Apple’s midrange ‘Pro’ M3 chip isn’t looking like a huge upgrade

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Apple’s new M3 Pro chip is looking like an odd duck in an otherwise solidly improved MacBook Pro laptop. For most people who need a computer with a bit of oomph over dreary office tasks and need multiple external monitors, the M3 Pro will serve their needs and have great battery to boot. But year-over-year computer upgraders who might already have a Mac with an M2 Pro chip or even an M1 Pro might not see many (if any) performance improvements unless they shell out more dough for an M3 Max.

When you put the 12-core M2 Pro and M3 Pro head-to-head, you’d expect the latter to perform much better. In reality, the M3 Pro isn’t running away from the older chips. That’s because of an interesting design choice: Apple gave it an equal split of six performance and six efficiency cores, which compares to the performance-favored eight / four split in the M2 Pro. And if you’re coming from the binned 10-core M2 Pro, that has a six / four divide in performance to efficiency cores compared to the cheapest M3 Pro option, with 11 cores and a five / six split.

There’s a clear performance jump between standard M3 and Max MacBook Pros seen here, but the M3 Pro isn’t fitting directly in the middle.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

However, the M3 Pro still edges out on top of the M2 Pro in most published benchmarks — thanks in part to a new three-nanometer die process, which Apple started implementing with the iPhone 15 Pro’s A17 Pro chip. The performance differences aren’t by a whole lot; for instance, Ars Technica’s tests show single-core performance is about 15 percent better than the M2 Pro, but other scores put them mostly neck and neck.

As YouTuber Luke Miani points out in a new benchmarking video, the M3 Pro seems purposefully limited, with fewer performance and GPU cores than the previous generation. His testing echoed the same results from other sources: the M3 Pro and M2 Pro perform almost identically overall. However, one clear advantage the M3 Pro did have is battery life, bringing better sense to the efficiency-forward makeup of the silicon.

With the M3 Pro, it might be worth waiting for one more generation

Overall, it points to a change in strategy for Apple’s chip lineup: the M3 Pro, while better than the standard M3, is further behind the M3 Max than its M2-generation counterparts. The new lineup puts more daylight between the new “mid” (M3 Pro) and high end (which can tilt buyers toward spending at least $2,999 for the Max — even if they don’t really need it).

The M3 Pro demonstrates overall maturation in design, but for those hoping to see bigger year-over-year gains to justify a new purchase, it might be worth waiting for one more generation. However, for anyone with an Intel Mac, now is probably the best time to make the leap. And although the M3 Pro isn’t a huge jump from, well, even the regular M3 for most people, there are still some performance gains to appreciate, along with the ability to connect two external monitors instead of one.



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