Apple lifts the sheet on a trio of 'scary fast' M3 SoCs built on a 3nm process
MacBook Pro and iMac get the new silicon, and price tags up to a terrifying $7,199
Apple has announced its M3 silicon, claimed they are the first CPUs for desktop computers built on a three-nanometre process, and packed them into its MacBook Pro and iMac products.
Announced at an event it named "Scary Fast" on Monday night, the M3 lineup includes a base model, plus Pro and Max variants.
The iGiant claimed the base M3 delivers a substantial performance boost compared to previous Apple Silicon releases thanks to a new 3nm process node and improved CPU and GPU architectures.
Apple claims the new chips' performance cores (p-cores) are as much as 30 percent faster compared to its first homebrew desktop silicon design, the M1. The M3’s efficiency cores (e-cores) are said to be up to 50 percent faster this time around. Compared to last year's M2, performance gains are a more modest 15 percent for the p-cores and 30 percent on the e-cores.
Speaking of efficiency, Johny Srouji, Apple's SVP of hardware, said the chip can deliver the same level of performance as M1 while using half the power.
M3 also features a new GPU architecture that adds support for hardware-accelerated ray tracing and mesh shading. The GPU cores also incorporate a new dynamic caching feature designed to improve utilization. Put together, the company says M3's GPU cores will deliver roughly 1.8x the rendering performance compared to its predecessor the M2 and 2.5x that of the M1.
Of course, we recommend you take Apple's performance claims with a healthy dose of salt here. The company has a history of making nebulous claims backed by unlabelled charts about the performance of its M-series silicon, especially when it comes to comparisons of their graphics-processing powers.
Looking at the system on chip (SoC) itself, the M3 comes equipped with a total of eight CPU cores evenly split between performance and efficiency duties. This is complemented by either an eight or 10 core GPU and between 8GB and 24GB of on-package memory. Yep, it's almost 2024, and Apple is still shipping PCs with 8GB of RAM.
M3 will initially ship alongside a refreshed iMac and a new lower-priced 14-inch MacBook Pro — both with a tiny 256GB SSD — starting at $1,299 and $1,599 respectively. The latter also appears to feature a single fan for cooling.
Beyond this, the iMac and MacBook Pro are largely unchanged – on the outside, at least, other than a new space black colour an upgraded XDR display that's now capable of hitting 600 nits of brightness when displaying standard def content, but it still tops out at 1,600 nits peak brightness when playing HDR content.
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M3 Pro and Max-Books
Apple's more powerful Pro and Max SoCs are available in the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro. The iMac only gets the base M3.
In past generations of M-series silicon the only real difference between the Pro and Max chips was the number of accessible GPU cores.
With M3, Apple has taken the opportunity to further differentiate the chips with a new core arrangement.
M3 Pro Macs can be had with up to six performance and six efficiency cores for a total of 12. On the base model M3 Pro, only one of the performance cores has been disabled, rather than two on past chips. The new arrangement differs from the asymmetric core counts found on the M1 Pro and M2 Pro, which featured up to eight p-cores and between two and four e-cores.
The M3's CPU cores are complemented by a GPU with either 14 or 18 cores and between 18GB and 36GB (no that's not a typo) of on-package memory that's good for 150GB/s of bandwidth, 25 percent less than prior Pro chips.
By comparison, the M3 Max is more reminiscent of past M-series silicon with four e-cores paired with your choice of 10 or 12 p-cores. Opting for the Max also more than doubles the GPU cores of the Pro chips to either 30 or 40.
In terms of memory, the M3 Max comes equipped with between 36GB and 128GB of onboard memory. Memory bandwidth appears to vary depending on memory configuration, with the base M3 Max starting at 300GB/s and going up to 400GB/s.
A base model 14-inch MacBook Pro with an M3 Pro will set you back $1,999, while the M3 Max variant starts at $3,199 and can be cost $6,899 if you add all available options. It's a similar story with the 16-inch model, which starts at $2,499 and can be configured up to $7,199 — if you've got the inclination and cash acquire an 8TB SSD and 128GB of memory.
Apple's latest silicon usually make its way into the rest of the Mac range by its mid-year Worldwide Developer Conference.
The launch of Apple's M3 silicon comes less than a week after Qualcomm unveiled its upcoming Snapdragon X Elite which promises to deliver about 50 percent higher multicore performance compared to Apple's M2 when it arrives in mid-2024.
As we previously pointed out, if these claims hold true, that will see the chip achieve multicore CPU performance parity with the M2 Pro and M2 Max.
Apple's announcement also comes days after Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger downplayed Arm competitors as a threat to the company's PC business. The x86 giant's Core Ultra processors, codenamed Meteor Lake, are due out Dec. 14. The chips are Intel's first mobile processors to feature a chiplet architecture melding cores Intel made itself with other components fabricated by TSMC. ®
Editor's note: This article was revised after publication to clarify the memory bandwidth of the M3 Pro and Max.