Apple paints it black with its efficient, high-performance M3 range

Apple’s pre-Halloween Scary Fast event did indeed see the introduction of faster M3 series Mac notebooks capable of impressive computational performance at low power, equipped with more max memory than we ever thought we’d see in a Mac. These are indeed 3-nanometer chips, an industry first.

Despite earlier speculation, the Monday evening event didn’t see any games news, a new iPad mini, or USB-C across the company’s range of Magic accessories. The company did, however, introduce a new M3 — and removed the very last Mac with a touchbar from sale. 

What Apple introduced

As anticipated, Apple introduced the following three Macs, (with starting prices):

  • 14-in. MacBook Pro range with M3 ($1,599), M3 Pro ($1,999), or M3 Max ($3,199) processors.
  • 16-in. MacBook Pro range with M3 Pro ($2,499) or M3 Max ($3,499) chips.
  • 24-in. 4K Retina iMac with an M3 chip, from $1,299 (8-core GPU), or $1,499 (10-core GPU).
  • Support for Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.3 and the inclusion of 1080p videoconferencing cameras. (It might be time to invest in Wi-Fi 6E for business networks.)

M3 chips for dummies

Apple’s 3-nanometer M3 range has arrived in force. That they show up in shipping products so soon after Qualcomm introduced chips said to compete with the M2 processor may not be deliberate, but the story remains the same: Apple’s processors lead the industry.

The move to smaller processors has been accompanied by miniaturization in the transistors. The M3 offers 25 billion, up 20% on the M2. The M3 Pro brings 37 billion transistors, while the 40-core M3 Max delivers 92 billion.

As you’d expect, the three chips (M3, M3 Pro, M3 Max) all offer better performance at low power and have also been tweaked at a GPU level to deliver improved support for pro apps and games. That extends to powerful Dynamic Caching to support hardware-accelerated raytracing.

Apple says these processors run up to 11x faster than the fastest Intel-based MacBook Pro.

Given the sheer capability of the last Intel-powered 16-in. MacBook Pro I looked at, this is a giant leap in performance in just four years.

Speeds ‘n Feeds

Back in 2019, Apple used to pretend speed data didn’t matter. That was then.

These days, the company can’t seem to stop talking about the advantages of Apple Silicon. What follows are some of the flotilla of statistics the company chose to share to stake its speed claims:

  • Rendering speeds are up to 2.5x faster than the M1.
  • CPU performance cores and efficiency cores are 30% and 50% faster than those in M1. 
  • Neural Engine is 60% faster than the Neural Engine in the M1 family
  • The performance cores are up to 30% faster than those in the M1 family
  • The efficiency cores are up to 50% faster than the efficiency cores in M1.
  • The GPU is 65% faster than the M1.
  • Battery life reaches up to 22 hours.
  • The M3 chip supports up to 24GB of unified memory and one external display. If you need more, the range scales up to 128GB of unified memory with the M3 Max, or 36GB with M3 Pro. Apple promises up to 8TB storage.

It is important to point out that the M3 Pro and M3 Max surpass some of these claimed performance benchmarks.

It may also be important to recognize that the M3 Pro chip appears to have 25% less memory bandwidth (150GBps) than either the M1 Pro or M2 Pro (200GBps). That trade-off may balance out in real-world use, given improvements elsewhere on these systems, but it at least strikes a dull note in the choir.

What’s with the iMac?

The iMac is still the world’s best all-in-one desktop. Now that it’s equipped with an M3 chip, Apple promises performance that is twice as fast as the M1 models (and 4x faster than the 21.5-in. Intel model) — and it has a 4.5K Retina display. As the speed data above confirms, iMacs will be much faster in everything you use them for, from browsing to word processing to handling spreadsheets. As creative machines, they’ll process photos in Photoshop twice as fast and can edit three times as many streams for 4K video than before.

Apple promised that those upgrading from an Intel iMac will see performance four times faster than they squeezed from the most powerful 21.5-in. Intel iMac, and 2.5x the performance of the 27-in. models. Connectivity includes four USB-C ports, Gigabit Ethernet, and a six-speaker sound system. They’re available in green, yellow, orange, pink, purple, blue, and silver, and with color-matched accessories, but those accessories don’t ship with USB-C ports. Yet.

Less power, more performance

It is important to note Apple’s claims that you can now achieve serious performance at much lower power demands. The company said the M3 GPU will deliver the same performance as the M1 using nearly half the power, and up to 65% more performance at its peak.

That’s great in terms of battery life on mobile devices, but it will be an even bigger advantage to companies running fleets of Macs. It suggests the easy way to reduce your power bill is to invest in an M3 Mac.

Now, elsewhere I’ve come across comparisons that show that at maximum performance the M3 chips use slightly more energy than predecessors, but even so, it remains correct that the computational performance per watt in these machines should sell itself.

It means that over time, these chips will deliver just as much performance as any Intel-based fleet at approximately 50% the energy costs. That’s a significant saving in energy, and may also help larger companies achieve carbon reduction goals.

But what about…?

One unusual feature of Apple’s presentation was that it chose to make most of its comparisons between M1 and M3 chips.

While M2 processors did get a mention, it looks like Cupertino always wanted to get to M3. That chimes with speculation across the last couple of years that suggested the company had intended to get to 3-nanometer chips last year, but experienced yield problems at TSMC.

It also reflects that most M2 Mac purchasers won’t want to upgrade their devices yet. And while the majority of potential sales will belong to those upgrading from Windows or from Intel Macs, Apple clearly believes the first adopters of M1 machines are more likely to seek an upgrade now. (M1 MacBook Pro Editor’s note: can confirm.)

Another thing is cores. While the M2 Pro boasted eight performance and four efficiency cores, the M3 Pro has just six of each. The latter chip also has an 18-core GPU compared to the M2 Pro’s 19 such cores.

This means that while you gain significant improvements with the M3 or M3 Max chips, the M3 Pro only delivers around a 10% performance improvement overthe M2 Pro. The message seems to be: with these chips, you either go high, or stay low.

What it all means

What all this should mean in real terms is that developers can compile code faster, musicians will be able to use many hundreds of audio tracks in Logic Pro and game developers, animators, and video editors can get even higher quality work done faster than before. All three new Mac notebooks support the most popular video codecs: H.264, HEVC, ProRes, ProRes RAW, and now also AV1 decoding.

Of course, business is also data, and data scientists will certainly benefit from faster analysis of data and accelerated performance when building or experimenting with new models — even spreadsheet calculations will fly faster.

Paint it black

The new MacBook Pro color may turn out to be the most important improvement to many pro users, particularly in the C-suites: The highest end M3 Pro MacBook Pros are also sold in (Space) Black.

Filmed on an iPhone…

Apple’s entire October event was filmed on an iPhone. While that’s a nice plug for Apple and what its tech can do, it also means enterprise professionals can seriously consider using these devices to create internal presentations, training materials, keynote events, how-to guides, or any other filmed media. The company also published a behind-the-scenes video that showed some of the supporting kit, which included pro-grade lighting and sound – and a Mac on which to run the editing suite.

More information

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