Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch (M3 Max)
“The MacBook Pro gets a major GPU upgrade with the M3 Max.”
- Space Black is the new king
- GPU performance gets big upgrade
- XDR display is even brighter
- Speakers are fantastic
- Decent webcam
- Storage and RAM is soldered on
- M3 model only supports one external display
The MacBook Pro is Apple’s most important laptop. It’s the one with the highest stakes, and its users are the hardest to please. Given the price, that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Perhaps that’s why just 10 months after the M2 update, the MacBook Pro has been bumped up to the M3 chip to lead the cycle this time around. There are some small changes other than the chip, but truthfully, this one is all about the performance. This was already the best high-performance laptop you could buy, and the M3 only makes it better.
MacBook Pro M3 Max: design
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This year’s MacBook Pro has just one visible change: The new Space Black color option. I don’t mean to downplay that change, though, because it’s gorgeous. It’s destined to be the go-to color for most buyers just as Space Gray was before, and in my mind, it’s definitely the best MacBook color Apple’s ever designed (even if it is technically just a darker shade of gray). In some light, it appears closer to black, though, and is certainly noticeable, even without having the old Space Gray models to compare it directly to.
So yeah, I’m pretty smitten with it. Apple says the Space Black color also adds protection against fingerprints, which I did my darnedest to test. Side by side with an M2 Space Gray model, I didn’t notice any significant resistance to fingerprints. It’s certainly not impervious to sweaty palms or greasy fingers. The keycaps themselves aren’t protected, either, which is where the majority of fingerprints end up.
It should be mentioned that Space Black is not available on the base 14-inch M3 MacBook Pro, whereas Space Gray is still an option.
Aside from the new color, the MacBook Pro remains a well-crafted and attractive machine. It’s not the thinnest or lightest 14-inch laptop in the world – at least not by the standards of pre-Apple Silicon MacBook Pros. But the 14-inch model is 0.6 inches thick and 3.5 pounds and is compact enough to throw in a bag with ease. It’s still more portable than the Razer Blade 14, Acer Swift X 14, and Dell XPS 15. The same can’t be said with the 16-inch model, which is a bit of a monster.
There are two other distinctive elements of the current MacBook Pro design that make it stand out from other silver laptops. The first is the notch at the top of the display, which houses the 1080p webcam and other important sensors. I still don’t love the look of the notch, and find it troublesome occasionally, hiding items in the menu bar I need access to. The trade-off is those tiny bezels that frame the display, emphasized by the rounded screen edge on the top left and right.
The other is the black keyboard inset, which is already being copied by laptops like the Asus Zenbook S 13. The inset brings an even subtler finesse to the Space Black model. Neither of these design features are new, but they’ve become important markers for the brand
MacBook Pro M3 Max: display
Apple claims its MacBook Pros have the best laptop screens available. And here’s the thing: it’s true. It really is. We’ve tested and reviewed every major laptop in 2023, and it continues to be true. And with the new model, it gets slightly better. The resolution, color coverage, and refresh rate haven’t changed – all top-notch, of course. Despite using the same panel, the new MacBook Pro is able to push even brighter SDR content, which I measured at 562 nits at its brightest.
Then, there’s the HDR performance, of course. With 2,010 lighting zones (or 2,554 on the 16-inch model), you’re getting some really impressive HDR performance. Even with the growth in mini-LED displays in Windows laptops, the MacBook Pro remains the very best in the game. HDR content maxes out at a whopping 1,600 nits.
Of course, the MacBook Pro also has a ProMotion display, which can dynamically change the refresh rate up to 120Hz. Apple was one of the first to put high refresh rate screens on non-gaming laptops, but they’re far from alone in that anymore.
MacBook Pro M3 Max: configurations
There are a variety of MacBook Pro models available, ranging from the M3 14-inch MacBook Pro up to the M3 Max 16-inch MacBook Pro. The unit I’m reviewing is the 14-inch M3 Max model, spruced up with 64GB of RAM. The M3 Max models can be configured with up to 128GB of unified RAM, up from the 96GB available on the M2 Max.
Pricing has not increased in this round of MacBook Pro updates. The 14-inch M3 Pro model still starts at $1,999. And as normal, Apple charges an arm and a leg for more memory or storage. You’ll pay an extra $1,200 to go from 36GB to 128GB to $2,200 to get up to 8TB of storage. And remember: neither the storage or memory can be upgraded after the fact.
The good news is things like speakers, screen, and ports aren’t affected when choosing between configurations. The visuals or audio on a $1,499 MacBook Pro is equivalent to what you get when you spend thousands of dollars more. That’s one of the reasons I’m so glad Apple replaced the crummy 13-inch MacBook Pro with this new M3 14-inch MacBook Pro. It’s a far better deal when you consider all the high-end components used.
MacBook Pro M3 Max: performance
Performance is paramount on the MacBook Pro. You might like the display, speakers, keyboard, or port selection – but you buy it for the performance. Especially if you configure this baby up to the M3 Max, loaded up with memory.
So, how does it perform? Well, it depends on where you’re coming from. If you’re still using an Intel-based Mac, you are going to be blown away by how powerful and efficient this thing is. But that was also true of the M1 Max and M2 Max. In terms of CPU performance, the M3 Max takes another step forward. In Cinebench R24, we’re looking at the M3 Max being 13% faster in the single-core test over the M2 Max and 32% faster in multi-core. The M3 Max is also 38% faster in Handbrake, which is being aided by that increase in multi-core performance.
These MacBooks Pros do come with a High Performance mode, which can be adjusted in the Battery settings. This intelligently determines when to crank up the fans a bit harder to eke out more performance. In my testing, the High Performance mode delivers an extra 6% of performance on the M3 Max, which is similar to the M2 Max.
Even the High Performance mode is picky about when it cranks up the fans.
It’s primarily just in multi-core performance though, so it’s only going to provide an uplift in some applications. The High Performance mode comes with a hefty amount of fan noise, but the system is remarkably good at spinning down the fans quickly. No lingering fan noise. In general, Apple’s recent MacBooks have played very conservatively with fan speed (sometimes to its detriment), and even the High Performance mode is picky about when it cranks up the fans.
When it comes to all this performance increase in the M3, Apple achieved this not by adding more CPU cores this time around, but instead bringing some real architectural improvements under the hood. The entire M3 line of chips has moved from 5nm to 3nm, bringing more efficiency across the board.
Some were certainly hoping for a larger leap in single-core performance, which Apple doesn’t have a lead in anymore. The M3 Max is right in line with 13th-gen H-series Intel chips. Given the recent performance claims by Qualcomm with its new Snapdragon X Elite chips, there’s even more pressure on the M3 Max to continue pushing the envelope.
MacBook Pro M3 Max: graphics and gaming
But Apple has a secret weapon with the M3 Max in its GPU performance. There’s a huge gain here over the previous generation. How huge? Well, according to the GPU test in Cinebench R24, the M3 Max’s GPU is 56% faster than the M2 Max. Keep in mind, this is with just two more GPU cores. The new feature, Dynamic Caching, seems to be playing a large role in just how performant the GPU has become. There’s a lot we still don’t know about it, but the GPU’s improved memory allocation is allowing for a significant boost in overall performance.
As a result, any and all tasks involving GPU rendering get a major uptick in performance. You’ll find this to be a significantly faster laptop for things like exporting video, 3D modeling, and – of course – gaming. Is this the first MacBook Pro that can actually double as a gaming laptop? It’s getting close. More and more, problems you may have with Mac gaming have less to do with performance and more to do with platform.
Is the M3 Max as powerful as a discrete mobile GPU like the RTX 4090 or 4080? Not quite. But it lands above every mobile configuration of the RTX 4070 so far, including the Razer Blade 14, where the MacBook Pro is 13% faster in GPU performance. That’s a proper gaming laptop, folks.
Baldur’s Gate 3‘s use of HDR brings the full capabilities of this screen to life.
I tested a number of games on the laptop to see how it performs: Lies of P, Civilization VI, Fortnite, and Baldur’s Gate 3. I left quite impressed by how the MacBook Pro handles these games. Lies of P is a well-optimized game, making it a great fit to show off how smooth gaming can be on a MacBook Pro, even with AAA titles. You have a few workable play options too, all of which are played at max settings. First off, you might want to drop the game down to 1920 x 1200 resolution, which will net you well over 100 (fps) frames per second, more effectively using the full capacity of the 120Hz refresh rate. Or you can bump the resolution up to 2294 x 1432 and average around 70 fps for a sharper image without having to completely sacrifice frame rate. It’s downright impressive.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is perhaps an even more important example. Since the native Mac version came out, it’s been tough to get the game to run smoothly, outside of on the Ultra chips. The FSR 1 isn’t going to help you much here either, at least not without sacrificing some significant clarity. But with the M3 Max MacBook Pro, the game runs surprisingly well. With settings turned up, the happily churns out an average of 60 fps, so long as you stick with 1920 x 1200 resolution.
And more than just performance, the game’s use of HDR brings the full capabilities of this screen to life, adding clarity and detail to the brightly colored fantasy — in a way that even the best gaming laptop can’t.
The performance and hardware are there. Now we just need more games to come to the platform to prove how viable it’s become.
MacBook Pro M3 Max: speakers
Now it’s time to gush about all the things that haven’t changed with the MacBook Pro this time, and it’s worth doing because they’re still best-in-class. The six-speaker sound system that’s been around since the 2021 model, is still here, and it’s the very best. And it’s not close. These speakers are full-bodied and bassy, only beaten by the slightly larger profile in the 16-inch MacBook Pro.
Whether you’re listening to music, doing a video call, or even watching a movie, these speakers have you covered. No headphones necessary.
MacBook Pro M3 Max: keyboard and touchpad
The Magic Keyboard is fantastic, and even though it hasn’t changed, it remains one of my favorites to type on. There’s nothing whatsoever to complain about in that regard. The days of the butterfly keyboard and Touch Bar are a bygone era, and we can all be thankful for that.
The extra large haptic trackpad is equally good, though I noticed a slight change in the sound of it this time around. It’s louder and more clicky, but not in a good way. I found myself getting used to it within just a few minutes, but it’s noticeable compared to the softer sound of previous models.
MacBook Pro M3 Max: ports
Ports haven’t changed on this year’s MacBook Pro, but they remain solid. All configurations come with a healthy mix of HDMI, USB-C, SD card slot, and even the tear-away MagSafe 3 jack.
There’s really only limitations in the mix, and it’s exclusive to the M3 14-inch MacBook Pro. It only comes with two USB-C Thunderbolt ports, whereas the M3 Pro and Max models come with three. They also support up to two external monitors using the USB-C and HDMI, but the M3 model only supports one external monitor. That’s the same problem the MacBook Airs suffer from, and it keeps that M3 model from feeling truly “Pro.” It seems to be a technical limitation of the M3 chip, and that’s no different in the 14-inch MacBook Pro.
MacBook Pro M3: Pro or Max?
Now, obviously, I only have access to performance numbers for the M3 Max. And in the unit I’m seeing, performance is pretty killer. If you’re for that top-end model, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
The M3 Pro and M3 configurations, however, are a different story. We already know for sure that the M3 Pro has both reduced memory bandwidth and fewer performance cores than the M2 Pro. That certainly doesn’t sound good. But until performance is tested firsthand though, we won’t know for sure how those will affect overall performance.
All I know is that the M3 Max model is a huge jump over the M2 Max in terms of GPU performance. That won’t make it a must-buy for everyone coming from earlier models (especially if you’re able to get the M2 Max for cheap), but I’m happy to see Apple continue to push the envelope on these high-end machines.