What to make of Apple’s new M3 chips?


Apple has just announced its new M3 chips, still derived from its in-house Apple Silicon recipe since its break with Intel. As usual, these chips are “revolutionary and formidable”. As usual, Apple has talked a lot about its M3 chips without saying too much about their architecture. But how do these new M3s differ from their predecessors?

Apple M3 details

Apple M3: switch to 3nm and increased performance (especially GPU)

Let’s start by noting that 3 chip variants are arriving at the same time: the M3, M3 Pro and M3 Max. Up until now, Apple had kept the M1 and M2 arrivals under wraps. But the arrival of the next Intel Meteor Lake processors and Qualcomm’s announcements have undoubtedly precipitated things. The first technical information to emerge was, of course, the use of TSMC’s 3nm manufacturing process. For the Apple brand, the switch to this node means that its “performance” cores are 15% faster than M2s and 30% faster than M1s. Meanwhile, efficiency cores are 30% faster than M2s and 50% faster than M1s. According to Apple, the M3 uses 50% less energy than the M1 at an equivalent level of performance. Compared to an Intel Core i7-1360P with 12 cores, the M3 chip consumes only a quarter of the energy of its competitor for the same level of performance. It’s hard to say, however, whether the gains announced here are attributable to the architecture or to the higher frequencies made possible by the adoption of 3nm.

It’s on the GPU side that the new features are most striking. The M3’s graphics section can now benefit from Ray-tracing Mesh Shading support. A signal to gamers? Another important development in this field is the arrival of Dynamic Caching, which automatically allocates the necessary amount of memory to the GPU in real time. After all, the CPU and GPU use the same memory. Being able to allocate this memory dynamically according to usage is obviously a big plus for performance. The consequence of these changes is a clear increase in graphics performance: in this respect, the M3 is 1.8x more powerful than the M2 and 2.5x more powerful than the M1.

Weaknesses still present…

But these gains (for the moment, on paper) do not mask certain weaknesses that remain on the M3 chips. We won’t dwell on the inflation suffered by certain models, such as the MacBook Pro. You’ll have to pay €1999 for a 14″ MB Pro equipped with an M3 with 512 SSD and 8GB ram… But there are several other points that seem more troublesome.

Apple M3
Apple MacBook Pro 16″ prices in M3 Pro and M3 Max

Lightning peripherals for the Mac…

While USB-C has been adopted (or even imposed) on iphones and ipads, new MACs will have to connect the Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse to a Lightning charging port…

Two screens max on iMac or Macbook pro.

After insisting on graphics performance gains, Apple continues to limit the screen connectivity of its 2 products equipped with M3 chips. Both can only connect a single external display. The display is therefore limited to the machine’s built-in screen and an external display capable of displaying 6K at 60 Hz. It doesn’t seem possible to disable the internal screen to use two larger external displays, for example. To overcome these limitations, you’ll have to switch to an M3 Pro or M3 Max configuration…and obviously accept an even more painful bill.