One of the best announcements from Apple’s Scary Fast event was a new, more affordable 14-inch M3 MacBook Pro.
That’s right, Apple, famous for its premium prices, is releasing a next-generation M3 MacBook Pro for $100 (£100) less than the price of a base model 13-inch M2 MacBook Pro. That means, above all else, consumers are getting a faster, more powerful laptop for less money
But do you really need to splash out on a new 14-inch MacBook Pro, or can you get by with picking up a secondhand 13-inch M2 version? Below is our comprehensive MacBook buying guide that will help you decide which generation is most suitable for your specific needs.
M3 vs M2 Chip
Unsurprisingly, the baseline M3 MacBook Pro uses the most basic M3 chip, with the same configuration used for the M2 generation.
In all honesty, most of the upcoming numbers have no significance for the vast majority of users. The amount of CPU or GPU cores will not affect your ability to write articles, use the internet or stream movies.
Both the baseline M3 MacBook Pro and M2 MacBook Pro have an 8-core CPU, 10-core GPU and 16-core neural engine. The CPU determines how quickly you can load applications and also how well multiple applications can be run at once. More CPU cores mean a faster laptop that is better at multitasking.
The GPU is responsible for all graphics processing that happens on a laptop. For example, more GPU cores means that a MacBook is faster at video editing, graphics rendering or gaming.
Similarly, the memory bandwidth, which is set at 100GB/s for both MacBook generations, determines how quickly items from your laptop’s memory can be accessed and stored.
Seeing as the baseline models on both MacBooks have exactly the same setups here, you don’t have to worry about too much. Apple claims that the M3 chip is faster than the M2 chip by 15%, but most everyday users won’t notice this.
Verdict: If you’re doing some heavy lifting, like video editing or music work, I’d avoid both of these MacBooks. Instead, an M2 MacBook with more CPU/GPU cores will be for you, or an M3 if you have the cash. For everyone else, the M2 MacBook Pro is a perfectly suitable option.
Memory and Storage
This is probably the thing that matters most in terms of specifications when buying a MacBook. And you’ll be glad to know that there isn’t much to think about here as both the M3 MacBook Pro and M2 MacBook Pro as nearly identical in terms of memory and storage.
The baseline M3 MacBook Pro offers 8GB of unified memory and 512GB of SSD storage, whilst the same M2 version also gives you 8GB of unified memory but only 256GB of SSD storage.
That isn’t an insignificant difference. More SSD storage means you can have a larger number of files downloaded onto your MacBook. What you need will depend on your usage. If you are using your laptop for word processing, browsing the internet and light image work, then you’ll be totally fine with a 256GB SSD.
But if you are a Photographer who needs to store a lot of images, or a musician with tons of Logic samples, you will need more SSD space. And I’d also recommend more unified memory, especially for heavy photo or video editing, which may mean grabbing a 16GB M3 MacBook Pro instead for an extra $200 (£200).
Another thing to consider is that the M3 chip provides a faster memory speed than the M2 chip. This means that the M3 MacBook Pro can handle more tasks simultaneously, making it ideal for multitasking.
Verdict: If you’re an everyday user, who carries out work like word processing and internet use, you’ll be completely fine with either baseline MacBook generation. BUT, the extra SSD offered by the M3 MacBook Pro may make it worth the extra cash if you feel like it.
This is the first time the two MacBooks show some meaningful difference.
The M3 MacBook has a 14-inch screen whilst the M2 version has a 13-inch screen. But the real benefit of the M3 MacBook is the Liquid Retina XDR display, an improvement from the normal M2 Retina LED backlit display.
Without getting too technical, this means that the M3 MacBook has more pixels per square inch giving better resolution, higher contrast capabilities and the ability to display 1 billion colours. Basically, a more vibrant and clear picture quality.
The higher resolution of the M3 MacBook Pro makes it a better option for graphic designers or anyone who requires a high-quality display. However, the difference in resolution is not significant for most users, and the M2 MacBook Pro’s display is still excellent.
Verdict: While its nice to have (and lok at), the Liquid Retina display is only a necessity for graphic designers, video editors or photographers. Don’t sweat this one if you don’t need it.
This one is a quick decision. Do you categorically need a HDMI port? If yes, then choose the M3 MacBook Pro because it has one!
In fact, the M3 MacBook Pro makes the M2 version seem rather frugal with its input/output ports. The base model M2 MacBook Pro only has two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports for charging and display output.
The M3 MacBook Pro has the same two Thunderbolt ports, but an additional MagSafe 3 input, SD card slot and a HDMI port. That is a pretty comprehensive set of ports for a base model MacBook. I’m impressed!
All of this means that the M3 MacBook Pro offers faster data transfer speeds and the ability to directly connect your laptop to external displays. This is handy and removes the need for annoying adapters.
Both generations have a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Verdict: If you need to connect to an external monitor regularly, the M3 MacBook Pro is the more attractive pick. The same goes for image editors with the SD card reader. Not planning on using external monitors much? Then the 13-inch M2 MacBook Pro is good for you.
Colour, size and weight
Cosmetically, both MacBooks are the same. They come in the same ‘Space Grey’ or ‘Silver’ colours.
In terms of size and weight, both laptops are relatively similar. The M3 MacBook Pro weighs 1.55kg and is 22.12 cm in depth, while the M2 MacBook Pro weighs 1.4kg and is 21.24cm in depth. So, basically the same.
Not much to see here!
Verdict: *shrugs shoulders*
The big news about the new M3 MacBook Pro was that Apple decided to drop the Touch Bar, a bit of tech they were very proud of when they announced it.
The Touch Bar is a touch-sensitive strip that runs across the top of the keyboards on M2 MacBooks. You can use it to adjust volume, and brightness and access things like emojis or Siri. It turned out to be more of an annoyance as users kept accidentally touching it instead of the keyboard.
Turns out Apple didn’t care for it much either so they’ve binned it. I think it’s a good move. The Touch Bar is more of a nuisance than anything and is expensive to replace.
Other than that, the two MacBooks feature the same Backlit Magic Keyboard (Apple’s standard keyboard configuration.
Verdict: The M3 MacBook Pro wins out here. No Touch Bar means less potential for things to break.
Now the biggie, what really matters to most consumers.
A new base model 14-inch M3 MacBook Pro costs $1,599 (£1,699). That is $100 (£100) cheaper than a new M2 MacBook Pro used to cost. So, in theory, it’s a bargain.
Right now, you can pick up a refurbished base model 13-inch M2 MacBook Pro from anywhere between £850 to £1000 depending on who you buy it from. Apple’s Certified Refurbished online store is not selling M2 MacBook Pros.
For about the same price as a new 14-inch M3 MacBook Pro, you can buy a refurbished 16-inch M1 Pro MacBook Pro with 16GB of memory and a 10-core CPU.
Verdict: The main feather in the base model M3 MacBook’s cap is the price. It is majorly the same as the M2 MacBook Pro in terms of specifications, with slightly faster performance, but the lower price point for a new MacBook is hard to ignore. I would try and find that extra $400ish (£500ish) to buy the 14-inch M3 MacBook Pro.
Apple deliberately didn’t compare the new M3 MacBook range with its M2 forebearers for a reason; there isn’t much difference. Unless you really start to max out the M2 Pro/M2 Max chips which most people won’t.
But, cleverly, Apple has made the M3 MacBook Pro an attractive purchase through its pricing. By making it cheaper than the M2 version, it feels like a no-brainer for anyone looking to upgrade their old laptop.
And I think it is in most circumstances. If you want to upgrade from a base model M1 MacBook Pro, or even better an Intel-powered MacBook, then do it. The M3 MacBook Pro is worth the money.
If you already have an M2 machine, then don’t start panicking. You have a very powerful laptop that will last you a very long time if you take care of it. Stick with it…unless you really hate the touch bar!
Which MacBook do you think is better? Let me know in the comments below!