Apple continues to challenge Intel this fall with a third generation of its internally developed processors. The new chips, called M3, M3 Pro and M3 Max, can now be found under the hood of new MacBook Pro laptops – and behind the screen of a new iMac – and are noticeably more muscular than their predecessors.
The M3 processors are the third batch in three years of a family of chips called Apple Silicon. It started with the M1 processor, which launched in November 2020. Apple Silicon is a system on a chip that includes, in particular, the central processor and the video processor, which are found in one form or another in all Apple products.
Make room for the iMac M3
Important detail: Apple Silicon processors are based on an ARM architecture, which is different from that of PCs with Intel processors (called x86). Given the average life cycle of Apple’s PCs is five to eight years, the four new devices launching this fall are expected to replace a slew of Intel-based Macs, the latest model of which, an iMac, went on sale in June.
Unsurprisingly, the iMac will be updated with an M3 processor this fall. This all-in-one computer is the best-selling in its category. It retains the ultra-slim dimensions and choice of seven body colors of its M1 processor predecessor. However, it is about twice as fast. Above all, according to Apple, it is 2.5 times more efficient than an iMac with a 27-inch screen and an Intel processor and up to four times more powerful than a 21-inch iMac with an Intel processor.
Household in the Apple catalog
The launch of three new MacBook Pros allows Apple to clean up its catalog a little. The entry-level model is a MacBook Pro M3 with 8 GB of RAM and 512 GB of internal storage, equipped with a 14-inch screen. It costs $2,099, which is $500 less than the 14-inch MacBook Pro with M2 Pro chip that launched last year.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro is disappearing. Apple hopes to steer consumers who don’t need top performance to the cheaper MacBook Air.
A 14-inch MacBook Pro with an M3 Pro processor is also on the program. The other option is a 16-inch MacBook Pro, which can be powered by an M3 Pro or M3 Max processor, the latter variant being the most powerful of all. In all three cases, Apple promises 22 hours of battery life at full power, and performance that can be up to 11 times better than a MacBook Pro with a comparable Intel chip.
Compared to the M2 chips introduced last year, the M3 chips offer a notable performance gain. The main reasons cited are the reduced size of the new circuits from 5 to 3 nanometers and the optimized use of the cache memory of the graphics processors, which ensures an increase in performance of 25 to 50% with the same consumption energy.
These improvements allow Apple to introduce light processing hardware processes not previously available on its Macs, such as ray tracing and mesh shading. The latter returns to the graphics processors much of the visual work normally carried out by the central processor, such as the real-time generation of reflections or shading of 3D objects presented on the screen.
This leads in particular to a better representation of virtual 3D environments, such as those found in high-level video games.
This market, where Macs have been virtually absent in the past, is definitely the new frontier that Apple wants to cross with its M3 processors. A challenge considering that the IT market is currently being held back by inflation and some consumer slowdown.