Apple’s new M3 looks fast, but will it really be worth the u…

The new Apple M3 is “the most advanced chip ever created for a personal computer,” according to Apple. Launched during Apple’s “Scary Fast” event and featuring a new processor, the M3 promises up to 60% better performance in some apps. But would it really be worth upgrading from the M1 or M2?

We’ve already seen the M2 in action in devices like the Mac mini, and we’ll have to wait until the M3 launches to really know how it performs. But based on what we know right now, here’s how the M3 stacks up to the M2.

Before we get into this, it’s worth pointing out that we’re looking specifically at the M3 and M2 here. Apple offers M3 Pro and Max variants as well as the M2 Ultra, but we’re looking at the base chips.

Where can you get them?

A family looking at the iMac M3.

Apple doesn’t update its entire lineup of Macs with new chips immediately. Although it’s fair to assume that the M3 will eventually work its way into Apple’s product lineup, some devices are stuck on the M2. This can make the decision between chips easier if you’re looking for a particular device. Here are the Macs currently available with M2:

  • 13 inch macbook air
  • 15 inch macbook air
  • 13-inch MacBook Pro
  • mac mini

The M3 is available in only two devices to start: the 24-inch iMac and the 14-inch MacBook Pro. The 14-inch MacBook Pro with M3 will replace the 13-inch MacBook Pro with M2, but otherwise, the M2 and M3 devices will remain side-by-side.

This makes the pricing a bit interesting. Like the M2, Apple is offering the M3 with an eight-core or 10-core GPU, along with an eight-core CPU. The eight-core version of the 24-inch iMac starts at $1,300 and the 10-core version costs $1,500. A 14-inch MacBook Pro with M3 starts at $1,600, possibly with an eight-core GPU. It also comes with 8GB of integrated memory and 512GB of storage.

MacBook Pro open on wooden table.
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You can get the M2 for a much lower price. In the 13-inch MacBook Air, you’ll spend $1,100 or $1,400 for an 8-core or 10-core GPU, respectively. The 15-inch MacBook Air starts at $1,300 with a 10-core GPU. Not surprisingly, the Mac mini is quite cheap, with a 10-core M2 costing $600.

If you want instant access to the M3 in a MacBook, you’ll have to spend more. However, we expect Apple to transition the M3 into products like the Mac Mini in the future, so it may be best to wait if you’re not interested in one of the products Apple currently offers. It’s also worth saying that the new M3 iMac is completely replacing the M1 model and will sell for the same price.

What’s different under the hood?

Apple's M3 chip family.

Both M2 and M3 are similar in terms of overall core count. They both come with an eight-core CPU along with an eight-core or 10-core GPU. Once again, Apple is using unified memory on a system-on-a-chip (SoC), with the M3 topping out at 24GB like the M2. The more expensive M3 Pro and M3 Max chips can support up to 128GB, so we may see a bump in other devices with the M3 line in the future.

The big difference between the M2 and M3 is under the hood. The M3 is the first chip to use a 3nm process, while the M2 uses a 5nm node. This means that the M3 can pack more transistors into the same space, resulting in higher performance and better efficiency. The M3 is capable of packing 25 billion transistors, which is 5 billion more than the M2.

Apple is also promoting an entirely new GPU architecture for the M3. This new architecture focuses on a feature called dynamic caching, which is claimed to provide higher performance by allocating local memory in real-time. Apple claims this is an industry first, serving as a “cornerstone” for the new GPU architecture.

In addition to dynamic caching, the M3 is the first chip in Apple’s lineup to support hardware-accelerated ray tracing and mesh shading. These are the two key features of DirectX 12 on PC, and it looks like Apple finally has the mix of hardware to enable support through its Metal API. These features may help some pro apps, but they seem aimed squarely at gaming. More games are supporting ray tracing and some titles, like alan wake 2, Mesh shaders are required to run properly.

Apple has also added an “advanced” Neural Engine to the M3, which is said to deliver 60% more performance in AI workloads than the M1. Unfortunately, Apple didn’t offer a direct comparison to the M2 on this front.

What about performance?

The M2 chip is showcased at Apple's WWDC keynote.

We haven’t tested the M3 yet, so we only have to go on Apple’s claims about the chip’s performance. What further complicates matters is that Apple focused primarily on performance compared to the M1, not the M2. Presumably, this is because the 24-inch iMac never saw an upgrade to M2.

Still, we can estimate the performance based on the comparison of M1 and M2. Apple says the M3 offers 35% more CPU performance overall than the M1, or the same performance at half the power. Based on our MacBook Air M2 review results, we saw that the M2 outperformed the M1 by about 18% in multi-core performance. This sets the M3 up for a similar bump in CPU performance, which is an expected increase in performance, even if it isn’t very exciting.

The big jump seems to come from the redesigned GPU. Apple says the M3’s GPU delivers 65% more performance than the M1, which is a huge jump. It’s hard to explain how it compares to the M2 – the new features of the M3 GPU could give it a big advantage depending on the game or app. But it’s safe to assume that the M3 will offer a greater increase in GPU performance than CPU performance, at least compared to the M2.

We won’t know for sure how the M3 performs compared to the M2 until we get a chance to test the chip. However, we are expecting a bigger jump from M2 to M3 than from M1, and this comes down to the 3nm node.

About a year ago, we heard rumors that Apple delayed the “real” M2 to 2023. According to the report, the original M2 was to be built on the 3nm node, but Apple reversed course and built it on a refined version of 5nm. The node that M1 used. The fact that we saw a performance improvement with the M2 was a miracle in itself, even though it did involve overheating of the chips under the hood. We’re now seeing a real bump in efficiency in the M3, and it should be significant.

waiting game for now

A 24-inch iMac with Civilization VI running on it.
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Of course, the performance improvements the M3 brings are significant, but Apple has carefully curated the list of products in which you’ll find the M3 and M2. For the 24-inch iMac, Apple is probably offering several times better performance. At the same price as the M1 model. We’ll probably see discounts on the M1 24-inch iMac once the M3 version is released, but it’s hard to imagine it offering a better value given how old the M1 version is at this point.

The conversation will get more messy as the M3 works its way through Apple’s product stack. Once we see the M3 available in the MacBook Air and Mac mini, you’ll have to weigh the price of the M2 models against the newer versions. However, for now we can only wait until we get a chance to test the M3 to see what it’s capable of.

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