Yesterday, I visited the redeveloped Battersea Power Station in London.
As a huge Pink Floyd fan, this was quite a moment. Seeing those four massive white towers emerge as I exited the tube station was almost like walking into the album cover for Animals. I say ‘almost’, because the area surrounding the huge industrial landmark has been completely redeveloped and the station itself looks brand-new. It’s now far more 2023 London chic than experimental concept album cover.
It’s a lovely area, though. Fittingly, it’s also the location of Apple’s UK headquarters, a stunning instalment that takes up a huge chunk of Battersea Power Station and to which I was invited by the Mac team.
I didn’t have long, but I asked as many questions as I could – and this is what I took away from the visit.
M3 iMac: my first look at the fully loaded spec
If you’ve got a spare four hours, grab yourself a large popcorn and dig into the comments section. You’ll note that I’ve been informed precisely 8,192 times that the test was unfair. The M3 and M1 iMacs were both base models with 8GB of unified memory, you see. The Intel iMac had 32GB of RAM, which – as I was forcibly informed by that Power Station capacity YouTube crowd – is why it beat the new kids on the block during a video export (by 30 seconds).
So, as the Mac team enthusiastically showed me just how quickly the M3 iMac can switch between user accounts running multiple heavy-duty apps, my first question was an obvious one.
“Which spec is this?” I asked.
Turns out it was the fully loaded 24GB version. It’s the first time I’ve witnessed that configuration in an iMac, too, and it was blisteringly fast. Some might say ‘scary fast’. I quizzed the team on where this leaves the 8GB base model configuration. And their response was as refreshing as it was obvious.
It’s for anyone who doesn’t need the amount of horsepower offered by the higher-tier configurations. Although, as one of the Apple team members neatly put it, some people will buy the top-specced one, regardless. They just want to know they’ve bought the best, whether it’ll be used to its full potential or not. As I’ve always said, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
They also highlighted that there’s more choice now. The M1 iMac could only be configured with either 8GB or 16GB of unified memory, whereas the M3 has the new 24GB tier.
This does add a degree of buyer trepidation and confusion, but as I’ve always said – if you need 24GB of memory, you know you need that much memory. I also firmly believe that 8GB of unified memory works perfectly for a significant user base – me included. I’ve been running this business on 8GB Macs since 2020.
Not happy with 8GB? Don’t understand why you’d need 24GB? Go for the 16GB version!
M3 MacBook Pro: brain-bending power
I recently revealed that I made a right old cock up with my 14-inch M3 Max MacBook Pro order. I got the chip right (a maxed-out M3 Max), and the storage (I daredn’t go any further than 2TB). But I stupidly stuck with 48GB of unified memory, rather than spending another £200 to take it up to 64GB.
Following last weekend’s RAM lesson – and the fact I’m firmly into Monopoly money territory with this purchase – it’s been a tempting enough upgrade to initiate the return and reorder.
It was nice, therefore, to get a proper look at the three spec choices for the M3 MacBook Pro at Apple HQ yesterday. “Here’s what you could have won,” is kinda what it felt like, but I did at least get an insight into the target audience for each configuration.
The base model M3 MacBook Pro, despite sporting the same 8GB of unified memory as the iMac, is something of which Apple is clearly very proud. It’s cheaper than its predecessor, it features a far better display, an updated, more functional design, and, I suspect, is going to sell like hotcakes. If you just want a MacBook Pro and have little to no commercial importance placed on it, the base model M3 is an absolute no-brainer. I think it’ll be the same for a lot of business bulk buyers.
The M3 Pro MacBook Pro steps things up a gear, considerably. Featuring more cores and increased memory upgrade options compared to the base model, it’s clearly where the majority of professional users are going to land. It’s the sweet spot, yet it’s one which has immense graphics capabilities thanks to hardware-accelerated ray tracing (a demo of which I was shown and which reveals just how capable this laptop is of running serious games – if we ever see the MacBook head seriously in that direction).
Last up was a fully maxed-out M3 Max 16-inch MacBook Pro. My immediate question was pre-empted – and it sounds like a lot of people are asking it; who needs 128GB of unified memory?
The Mac team picked two use cases “they rarely talk about” to demonstrate the power offered by that much memory. The first was neurology, where very smart people can leverage the graphical power of the M3 Max, and that near-bottomless well of unified memory to delve deeply into models of the brain.
They moved on to architecture next, and demonstrated how a complex, multi-gigabyte model of a building can be stripped back in real-time, immediately, and analysed brick-by-brick, thanks to the MacBook Pro’s ability to store a colossal amount of data within its unified memory banks. Another demo featured the 3D rendering capabilities of the M3 Max, and how lighting can be instantly manipulated within complex scenes.
As you might expect, the party trick was to then swipe across on the trackpad and reveal that all of this biblically complex stuff was happening while another biblically complex application was running in the background.
The stuff these new MacBook Pros can do is eye-watering.
No matter how impressive those new MacBook Pros are, they are still hugely expensive computers. For commercial use, they will pay back handsomely as investments; a seven-grand computer quickly becomes indispensable if it’s capable of churning through research, productivity, and products at such a high rate.
But what about everyone else? What about those who aren’t tying the performance of these M3 Macs to any form of commercial endeavour?
It all comes back to the ‘c’ word. It was uttered several times during my visit to Apple yesterday, and I’m inclined to agree. If you’re in the market for a new Mac, there has never been a better time to find one that suits your needs because there is so much choice.
Questions about the possibility of an M3 Mac mini and M3 Mac Studio remain unanswered, and they are problematic. However, I’d focus your buying energy on the M3 iMac and MacBook Pro, because there are enough choices there to satisfy most user requirements and budgets.
I, for one, can’t wait for the arrival of my nearly-specced-up M3 Mac MacBook Pro.