I’ve finally put my money where my mouth is.

Remember my moaning, whinging, and incessant whining about how biblically heavy and unwieldy the 16-inch MacBook Pro is? Well, it has been replaced by a brand-new 14-inch M3 Max MacBook Pro.

I said I’d do it, didn’t I?

There’s just one problem – I’ve made a mistake, which has resulted in said 14-inch MacBook Pro immediately winging its way through the Apple returns process.

I’ll explain how I’ve cocked up in this M3 Max MacBook Pro review – after I’ve given you my thoughts on Apple’s latest powerhouse laptop.

Oh, and I think I’ve worked out who should – and who definitely shouldn’t – buy this thing.

Thoughts on the Space Black M3 Max MacBook Pro

It’s all about the new colour, isn’t it? Let’s not kid ourselves. Every single review you’ve watched or read about the M3 MacBook Pro (bar those that focus on the base model) features a Space Black laptop. Because of course it does.

Is it black? No, not at all. It’s a deep, deep shade of grey. Does that matter? No, not at all. It just looks very cool and you’ll want one as soon as you see it in person. As for fingerprints and smudges, it fares better than the Midnight MacBook Air, but I need longer with it to see how often the cloth needs to come out.

I’ve been testing an M3 Max 14-inch MacBook Pro with a 16-core CPU, 40-core GPU, 48GB of unified memory and a 2TB SSD. It’s a beast – because of course it is. It’s also an incredibly expensive machine – £4,199 of my hard-earned English pounds, to be exact.

M3 Max MacBook Pro Space Black Smudges

The M3 Max MacBook Pro Space Black still has smudges, but it’s better than the Midnight MacBook Pro

Despite the astronomical cost of entry, these are the best MacBook Pros Apple has ever produced. They’re retro-chunky without feeling ancient, built like tanks, powerful enough to smash through any computing requirement, and will last for an extremely long time. But that’s the problem for Apple; this has been the case since the introduction of the M1-based MacBook Pro in 2021 – it was so far ahead of its time and so powerful that anyone who invested in that generation has no need whatsoever to upgrade to the M3 version.

Regardless, I thought I’d see how far we’ve come from Intel to M1 to M3.

M3 Max vs M1 Max MacBook Pro: the video test

As I always say before any Mark Ellis Reviews Ultimate Benchmark Super Pro Max Test, I have zero interest in deep dive testing. Instead, I have two routines I use to compare Mac generations – a render and an export of 4K footage in Final Cut Pro.

I time the process with my iPhone. There will be minor discrepancies in my testing. I might hit the ‘start’ button on the stopwatch a fraction early or a smidgen late. The machines I’m pitting against one another are not on a similar footing, spec-wise. At all.

M1 Max MacBook Pro vs M3 Max MacBook Pro

M1 Max MacBook Pro vs M3 Max MacBook Pro

Like it or lump it – this is how I run the show around here. Other tests are available. In this case, I wanted to see how much faster my brand-new M3 Max MacBook Pro is compared to my two-year-old M1 Max MacBook Pro.

The difference in specs is considerable. Firstly, the M3 version is a 14-inch MacBook Pro, and the M1 Max is a 16-inch variant. The latter is also short on cores (10 and 32 for the CPU and GPU, respectively) and memory (I opted for 32GB two years ago), compared to the M3 machine.

My first test was a render of a piece of 10-minute 4K Sony footage. The results were as follows:

  • M1 Max 16-inch MacBook Pro render: 01:15
  • M3 Max 14-inch MacBook Pro render: 01:07

So, a total of eight seconds was saved on my £700 more expensive, two generations later MacBook Pro.

Next up, an H.264 export of a 9-minute finished Final Cut Pro project which included a mixture of 4K Sony footage from an FX3 and 4K footage from a DJI Osmo Action 4 (along with a bunch of animations and graphical bits). The results were as follows:

  • M1 Max 16-inch MacBook Pro export: 02:27
  • M3 Max 14-inch MacBook Pro export: 02:25

Two seconds – that’s the saving I can expect during exports on my shiny new M3 Max MacBook Pro. And if I add up the total time taken for both tasks, the saving is ten seconds.

Would the savings have been greater if I’d opted for a 16-inch M3 Max MacBook Pro? Possibly! But I’d guess not by much.

M3 Max MacBook Pro Video Test

The M3 Max MacBook Pro renders and exports much faster than its Intel forefather

If you’re wondering how this differs from an Intel machine, while I don’t have a MacBook Pro from that era, I do have a 2017 5K Intel iMac which I tested recently against the M3 iMac. The footage wasn’t identical to what I used above, but it was very close in terms of duration, quality, and file size. The results were as follows:

  • 2017 5K Intel iMac render: 11:28
  • 2017 5K Intel iMac export: 04:23

The difference in rendering time between the Intel iMac (which has 32GB of RAM and a 4GB Radeon graphics card) and the Apple silicon Macs is biblical. As it should be. That export time? Just a couple of minutes saved with the M1 and M3 generations. Although, at nearly 16 minutes, the total time for the Intel iMac to chew through both processes is, admittedly, smashed to smithereens by both Apple silicon variants.

As it should be.

Who is the M3 MacBook Pro for?

It’s going to be quite some time until we enjoy the same seismic leap in MacBook Pro design, function, and performance that arrived with Apple silicon in 2021.

This is why Apple spent most of the October ‘Scary Fast’ event winking vigorously at anyone out there who is still using an Intel iMac. There are, clearly, a lot of you.

Equally, there are an awful lot of M1 MacBook Pro owners who have no desire whatsoever to upgrade. Even MKBHD (tech YouTube’s all-conquering Marques Brownlee) decided to cancel his M3 Max MacBook Pro order when he realised that the performance gains and presence of a Space Black colour option weren’t enough to justify the switch from his M1 Max machine.

I’ve been tempted to do the same. Do I need this super expensive new MacBook Pro? Not at all. The only reason I’m keeping it (or a version thereof – which I’ll come to in a moment) is because I want a smaller MacBook Pro. Is that sensible? Nope. But when you add in the fact that I intend to invest considerable time in making content about it, and that it’ll be put to serious use for several years to come, it kinda makes sense.

Sort of.

M3 Max MacBook Pro and M1 Max MacBook Pro side-by-side.

14-inch M3 Max MacBook Pro and 16-inch M1 Max MacBook Pro side-by-side

If you have an M1 MacBook Pro, I would think very carefully about wandering into the bright lights of this M3 version – even if you are bowled over by the Space Black option. You almost definitely don’t need it – unless you’ve been encountering bottlenecks with your current machine.

If you’ve got an M2 MacBook Pro, well… just chill. You’re good.

For the Intel crowd, now probably is the time to upgrade. As impressive as the performance of my 2017 iMac is, there’s a massive gulf in what it’s capable of compared to these Apple silicon-powered computers. Equally, the official support for those Intel Macs is gradually evaporating.

It won’t be a cheap purchase, but if you’ve held onto an Intel MacBook Pro for that long, you’ll probably do the same with your M3 MacBook Pro. Although, I’d wager that it might last you longer.

Wrapping up: my M3 MacBook Pro mistake

I’ve teased it, haven’t I? Now, it’s time to reveal why I’ve initiated the returns process for the 14-inch M3 Max MacBook Pro.

I bought the wrong spec. Everything was bang-on, apart from the unified memory, which I left at the base 48GB for the maxed-out M3 Max chip. For another £200, I could – and should – have opted for 64GB. It really is Monopoly money at this stage, so my decision to save a few quid really didn’t make sense, given the extra headroom that 64GB would provide.

So, I am still putting my money where my mouth is – just more so! That’s right – a 64GB-equipped M3 Max MacBook Pro is currently being built for yours truly.

I’ll report back with further thoughts later this year.

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