Apple Announces M3 Family: ‘Most Advanced Chips for a Personal Computer’
The race for more powerful computing silicon is heating up with three new offerings from Apple.
When Apple released its first in-house processor for MacBooks, the M1, in 2020, it was a watershed moment for the personal computing industry. Since that day, the industry has seen a huge influx of computing technology, both from Apple with its M2 family and from competitors Intel, AMD, and Nvidia.
The Apple M3 Max supports 128 GB of unified memory.
Last week, Qualcomm launched its Snapdragon X Elite processor, which it claimed was the most powerful PC processor in the industry. Not to be outdone, Apple made headlines days later, unveiling its M3 family of processors, consisting of the M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max.
Hardware Improvements to M3
The new M3 family includes a few generational improvements among all three devices. For starters, the family is the industry’s first to be built on a 3 nm process node, giving it a higher density than M2 and M1, both of which were based on 5 nm technology.
M3 offers improvements in CPU, GPU, and neural engine performance.
The family boasts a new and improved GPU, which introduces features such as hardware-accelerated ray tracing, mesh shading, and the new Dynamic Caching. As Apple explains, Dynamic Caching allocates the local memory in hardware in real time, using only the exact amount of memory needed. By increasing the average use of the GPU, Dynamic Caching helps the M3 family GPU achieve a 65% performance improvement over M1 at half the power consumption.
The CPUs offer similar improvements, featuring efficiency cores that are 30% faster than those in M2, according to Apple. Similarly, the performance cores are 15% faster than those in M2. Together, these cores improve the CPUs' performance by 35% performance while at half the power of M1. Other notable hardware units include a neural engine that is 15% faster than M2 and a new media engine to support AV1 decode.
Introducing the M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max
The M3 packs in 25 billion transistors and features a 10-core GPU and an eight-core CPU, consisting of four performance cores and four efficiency cores. The device supports 25 GB of unified memory.
The new lineup of Apple silicon.
M3 Pro kicks up the transistor count to 37 billion and includes an 18-core GPU and a 12-core CPU, consisting of six performance cores and six efficiency cores. Apple says its unified memory support reaches 36 GB, and its single-threaded performance is 30% faster than the M1 Pro.
Finally, the M3 Max brings the transistor count to 92 billion. This culminates in a 40-core GPU, a 16-core CPU that features 12 performance cores and four efficiency cores, and support for up to 128 GB of unified memory. According to Apple, the M3 Max can support transformer models of billions of parameters while maintaining performance that is up to 80% faster than the M1 Max.
These devices will be found in new models of the MacBook Pro and iMac, with the former claiming a 22-hour battery life—the longest ever in a Mac.
Stacking Up to Snapdragon X Elite
Comparing processors is a nebulous task. So far, Apple has not released any public benchmark information or deep technical specifications about the M3 family. Curiously, most of its marketing has compared the M3 family to the M1 family directly, not the M2 family. However, when comparing it to the new Snapdragon X Elite, there are a couple of takeaways worth noting.
The Snapdragon X Elite features a 12-core CPU, a 12-core GPU, and seemingly no dedicated AI accelerator. The device is built on a 4 nm process and can run over 13B model parameters. Apple’s M3 Max, on the other hand, offers a more advanced process node, a GPU with significantly more cores, and seemingly comparable parameter support.
Still, without further technical detail and time to truly benchmark the two against each other, these comparisons don’t hold much weight. Even then, sifting through the nuances of benchmarking will be necessary to arrive at meaningful results. Until then, both releases can be viewed as positive developments in the personal computing industry.
All images used courtesy of Apple.