As lovely as this new generation of MacBook Pros is, and as tempting as it might be to buy one – even when you don’t technically need a new MacBook Pro – there’s no escaping the fact that these are incredibly expensive laptops.
There are some buying challenges, too. There’s a base model version of the M3 MacBook Pro with just 8GB of unified memory. That has caused quite a stink; I’ve seen numerous comments left against my M3 YouTube videos that suggest Apple is doing its customers a disservice by daring to offer such a configuration.
I don’t agree. And, now that the dust has settled, I think the buying process for an M3 MacBook Pro is actually far simpler than some of you might think.
The case for the 8GB M3 MacBook Pro
Hear me out.
Apple sent me a base model M3 MacBook Pro to try out, and it is a superb laptop. It’s cheaper than the base model it replaces from the M2 generation and comes complete with that lovely new retro-chunky design.
It’s even got an SD card slot.
Sure, you miss out on one Thunderbolt port (you get an additional one if you step up to the M3 Pro or Max), but you still get the same gorgeous ProMotion-equipped Liquid Retina XDR display that you get on the more expensive models.
The sticking point for most people appears to be the unified memory; the base model M3 MacBook Pro comes with just 8GB, and that does indeed feel like a small number in 2024.
I’ve written and said so much about the unified memory debate in this era of Apple silicon. I still run most of my business on an 8GB Mac – in my case, the 15-inch M2 MacBook Air. No, I don’t edit videos on it (it’s not built for that), but I do undertake pretty much everything else this business needs on that machine, from writing to admin, and everything in between.
There are two reasons Apple offers 8GB Macs. The first is that, of course, they want you to spend as much money as possible. They don’t want you to go for that base model; they want you to think that 8GB isn’t enough and to instead opt for the 16GB version. Although, they don’t want you to stop there.
They want you to then look at the 512GB base storage and decide you need more. Then, you spot the M3 Pro chip, which appears to be a sensible step up rather than jumping up again to 24GB of unified memory on the base M2.
So it continues, and you end up spending more. And more. That’s what Tim wants. You would too, if you were running Apple.
Secondly, Apple knows that there’s a market for 8GB base model Macs. A big one, I’d wager. Although they’ll never break down the sales figures to that level, I’d put money on the fact that the base model MacBook Pro has always been a seriously good seller.
If you’re running a business that needs a boatload of MacBook Pros for a department that doesn’t hang on every single second of production time, it’s a smart move. If you’re a consumer who just wants a MacBook Pro but doesn’t want to spend a fortune, it’s a no-brainer.
To round things off, this is how the base model 8GB M3 MacBook Pro performed in the desperately-needs-patenting-before-someone-steals-the-idea Mark Ellis Reviews Final Cut Pro Benchmark:
- M3 MacBook Pro (8GB)
- Render: 01:39
- Export: 04:57
- TOTAL TIME: 06:36
For context, this is only 02:36 slower than my £4,400 M3 Max MacBook Pro. For most people, that’s a quick trip to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. And £2,700 saved.
At £1,699, the base model 8GB M3 MacBook Pro is a superb laptop, and I’m happy for that to go on record.
When should you spec-up to the M3 Pro and M3 Max?
The base model M3 MacBook Pro isn’t for everyone, which is why we have options and why it isn’t worth setting your trousers on fire about that 8GB version.
Move on. Spec the one you need – if 8GB is too silly for you.
I have another theory that the 16GB upgrade – which takes the list price up to £1,899 – is going to be the sweet spot for most people. The base storage of 512GB might need tweaking for some (1TB for an extra £200 feels sensible if you have the budget), but you can easily add external storage via SSDs, as I do.
A 16GB M3 MacBook Pro will offer more longevity than the 8GB version and, possibly, better resale value if that’s something you’re concerned about. However (and I offer this with the huge caveat that I’ve not tested one) I wouldn’t expect massive gains in performance. For instance, I’ve tested the 16GB version of the M3 iMac against its 8GB sibling, and in the same Final Cut Pro test, the latter only lost out by four seconds in the total processing time.
Of course, real-world usage extends far beyond my silly little inaccurate benchmarks, and there’s no doubt that 16GB will just feel right for a lot of people. If that’s the case – go for it, you won’t be disappointed.
When it comes to the M3 Pro and M3 Max, you need only venture into those realms if you know you need to. If you’re using your MacBook Pro for serious production work, development, or calculation-heavy stuff, those chips will deliver, big time. But don’t be swayed by the bright lights of the Pro and Max monikers if you’re not convinced you need them – because you almost certainly don’t.
The case for the M3 iMac
I recently revealed my 2024 buying guidance for the M3 iMac, and it allowed me to once again shout to the rafters about just how brilliant Apple’s all-in-one desktop is.
The reason I’m mentioning it in this M3 MacBook Pro buying guide is that you may not need a laptop. If you’re the sort of person who buys a laptop only for it to spend its entire life docked on a desk and connected to a bunch of external peripherals – including a monitor – I’d rethink your strategy.
You’ll pay a little bit more for a similarly-specced M3 iMac – and there’s no M3 Pro or M3 Max option (yet) – but you’ll also gain a much bigger display and a setup which far better suits your use case.
If this has inspired you, check out my 2024 M3 iMac buying guide to find the right one for you.
Finally: M3 Macs missing in action
This year needs to be another big year for the Mac. The reason is simple – we have a few M3 Macs that are currently MIA.
At the time of writing, the Mac mini, Mac Studio, MacBook Air, and Mac Pro are all still on the M2 generation of Apple silicon. As is always the case with Apple, there has been no word as to when we can expect M3 editions of these machines, and I suspect that is frustrating for lots of people.
If you’re waiting on the M3 version of any of those Macs, I’d hold out for as long as you can, because the releases must be imminent. I’d suggest we’ll see something for the Mac mini, Mac Studio, and MacBook Air by WWDC, at the latest.
The Mac Pro? Who knows.
The big Apple silicon replacement for the 27-inch Intel iMac? I still don’t think that’s going to be this year, I’m afraid, but there’s an outside chance one might arrive before 2024 draws to a close.
In the meantime, if you’re currently considering an M3 MacBook Pro, I hope I’ve managed to steer you in the right direction!