Apple MacBook Pro M3 Max review

A MacBook Pro on a table in front of a window.

Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch (M3 Max)

MSRP $1,999.00

“The MacBook Pro’s upgrade to the M3 Max ensures that it remains the best in class.”

Pros

  • Space Black is the new king
  • GPU performance gets big upgrade
  • XDR display is even brighter
  • Speakers are fantastic
  • Decent webcam

Cons

  • Storage and RAM is soldered on
  • M3 model only supports one external display

The MacBook Pro is Apple’s most important laptop. It’s the one with the highest stakes, and its users are the hardest to please. Given the price, that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Perhaps that’s why, just 10 months after the M2 update, the MacBook Pro has been bumped up to the M3 chip to lead the cycle this time around. There are some small changes besides the chip, but truthfully, this one is all about the performance. This was already the best high-performance laptop you could buy, and the M3 only makes it better.

MacBook Pro M3 Max: configurations

  Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch Apple MacBook Pro 16
Dimensions 12.3 inches x 8.7 inches x 0.61 inches 14.01 inches x 9.77 inches x 0.66 inches
Weight 3.4 pounds (M3)
3.5 pounds (M3 Pro)
3.6 pounds (M3 Max)
4.7 pounds (M3 Pro)
4.8 pounds (M3 Max)
Processor M3 (8 cores)
M3 Pro (11-core)
M3 Max (14-core or 16-core)
M3 Pro (12-core)
M3 Max (14-core or 16-core)
Graphics 10-core (M3)
14-core (M3 Pro)
18-core (M3 Pro)
30-core (M3 Max)
40-core (M3 Max)
18-core (M3 Pro)
30-core (M3 Max)
40-core (M3 Max)
RAM Up to 96GB unified memory Up to 128GB unified memory
Display 14.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display
Storage Up to 8TB SSD storage
Ports 3 x Thunderbolt 4 (two for M3)
1 x HDMI
1 x 3.5mm audio
1 x SD card reader
3 x Thunderbolt 4
1 x HDMI
1 x 3.5mm audio
1 x SD card reader
Wireless Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.3 Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.3
Webcam 1080p FaceTime 1080p FaceTime
Operating system macOS Sonoma macOS Sonoma
Battery 70 watt-hour (M3)
72 watt-hour (M3 Pro, Max)
100 watt-hour
Price $1,599+ $2,499+

A variety of MacBook Pro models are available, ranging from the M3 14-inch MacBook Pro to the M3 Max 16-inch MacBook Pro. I’m reviewing the 14-inch M3 Max 16/40 model at $3,899, spruced up with 64GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. I also include information about the 16-inch M3 Max 16/40 model with 48GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD at $3,999. The M3 Max models can be configured with up to 128GB of unified RAM, up from the 96GB available on the M2 Max.

Pricing has not increased in this round of MacBook Pro updates; in fact, there’s one less costly option. The 14-inch MacBook Pro can now be had at $1,499 when configured with the base M3, while the M3 Pro and above still start at $1,999. The 16-inch model starts at the same $2,499, albeit with 18GB of RAM rather than 16GB.

And as normal, Apple charges an arm and a leg for more memory or storage. You’ll pay an extra $1,000 on the 14-inch model to go from 48GB to 128GB and $2,200 to get up to 8TB of storage. And remember: neither the storage nor memory can be upgraded after the fact. Fully configured, the 16-inch MacBook Pro costs a whopping $7,199.

The good news is that things like speakers, the screen, and ports aren’t affected when choosing between configurations. The visuals or audio on a $1,499 MacBook Pro is equivalent to what you get when you spend thousands of dollars more. That’s one of the reasons I’m so glad Apple replaced the crummy 13-inch MacBook Pro with this new M3 14-inch MacBook Pro. It’s a far better deal when considering all the high-end components used.

MacBook Pro M3 Max: design

Apple MacBook Pro 16 front angled view showing display and keyboard.
MacBook Pro 16 Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

This year’s MacBook Pro has just one visible change: The new Space Black color option. I don’t mean to downplay that change, though, because it’s gorgeous. It’s destined to be the go-to color for most buyers, just as Space Gray was before, and in my mind, it’s definitely the best MacBook color Apple’s ever designed (even if it is technically just a darker shade of gray). In some light, it appears closer to black, though, and is certainly noticeable, even without having the old Space Gray models to compare it directly to.

So yeah, I’m pretty smitten with it. Apple says the Space Black color also adds protection against fingerprints, which I did my darnedest to test. Side by side with an M2 Space Gray model, I noticed no significant fingerprint resistance. It’s certainly not impervious to sweaty palms or greasy fingers. The keycaps themselves aren’t protected, either, which is where most fingerprints end up.

It should be mentioned that Space Black is not available on the base 14-inch M3 MacBook Pro, whereas Space Gray is still an option. Note that the MacBook Pro 16 has only the Silver and Space Black colors; Space Grey isn’t an option on the larger model.

The MacBook Pro open on a table in front of a couch.
MacBook Pro 14 Luke Larsen / Digital Trends

Aside from the new color, the MacBook Pro remains a well-crafted and attractive machine. It’s not the thinnest or lightest laptop in the world – at least not by the standards of pre-Apple Silicon MacBook Pros. But the 14-inch model is 0.6 inches thick and 3.5 pounds and is compact enough to throw in a bag with ease, while the 16-inch model is heavier at 4.8 pounds while still very thin at 0.66 inches. The 14-inch model is still more portable than the Razer Blade 14, Acer Swift X 14, and Dell XPS 15. The same can’t be said with the 16-inch model, which is a bit of a monster.

There are two other distinctive elements of the current MacBook Pro design that make it stand out from other laptops. The first is the notch at the top of the display, which houses the 1080p webcam and other important sensors. I still don’t love the look of the notch, and I find it troublesome by occasionally hiding items in the menu bar I need access to. The trade-off is those tiny bezels that frame the display, emphasized by the rounded screen edge on the top left and right.

The other is the black keyboard inset, which is already being copied by laptops like the Asus Zenbook S 13. The inset brings an even subtler finesse to the Space Black model. Neither of these design features is new, but they’ve become important markers for the brand.

MacBook Pro M3 Max: display

Apple MacBook Pro 16 front view showing display and keyboard.
MacBook Pro 16 Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

Apple claims its MacBook Pros have the best laptop screens available. And here’s the thing: it’s true. It really is. We’ve tested and reviewed every major laptop in 2023, and it remains true. And with the new model, it gets slightly better. The resolution, color coverage, and refresh rate haven’t changed – all top-notch, of course. Despite using the same panel, the new MacBook Pro can push even brighter SDR content, which I measured at 562 nits at its brightest on the 14-inch model and an even brighter 640 nits on the 16-inch model.

Then, there’s the HDR performance, of course. With 2,010 lighting zones (or 2,554 on the 16-inch model), you’re getting some really impressive HDR performance. Even with the growth in mini-LED displays in Windows laptops, the MacBook Pro remains the very best in the game. HDR content maxes out at a whopping 1,600 nits.

Of course, the MacBook Pro also has a ProMotion display, which can dynamically change the refresh rate up to 120Hz. Apple was one of the first to put high refresh rate screens on non-gaming laptops, but they’re far from alone in that anymore.

MacBook Pro M3 Max: performance

The lid of the MacBook Pro on a black table.
MacBook Pro 14 Luke Larsen / Digital Trends

Performance is paramount on the MacBook Pro. You might like the display, speakers, keyboard, or port selection – but you buy it for the performance. Especially if you configure this baby up to the M3 Max and load it up with memory.

So, how does it perform? Well, it depends on where you’re coming from. If you’re still using an Intel-based Mac, you will be blown away by how powerful and efficient this thing is. But that was also true of the M1 Max and M2 Max. In terms of CPU performance, the M3 Max takes another step forward. In Cinebench R24, we’re looking at the M3 Max being as much as 16% faster in the single-core test over the M2 Max and 62% faster in multi-core. The M3 Max is also 38% faster in Handbrake, aided by that increase in multi-core performance.

These MacBook Pros come with a High Performance mode, which can be adjusted in the Battery settings. This intelligently determines when to crank up the fans a bit harder to eke out more performance. In my testing, the High Performance mode delivers an extra 6% of performance on the M3 Max, which is similar to the M2 Max.

Even the High Performance mode is picky about when it cranks up the fans.

It’s primarily just in multi-core performance though, so it’s only going to provide an uplift in some applications. The High Performance mode comes with a hefty amount of fan noise, but the system is remarkably good at spinning down the fans quickly. No lingering fan noise. In general, Apple’s recent MacBooks have played very conservatively with fan speed (sometimes to its detriment), and even the High Performance mode is picky about when it cranks up the fans.

In the tablet below, you’ll find performance data for both the 14-inch and 16-inch M3 Max 16/40 versions. The 16-inch results are with “just” 48GB of unified RAM. Interestingly, the 16-inch version’s performance wasn’t that much faster than the smaller model’s, in spite of having more space to push air around. Both are spectacular performers, especially in GPU-intensive applications (more on this below).

Cinebench single-core Cinebench multi-core Cinebench GPU Handbrake (in seconds)
MacBook Pro 14
(M3 Max 16/40)
139 1,522 12,765 53
MacBook Pro 16
(M3 Max 16/40)
140 1,667 13,146 55
MacBook Pro
(M2 Max)
121 1032 5592 85
iMac (M3) 140 657 3728 112
Dell XPS 15
(Core i7-13700H/RTX 4070)
87 647 8601 79

When it comes to all these performance increases in the M3, Apple achieved this not by adding more CPU cores this time around but instead by bringing some real architectural improvements under the hood. The entire M3 line of chips has moved from 5nm to 3nm, bringing more efficiency across the board.

Some were certainly hoping for a larger leap in single-core performance, which Apple doesn’t have a lead in anymore. The M3 Max is right in line with 13th-gen H-series Intel chips. Given the recent performance claims by Qualcomm with its new Snapdragon X Elite chips, there’s even more pressure on the M3 Max to continue pushing the envelope.

MacBook Pro M3 Max: graphics and gaming

But Apple has a secret weapon with the M3 Max in its GPU performance. There’s a huge gain here over the previous generation. How huge? Well, according to the GPU test in Cinebench R24, the M3 Max’s GPU is 56% faster than the M2 Max. Keep in mind that this is with just two more GPU cores. The new feature, Dynamic Caching, seems to play a large role in just how performant the GPU has become. There’s a lot we still don’t know about it, but the GPU’s improved memory allocation allows for a significant boost in overall performance.

As a result, any and all tasks involving GPU rendering get a major uptick in performance. You’ll find this a significantly faster laptop for things like exporting video, 3D modeling, and – of course – gaming. Is this the first MacBook Pro that can actually double as a gaming laptop? It’s getting close. More and more, problems you may have with Mac gaming have less to do with performance and more to do with platform. While it’s a less direct comparison, the 14-inch M3 Max scored 889 on the Pugetbench Premiere Pro benchmark run in a live version of Adobe Premiere Pro and uses the GPU to speed up various tasks. The older M1 Pro MacBook Pro 14 scored just 467 in the same test. That’s a 90% improvement in two generations.

Is the M3 Max as powerful as a discrete mobile GPU like the RTX 4090 or 4080? Not quite. But it lands above every mobile configuration of the RTX 4070 so far, including the Razer Blade 14, where the MacBook Pro is 13% faster in GPU performance. That’s a proper gaming laptop, folks.

Baldur’s Gate 3‘s use of HDR brings the full capabilities of this screen to life.

I tested several games on the laptop to see how it performs: Lies of P, Civilization VI, Fortnite, and Baldur’s Gate 3. I left quite impressed by how the MacBook Pro handles these games. Lies of P is a well-optimized game, making it a great fit to show off how smooth gaming can be on a MacBook Pro, even with AAA titles. You have a few workable play options too, all of which are played at max settings. First off, you might want to drop the game down to 1920 x 1200 resolution, which will net you well over 100 (fps) frames per second, more effectively using the full capacity of the 120Hz refresh rate. Or you can bump the resolution up to 2294 x 1432 and average around 70 fps for a sharper image without having to completely sacrifice frame rate. It’s downright impressive.

Baldur’s Gate 3 is perhaps an even more important example. Since the native Mac version came out, it’s been tough to get the game to run smoothly outside of the Mac Studio with the M2 Ultra chip. The FSR 1 isn’t going to help you much here either, at least not without sacrificing some significant clarity. But with the M3 Max MacBook Pro, the game runs surprisingly well. With settings turned up, the happily churns out an average of 60 fps, so long as you stick with 1920 x 1200 resolution.

And more than just performance, the game’s use of HDR brings the full capabilities of this screen to life, adding clarity and detail to the brightly colored fantasy — in a way that even the best gaming laptop can’t.

The performance and hardware are there. Now we just need more games to come to the platform to prove how viable it’s become.

MacBook Pro M3 Max: battery life

You might think all this power means you’ll get poor battery life. After all, that’s usually the case with the most powerful Windows laptops.

Nothing could be further from the truth, however. The 16-inch M3 Max MacBook Pro saw 19 hours in our web browsing benchmark and an incredible 27 hours in our video looping test. Both scores are way above average for fast 16-inch laptops, with equivalent Windows machines scoring around six hours in web browsing and eight hours in video looping — if they’re lucky.

The 14-inch model will get a couple of hours fewer than its larger sibling. However, no matter which MacBook Pro you buy, you’ll work well into your second day before needing to power up. Even if you’re doing demanding creativity work, you might last a full day on a charge. That’s truly remarkable.

MacBook Pro M3 Max: speakers

Apple MacBook Pro 16 downward view showing keyboard and speaker.
MacBook Pro 16 Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

Now it’s time to gush about all the things that haven’t changed with the MacBook Pro this time, and it’s worth doing because they’re still best-in-class. The six-speaker sound system that’s been around since the 2021 model is still here, and it’s the very best. And it’s not close. These speakers are full-bodied and bassy, with the 16-inch MacBook Pro being even better than the smaller model thanks to its larger profile.

Whether you’re listening to music, doing a video call, or even watching a movie, these speakers have you covered. No headphones are necessary.

MacBook Pro M3 Max: keyboard and touchpad

The Magic Keyboard is fantastic, and even though it hasn’t changed, it remains one of my favorites to type on. There’s nothing whatsoever to complain about in that regard. The days of the butterfly keyboard and Touch Bar are a bygone era, and we can all be thankful for that.

The extra large haptic trackpad is equally good, especially on the 16-inch model where the trackpad is truly massive, though I noticed a slight change in the sound of it this time around. It’s louder and more clicky, but not in a good way. I got used to it within just a few minutes, but it’s noticeable compared to the softer sound of previous models.

MacBook Pro M3 Max: ports and displays

The closed MacBook Pro on a table.
Luke Larsen / Digital Trends

Ports haven’t changed on this year’s MacBook Pro, but they remain solid. All configurations come with a healthy mix of HDMI, USB-C, SD card slot, and even the tear-away MagSafe 3 jack.

There’s really only limitations in the mix, and it’s exclusive to the base M3 14-inch MacBook Pro. It only comes with two USB-C Thunderbolt ports, whereas the M3 Pro and Max (and all 16-inch) models come with three. They also support up to two external monitors using the USB-C and HDMI, but the M3 model only supports one external monitor. That’s the same problem the MacBook Airs suffer from, and it keeps that M3 model from feeling truly “Pro.” It seems to be a technical limitation of the M3 chip, and that’s no different in the 14-inch MacBook Pro.

External display support also varies by model and configuration. The base M3 MacBook Pro 14 supports just one external display, up to 6K at 60Hz. The M3 Pro models support up to two external displays, while the M3 Max models support up to four external displays. If you need to support a bunch of external monitors in your setup, choose carefully.

MacBook Pro M3: Pro or Max, 14-inch or 16-inch?

Now, obviously, I only have access to performance numbers for the M3 Max. And in the unit I’m seeing, performance is pretty killer. If you’re for that top-end model, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

The M3 Pro and M3 configurations, however, are a different story. We already know for sure that the M3 Pro has both reduced memory bandwidth and fewer performance cores than the M2 Pro. That certainly doesn’t sound good. But until performance is tested firsthand though, we won’t know for sure how those will affect overall performance.

All I know is that the M3 Max model is a huge jump over the M2 Max in terms of GPU performance. That won’t make it a must-buy for everyone coming from earlier models (especially if you can get the M2 Max for cheap), but I’m happy to see Apple continue to push the envelope on these high-end machines.

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