Apple’s confusing laptop family finally makes sense this year. The long-rumored 15-inch MacBook Air arrived months ago, and the company surprised us by delivering two MacBook Pro revisions in less than 12 months. While I appreciated the speed bump that the M2 Pro models brought, the new M3-equipped MacBook Pro 14- and 16-inch are a clearer sign of where Apple is headed. The company has killed off the long-suffering 13-inch MacBook Pro, which was cursed with a Touch Bar and an aging design. Now, its Pro machines are truly geared towards professionals, while the Air models are meant for everyone else.
Curiously, though, Apple also seems to be dividing those professionals into more distinct subgroups. The cheaper $1,599 14-inch MacBook Pro sports a plain M3 chip, which has an 8-core CPU and 10-core GPU. It’s an entirely new addition to the lineup, and consequently it seems tailor-made for people who want something more than a MacBook Air, but don’t need the power of a $2,000 machine. It’s equipped with a mere 8GB of RAM — a limitation you’ll likely feel as browser tabs stack up — and it loses a USB-C port on its right side.
If you’re actually going to be doing any multimedia work, you can bump up to the $1,999 14-inch M3 Pro model, which features an 11-core CPU and 14-core GPU. You’ll have to shell out $2,399 to get the full power of the M3 Pro with a 12-core CPU and 18-core GPU. And demanding users can jump to the $3,199 M3 Max model, sporting a 14-core CPU and 30-core GPU. Pricing hasn’t changed at all for the 16-inch MacBook Pro, which still starts at $2,499 with an M3 Pro chip. Notably, the bigger MacBook Pro can be equipped with a 40-core GPU M3 Max chip for $3,999.
Both MacBook Pro models can also come in a “Space Black” finish, which features a new anodization finish to reduce fingerprints. (Unfortunately, it’s not available for the base M3 14-inch MacBook Pro, another slight knock against that machine.) While the color looks more charcoal gray in person, it’s darker than Apple’s previous “Space Gray” MacBook Pros. And in my testing, it definitely attracted less fingerprint grease than the pure black “Midnight” MacBook Air (though it certainly wasn’t perfect). I’m just hoping Apple can eventually produce a Midnight variant of the MacBook Pro that fares better with fingerprints. And don’t worry, the classic silver option is still around.
The 16-inch MacBook Pro with M3 Max.
Other than that new color, though, not much has changed about the overall design of the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros, which were refreshed in 2021. Their refined, all-aluminum design was a big step forward from Apple’s older unibody cases, which stuck around for almost a decade. Both computers feature gorgeous 14- and 16-inch Liquid Retina XDR displays, which offer HDR, refresh rates up to 120Hz with ProMotion, and up to 1,600 nits of peak HDR brightness. (One nifty upgrade: They now offer up to 600 nits of SDR brightness, instead of 500 nits.) And yes, the notch everyone made fun of is still around, and once again it houses a 1080p webcam.
I’m not complaining, mind you. This MacBook Pro redesign was a major improvement when it debuted two years ago, and it still looks great today. I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple sticks with it for years, just like it did the old unibody design. While some PC-makers are eager to throw in features to make their computers stand out — like the rear LED lights on ASUS’s Zephyrus G14 and m16 — there’s something casually cool and confident about these MacBook Pros.
You might be wondering why we’re reviewing both the 14-inch and 16-inch models together – to put it simply, they’re practically the same machine with different screen sizes. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, it really depends on your needs. If you’re a video editor working on large project timelines, it makes sense to go for the biggest screen possible, especially since you can cram in that 40-core GPU. And if you need something more compact, the smaller model makes more sense as it weighs just 3.5 pounds, while the 16-inch is a back-aching 4.7 pounds.
I tested the 14-inch MacBook Pro with an M3 chip and 16GB of RAM, as well as the 16-inch model with an M3 Max and a whopping 128GB of RAM. (Unfortunately, we couldn’t get our hands on an M3 Pro model to compare, but we’ll update our benchmarks once we do.) To be honest, both computers performed exactly as I expected. The 14-inch M3 MacBook Pro is still a zippy little devil for general productivity work — in my case, that’s with dozens of browser tabs, Slack, Evernote, Spotify and Pixelmator Pro all at once. The 16-inch model, on the other hand, was practically begging for more serious workloads. (Perhaps I was just feeling the pressure of using a machine with that much RAM and an 8TB SSD.)
Geekbench 5 CPU
Geekbench 5 Compute
3DMark Wildlife Extreme
Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch (Apple M3, 2023)
Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (Apple M3 Max, 2023)
Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch (Apple M2 Max, 2023)
Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (Apple M2, 2022)
In the Geekbench 6 and Cinebench 2024 benchmarks, both the M3 and M3 Max chips showed slight improvements over the M2 variants and more noticeable leaps ahead of the M1 family. I can’t imagine too many folks are eager to upgrade their M2 MacBook Pros, but demanding users may see the need to move beyond the M1 machines at this point. For content creators, time is money after all, so it’s worth spending a bit more to plow through projects quickly. And if you’re one of the many Mac users still on an Intel system, the M3 hardware makes the push to upgrade even more compelling.
While Apple still isn’t trying to court hardcore gamers much, it’s at least laying the groundwork for a better gaming experience. Thanks to the upgraded GPU in the M3, for example, Lies of P played far more smoothly on the 14-inch MacBook Pro, compared to the slightly stuttery experience I saw on the 13-inch MacBook Pro with M2. I was able to crank all of the graphics settings to their highest level while playing in 1,920 by 1,200, and the game easily maintained a silky smooth 60fps. The 16-inch MacBook Pro delivered an even better experience thanks to the M3 Max. I was able to crank Lies of P up to 1440p with all of the graphics settings maxed out and still stay at 60fps. The M2 13-inch MacBook Pro, in comparison, hovered between 40 and 60 fps.
What’s most impressive, though, is that I saw that performance while on battery power. The dedicated GPUs on PC gaming laptops tend to slow down considerably when they’re away from the lifeline of AC power. Apple’s expansion into gaming could also open up the MacBook Pro to people who already own PC gaming desktops, but want the refinement of a Mac laptop. I was able to seamlessly dive into my Baldur’s Gate 3 campaign (thanks Steam Cloud Saves) across both machines. That’s something that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
Both MacBook Pro models still feature Apple’s excellent keyboard and trackpad, and they all sport an SD card slot alongside a full-sized HDMI connection and headphone jack. They also have three USB-C Thunderbolt 4 ports — except for the base M3 model, which just has two. Apple also improved on the already excellent battery life of the previous models: The 14-inch MacBook Pro lasted 24 hours and 30 minutes during our benchmark, while the 16-inch model reached 24 hours and 50 minutes. During real-world usage, both computers took almost two days before I had to recharge them. Given how power-hungry Intel’s chips have been lately, it’s nice to see laptops that can easily survive the 14 and a half-hour flight between New York City and Tokyo.
Another plus? If you were stuck on that flight with either of these laptops, you’d truly appreciate their Liquid Retina XDR displays. While they’re not OLED screens, their MiniLED backlights are wonderfully bright, and they also offer excellent color depth for photographers. Mostly, though, I appreciated their high refresh rates – even doing something simple, like scrolling through a website, looks incredibly smooth. And while the 14.2-inch screen on the smaller MacBook Pro is only a tad larger than the Air’s 13.6-inch display, I found it noticeably more immersive while catching up on Netflix shows. For my purposes, the 14-inch model was also a great balance of screen size and portability – the 16-inch Pro is just so damn large. (But yes, I’d imagine that would be even more useful for video editing.)
It’s worth noting that Apple didn’t send me the base $1,599 M3 MacBook Pro with just 8GB of RAM. Given what I’ve seen on Activity Monitor, I’m typically using 10GB to 13GB of memory with my typical workflow. And I’m just a lowly tech blogger! I’m sure I could still work decently on an 8GB system, but my overflow memory needs would end up hitting the SSD frequently as swap memory. That’ll slow down performance considerably when I actually need to deal with large amounts of data – perhaps while downloading a game, or transferring 4K video footage from my camera – and frequent usage also decreases the life of your SSD.
In many ways, the 14-inch MacBook Pro with 8GB of RAM feels as cynical an option as the old 13-inch machine. It’s really just meant for people who want the Pro badge, but may underestimate the downsides of limited memory. And don’t forget that you can’t upgrade RAM on Apple Silicon — it’s all baked right into the M3 chip. On older Intel systems, you could buy a low-specced MacBook Pro and add more memory down the line. That’s simply impossible today, and Apple has little reason to change its architecture to become more flexible.
So, as always, we recommend you buy as much RAM as you can up front, even if it means getting a smaller SSD instead. For example, my 14-inch MacBook Pro test system, which had a 1TB SSD along with 16GB of RAM, cost $1,999. But you could save $200 by opting for a 512GB SSD instead. Don’t forget, a computer with 16GB of RAM could last you years, whereas you’ll start feeling the burn with 8GB immediately.
If you want to see how wild Apple’s prices can get, just look at the 16-inch MacBook Pro I received, which clocks in at $7,199 with the full-powered M3 Max (16-core CPU, 40-core GPU) 128GB of RAM and that 8TB SSD. It’s not something an average consumer would buy — but it would definitely be useful for Disney to have a pile of them on-hand to help editors and VFX artists pump out the latest Marvel show.
Funny enough, my advice today echoes what I said last year: Don’t buy the cheapest model. Beyond that, it’s hard to go wrong. The M3 chips are incredibly efficient and powerful. And Apple’s MacBook Pro design remains as elegant as ever. Just try to save up for at least 16GB of RAM.
This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/macbook-pro-14-inch-and-16-inch-review-an-m3-chip-for-every-situation-140048075.html?src=rss