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This MacBook M3 Pro review finds out the kind of workload that a mid-tier MacBook from 2023 can handle.
The M3 Pro packs more than enough power for lightweight tasks like streaming, working with spreadsheets, and running large accounting applications. It gets better because Apple positions the MacBook M3 Pro as a device that can also handle larger, more demanding software.
Users who want a laptop that’s good for everyday use, and the odd AAA game should keep reading. The shopper looking for a MacBook that can handle moderate graphics work and video editing should also give this review a look.
MacBook M3 Pro review: Different M3 configurations and what they can do
Apple is phasing out Intel and AMD chips as the company winds down support for older products that run on these processors. Another sign of the phase-out comes in the shape of the M3 lineup of Apple Silicon processors. The M3 series is the third iteration of the company’s proprietary CPU and GPU arrays. Ideally, M3 processors should be clear upgrades of their equivalent M1 and M2 processors.
Bare-bones M3 configurations have enough power to handle light image-processing workloads while running one or two programs in the foreground. A MacBook with the base M3 processor has slightly more power than the most powerful MacBook Air.
The M3 Pro processor packs a bigger punch, as the 14-inch M3 Pro MacBook demonstrates. This mid-tier chip can handle a sizable workload on large, demanding video editing software. It then follows that M3 Pro will easily handle resource-intensive programming software while running other programs in the background. The same goes for large graphics apps and CAD software, which will run flawlessly while you transfer bulky files to the cloud.
Our focus is the M3 Pro MacBook, and the next section details the configuration that we’ll be reviewing.
We’re reviewing the M3 Pro configuration that comes with the following specs:
- An 11-core CPU that consists of five high-performance cores and six power-efficient cores
- A discrete (standalone) 14-core GPU
- 18GB worth of unified memory
- 512GB SSD storage
- Magic Keyboard with Apple’s Force Track touchpad
- A 14-inch Liquid Retina display, which is an IPS panel with near-4K resolution
Upcoming sections of this review will unpack what the acronyms and jargon mean to the end-user.
Also, remember that upgrading the processor, storage, and memory will cost you. Doubling the memory and increasing the number of CPU cores will increase the cost by $1,000, give or take. With that we pop the hood of the MacBook M3 Pro, starting with a quick look at the chassis.
MacBook M3 Pro review: Build and design
The MacBook M3 Pro has an aluminum chassis, with an anodized finish that repels grease, fingerprints, and sundry smudges. At 3.5 pounds and 0.6 inches thick, this 14-inch device is light and compact enough for travel. This is a welcome perk, considering that the M3 Pro is more of a workhorse than a travel companion.
A backlit deck houses a backlit keyboard with a pleasant bounce in the keys. The symbols on the keys are printed onto the surface, so there’s a chance that they’ll fade with time and heavy use. You also get an accurate touchpad that’s largely consistent, without random responses or a jumpy cursor. The touchpad is versatile, with a selection of functions that respond to a variety of gestures.
The deck also houses three Thunderbolt 4 ports, an HDMI port, an SD slot, a MagSafe3 port, and a headphone jack. That ought to be enough ports to connect all kinds of devices at the same time.
Internal hardware: M3 Pro CPU performance
Apple’s in-house chips deviate from Intel and AMD chips in significant ways. For starters, Apple’s M processors leverage ARM architecture, which requires billions less transistors than Intel/AMD equivalents. The result is processors that are faster and more energy-efficient than comparable third-party chips. This should be the motivation behind Apple’s shift to in-house, proprietary processors.
How the M3 Pro handles image processing
Timing CPU-intensive tasks is a good way to gauge the power of the M3 Pro 11-core array. For this review, we time Adobe Lightroom as it creates thumbnails for a big cache of photos and videos. It will take the software 10 minutes to import and process a load of 1500 image files with varying sizes and formats.
Video editing leans on GPU capability, so we look at that aspect of performance in the next section.
Internal hardware: M3 Pro GPU performance for video editing and gaming
Now we time the M3 processor as Adobe’s Final Cut software renders raw, uncompressed video captured in 4K. Exporting a five-minute clip with fresh color alterations takes roughly one minute. To put this number in context, the same clip would take 20 to 40 minutes on a MacBook with a third-party processor.
An 18-core neural engine harnesses the M3 chip to increase the speed of the AI tools in your favorite video editing software. The scene-edit detection tool in Adobe Premier gets a performance boost, and the same goes for the Smart Conform feature in Final Cut. These boosts in speed translate to faster processing of video edits.
How the M3 Pro handles gaming
The few AAA games that can run on a MacBook work fine, with smooth motion and solid graphics. From a user’s point of view, this is a pleasant bonus from a mid-range chip.
Internal hardware: Memory
M processors split the same RAM between the CPU and GPU, which can slow down resource-intensive software.
MacBook M3 Pro review: Screen performance
Apple’s 14-inch Liquid Retina Display is an IPS panel with a backlight that’s made up of thousands of mini-LEDs. The screen has a 3024×1964 resolution, which is pretty close to 4K when you account for the small screen size. It gets better, thanks to the display’s wide color gamut and excellent color reproduction.
What your eyes get is a feast of realistic colors with the perfect amount of saturation. You also get to enjoy a bright screen that can handle its own in sunlight, along with stunning contrast, detail, and HDR highlights.
The MacBook M3 Pro has a 72.4WHr battery that can handle 10 to 12 hours of heavy use. Normal usage will see the battery last for more than 18 hours before draining completely.
You can charge the drained battery in a short amount of time in case of an emergency. The MacBook’s fast-charge capability gets the empty battery to 50 percent charge in 30 minutes.
- Good build and user-friendly design
- The MacBook M3 Pro is powerful in its own right
- Long battery life
- High-performance display
- The M3 Pro is a significant upgrade of any MacBook with third-party chipsets
- There’s little difference between the mid-tier M3 Pro chip and its M2 predecessor
- An M2 Max processor is faster and (maybe) cheaper than the M3 Pro
- The cost of upgrading the specs of an M3 MacBook will not always make sense; it would be better to buy the M3 Max instead
MacBook M3 Pro review: A consumer laptop that can handle a little heavy lifting
This MacBook M3 Pro review finds a machine that’s good for everyday use and casual gaming. The M3 Pro is also a good fit for users who need to run large software for moderate workloads. Power users who routinely use demanding software to work on heavy workloads should spend a little extra for the higher-end M3 Max chip. Click here to learn more about this laptop.