Apple unveils M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max processors

The M3 family of chips is built using the industry-leading 3-nanometer process technology.

As expected, at its “Scary Fast” event, Apple announced M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max. They’re the first personal computer chips built using the 3-nanometer process technology, allowing more transistors to be packed into a smaller space and improving speed and efficiency.

The M3 family of chips features a next-generation GPU that represents the biggest leap forward in graphics architecture ever for Apple silicon. The GPU is faster and more efficient, and introduces a new technology called Dynamic Caching, while bringing new rendering features like hardware-accelerated ray tracing and mesh shading to Mac for the first time, according to Johny Srouji, Apple’s senior vice president of Hardware Technologies.. 

Rendering speeds are now purportedly up to 2.5x faster than on the M1 family of chips. The CPU performance cores and efficiency cores are 30% and 50%faster than those in M1, respectively, and the Neural Engine is 60% faster than the Neural Engine in the M1 family of chips. And, a new media engine now includes support for AV1 decode, providing more efficient and high-quality video experiences from streaming services.

Srouji says the next-generation GPU inside the M3 family of chips represents the largest leap forward in graphics architecture for Apple silicon. It features Dynamic Caching that, unlike traditional GPUs, allocates the use of local memory in hardware in real time. 

With Dynamic Caching, only the exact amount of memory needed is used for each task. This is an industry first, transparent to developers, and the cornerstone of the new GPU architecture. Srouji says it dramatically increases the average utilization of the GPU, which significantly increases performance for the most demanding pro apps and games.

With the M3 family of chips, hardware-accelerated ray tracing comes to the Mac for the first time. Ray tracing models the properties of light as it interacts with a scene, allowing apps to create realistic and physically accurate images. This, along with the new graphics architecture, allows pro apps to deliver up to 2.5x the speed of the M1 family of chips. 

Srouji notes that game developers can use ray tracing for more accurate shadows and reflections, creating deeply immersive environments. Additionally, the new GPU brings hardware-accelerated mesh shading to the Mac, delivering greater capability and efficiency to geometry processing, and enabling more visually complex scenes in games and graphics-intensive apps, he adds. Plus, the M3 GPU is able to deliver the same performance as M1 using nearly half the power, and up to 65% more performance at its peak.

The next-generation CPU in M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max features architectural improvements to the performance and efficiency cores. The performance cores are up to 30% faster than those in the M1 family. Srouji says the efficiency cores are up to 50% faster than the efficiency cores in M1. Together, these cores create a CPU that delivers the same multithreaded performance as M1 using as little as half the power, and up to 35% more performance at peak power, according to Srouji.

The M3 family of chips feature efficiency cores that are up to 50% faster than those in the M1 family.

Each chip in the M3 family features a unified memory architecture designed to deliver high bandwidth, low latency, and power efficiency. Having a single pool of memory within a custom package means all of the technologies in the chip can access the same data without copying it between multiple pools of memory, further improving performance and efficiency, and reducing the amount of memory a system requires for the majority of tasks. Additionally, support for up to 128GB of memory unlocks workflows previously not possible on a laptop, such as AI developers working with even larger transformer models with billions of parameters, says Srouji.

The unified memory architecture of M3 delivers high bandwidth, low latency, unmatched power efficiency, and supports up to 24GB of fast, unified memory.

M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max also have an enhanced Neural Engine to accelerate machine learning (ML) models. The Neural Engine is up to 60% faster than in the M1 family of chips, making AI/ML workflows even faster while keeping data on device to preserve privacy, according to Srouji. Powerful AI image processing tools, like noise reduction and super resolution in Topaz, get even faster. Scene edit detection in Adobe Premiere and Smart Conform in Final Cut Pro also purportedly see a boost in performance.

All three chips in the M3 family also have an advanced media engine, providing hardware acceleration to the most popular video codecs, including H.264, HEVC, ProRes, and ProRes RAW. And for the first time, the media engine supports AV1 decoding, enabling power-efficient playback of streaming services to further extend battery life.

The Neural Engine in M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max is up to 60% faster than in the M1 family of chips, making AI and machine learning workflows even faster.

The M3 features 25 billion transistors — 5 billion more than M2. It has a 10-core GPU featuring the next-generation architecture that Apple says is 65% faster than M1 for graphics performance. Games like Myst have incredibly realistic lighting, shadows, and reflections. The M3 has an 8-core CPU, with four performance cores and four efficiency cores, that is up to 35% faster than M1 for CPU performance. And it supports up to 24GB of unified memory.

The M3 Pro consists of 37 billion transistors and an 18-core GPU. The GPU is up to 40% faster than M1 Pro. Support for unified memory goes up to 36GB, enabling larger projects to be tackled on MacBook Pro when users are on the go. The 12-core CPU design has six performance cores and six efficiency cores, offering single-threaded performance that Apple says is up to 30% faster than M1 Pro. 

The M3 Max pushes the transistor count up to 92 billion. The 40-core GPU is up to 50% faster than M1 Max and has support for up to 128GB of unified memory. The 16-core CPU features 12 performance cores and four efficiency cores and, per Apple, performance that’s up to 80% faster than M1 Max. 

With two ProRes engines, M3 Max makes video post-production work on even the highest-resolution content fast and fluid, whether using DaVinci Resolve, Adobe Premiere Pro, or Final Cut Pro, according to Srouji.

Apple says the power-efficient performance of M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max helps the new MacBook Pro and iMac meet Apple’s standards for energy efficiency, and helps the new MacBook Pro achieve the longest battery life ever in a Mac — up to 22 hours. 

Dennis Sellers
the authorDennis Sellers
Dennis Sellers is the editor/publisher of Apple World Today. He’s been an “Apple journalist” since 1995 (starting with the first big Apple news site, MacCentral). He loves to read, run, play sports, and watch movies.