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Apple’s economical, high-performance M3 line paints it black.

The Mac lineup is set to become significantly speedier and more capable. As Apple prepares for the Windows upgrade season, it will improve computing performance even further.

Apple’s pre-Halloween Scary Fast event did, in fact, see the launch of speedier M3 series Mac laptops capable of outstanding computational performance at low power, as well as more max memory than we ever imagined seeing in a Mac. These are 3-nanometer chips, a first in the industry.

Despite early conjecture, there was no news about games, a new iPad mini, or USB-C throughout the company’s Magic accessories at the Monday evening event. The company did, however, offer a new M3 — and discontinued the last Mac with a touchbar. 

What Apple launched

Apple, as expected, released the following three Macs (with starting prices):

  • M3 ($1,599), M3 Pro ($1,999), or M3 Max ($3,199) processors are available for the 14-inch MacBook Pro.
  • 16-inch MacBook Pro models with M3 Pro ($2,499) or M3 Max ($3,499) processors.
  • 24-inch 4K Retina iMac with Apple M3 processor, starting at $1,299 (8-core GPU) or $1,499 (10-core GPU).
  • Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.3 support, as well as 1080p video conferencing cameras, are included. (For business networks, it may be time to invest in Wi-Fi 6E.)

M3 chips for novices

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

The transition to smaller processors has been accompanied by transistor miniaturization. The M3 offers 25 billion, a 20% increase over the M2. The M3 Pro has 37 billion transistors, while the M3 Max has 92 billion.

The three chips (M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max) all offer better low-power performance and have been tweaked at the GPU level to provide better support for pro apps and games. This includes powerful Dynamic Caching for hardware-accelerated raytracing.

According to Apple, these processors are up to 11 times faster than the fastest Intel-based MacBook Pro.

Given the raw power of the last Intel-powered 16-inch MacBook Pro I looked at, this is a massive improvement in performance in just four years.

Feeds and Speeds

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

The company can’t seem to stop talking about the benefits of Apple Silicon these days. The following are some of the statistics that the company chose to share in order to back up its speed claims:

  • Rendering times are up to 2.5 times faster than on the M1.
  • CPU performance and efficiency cores are 30% and 50% faster, respectively, than in M1. 
  • The Neural Engine is 60% faster than the M1 family’s Neural Engine.
  • The performance cores are up to 30% faster than the M1 cores.
  • The efficiency cores in M2 are up to 50% faster than those in M1.
  • The GPU outperforms the M1 by 65%.
  • The battery can last up to 22 hours.
  • Up to 24GB of unified memory and one external display are supported by the M3 chip. If you require more memory, the M3 Max has 128GB of unified memory, while the M3 Pro has 36GB. Apple promises up to 8TB of storage space.

It is worth noting that the M3 Pro and M3 Max outperform some of these claimed performance benchmarks.

It’s also worth noting that the M3 Pro chip appears to have 25% less memory bandwidth (150GBps) than the M1 or M2 Pro chips (200GBps). Given other improvements on these systems, that trade-off may balance out in real-world use, but it strikes a dull note in the choir.

What’s the deal with the iMac?

The iMac is still the best all-in-one desktop computer in the world. With an M3 chip, Apple promises twice the performance of the M1 models (and four times faster than the 21.5-inch Intel model) — and it has a 4.5K Retina display. As the above speed data confirms, iMacs will be much faster in everything you use them for, from browsing to word processing to spreadsheet manipulation. As creative machines, they will process photos in Photoshop twice as quickly and edit three times as many 4K video streams as before.

Apple promises that those upgrading from an Intel iMac will see four times the performance of the most powerful 21.5-inch Intel iMac and 2.5x the performance of the 27-inch models. Four USB-C ports, Gigabit Ethernet, and a six-speaker sound system round out the connectivity. They come in green, yellow, orange, pink, purple, blue, and silver, with color-matched accessories, but those accessories do not include USB-C ports. Yet.

More performance with less power

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

This is great for mobile device battery life, but it will be even better for businesses with fleets of Macs. It suggests that purchasing an M3 Mac is a simple way to reduce your power bill.

Now, I’ve seen comparisons that show that at maximum performance, the M3 chips use slightly more energy than predecessors, but the computational performance per watt in these machines should sell itself.

This means that over time, these chips will deliver the same performance as any Intel-based fleet while using half the energy. This represents a significant energy savings and may also assist larger companies in meeting their carbon reduction targets.

But what about…?

Apple’s presentation was notable for making the majority of its comparisons between M1 and M3 chips.

While M2 processors were mentioned, it appears that Cupertino has always wanted to get to M3. This is consistent with speculation over the last few years that the company intended to reach 3-nanometer chips last year, but ran into yield issues at TSMC.

It also reflects the fact that the majority of M2 Mac buyers will not want to upgrade their devices just yet. While the majority of potential buyers will be those upgrading from Windows or Intel Macs, Apple clearly believes that the first adopters of M1 machines will be more likely to seek an upgrade now. (Editor’s note: M1 MacBook Pro can confirm.)

Another consideration is cores. Whereas the M2 Pro had eight performance cores and four efficiency cores, the M3 Pro only has six of each. In addition, the latter chip has an 18-core GPU as opposed to the M2 Pro’s 19 cores.

This means that, while the M3 or M3 Max chips provide significant improvements, the M3 Pro only provides a 10% performance improvement over the M2 Pro. The message appears to be: either go high or stay low with these chips.

What it all means

All of this should mean that developers can compile code faster, musicians can use hundreds of audio tracks in Logic Pro, and game developers, animators, and video editors can produce higher-quality work faster than before. The most popular video codecs are supported by all three new Mac notebooks: H.264, HEVC, ProRes, ProRes RAW, and now AV1 decoding.

Of course, business is data, and data scientists will undoubtedly benefit from faster data analysis and accelerated performance when developing or testing new models — even spreadsheet calculations will be faster.

Paint it black

The new MacBook Pro color may prove to be the most significant improvement for many professional users, particularly those in the C-suite: The most expensive M3 Pro MacBook Pros are also available in (Space) Black.

Shot on an iPhone…

The entire October event was captured on an iPhone. While this is a nice plug for Apple and its technology, it also means that enterprise professionals should seriously consider using these devices to create internal presentations, training materials, keynote events, how-to guides, and other filmed media. The company also released a behind-the-scenes video showing some of the supporting equipment, which included professional-grade lighting and sound – as well as a Mac to run the editing suite.

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