For the second time this year, Apple has a new round of MacBook Pros to evaluate with the upgraded M3 lineup. This time around, Apple is releasing the M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max at the same time. Apple is also bringing the 14-inch MacBook Pro price down with the M3 version, although only M3 Pro and M3 Max versions have 16-inch options and the new space black color.
Perhaps the single most important detail to review this cycle: Apple’s war on fingerprints with space black. TechCrunch touches on that:
Apple fans love a new color. In the case of the MacBook line, it could be attributable to the fact that there’s little variation in the laptops’ aluminum design. The last few generations have traded almost exclusively in space gray and silver (dark and light gray, essentially). The new Airs opened this up a bit, however, with the addition of starlight (a subtle light-gold) and midnight (a much darker gray). The space black is a nice addition. It gives off a nice glow when the light hits it. The biggest thing here, however, is the fingerprint factor. The Airs I’ve tested were silver and starlight, so I can’t really speak to this directly, but the midnight Air is a notorious fingerprint magnet. There are pages and pages of conversations about it on Reddit, including “tips” for a fingerprint-free midnight Mac. Have you tried typing in gloves? Not easy.
Apple describes the new color in the most Apple way possible, “The finish features a breakthrough chemistry that forms an anodization seal to greatly reduce fingerprints.” The company hasn’t perfected the wholly fingerprint-proof surface, but the new finish does an excellent job keeping things to a minimum.
The Verge has words for the 8GB RAM configuration in the $1599 14-inch MacBook Pro:
I have a personal stake in finding the answer. I, a dum-dum, was trying to save money and bought a base-model 15-inch M2 Air with just 8GB of RAM a few months ago. I regret that decision immensely. The short of it is, as soon as I open a 20th tab, the beachballing begins. Could I nothave several dozen tabs open? Sure, but in 2023, it’s not too much to ask for a $1,300 computer to connect to a monitor and keep its shit together when you have 20 to 30 tabs open. I don’t care what people say online. In my experience, RAM still matters, and it’s silly that the base model only gets you 8GB. Of course, spend within your means, but I think it behooves everyone to get at least 16GB these days. Don’t be me
On the performance front, ArsTechnica test drove the M3 Max:
Apple doesn’t sell its Ultra chips in laptops, reserving them instead for high-end Mac Studio desktops and the Mac Pro, where the chips are easy to cool. But the M3 Max’s performance is as close as we’ve seen to Ultra-level performance in Apple’s laptops so far, matching or outrunning the M1 Ultra’s CPU performance and coming very close to matching the M2 Ultra’s CPU performance. GPU performance still isn’t quite as good—it’s hard for 40 cores to outrun 64 or 72 cores, even with Apple’s generational improvements. But the M1 Ultra is usually only 10 or 20 percent faster than the M3 Max, much closer than you’d expect the two to be based on core count alone.
Moving past Mac-on-Mac comparisons, comparing the M3 Max to current high-end PC chips paints an even more impressive picture of its performance and efficiency.
The M3 Max’s can get pretty close to the single- and multi-core performance of high-end desktop PC chips like the AMD Ryzen 9 7950X and Intel Core i9-14900K, which is seriously impressive given that the M3 Max can fit into a laptop, and those are both top-tier consumer desktop chips that are drawing huge amounts of power and generating large amounts of heat. Generally, the M3 Max is closer in lighter tests like Geekbench, but it falls behind a bit in heavier tests like Cinebench or our Handbrake video encoding test, where the desktops’ effectively unlimited thermal headroom let them run faster for longer.
CNET also got behind the wheel of an M3 Max:
A lot of the performance increase I see in the M3 Max over the M2 Max is the general lift you get from increasing the core frequency, the number of cores and how they’re distributed. But it also (as with everything) depends on what you’re doing. No matter what you’ll get a significant bump in multicore performance thanks to the individual increases in single-core speed. But, for instance, Geekbench 6 CPU tests reflect general usage, while Cinebench concentrates specifically on rendering. General-purpose GPU computation, as reflected by Geekbench’s Metal test, didn’t increase much, going from 38 old cores to 40 new ones. But rendering speed as measured by Cinebench more than doubled.
For a sense of practical scale within the M3 line, the MacBook Pro 14 with the base processor took just under 20 minutes to import (with lens corrections on import) and simultaneously create full-resolution previews of around 1,000 raw+JPEG photos and videos; the MacBook 16 Pro took just over 8.5 minutes. Lightroom import and thumbnail generation is CPU and memory-bound, which explains much of the difference.
The MacBook Pro 16 is generally a terrific piece of hardware, matched by an operating system that makes the most of it, at least for performance. If you need the speed, it’s worth the dough.
If you prefer to watch, here are some video reviews at embargo time:
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