MacBook gaming is always a contentious argument and has been raging ever since the first 12-inch MacBook was released in 2015. Just by typing these very words, there will already be people saying that the answer to the question is a firm no.
Almost any computer can run games to some extent, as long as it can run software and render graphics. So this isn’t a question of can an M3 MacBook be used for gaming, but instead, is it actually any good at it?
To answer this, we need to take a closer look at the M3 chip and its different configurations. Below, we’ll run through the base-level M3 chip, M3 Pro and M3 Max to see how they match the demands and strains of gaming.
Gaming on an M3 MacBook Pro
First off, the base-level M3 MacBook Pro only comes with a 14-inch display. If you want the larger 16-inch screen size then you will have to buy an M3 Pro or M3 Max MacBook Pro.
Additionally, all M3 MacBooks support accelerated ray tracing, a feature previously seen in the A17 Pro chip inside the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max. Ray tracing helps to make games look better but can impact performance if your laptop doesn’t have the GPU power to handle it.
They also feature Dynamic Caching, a system where RAM usage is allocated in real-time, optimising memory applications for gaming. Without getting too technical, this makes the GPU run more efficiently which is a positive for gaming.
The base M3 CPU has 4 performance and 4 efficiency cores, similar to its predecessor, the M2. This is not a great offering when it comes to gaming. For comparison, an Alienware M16 with an Intel i9 processor has 8 performance cores and 16 efficiency cores.
Apple says the efficiency cores are 30% faster than a comparable M2 MacBook, with performance cores at 15% faster, but even so, the improvements here are nothing completely revolutionary.
The main problem in terms of gaming here though is that the base-level 14-inch M3 MacBook Pro is only available with a 10-core GPU. You’ll want much more than that.
It’s safe to say the base-level M3 MacBook is not an option for gaming.
The M3 Pro features 6 performance and 6 efficiency cores, while the M3 Max boasts 12 performance and 4 efficiency cores, resulting in a total of 16 cores.
One of the significant upgrades Apple made to the M3 chip is in the GPU department. The new M3 GPUs support accelerated ray tracing, a feature previously seen in the A17 Pro chip inside the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max. Additionally, a new feature called Dynamic Caching allocates RAM usage in real-time, optimizing memory usage for gaming and other processes.
According to Apple, the M3 chips offer up to 65% faster GPU performance than the original M1 processors. This significant improvement showcases Apple’s focus on enhancing the graphical capabilities of its laptops, traditionally targeted towards professionals and creative individuals. Content creators and gamers alike can benefit from the improved graphical horsepower of the M3 MacBook Pro.
Gaming on an M3 Pro MacBook Pro
The M3 Pro MacBook Pro begins to take things closer to something you might want to game on.
With 6 performance and 6 efficiency cores, the M3 Pro offers a balance between power and efficiency. The M3 Pro also allows for a maximum of 18 GPU cores which is better than the base M3 but still not ideal.
Weirdly though, this is one less core than the M2 Pro, whilst the M3 Pro also has 25% less memory bandwidth. Memory bandwidth determines how quickly your laptop can access memory pools and therefore how quickly your laptop runs on the whole.
Overall, this means the M3 Pro’s GPU performance sees marginal gains over the M2 Pro, with some benchmarkers struggling to register any statistical improvement at all. Like above, if you want to game on a MacBook, you’ll need something much beefier…
Gaming on an M3 Max MacBook Pro
This is where things start to get really interesting.
Unsurprisingly, the M3 Max is the best Apple chip to use for gaming. At the surface level, there is the capacity for up to 40 GPU cores which is much more suitable for gaming and a claimed 45% speed increase over the M2 Max. But beneath the surface, the numbers get more impressive.
The latest benchmarks show that the M3 Max’s 4-core GPU closely matches Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3080 graphics card and only a 7% performance deficit compared to the GeForce RTX 4080, two of the best graphics GPUs on the market.
By the numbers, the M3 Max runs at 28,517 frames, averaging 443.5 FPS at 1440p resolution. The GeForce 4080 comes in at 29,759 frames and 462.8 FPS.
This is undeniably impressive from the M3 Max and is the largest stride Apple has ever made towards optimising their MacBook Pros for gaming. If you want to game on a MacBook, then the M3 Max with as many GPU cores and unified memory/SSD storage as you can afford is what you’ll need.
Is the M3 MacBook Pro Good for Gaming?
There are two answers to two questions here.
Can you use an M3 MacBook Pro for gaming? Yes, but you’ll need to buy an M3 Max with as much unified memory and as many GPU cores as you can afford.
Is an M3 MacBook Pro good for gaming? The answer is getting increasingly closer to a ‘yes’ with much improved graphical processing performance, but there are much better options out there for less money.
For example, the top-of-the-range Asus ROG Strix SCAR 16 gaming laptop with an Intel i9 processor is currently priced at $4080 (£3,337) on Amazon. A base-level M3 Max MacBook Pro costs $3,999 (£4,099).
The two main problems with MacBooks remain. Firstly, no matter how advanced your integrated graphics are, they still fall short compared to dedicated GPUs found in gaming laptops. For the best gaming experience, investing in a higher-end Windows gaming laptop with a discrete GPU is easily your best bet.
Secondly, MacBooks still lack compatibility and support for many of the most popular AAA titles. Most PC games are optimized for the Windows operating system, making them less compatible with macOS.
However, for Mac users who want to occasionally indulge in gaming and also have an excellent laptop for work, the M3 Max MacBook Pro would suffice. Admittedly, this is a very specific use case.
Do you think you can justify gaming on an M3 MacBook Pro? Let me know below!