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MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019) vs MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021)

MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019) vs MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021)
(Image credit: Future)

The new Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch is officially here, powered by the all-new Apple M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, and it offers the most powerful MacBook Pro experience yet; but which one comes out on top between the Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019) vs MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021)?

In the battle of the full-sized MacBook Pros, you've got two of the best laptops ever made that offer a rich user experience and trademark Apple aesthetic, but with two very different processors and hardware that offers a real contrast that makes choosing between last-gen and current model offerings more interesting. This is especially the case compared with the best Windows laptops, which see much less of a drastic change year over year.

While the last-gen Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019) features up to an Intel Core i9 processor, the new Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) comes packing a new Arm-based Apple M1 Pro or M1 Max processors which have more power and better efficiency than its last-gen rival and smaller MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1).

That doesn't mean the Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019) is a weakling by any means, and while everyone is fawning over Apple's latest MacBook Pro model, you definitely shouldn't consign the last-gen MacBook Pro 16-inch laptop to the scrap heap any time soon. 

In fact, if you're looking for a bargain on one of the best MacBooks ever made, now just might be the time to go looking around for a MacBook Pro deal while everyone is fighting over the latest release.

So, in the contest between the Apple MacBook Pro (2019) vs MacBook Pro (2021), how do the two premium Apple laptops stack up against each other?

Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019) vs MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021): which one should you buy?

When it comes to the Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019) vs MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021), figuring out which one is the right one for you really comes down to which matters most to you: performance or value.

Without a doubt, the specs on the new MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) are impressive, thanks to the powerful new Apple M1 Pro and M1 Max chips. Featuring eight performance cores and two efficiency cores, as well as 16 GPU cores for the M1 Pro and 32 GPU cores in the M1 Max, along with enhanced neural processor for machine learning tasks, the Intel Core i7 or Core i9 in the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019) really can't compete on the performance side of things.

That doesn't mean the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019) isn't powerful. In fact, it's arguably the second most powerful MacBook ever made, and with the release of the new MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021), there's every reason to think that the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019) is going to come down in price. And with the ongoing semiconductor shortage or supply chain issues, it might be significantly easier to find than Apple's latest MacBook Pro.

Let's dig deeper into the differences between the two so you can decide which one is right for you.

Specs

When it comes to Apple's premium mobile workstations, there are some important differences between the Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019) vs MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021).

Starting with the specs, the new MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) comes in with the newest Apple M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, which features eight performance cores and two efficiency cores, which is in contrast with the Apple M1 chip, which features four performance and four efficiency cores.

This definitely makes the MacBook Pro 16-inch the most powerful of the two newest MacBook Pro models, but how does this stack up against the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019)?

The last-gen MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019) features up to an octa-core Intel Core i9, with each core being a performance core, so out of the gate, the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019) has the same number of performance cores to work with as the new MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021). 

The two additional efficiency cores on the newest MacBook Pro model also handles a lot of the low priority background tasks that the eight-core Intel Core i9 handles in last-gen MacBook Pro 16-inch, so that lets the eight performance cores of the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) handle more high intensity work like video editing.

The last-gen MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019) also uses a discrete GPU, a 7nm AMD Radeon Pro 5000M series chip. This is definitely a workhorse graphics processor, with up to 8GB GDDR6 VRAM and , but how well does this stack up against the Apple M1 Pro and M1 Max's integrated GPUs?

The Apple M1 Pro chip in the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) features 16 GPU cores, which is double what the Apple M1 chip featured, and uses unified memory rather than discrete VRAM, as in the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019), but with the M1 Pro supporting up to 32GB RAM, there shouldn't be much issue with memory because of this. 

Our own Jackie Thomas was able to run the numbers on the M1 Pro GPU and calculated a 1.26GHz clock speed for the GPU running at 30W, which is incredibly fast. 

The Apple M1 Max chip meanwhile cranks things up even more with 32-cores running at 100W, which makes its overall clock speed hard to determine with any precision, but lets just say its going to be an incredibly powerful graphics processor. 

Can a discrete AMD Radeon GPU hold up against this? No, no it can't, though that doesn't mean its a total lightweight either.

The MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019) was configurable up to 64GB RAM and 8TB SSD storage, making it a beast of a machine when it was released and remains one of the most powerful laptops you're going to find anywhere. Most Windows laptops don't even come near those kinds of specs, so even though the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) pushes things even farther, the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019) is definitely a second place contender, but a strong one in the grand scheme of things.

Design

When comparing the design of the Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019) vs MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021), you definitely get a mix of the old and the new.

The MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019) featured the same beefy silvery chassis that has become the standard Apple aesthetic, and the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) more or less keeps that aesthetic with some minor tweaks around the edges. 

The MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019) featured four Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports, so there is plenty of room for added peripherals, but with up to an 8TB SSD, who needs an external storage drive? 

The MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021), meanwhile, features three Thunderbolt 4 ports, an HDMI port, an SDXC card slot, and a MagSafe 3 port, so there are definitely a wider diversity of ports on the latest MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021).

The webcam on the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019) is the standard 720p that comes with almost every laptop on the market, with the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) being a notable exception with its full 1080p webcam, making it one of the best laptop webcams you're going to find anywhere.

Display

The display on the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019) is one of the best laptop displays ever made, measuring a 16-inch, 3,072 x 1,920 Retina display with backlit LED for up to 500 nits of brightness and covering a wide color P3 gamut.

The MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021), meanwhile, introduces the new mini-LED technology to the MacBook Pro, with a Liquid Retina display running at a native 3456 x 2234p and 120Hz refresh for the smoothest visuals yet.

Statistics showing an Apple MacBook Pro (2021) having significant battery life improvements over the 2019 model

(Image credit: Apple)

Battery Life

In our review of the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019), we measured its battery life at 11 hours and 41 minutes of continuous 1080p video playback, which is pretty impressive all things considered.

What Apple is claiming for the new MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) is rather incredible. For the 16-inch model, Apple is claiming a 21 hour battery life, which would put the new MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) in some very rarified company indeed. We won't know until we get the laptop in our hands to test it, but if true, this would be a very big deal.

One other thing to note, during the Apple unleashed event, the company disclosed that the new MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) would finally feature FastCharge technology that can charge the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) from 0 to 50% in 30 minutes (when used with the 96W USB-C power adapter, but not with the 67W), which would amount to about a full workday's worth of use for most of us. 

Again, this is another claim we'll have to test when we finally get our hands on one of these, but needless to say, this combined with nearly double the battery life of the last-gen model would put the new MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) well out in front on the energy efficiency and portability front.

John Loeffler

John (He / Him / His) is TechRadar's Computing Staff Writer and is also a programmer, gamer, activist, and Brooklyn College alum currently living in Brooklyn, NY. Named by the CTA as a CES 2020 Media Trailblazer for his science and technology reporting, John specializes in all areas of computer science, including industry news, hardware reviews, PC gaming, as well as general science writing and the social impact of the tech industry.


You can find him online on Twitter at @thisdotjohn


Currently playing: Back 4 Blood, Metroid Dread, EVE Online