Are Apple’s new M3 chips actually “Scary Fast”?
- Apple’s M3 chips, with 3nm technology, significantly enhance speed and efficiency in the latest MacBooks and iMacs.
- The M3 chip series – M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max – redefine performance benchmarks in gaming and professional use.
- Could the M3 chips establish a new normal in high performance chips on accessible machines?
Apple’s latest event was titled “Scary Fast.” The focus is evidently on speed, but in what context? Simple – Apple has revealed its new line of M3 processors, which includes significant GPU improvements. These processors – the M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max – are set to enhance both CPU speeds and the user community’s expectations of speeds in future applications. More notably, they are geared towards boosting performance in professional applications and gaming, with the M3 family set to be featured in upcoming MacBook Pro models and a new 24-inch iMac.
The new speed benchmarks
The entry-level M3 boasts an eight-core CPU, split between four performance and four efficiency cores. According to Apple, it’s up to 35% faster than the M1 in CPU terms. While the M3’s comparison to the M2 remains unclear, Apple did note an 18% speed bump in CPU performance of the M2 over the M1. Based on a new architecture, the M3 is also equipped with a 10-core GPU, offering a 65% increase in graphics performance compared to the M1. It supports up to 24GB of unified memory and can handle one external display with the device’s own.
The M3 Pro uses a 12-core CPU, which includes six performance and six efficiency cores, and an 18-core GPU. This configuration is touted as being 40% faster than the M1 Pro in terms of GPU speed. Apple claims a 30% increase in CPU speed over the M1 Pro for single-threaded tasks, again without directly comparing it to the M2. The M3 Pro can accommodate up to 36GB of unified memory.
At the high end, the M3 Max features a beefy 16-core CPU (12 performance cores and four efficiency cores) and a 40-core GPU. Apple asserts that the M3 Max’s GPU offers speeds up to 50% faster than the M1 Max, and its GPU capabilities are said to be 80% quicker than those of the M1 Max. This performance jump is significant, especially considering Apple’s earlier claim that the M2 Max was 30% faster than the M1 Max in graphics. The M3 Max can support a whopping 128GB of unified memory.
M3 chips vs M2: understanding the technological leap
The M2 and M3 chips share similarities in their core configurations, presenting an eight-core CPU and eight-core or 10-core GPU options. The M3 continues the trend of using unified memory, maxing out at 24GB, akin to the M2. But the more advanced M3 Pro and M3 Max models can support up to 128GB. This suggests potential enhancements for the M3 line in other Apple devices.
The most striking distinction between the M2 and M3 chips lies within their architectural design. The M3, debuting with a 3nm process technology compared to the M2’s 5nm process, represents a significant leap forward. This newer technology means the M3 can accommodate more transistors – 25 billion, 5 billion more than the M2 – within the same space. This leads to a marked improvement in performance and efficiency, further advancing Apple’s chipset technology.
Revolutionizing graphics and gaming
A primary focus of these new chips is their GPU prowess and next-gen graphics architecture, geared towards professional applications and enhanced gaming experiences. The M3 chips mark Apple Silicon’s first foray into hardware-accelerated ray tracing and mesh shading.
Apple’s incorporation of ray tracing, typically seen in Nvidia’s and AMD’s latest GPUs, into the M3 chips allows game developers to create more realistic shadows and reflections, much like those found in high-end gaming consoles, PCs, and Windows laptops. The introduction of mesh shading gives developers more flexibility in rendering complex scenes, not just in games but also in GPU-heavy applications.
In a pioneering move, Apple introduced Dynamic caching in the M3 chips. This feature, a first in the industry, enables software to dynamically allocate memory for each application or game, moving away from fixed memory allocation. Apple is assuring customers that this advancement, requiring no extra effort from developers, will notably enhance the performance of applications and games.
The GPUs in the new M3 series also incorporate mesh shading and ray tracing. Particularly impactful for graphics and gaming, this feature allows for more precise rendering of shadows. The M3 machines can support up to 24GB of memory, marking a significant first in the history of Apple Silicon and positioning it on par with dedicated GPUs from Nvidia and AMD. For game developers, this means easier coding for enhanced detail and shadow rendering, even without a dedicated GPU.
M3 chips and AI: accelerating the future
On the topic of custom engines for AI and video, the M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max all feature an upgraded neural engine. This engine is up to 60% faster than those in the M1 chip family, accelerating machine learning workflows while maintaining on-device data privacy. AI image processing tools, like noise reduction and super-resolution in applications such as Topaz and scene edit detection in Adobe Premiere and Smart Conform in Final Cut Pro, all benefit from speed improvements.
All three M3 chips have an advanced media engine that offers hardware acceleration for popular video codecs like H.264, HEVC, ProRes, and ProRes RAW. This is the first time Apple’s media engine includes support for AV1 decoding, allowing for more energy-efficient playback of streaming services and extending battery life.
While the implications of these advancements for Mac gaming remain somewhat ambiguous, the enhanced performance, hardware-accelerated ray tracing, and the novel dynamic caching feature all point towards substantial benefits for both game developers and prospective M3 Mac users. Yet, the Mac gaming library is still expanding, with Apple encouraging the migration of Windows games to Mac through its earlier release of a Proton-like tool for developers.
Mac users have been utilizing Apple’s game porting toolkit to play various DirectX 12 games on the M1 and M2 chips. Though Apple’s translation layer performance hasn’t always been optimal, the progress indicates a growing potential for Mac as a competitive gaming platform.
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