There’s an old adage in technology that you can’t buy the first generation of any product. However, as far as Apple Silicon is concerned, you might be better off if you do. Reviewers continue to find new evidence that the new base system of the MacBook Pro with M2 is a weaker product than its predecessor. Now there is real test evidence that the base M2 MacBook suffers heavily under heavy DRAM loading. For now, only the base version of the M2 with 256GB of SSD storage and 8GB of combined memory is known to be affected.
Over the past few days, we’ve seen evidence that the entry-level MacBook Pro only offers half the SSD controller channels compared to the M1, and this affects its theoretical storage performance. We also know that the 13-inch base system heats up to 108°C in tests. Thanks to a new video from the same channel, we now have evidence that a base system with M2 significantly loses performance and system responsiveness under load compared to 16 GB M2.
Vadim Yuryev of YouTube’s Max Tech tech channel tested the M2, including several tests between an 8GB M2 and 256GB and 512GB storage. This test isolates the impact of the SSD and identifies a design issue. At least some of the performance of the 8GB M1 was provided by its SSD controller configuration, and with just one chip, the platform cannot support the same speeds.
A 12.5% drop in performance doesn’t seem like such a bad thing, although we don’t usually expect a switch from one NVMe SSD to another to cause such a disparity. But look what happens when Yuryev simultaneously boots up the system with a Chrome browsing session. Both systems above and below are 8 GB systems:
This trend was not unique to Chrome; Safari looks the same. When exporting a 4K video in another application, the same problem occurred. Performance drops when a workload is put on the system and responsiveness suffers. These problems persist throughout a number of tests. Once the M2 RAM is full, system performance often slows down. Not in the M1 system.
In these tests, the 512 GB M2 model was not 15% faster, but 55%. And according to Max Tech’s video, system responsiveness on an M2 system with 8GB of RAM drops off drastically as soon as the export starts working. The tested 16 GB variant had no such problems.
A comparison with the M1 in the 8GB and 16GB versions shows that it also lost performance when equipped with just 8GB of RAM, but the performance hit was much smaller. In some tests, the 8 GB M1 was 1.23 times slower than the 16 GB M1. M2 8 GB is up to 1.79 times slower.
Why is this happening?
The problem here is that the M2 is forced to transfer data from the SSD as soon as it runs out of main memory. The base M1 has two physical connections to the chips that make up its SSD. M2 has. This means that when the system tries to use the SSD instead of the extra memory, the M2 SSD cannot keep the CPU running. I’m genuinely surprised at how slow the M2 is when browsing the web while rendering output (it’s not clear if the M1 8GB is similarly affected, the video compares the M2’s 8GB and 16GB variants).
Tellingly, there is sometimes a performance difference between an 8GB M2 and a 16GB M2 even if the DRAM capacity is not increased. The lower bandwidth of the M2 SSD controller can hurt non-computing benchmarks and real workloads, depending on how you boot your system.
Does it matter? I would say that this is the case for several reasons:
First, it’s a clear performance hit compared to a first generation product, and that’s never a good thing. Secondly, it introduces uncertainty and doubt into the product line. In some cases, M2 8 GB is 1.15 to 1.8 times slower than M2 16 GB. Third, Apple is bad at communicating exactly how much DRAM and SSD storage its customers have to pay to enjoy the M2, which is not functionally crippled.
There is no such thing as a memory upgrade if you buy an M1 or M2. It’s impossible to buy a system now and double its RAM in a few years when DDR5 prices come down. The amount of RAM you choose today should last the system for the rest of its life, so small regarding Apple not revealing how much of a performance hit the M2 could take due to its weak storage. Apple, if anything, should do a better job of communicating how important RAM loading is to a system’s long-term life than its fellow PC maker.
Fourth, there’s evidence that the M2’s 8GB user experience goes straight to hell if you use its RAM, while the M1 doesn’t seem to, based on the relative performance each loses. . Watching MaxTech try to surf the web on the 8GB M2 while running workloads reminded me of running anti-virus scans and web surfing during the Bad Old single-core days.
I suspect that Apple will claim that the various workloads Yuryev has tested are not representative of the workloads they expect clients to run. This is true, up to a certain point – but only up to a certain point. The first generation of Apple Silicon has no problem in the same workloads, with the same RAM. Also, Apple didn’t reach out to reviewers and advise them to stick with simpler benchmarks when M1 reviews came out back in 2020.
A huge number of audio/video benchmarks have been published showing that a laptop with an M1 processor can outperform an Apple laptop with an Intel processor. desktop computers, and I personally know several people who have taken advantage of the launch of Apple Silicon to switch processor manufacturers. In this regard, the M2 baseline is a clear step backwards from M1. This is especially true if you’re reaching out to afford a new MacBook. 8 GB of RAM isn’t a lot these days no matter what, but if you have to buy a system with just 8 GB, buy an M1-based system that drops performance by 25 percent (compared to M2) and remains responsive. when it runs out of memory, not the entry-level MacBook Pro M2, which takes 1.8x shea a hit and offers the Celeron responsiveness of the late 1990s when it ran out of RAM.
Don’t buy an entry-level M2
At this point, there’s no reason to consider the 13-inch MacBook Pro M2 if you have the option to buy another MacBook. The 8GB M1 system basically matches the 8GB M2 system in other compute benchmarks and is slower, probably cheaper, and can stay more responsive under heavy load. While these issues don’t seem to affect more expensive models that offer more RAM, fans, and SSDs, the MacBook Pro with the M2 processor starts at $1,299. This is quite the territory of laptop boutiques, and you should buy a system that can work one task of high performance while surfing the Internet at the same time.
Complicating matters is the fact that these base M2 models are the only ones available from Apple itself with no waiting. If you want one of the undamaged cars, you expect a few weeks delay and a lot more money.
I’ve been excited about Apple Silicon since the beginning, but a good chip requires a good laptop, and the base 13-inch MacBook Pro is clearly compromised. Let the buyer be vigilant.
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