The 13″ MacBook Pro is finally dead with the introduction of the M3 generation chips. No longer do we have this oddball Pro-named Mac with a non-Pro chip, and replacing it is a more expensive 14″ Pro-named Mac with a… non-Pro chip… yeah…
But what this means is you can now seemingly get a 14″ MacBook Pro with a 20% lower starting price than before. However, is the non-Pro M3 MacBook Pro actually a good deal? Or should you pretend it doesn’t exist?
Let’s go over the differences between the M3 and M3 Pro MacBook Pros to find out.
Exterior: Weight and Color
First, because they are both 14″ MacBook Pros, the exterior is basically the same. The dimensions are identical as you might expect, but the weight of the non-Pro M3 is actually a tenth of a pound lighter, mainly due to having just 1 cooling fan instead of 2 that the M3 Pro version has.
The other exterior difference is the color option. All MacBooks can come in classic Silver, but the non-Pro M3 offers Space Gray as a color choice, while the M3 Pro model now offers the new, darker Space Black instead.
The final exterior difference is in the ports. Most notably, the M3 model has only 2 USB-C style Thunderbolt 3 ports, while the M3 Pro has 3 Thunderbolt 4 ports. There’s no overall speed difference between Thunderbolt 3 and 4, which mainly differs on the number of displays supported, but that is one fewer port. And they both have HDMI ports, but there is indeed quite a difference in display support.
While the built-in screens on the M3 and M3 Pro MacBook Pros are the same 14.2″ Liquid Retina displays, the M3 version only supports 1 external display with up to 6K resolution at 60Hz. That means despite having an HDMI port that can do 4K resolution at 120Hz, you can’t use HDMI and one of the Thunderbolt 3 ports for another display at the same time.
The M3 Pro MacBook Pro can support up to 2 external displays at 6K / 60Hz over Thunderbolt, or 1 over Thunderbolt and another using HDMI to get up to 4K at 144Hz. Alternatively, just connecting 1 display over HDMI allows you to get up to 8K at 60Hz or 4K at 240Hz.
For those who want to hook up 2 monitors, the M3 Pro is the only way to go.
Battery Life and Charging
One area where the non-Pro M3 machine is actually superior is battery life. Apple’s numbers claim about a 22-25% increase in battery life for video playback and wireless web for the M3 model over the M3 Pro. This makes sense, since the M3 is less powerful, and the battery size of the M3 MacBook Pro is 70-watt-hours, only 2.4 watt-hours less than the M3 Pro’s battery.
Both machines also come with a 70 watt power adapter as standard, but you can pay $20 more to upgrade to a 96 watt adapter that also supports fast charging, which lets you go from 0 to 50 percent charge in about 30 minutes. The 96 watt adapter is included for free if you upgrade to the higher tier M3 Pro chip, but more on that in a minute.
Speaking of the chip, the biggest difference between these computers is of course the M3 chip versus the M3 Pro chip. The M3 chip in the MacBook Pro comes in a single flavor with an 8-core CPU and 10-core GPU, while the M3 Pro starts at 11 CPU cores and 14 GPU cores, but can be upgraded to 12 CPU cores and 18 GPU cores for $200.
CPU & GPU Performance
Since they are all M3 chips, single-core performance should be the same, and just looking at core counts can give us the max theoretical performance increase in a world with perfect scaling, which of course never happens. On Geekbench, we can see that multi-core CPU performance is about 35% faster on the 12-core M3 Pro versus the 8-core M3. However, the base model with 11 cores is only about 25-27% faster than the M3.
On the GPU side, the 8 CPU / 10 GPU M3 has around 47000 Metal Score while the 11/14 M3 Pro scores around 68000, which is around 45% faster. Surprisingly, this is more than perfect scaling since 14 is only 40% more GPU cores than 10, so the M3 Pro graphics performance may be benefitting from other related spec improvements compared to the M3, or it could be rounding errors. The 12/18 M3 Pro is around 77-78000, or 66% faster than the M3. These are pretty significant bumps.
Media Engine, Neural Engine
When it comes to engines, be it the media engine that now supports AV1 decoding, or the 16-core neural engine, there is no difference between Pro and non-Pro M3 chips.
Memory is a different story, however, and is now harder to compare as well. The M3 MacBook Pro shockingly comes with just 8GB of memory, though you can upgrade to 16 or 24GB for $200 per 8GB. The M3 Pro MacBook Pro’s starting memory is 18GB, which means $250 of the $400 price difference is already accounted for just by the memory upgrade.
You can also upgrade the the M3 Pro’s memory to 36GB for $400, which is $200 per 9GB, a slightly better value than the M3’s upgrade pricing.
Besides the capacity, the M3 has 100GB/s of memory bandwidth, while the M3 Pro has 150GB/s. This difference is much smaller than between M2 and M2 Pro, as the M2 Pro’s memory bandwidth was 200GB/s. However, it’s hard to tell exactly what effect this difference will have on an application or use case, so don’t worry too much about it.
Unlike memory, Apple didn’t cut back on the storage for the M3 MacBook Pro, starting it out with a respectable 512GB on the $1600 base model, same as the M3 Pro’s $2000 base model. However, due to offering another stock model at $1800 with 1TB of storage, we now have an awkward decline in specs as we go from $1800 to $2000 stock models, since the storage shrinks back down.
Finally, there is a difference in noise levels. Apple’s measured idle noise levels show the M3 MacBook Pro at 3 decibels compared to 4 decibels for the M3 Max. Yes, I said Max, but the M3 Pro and M3 Max share the same spec sheet. Earlier, we also noted that the M3 Pro has an additional cooling fan compared to the M3. And some have tested that the non-Pro M3 can reach 6000 rpm fan speeds under load, while the M3 Pro MacBook Pro fan speeds under load are much slower in the 3500 rpm range and thus quieter.
So while idle noise levels may go to the M3 ever so slightly, noise under load should easily go to the M3 Pro MacBook Pro.
Alright, so to sum everything up, what you are getting for the $400 price difference is the following:
- The M3 Pro chip with 3 extra CPU and 4 extra GPU cores, resulting in 25% more CPU and 40% more GPU performance
- 10GB of extra memory
- 3 Thunderbolt 4 ports instead of 2 Thunder 3 bolts
- Support for up to 2 external displays at a higher resolution and refresh rate instead of just 1 external display
- A much quieter machine under heavy load
- 18-25% shorter battery life
- A tenth of a pound heavier weight
- Option for Space Black color in stead of Space Gray
So is it worth it? Well, I’d say if you are in the market for a MacBook Pro and not an Air, then you should probably avoid 8GB of memory. That means at a minimum, you’d spent the extra $200 to get 16GB on the M3 machine, which is still slightly less than the M3 Pro’s 18GB.
On top of that, the M3 Pro’s extra 25-40% performance gain for the remaining, let’s say, $200 or 10-15% price difference passes the relative value test.
And I also personally place high value on a quiet machine under load, so with all of that added together, I would personally choose the M3 Pro MacBook Pro.
What about the M3 Air or Used M1/M2 Pro?
I think the non-Pro M3 MacBook Pro doesn’t make sense in the long run. It’s likely going to have the same starting memory, burst performance, and power efficiency as an upcoming M3 MacBook Air, which will also be more portable and likely silent due to not having a fan. And the 13″ Air could cost $300-$500 less. For everyone who doesn’t need the performance of an M3 Pro but wants an efficient everyday M3 laptop, I would say just wait for the M3 Air if you can.
Or, consider a used M1 or M2 Pro MacBook Pro. That could be a great option if you want the sustained performance or display support of a Pro chip but don’t want to pay full price for the M3 Pro. Often times, buying a generation older can net you the best value and save you hundreds of dollars. However, be aware that the burst CPU performance of the 8-core M3 could be on par with the 10-core M1 or M2 Pro, so if you care more about battery life than sustained performance under load, you might still want to go with the non-Pro M3 MacBook Pro.