How Apple’s new computer chips stack up


Apple’s latest computer chips promise faster and more efficient processing, and a huge leap in graphics power, while offering a look ahead to where the company may be pushing its desktop and laptop devices.

Having rid its entire line-up of Intel chips, Apple has settled into a regular cadence of developing and rolling out new “Apple Silicon” system-on-a-chip units, with the latest being the M3 family, which will start shipping in devices next week. And, as expected, they’re much faster.

Apple’s new MacBooks, with the M3 Max chip, are up to 11 times faster than the fastest Intel-based model it made.

The M3 is launching immediately in three variations, as distinct from the staggered rollout of previous Apple Silicon chips. The standard M3 will be in the new 24-inch iMac and is an option in the MacBook Pro 14-inch, while the M3 Pro and M3 Max are options in both the MacBook Pro 14-inch and 16-inch. As with previous chips, they comprise performance and efficiency CPU cores, dedicated graphics cores, unified memory machine learning hardware, but the M3 is the first personal computer chip to be made with a new three-nanometre process, which Apple said makes for unrivalled efficiency.

For example, the company said the M3’s efficiency cores were up to 50 per cent faster than M1, with the AI engine performing 60 per cent faster. The redesigned graphics processing unit could run pro apps two-and-a-half times faster, it said, or offer the same performance as M1 while using half the power.

While that’s impressive, especially considering the possibility of heavy creative work on battery power, it’s hard to get too excited based on these kinds of numbers alone. If the M2 already takes care of the tasks you throw at it in seconds, a 30 per cent boost won’t necessarily move the needle. But during its presentation unveiling the M3 family, Apple gave a good indication of how it expects to encourage upgrades.

First, it made several comparisons between the new M3 chips and Intel silicon, targeting both creatives using Windows PCs and Mac users who haven’t upgraded their devices in three years or more. Compared with the recent Core i7 1360P, Apple said the M3 matched its CPU performance at a quarter of the power consumption. It also said the fastest new MacBook, with the M3 Max, was a stunning 11 times faster than the most powerful MacBook Pro it made using Intel chips.

The 24-inch iMac is back, now powered by the M3 chip.

The 24-inch iMac is back, now powered by the M3 chip.

The company also made a point of running through newly supported graphics technologies that should make it easier for games developers to bring their products to Mac, including hardware accelerated ray tracing and mesh shading. This means that even though the M3 Macs lack the bulky dedicated graphics cards of Windows machines, they’ll be able to support the same cutting-edge realistic lighting in games.

At the low-end, Apple’s pitch for the M3 is clear; better power efficiency and more processing and graphical grunt than most computers at (comparatively) reasonable prices. The new iMac starts at $2200, and the improvements in M3 mean that even for word processing and light gaming, the improvements over the M1 iMac – and especially any Intel-based versions – will be immediately noticeable. The same is true for the M3 MacBook Pro, which starts at $2700.


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