In just three years of existence, Apple’s self-developed M series chips have completely overhauled the computing industry, forcing what used to be Intel-reliant laptop makers to explore using ARM-based silicon (mostly from Qualcomm).
With Apple’s M2 Max still outperforming all challengers, Apple has released the M3 series, and the highest tier chip, the M3 Max, further increases the lead. I’ve been testing a M3 Max powered 16-inch MacBook Pro, and it is an absolute powerhouse of a computer, offering desktop-class power in a portable form factor.
The overall shape and dimensions of the 16-inch MacBook remains unchanged, with a new darker grey color (Apple calls it Space Black) as the only real differentiating factor. The 16.2-inch screen also gets a bit brighter, but you will hardly notice the difference. It’s still a great looking Mini-LED panel with excellent contrast ratio and color reproduction. There are still a lot of ports (for an Apple laptop, at least), including a three USB-C, HDMI, and a Micro-SD card slot. Construction is premium, of course, though the machine is a bit hefty at 4.8 pounds. But really, if you’ve seen a recent 16-inch MacBook Pro, you’ve seen this thing. What’s noteworthy is the new chip.
Built on 3-nanometer architecture, the M3 Max contains 93 billion transistors (the more of these, the more raw power the chip can push), and has an increased CPU core count up to 16, and a whopping 40 GPU cores. In layman’s terms: this is a lot of processing power.
But Apple’s M chips have been more than just about raw power, but also efficiency. Apple silicon are built on the same architecture as smartphone chips, so they’re small in size, and have all the computing bits in one place for better synergy and efficiency. This means the chip uses less power and sustains peak performance for longer periods. The M3 Max continues this strength. I use my computer mostly for writing/reading words and editing videos. The former task barely scratches the surface of the M3 Max’s power, so I can literally have 20-plus tabs opened in Chrome along with Spotify, Slack, Twitter, and Adobe Lightroom running in background, and the machine doesn’t slow down or get warm. When I edit 4K video footage on Final Cut Pro, the machine can get occasionally warm, but still not enough to necessitate the fan. And it still does not slow down at all.
I’ve connected the MacBook Pro to two external monitors and had these apps opened: Chrome with 20-plus tabs, Final Cut Pro, Spotify, Slack, Adobe Lightroom, Twitter, Safari playing a YouTube video, and the machine still didn’t bog down. I could immediately cycle through all the apps without any delay.
The only thing I could do to get the machine warm enough that the fan needed to turn on was for gaming, and I’ve been doing a lot of that lately, thanks to Apple.
Remember earlier when I said Apple broke conventional thinking and flipped the computing industry upside down by going with ARM-based silicon instead of Intel? The U.S. tech giant is aiming to do the same with gaming, which for the longest time was a Windows computer specialty.
Apple’s been pouring in the resources to improve gaming on Mac computers, partnering with iconic video game makers Capcom and Hideo Kojima to port AAA titles over MacOS. With Apple’s brand power and wide ecosystem, video game developers are obviously quick to jump on board.
This is also where the M3 Max’s biggest improvements come in: the GPU has been significantly upgraded to handle hardware-accelerated ray tracing, a real-time lighting technology used in computer generated graphics. To support this Apple introduced a new feature called “Dynamic Caching” to the M3 chips, which allows the silicon to understand the exact memory needed for each task and dynamically reallocate resources. This allows Apple to use a unified memory structure (in which the RAM is shared between CPU and GPU), unlike Windows machines, which needed dedicated RAM for different tasks. Again, it’s all about efficiency, and Apple’s M chips are turning computers into a more seamless operation like smartphones.
I played a lot of games growing up, but I gave up the hobby a decade ago when work and adult life began taking up too much time. For the past decade, I prided myself in only having hobbies that were at least semi-productive to my health and wellbeing, such as cycling, reading, photography, and playing drums. For 10 years, I didn’t own a video game console, nor did I play games on any computer.
But the MacBook Pro may have reignited my long dormant hobby. Apple told me to properly review this machine I should try gaming, so Apple loaned me a PlayStation controller, along with a coupon code to download some games. I downloaded Shadows of the Tomb Raider and NBA 2K24, the latter a video game series I grew up playing in my teens.
I booted up both games and was amazed at the graphics. The controller paired seamlessly, and within a couple of minutes I was playing like I was in high school again.
Here’s where things could get scary for me: in the past, my console gaming habit had to at least require me to be at home. Now, with the MacBook being a completely portable device, I could play anywhere. In fact, I spent a two hour layover recently playing NBA 2K at the airport instead of doing what I would usually do—catch up on emails or walk around the airport.
Apple’s silicon is so efficient that I am not seeing much performance dip when the machine is on battery power. The framerate does dip a bit, but not so much that graphics look choppy. And battery life is unbelievably good. Even a two hour gaming session only drained about 50% battery. This means I could game for four hours on the MacBook Pro completely without any power supply. A Windows gaming laptop could go an hour to two hours at most if not plugged in to a wall socket.
So, as a product reviewer, I am very impressed by the power and efficiency of the MacBook Pro with M3 Max. But I am a bit concerned about it being so good it’s reignited an unhealthy hobby I gave up a decade ago. But I suppose with any new technology, the responsibility to avoid misuse lies with the user, not the machine. Apple’s doing its job here: making an extremely powerful, do-it-all machine that can serve people well for work and play.
It’s not cheap, however. The 16-inch M3 Max MacBook Pro starts at $3,500, with my higher spec’ed model with 128GB unified memory and 8TB storage going for $7,200. But very few people need to go this all out on a laptop. You can find a middle configuration at around $4,000 that will be enough for 99% of people. Still a high price, but for a machine that can do it all? I don’t think it’s overpriced. This is bleeding edge technology that’s lapping the competition.
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