Hello again. It’s only been about 10 months since the M2 Pro and Max chips arrived on the MacBook Pros, but that’s already old news. Here I am with the MacBook Pro 16 with the M3 Max chip — and hoo boy, this is one big, beefy hunk of Pro laptop. It’s priced like one, too.
If this bad boy and its benchmarks came out in 2021, we’d all be picking our jaws up off the floor. But it’s 2023, and we’ve already seen what Apple Silicon can do. Spec bumps just aren’t as tantalizing as whole transitions. And while this computer is powerful, it starts at $3,499. That’s for the “base” M3 Max configuration with a 14-core CPU, 30-core GPU, 36GB of RAM, and 1TB of storage. That’s about as much as my current rent is for a two-bedroom New York City apartment.
The review unit that Apple sent me? It’s got a 16-core CPU, 40-core GPU, 128GB of memory, and 8TB of storage. It delivers ludicrous speed at a ludicrous price of $7,199. You can get the same CPU and GPU performance but with less extreme amounts of RAM and storage starting around $4,000. And while I’m focusing on the M3 Max version here, if all you want is the 16-inch chassis and can give up the extreme performance, Apple sells versions with the less powerful M3 Pro chip starting at $2,500.
I cannot fathom paying this much of my own money for a laptop. I suspect most people reading this are the same way. But since I have this one handy, let’s talk about what it’s like to actually use one as your daily driver.
What is space black?
Unlike the new entry-level M3 MacBook Pro 14, there’s nearly nothing to dissect in terms of design. The chassis for the 16-inch remains the same as the 2021 and early 2023 models: same keyboard, same gorgeous display (though in SDR mode, it can now go up to 600 nits, 20 percent brighter than before), same camera, same trackpad, and the same ports. (Unlike the base 14-inch M3 MacBook Pro, there are no shenanigans with the Thunderbolt ports or external displays, and there better not be for this price.)
What is new design-wise is the space black color option. Black is a powerful color that exudes modernity, elegance, and cool. There’s a reason New Yorkers, Batman, and the fashion industry are known for wearing a lot of it. However, this laptop does not resemble the dark void of space. Space black is to black as the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s deep purple is to purple. Its darkness and color are often determined by what’s around it. Next to my space gray MacBook Pro 14, it looks black. Depending on the lighting, I’d argue that my midnight MacBook Air 15 is more black and appears darker, even if there’s an obvious blue tint. Next to my leather jacket, space black looks like charcoal gray.
Apple did do a good job of making it less smudgy. It uses a new technique in the anodization process so your greasy mitts don’t leave as much of a mark. But smudge-proof it isn’t. After a week, I can definitely see the fingerprints on the cover and where my palms rest while typing. It’s nowhere near as bad as my midnight MacBook Air, however, and I hope Apple brings this to future midnight Airs, too.
As whelmed as I am by the color, I can’t deny it has a mysterious allure. When a co-worker heard I was testing these, they asked to FaceTime as I unboxed the space black model. Another ran over for a firsthand look when I brought it to the office. They, too, were merely whelmed, but their initial curiosity wasn’t nothing.
Alright nerds, behold the benchmark chart.
M3 Max MacBook Pro 16 Benchmarks
|System||MacBook Pro 16-inch M3 Max 16C / 40C / 128GB / 8TB||MacBook Pro 16-inch M2 Max 12C / 38C / 32GB / 1TB||MacBook Pro 14-inch M3 8C / 10C / 16GB / 1TB|
|Premiere Pro 4K Export||1 minute, 30 seconds||1 minute, 39 seconds||3 minutes, 47 seconds|
|Cinebench 2024 Multi||1684||1036||612|
|Cinebench 2024 Single||142||121||141|
|Cinebench 2024 GPU||12977||5927||3334|
|Cinebench 2024 Multi 30-min loop||1666||1024||717|
|Geekbench 6 CPU Single||3188||2787||3176|
|Geekbench 6 CPU Multi||21277||14833||12078|
|Geekbench 6 GPU (OpenCL)||91480||87247||30426|
|Geekbench 6 GPU (Metal)||156095||138285||47509|
|PugetBench for Adobe Premiere Pro||878||721||359|
|Xcode Benchmark||70 seconds||114 seconds||133 seconds|
|Tomb Raider (1920 x 1200, highest)||120fps||104fps||32fps|
It’s hard to stress this machine out. I wish I had this level of cucumber-cool when processing stressful situations. The only time it felt like this laptop had to work was when gaming on high settings. The fans wheezed loudest when running Shadow of the Tomb Raider on its highest settings, right as the benchmark test briefly pushed the machine to around 200fps. It was similar, albeit a smidge quieter, with Lies of P, which runs natively on Apple Silicon, unlike Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Our 4K export test and PugetBench for Adobe Premiere Pro simulate video editing workloads, and the M3 Max smoked ’em. The former wrapped up in 90 seconds flat, more than twice as fast as the M3. Meanwhile, the PugetBench test generally takes around 15 or 20 minutes. I ran it four times, and this machine did it in an average of seven minutes, a smidge faster than it took the M2 Max to complete it.
The main differences between the M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max chips are in the number of CPU and GPU cores and the ratio of performance to efficiency CPU cores. Apple sent me the top-of-the-line M3 Max model, with 16 CPU cores (12 performance, four efficiency) and 40 GPU cores — plus a ludicrous 128GB of RAM and 8TB SSD. I compared it to the M3 MacBook Pro 14 with eight CPU cores (four performance, four efficiency) and 10 GPU cores as well as the M2 Max MacBook Pro 16 with 12 CPU cores (eight performance, four efficiency) and 38 GPU cores.
For single-core CPU benchmarks, the M3 and M3 Max were about on par and about 10 to 15 percent faster than an M2 core. On multi-core benchmarks, the M3 Max sometimes scales pretty linearly. Take Cinebench 2024’s multi-core test: with 12 performance cores, the M3 Max is nearly three times as fast as the M3 with four performance cores and about 60 percent faster than the M2 Max with eight.
GPU performance is a bit less straightforward. On Geekbench 6, M3 GPU cores do about as well as M2 ones. In Cinebench 2024, on the other hand, the M3 GPU was over twice as fast per core as the M2, probably because the benchmark was updated to take advantage of the M3 GPU’s new capabilities, like ray tracing. It looks like there’s a lot of potential for further GPU gains once apps are updated to take advantage of them.
The M3 Max in this computer has four times as many GPU cores as the M3 in the 14-inch MacBook Pro, and sometimes it’s four times faster, like in Tomb Raider. In Geekbench, it’s around three times faster in OpenCL mode and a bit more than that in Metal.
I ran a lot of these benchmarks simultaneously with the M3 14. It’ll surprise no one that I saw a noticeable difference. But was the difference so vast that it made a difference to my workload? No, but I’m also not the target market for this laptop.
Sites, unsurprisingly, load lightning-fast. This thing is so silent, sometimes I felt the urge to poke it just to make sure it was still on. Getting the battery to die is annoying. I have yet to take the 16 off high-power mode, and it has the audacity to go for about 18 hours in my testing.
Let me put it this way. I started one workday at about 8:30AM with about 49 percent battery. I used it unplugged, at about 200 nits brightness, for the entire work day, closing it only to stuff it into my backpack. At 5:40PM, when I opened the laptop to work on my ferry ride home, it had 23 percent battery still remaining. It still had 20 percent when I disembarked about 30 minutes later, and enough for about two hours of futzing around online after that. I didn’t have to plug it in until I woke up the laptop the next morning.
Battery rundown tests — and all benchmark tests, really — aren’t always reflective of real-life usage, especially as efficiency gets better and better. We all know batteries degrade over time, and I’m testing the most intensive scenarios. In real life, most people are going to use power-saving features, close a laptop’s lid when not in use, or allow the display to go to sleep. I would not at all be surprised if you could get 24 hours with a typical office productivity workload.
If you’re new to the 16-inch model, have a think about what you’re giving up in exchange for the performance. It’s technically portable, but this is more of a desktop alternative than a laptop. At a cafe, this took up nearly the entire width of a table, leaving little room for lunch. It only just fit into my backpack’s laptop sleeve. This behemoth is 4.7 pounds, and I felt it during an hour-long commute where I didn’t get a seat on the train. The benefit is that the big display is easy to work on, especially if, like me, your terrible eyesight requires you to blow up your font to 125 percent. That, plus ProMotion and HDR brightness make for an enjoyable experience when watching videos.
The gaming elephant in the room
The M3 Max is 100 percent technologically capable of Gaming with a capital G. That doesn’t make this a fully viable gaming laptop. Take the three Apple Silicon native games that Apple offered to reviewers: Baldur’s Gate 3; Lies of P; and Disney Dreamlight Valley.
Baldur’s Gate 3 is the most notable title of the three. It’s buzzy, people want to play it, and the fact it’s available on Mac is a step in the right direction. While mentioning Lies of P, all but one co-worker asked, “Lies of who?” I’m also confident no gamer is getting an M3 Max to play Disney Dreamlight Valley.
To be clear, all three games were extremely playable — gorgeous even — on this machine. In Lies of P (turns out P is a reimagined goth Pinocchio), I was able to turn on all the highest graphics settings, and gameplay was smooth as I hacked and slashed my way through some animatronic soldiers in a steampunk dystopia. Baldur’s Gate 3 tested my tolerance for textures, as mind-flayer parasites slithering in eyeballs and dragon spittle in the opening cutscenes looked... disturbingly gloopy. (Skin and hair looked great, though.) For both of these games, I could hear the fans whirring, but the keyboard never got particularly hot — just toasty enough that it became an alluring napping spot for my kitten. Disney Dreamlight Valley is much less taxing, and the fans never once kicked on.
On Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which is an older game that works on the Mac via Rosetta 2, I saw about four times the frame rate on the M3 Max versus the M3. The game is certainly playable on the M3, but you’re going to have a lot better time on the M3 Max (and be able to better take advantage of the MacBook Pro’s 120Hz ProMotion display). The frame rate was about 16 percent better than on the M2 Max with two fewer GPU cores.
But the hardware was never the issue. Out of curiosity, I browsed through the selection of Mac games on Steam, and the pickings are still paltry. It was better than a few years ago, but Disco Elysium is not a game that requires a $4,000-plus laptop. Neither are Stardew Valley or Football Manager 2024. If you peruse this Apple gaming wiki, you’ll be able to scroll through the entire list of native Apple games in a few swipes. The list of Rosetta-enabled games is longer... and mostly full of older titles. There are alternative cloud gaming options like Parallels or Air GPU, but they’re still not as good or as easy as Boot Camp for Intel Macs was.
To be a true gaming laptop, the MacBook Pro needs to match consoles and gaming PCs in terms of library. Having a handful of AAA titles ain’t good enough because gamers are not a monolith.
Take my spouse. They have zero interest in Baldur’s Gate 3 but desperately wish they could play racing games like Gran Turismo 7, Forza Motorsport, and iRacing on their M2 Max MacBook Pro. GT7 is console-only at the moment, Forza is only on console and PC, and iRacing is PC-exclusive. By having a console or a gaming PC, they can play two out of three of these games. If all they had were a Mac, that number would be zero. The racing games that are available on Macs are Asphalt 8 and Asphalt 9, games that are commonly played on an iPhone.
There’s some hope for the future. Earlier this year, Apple announced a new Game Porting Toolkit that’s similar to what Valve’s done with Proton and the Steam Deck. It’s not the final deal, but it’s another step in the right direction. The bottom line is Apple has the hardware — it just now needs the games.
What is all this power for?
If you’re not a creative with an intense workload or a gamer with infinite patience, a MacBook Pro with an M3 Max configuration is obviously overkill. If benchmarking my spouse’s M2 Max MacBook Pro 16 proved anything, it’s that you don’t need the best configuration to get very similar results. Even so, I suspect M1 Pro and Max owners know they don’t need to upgrade.
I’m not saying I was unimpressed by this beast of a laptop. I’m only saying that, at the end of the day, this is a relatively modest performance bump for most tasks. For some folks, that might mean the more economical option is to snag a discounted M2 Pro or Max machine while they’re still available.
Otherwise, this laptop is for a specific type of person: the kind of pro with workloads who can save a lot of time overall by shaving off a few minutes here and there. For those folks, the price is less of an issue because this is probably a business expense that can be written off.
For the rest of us, it’s a chance to look vicariously at the progress Apple Silicon has made and see how it stacks up against competitors like Intel and AMD. It’s maybe not the most exciting thing, but you can think of it as helping you make smarter choices down the road.