Apple really threw us for a loop this year. The company usually announces new products in one of two ways—either a simple press release, or a big, blow-out event at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. ET). Its “Scary Fast” Mac event was neither of these things: Instead, the company rolled out a pre-recorded event at 8 p.m. ET (5 p.m. PT), openly running with the Halloween theme.
The event was only 30 minutes, and likely received less attention than if Apple rolled it out at the standard time, but it’s no matter: It was an exciting announcement all the same, especially for those of us that look forward to Apple silicon updates.
M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max
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As expected, Apple unveiled the newest family of M-series chips: M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max. These chipsets are built on TSMC’s 3-nanometer technology, which allows for more transistors to be built on the chip. More transistors means more power and performance, as does M3’s new “Dynamic Caching,” which, according to Apple, allocates memory in real time to make sure the exact memory necessary is used for any given task.
The M3 succeeds the M2 as the company’s baseline M-series chip, offering an 8-core CPU, 10-core GPU, and 16-core Neural Engine. It unfortunately still starts at 8GB of unified memory, which can be upgraded to either 16GB or 24GB. M3 Pro bumps up the specs: It sports either an 11-core or 12-core CPU, 14-core or 18-core GPU, and 16-core Neural Engine. It starts at 18GB of RAM, and can be upgraded to 36GB.
It’s the M3 Max where things start to get crazy. You can choose either a 14-core or 16-core CPU, 30-core or 40-core GPU, and a 16-core Neural Engine. Depending on your configuration, you can outfit the M3 Max with up to 128GB of RAM, and even up to 8TB of storage.
New M3 MacBook Pros
These chips, of course, don’t exist in a vacuum. You don’t buy the chips, you buy the Macs they’re sold in. Rather than refresh the whole Mac line with M3, Apple focused on just a couple of products.
First up: the MacBook Pro. The M3 Pro and M3 Max MacBook Pros replace the M2 Pro and M2 Max options. But besides the new, faster chips, there’s not much to talk about here. You’ll certainly notice big performance boosts if you’re upgrading from M1 Pro or M1 Max, and some modest upgrades coming from M2 Pro or M2 Max, but the actual MacBook Pro design is very much the same: You still get the great XDR display in either the 14- or 16-inch model, three USB 4 ports, HDMI port, an SDXC card slot, and a 1080p FaceTime camera housed in a “notch.”
In fact, the only two major hardware differences with the M3 Pro and M3 Max laptops are that the display now reaches 600 nits when viewing SDR content, up from 500 nits, as well as a new “Space Black” color. The 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros start at the same $1,999 and $2,499 as before, but you can drop a lot depending on how you upgrade it. A 16-inch MacBook Pro with 128GB or RAM and 8TB of storage will run you $7,199. Yikes!
The bigger discussion comes from the standard M3 MacBook Pro: This machine replaces the 13-inch M2 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. Now, the Touch Bar is dead (for better or worse), as is the 13-inch display size. You can now get a 14-inch MacBook Pro without paying Apple’s $1,999 premium price tag.
For $1,599, you get most of the perks of a 14-inch MacBook Pro, including the excellent XDR display, and HDMI and SDXC ports. You only lose one USB 4 port, and you miss some of the power that comes with the M3 Pro, but the M3 chip should be powerful for most use cases, even creative and design work. However, the big compromise is the RAM. As stated above, Apple is still insisting on offering 8GB of RAM on the base model M3, which means you’re stuck with that 8GB after dropping $1,599 on a new computer. If you’re eyeing this model, I highly recommend spending the $200 to upgrade to 16GB RAM. Your Mac will be able to handle more at once, and will last you longer than the base model. Plus, it’s still $200 cheaper than the M3 Pro MacBook Pro.
The iMac finally gets a refresh
It wasn’t all about the MacBook Pro yesterday, though. Apple finally upgraded its 24-inch iMac with the M3 chip, the first refresh since Apple introduced the redesigned iMac back in 2021. It’s not clear why the company skipped an M2 version of the iMac, but now the desktop becomes an easy device to recommend once again.
Jumping from M1 to M3 means the iMac now sports either one or two more GPU cores than before, depending on the model. You can also bump up RAM from 8GB (grr) to 24GB, as opposed to the 16GB maximum of M1. In all other purposes, the iMac is the same, from the display and display size, to the color-matched accessories with Lightning ports (no USB-C support, it seems).
It starts at the same $1,299 for 8GB of RAM, but again, I recommend spending the $200 to bump up to at least 16GB. You might be tempted to spend that money on the storage upgrade, as the base model iMac only comes with 256GB, but if you can only choose one, choose RAM. You can always buy an external SSD to expand your storage.
If you prioritize graphics in either your work or play, consider the upgrade from the 8-core to 10-core GPU. Keep in mind, though, it’s an extra $200, and it still comes with 8GB of RAM.
The event was entirely shot on iPhone
This was my favorite part of the night: As the event ended, Apple put up a slide that confirmed all presenters, locations, and drone footage was shot on iPhone. This was mind blowing: The event itself didn’t seem any different than usual, so to reveal it was all made possible by a $1,000 smartphone rather than a Hollywood-grade camera was astonishing.
Of course, Apple had a full production team behind this feat, including additional gear that likely cost them quite a bit. But it goes to show just how impressive Apple’s video game is right now. If you bought an iPhone 15 Pro this year, know you have a very capable camera in your hand right now.