance and overall system performance. In addition, any applications that exhaust the available physical memory would need to fall back to the SSD for virtual memory. The Mac mini would likely be impacted more by paging out to the SSD, given that the base 256GB storage configuration only comes with 8GB of RAM.
Apple's decision to lower storage performance in exchange for a $100 price cut on the entry-level Mac mini is somewhat understandable. However, the step backward in storage performance on the $1,999 MacBook Pro is less defensible. For customers paying top dollar for a "pro level" machine, you wouldn't expect storage performance to take such a dramatic hit.