Rumors about the M3 have been all over the map, but in this evening’s “Scary Fast” stream,1 Apple unveiled not one, but three new Apple silicon chips: the M3, the M3 Pro and the M3 Max, all built on a 3 nanometer process.
This marks the first time since transitioning away from Intel that Apple has unveiled both the entry-level and upper-end options of a new generation of chips at the same time. Here’s a recap of how things have been rolled out so far:
- November 2020: M1
- October 2021: M1 Pro & M1 Max
- March 2022: M1 Ultra
- June 2022: M2
- January 2023: M2 Pro & M2 Max
- June 2023: M2 Ultra
The new line of SoCs follows the basic template laid out by its predecessor processors. The M3 is the basic chip that will power Apple’s consumer devices, with the Pro and Max building upon it in both CPU and GPU core counts. The real change is that they are all here at once, with just the (assumed) M3 Ultra coming later.
Obviously we don’t know everything that went into this decision, but I can’t help but think that Apple is pushing back against some of the reporting that it is off its game when it comes to silicon.
Down in the spooky chip lab, we learned that Apple focused on the GPU side of things with a new feature named “Dynamic Caching,” which it says is an industry-first method of allocating memory in real time to improve performance. Hardware-accelerated ray tracing and hardware-accelerated mesh shading come to the Mac for the first time thanks to this work.
The CPU gains look more in line with what we would expect. If you’re coming from an Intel machine, your hair is going to be blown back, but I don’t think I’m trading in my M2 Pro MacBook Pro. More exciting news is that the M3 chip includes hardware support for the decoding the AV1 codec. I figured Apple would jump on this, as it can improve battery life when streaming video.
With all that aside, let’s talk about the products that are being powered by this new silicon.
The iMac was the first Mac designed from the ground-up for Apple silicon. Introduced in April 2021, the 24-inch iMac is just 11.5 millimeters thin and comes in a range of fantastic colors that harkened back to the machine’s glory days.
This iMac never got an M2, however, leading some to worry about Apple’s plans for the machine. Worry no more, for the iMac is now powered by the M3, and still comes in the same jaw-dropping enclosure.
Here’s a bit from Apple’s press release:
iMac with M3 is up to 2x faster than the prior generation with M1.1 And for those upgrading from an Intel-based iMac, the new iMac is up to 2.5x faster than the most popular 27-inch models,2 and 4x faster than the most powerful 21.5-inch model.3 It also features an expansive 4.5K Retina display with 11.3 million pixels and over a billion colors, faster wireless connectivity, and a seamless experience with iPhone.
Sadly, a larger iMac still remains elusive. During the event, John Ternus said that the 4.5K display is a great replacement for previous models, but there are plenty of users who want or need a larger screen.2 Hooking a Mac mini or Mac Studio up to a Studio Display just isn’t the same thing for those wanting to live the all-in-one lifestyle.
Many folks expected Apple to switch the iMac’s input devices over to USB-C and away from Lightning. As Jason Snell reports, that didn’t happen:
If you were hoping that Apple might use this update to the iMac to continue its slow eradication of the Lightning port from its accessory line, I have bad news. Despite it seeming like the perfect time for Apple to fix the charging port on the Magic Mouse and the arrow keys on the Magic Keyboard and add a Touch ID surface to the Magic Trackpad, none of those things happened. They all still charge via Lightning. Same as it ever was.
The dream of an all-USB-C life is still just out of reach, but I don’t think anyone needs to riot outside of Apple Park over this one. It’s a bummer, but not a deal-breaker at this point. Check back in the next time the iMac is updated.3
Despite being updated fewer than 10 months ago, the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro have been revised as well, now powered by the M3, M3 Pro and Max.
Yes, for the first time, the entry-level SoC is in a 14-inch machine. The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is gone. The M3-powered 14-inch notebook starts at $1,599, which is higher than the Touch Bar machine’s $1,299 starting price, which it shared with the 15-inch Air.
Either way, I’m glad to see that old machine go.
Here’s how Apple describes the new machines:
With a next-generation GPU architecture and a faster CPU, the M3 family brings even more performance and remarkable new capabilities to MacBook Pro. The new 14‑inch MacBook Pro with M3 is not only great for everyday tasks, but also delivers phenomenal sustained performance in pro apps and games. Perfect for aspiring creatives, students, and entrepreneurs, it now starts at $1,599. The 14- and 16‑inch MacBook Pro with M3 Pro provides even greater performance and additional unified memory support, enabling more demanding workflows for users like coders, creatives, and researchers. The 14- and 16‑inch MacBook Pro with M3 Max delivers performance and capabilities that push the limits of computing. With a monster GPU and a powerful CPU, along with support for up to 128GB of unified memory, MacBook Pro with M3 Max enables extreme workflows and multitasking across pro apps for users like machine learning programmers, 3D artists, and video editors. M3 Pro and M3 Max models also now come in space black, a gorgeous dark aluminum finish.
That Space Black replaces Space Gray on the M3 Pro and M3 Max MacBook Pros and it looks great online. Once again, Snell has more:
I got my greasy money paws on a Space Black laptop and can report that Apple’s as good as its word in the sense that it seems generally more resistant to fingerprints and other smudges.
But I don’t want to exaggerate this feature: you can still see fingerprints. They just aren’t as prominent. This is a progressive improvement over something like the Midnight M2 MacBook Air, but it’s not a cure-all.
Similarly, I need to warn you not to get too excited about Apple finally making a black MacBook Pro. Space Black is not actually as black as space. It’s a dark gray. Yes, it’s appreciably darker than the Space Gray on the current MacBook Pros (and the new base model), but it’s still a shimmery metallic gray. Fans of Darth Vader stand down.
If you have an M1 or M2-based MacBook Pro, I think you’re still good to hold onto it, unless the new memory capacity or AV1 decoding will enhance your workflows in meaningful ways.
With the M3 line, Apple continues to impress. Its silicon team seems to be doing just fine, and delivering three new SoCs at once seems to indicate that the company isn’t worried about production yields or capacity. These upgrades are incremental in nature, but that’s just fine, and should be expected. The move to its own silicon gave Apple an amazing foundation to build upon, and that’s exactly what the company is doing with the M3 line.
Despite these updates, Apple didn’t turn over the whole Mac line today. The MacBook Air and Mac mini remain unchanged, with the M2 inside, and without an M3 Ultra in the world yet, the Mac Studio and Mac Pro also remain unchanged. (Given that these were updated at WWDC, they will be just fine until sometime next year.)
Oh, and the $549 AirPods Max this person is wearing are getting pretty long in the tooth, but I suppose that’s an announcement for another day.
- There’s no clear reason as to why Apple streamed this event at 5 PM Pacific other than the company thought it would be fun. In addition to the unusual time, the fact that select members of the press were briefed hours before the event just add to the mystery of this one. One cool note? The event was shot on an iPhone 15 Pro Max. ↩
- Personally, I don’t think I could cram my work into a 24.5-inch display, but the lack of a Pro-level SoC is the bigger show stopper. 24 GB of unified memory and 2 TB of storage just aren’t enough for me. ↩
- Apple, while you’re in there, please give us a backlit option. ↩