Getting the most out of the MacBook Pro: Benchmarking an M3 Processor, a 14-inch MacBook Air, and a MacBook Pro
The performance of the M1 chips was improved. Now that we’re well into the third gen of Apple Silicon, the improvements are more incremental. Just look at our benchmark chart comparing the 15-inch M2 MacBook Air and the 14-inch M3 MacBook Pro.
The 14-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1,599 with the new M3 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage. For this review, Apple sent me a step-up configuration with the same M3 processor, 16GB of RAM, and 1TB of storage, which bumps the price to $1,999.
There isn’t any design to write home about. If you’re a longtime MacBook follower, you know what to expect. The display is pretty, the touchpad works great, there sure is a notch, but you get used to it, and typing has been enjoyable ever since Apple did away with the butterfly switches a few years ago. You don’t look like a potato on calls if you use the1080p webcams. Basically, it’s exactly what I’d want out of a MacBook Pro and includes all the good updates from the last few years. It hurts that Apple doesn’t allow you to upgrade individual parts, but do we expect differently from the company?
Why is Apple gatekeeping that third Thunderbolt port to the M3 Pro and M3 Max? You can argue that the M3 chip only supports one display, while the M3 Pro and Max chips support two. Another feature of Apple is gatekeeps. I guess Apple thinks you will use the third port for external monitors, as it is sandwiched between the HDMI and SDXC slot of the M3 Pro and M3 Max models. It feels as though a line is drawn to encourage you to buy a more expensive model. The M3 chip is not the reason for either of the limitations, Apple designed these chips themselves and they are intentional. It is a choice that Apple makes.
This is still an improvement over the 13 inch and Air models which only have two Thunderbolt ports, a headphones jack and nothing else. On the other hand, why?
For me, the appeal of a Pro over the Air is that you get a ticket out of dongletown. I sometimes have to find a way to plug a third device into my 15-inch Air since I have to scramble for one or the other. I’ve had that issue with this M3 MacBook Pro, too. Is it the end of the world? Absolutely not. There are alternatives to working around it, and not everyone will miss the third port. It is the principle of the matter.
The Apple MacBook Pro 14-2023: entry-level enigma: why a 14-inch isn’t the M3 Max?
While I’m griping, the base 14-inch doesn’t get the space black color option. This is Apple-ing: introducing an arbitrary way to differentiate the upgrade models. I don’t dislike space gray, but I will also have more thoughts on space black and the M3 Max in my MacBook Pro review. Give everyone all the colors from where I am.
Since we reviewed a 15-inch M2 MacBook Air, Cinebench has updated its benchmark scores, so they aren’t really comparable. The rest of the tests are the same.
Benchmarks have their time and place, but I suspect folks looking at an entry-level MacBook Pro care less about benchmarks and more about how this laptop would fit in everyday life. I think that there are many people like myself that are wondering if the extra juice in a MacBook Pro is worth it.
First off, this is a quiet machine. The fans rarely kicked on, even during the more intensive benchmark tests like PugetBench for Adobe Premiere Pro or our 4K export test, which simulates video editing workloads. The fans never got to the point where it was affecting them. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is 32 frames per second for a single-player game, and it wasn’t too hot while I was playing it on the highest settings. I have maintained that Macs are not for gaming even as Apple tries to make it happen. It’s up to you if the game you want is available for Mac.
How Much Use do I Need to Have in a Day? Is My MacBook Really So Heavy? Comparing 14-inch and 15-inch Power-Sensing MacBooks
As for battery life, this laptop refuses to die on me. (Which makes my life difficult when trying to do battery rundown tests.) With the display at 300 nits, adaptive brightness disabled, and all battery-saving options turned off, I got between 12 and 14 hours of constant use every day. Admittedly, 300 nits is bright (I like things bright), and you’ll get a few hours more at the more typical 200 nits for average usage. I’ve no doubt it will go much, much longer if you do use power-saving features or close the lid when not in use. After a roughly three-and-a-half-hour writing session with the aforementioned settings and various other apps running in the background, I only lost 15 percent battery. I watched a two-hour movie, full-screen, and only lost about 20 percent. I had to work hard to get this thing to zero in a single workday.
My workload never taxed this MacBook. At one point, I had an ill-advised 55 open browser tabs, plus my calendar app, a YouTube video going, Messages, Slack, my email app, Photoshop, and several PDFs open at the same time. It was groovy. I also did this while using my 27-inch monitor via Thunderbolt, streaming Peloton earnings and a recording app. Again, no issues. When I bought my 15-inch M2 Air, I realized how difficult it was to whiff it.
The 14-inch’s display feels much less cramped than my company-issued 13-inch M1 Air. I have no need for my external display, but it still pains me to use it without it. I lined up all three of these computers, plus the new M3 16-inch Pro, side by side, and the 15-inch is truly the perfect screen size for the weight and portability. It’s not that much bigger than the 14-inch, but it’s enough that you can fit a little more information at a glance. For me, the 14-inch is a close second. If you’re unsure, I highly recommend checking these out in person.
In a perfect world I would be able to upgrade the RAM on my Air, but alas. I am torn between buying a 14-inch Pro or trading in my Air for a model with 16GB of RAM. It depends on whether you want extra ports or screen.
I can see the difference between the Pro and the Air thanks to the ProMotion and brighter SDR and HDR capabilities. But for my workload, it rarely matters because I mostly use this indoors and use my big, beautiful TV for consuming media. The Pro is worth taking a look at.
Weight is another odd thing. My MacBook Air is 3.3 pounds heavier than the 14-inch. The Air had a larger footprint and so it felt heavier depending on my grip. The Air is still noticeably thinner, but as far as how it feels when you stick it in a backpack — they’re the same. The Air doesn’t have to worry about weight in its favor.
Where the 14 wins is ports. I love not having to plug in my dock at my workstation if I want to get a few photos off my SD card. I like that I can use either the Air or HDMI for my monitor, which means there is not as much noise when I am using both. You might be able to get the M3 Pro more economical when configuring your base model. You will get an extra port and a faster one at that.
Apple made the right decision by getting rid of the 13-inch Pro. There is an extra inch of screen, everything works beautifully, and the return of function keys on the entry-level MacBook Pro is a chef’s kiss.
I just wish you got more for the starting price — $1,599 is too much for 8GB of RAM, and just because you can’t use two external displays with an M3 chip doesn’t mean you couldn’t make the most out of three Thunderbolt ports.
It is difficult to know who will use the entry-level MacBook Pro. It seems to have a clearer idea of the serious Pros and the hordes of casual users. But the line between an Air and an entry-level Pro is blurrier than ever. I consider myself smack dab in the heavy Air user / light Pro user category. I spent a lot of time hopping between them while writing this review, running numbers while sifting through various configurations. It just turned me into the confused math lady meme.
For the last week, I have used this as my daily driver. Either way you fall, I believe you will be happy with either machine. Even though I think M1 or M2 shouldn’t need to be upgraded for speed alone, I’m tempted to buy one for myself, and use it to fix my RAM mistakes and get rid of a couple of dongles.
Thanks for reading! I can give any questions you might have about the 16- and 14-inch models of the M3 Max, but I have not finished our review yet. Just leave a comment on this quick post and I’ll be answering questions starting at 2PM ET!
A review of user agreement contracts and features of the space black model and the Apple M3 family of processors and processors with Neural Engines
Every smart device requires a series of terms and conditions before it can be used, contracts that few people actually read. It is impossible for us to read and analyze all of these agreements. We began counting the times you have to agree to use devices when we review them, since most people do not read agreements like this.
I should point out availability of the new Space Black finish and mention my previous statement about cosmetic enhancements. It does help cut down on smudges by being sharper than the classic silver. It will be hard for those opting for a silver Pro to find a physical difference.
Like the M2, the M3 series uses “unified memory” that is shared between the CPU and GPU and everything else. This machine is outfitted with 36 GB as an entry-level configuration and tops out at a whopping 128 GB. Apple’s Neural Engine, designed to help support machine intelligence tasks, is also included.