What do you get for your 7K:
14″ MacBook Pro – Space Black
Apple M3 Max chip with 16‑core CPU, 40‑core GPU and 16‑core Neural Engine
- Same design
- More power squeezed into the same space and weight
- An awesome new color option
Apple has changed virtually nothing about the MacBook Pro design from the 14-inch model it launched earlier this year with an M2 chip. The dimensions are the same, with a thickness of 0.61 inches / 1.55cm, a width of 12.31 inches / 31.26cm, and a depth of 8.71 inches / 22.12cm.
The weight is roughly the same, though the M3 Max 14-inch MacBook Pro is, at 3.6lbs / 1.24kg, the heaviest of the 14-inch bunch.
The screen size is the same, and on the M3 Max and M3 Pro 14-inch MacBooks the port placement is unchanged from the previous generation, as are the number and types of ports. You get three USB-C Thunderbolt 4 ports, a 3.5mm headphone jack, an HDMI port, an SD card slot, and a MagSafe charge port (if you opt for the base M3 model you only get two Thunderbolt ports)
If you stack the MacBook Air 13-inch M2 on top of the MacBook Pro 14-inch M3 Max, the latter doesn’t look that much larger, but it is substantially thicker and heavier. When I opened it up to reveal that familiar Liquid Retina XDR display and backlit Magic Keyboard, I noted that the keyboard and trackpad are, from a size perspective, exactly the same as on the MacBook Air. Apple uses the extra chassis space on the Pro to accommodate a six-speaker system that’s split to sit on either side of the keyboard; the larger chassis also provides just a bit more space to rest your palms.
As with the previous 14-inch MacBook Pro, the matte keyboard feels as good as it looks. It’s expansive, and there’s enough key travel to make every touch sure and satisfying; it’s a pleasure to type on. The power button still doubles as a Touch ID biometric scanner, which I use to unlock the laptop and sign into various online services. I still hope for the day that Apple introduces Face ID to the FaceTime camera notch that sits at the top of the display.
But enough about everything that’s the same. I want to talk about the new Space Black finish. Sure, Apple has done colorful and even inspired finishes before, but I’d argue there’s never been anything quite like the new Space Black finish on this new MacBook Pro 14 M3 Max (the 14-inch M3 Pro and M3 Max MacBooks are available in Space Black or silver, while the M3 model comes in Space Grey or silver).
It’s not just black – it’s a light-swallowing black. I noticed this when trying to photograph the new laptop, and watched as it basically devoured my studio lighting. The surface is just shy of being matte black, and that low reflectivity really stops the light from bouncing back at you. The new color gives the laptop a bold, aggressive, and no-nonsense look. I think any gamer would be proud to cart this laptop into their next tournament.
Apple has developed a new anodizing process for the Space Black color to create a fingerprint-resistant surface, and I can report that it did repel most of my handprints. That said, I have dry hands, and I did note that the sweatier the palm, the more visible the marks left on the laptop’s surface, although even those fingerprints were faint. Just remember that this is a fingerprint-resistant MacBook Pro, not a fingerprint-proof one.
In typical fashion, Apple has managed to not change anything about its MacBook Pro Liquid Retina XDR display, but has still managed to squeeze some extra performance out of it thanks to the new and more efficient 3-nanometer M3 Max chip.
The screen has the exact same resolution as the last display panel (3024 x 1964), and the same one million-to-1 contrast ratio. Even the same peak brightness of 1,600 nits with HDR content is unchanged, although for day-to-day brightness with standard content we now get 600 nits, as opposed to the 500 nits on the last MacBook Pro.
In real-world use, I found that the MacBook Pro 14-inch with M3 Max is quite capable of beating back even direct sunlight; I’m convinced I could work pretty much anywhere on this laptop.
Overall, this is a beautiful screen. Thanks to bright colors and inky blacks, everything on it gets a premium look. Do I mind the FaceTime camera notch? Not really. Video usually plays in letterbox format and well below it, and it doesn’t interfere with the business part of apps and web browsing. Even when I played games – and I played a lot of them – I didn’t notice it.
I really like the way Apple makes its chip series more powerful. It uses a standardized architecture, and then wraps more and more cores around it. The benefit is that all systems running the base 3-nanometer process M3 SoC share the same impressive features, but some perform faster than others.
While the bare-bones M3 in the base-model MacBook Pro 14-inch (with one fewer Thunderbolt ports) has an 8-core CPU (four efficiency cores and four performance cores), and a 10-core GPU, the M3 Max chip in the machine I tested has a 16-core CPU and a 40-core GPU. According to Geekbench 6, the system is running a 4.1GHz (single-core) and an estimated 3.3GHz (multi-core).
I ran a lot of benchmarks for raw performance scores, because that’s what you do. Unsurprisingly, the GeekBench 6 numbers were startling, and while Apple has taken pains to compare the base M3 to the three-year-old M1 performance, comparing my MacBook Air M2 to the M3 Max was a real eye-opener. Granted, the M3 Max and the base M2 are not really directly comparable, but I think these figures do give you a sense of why you might pay so much for an M3 Max system stuffed with, in my case, 64GB of unified memory (you can, by the way, get a more expensive system with up to 128GB of unified memory and 8TB of storage).
It’s easy to forget that Apple silicon is running on the ARM-64 platform, and that not all MacOS apps run natively on it. The reason I often forget this? Everything works. There’s never been a moment in my three years of experience with Apple silicon where the MacBook throws up its digital hands and says, “Sorry, I can’t run this app.” Part of this is down to the rapid adoption of Apple silicon by Apple partners, and also because the Rosetta 2 system (which can translate between x86 code and Apple silicon) runs quietly in the background, managing all apps that are still looking for an x86 platform.
Okay, the MacBook Pro 14 M3 Max is not perfect on the compatibility front. The x86-compatible Steam, which I used for most of my games, did crash. But weirdly, so did iMovie, repeatedly, and that’s an ARM native, and later the ARM-friendly Adobe Photoshop 2024. At least the system as a whole never crashes, and doesn’t even know the meaning of a blue screen.
Since we’re mostly not thinking about compatibility, we can just focus on performance, and the M3 Max is stunning. To be clear, I’m not a professional video editor or doctor analyzing 3D MRI scans, but I did my best to press this system and found it shrugged off all tasks. I opened 40 or so browser tabs on both Safari and Chrome (normally a soul-crushing task for any system), launched Apple TV+, installed Steam, and then played Tomb Raider Legacy. I might as well have been composing something in Notes (oh, wait, I was doing that, too). I loaded up FinalCut Pro with 4K 30fps video as well as some 4K 24fps ProRes HDR content, and edited and manipulated them with ease.
While not visually evident, I think it’s also safe to assume that some of the system’s speed and ease with all these apps – often running concurrently – is the new Dynamic Caching technology. This is essentially a more efficient way of using available memory. Instead of X number of registers always being used for the same task, the system only applies the memory needed for each, explicit task. The result is a lot less wasted memory and more left over for managing other critical tasks.
Apple spent considerable time during its Scary Fast event telling us how it engineered the new M3 SoC with features specifically designed to handle graphics-intensive tasks like, obviously, AAA games. Hardware-based ray tracing and mesh shading might improve how some of your most expensive apps look, but we all know that it’s really all about gaming.
Naturally, I played some games. First, a few hours of the engaging Rise of Tomb Raider, which I will note is not that easy when you’re using the keyboard. The eight-year-old game looked good, and gameplay was smooth and immersive. I usually wore my AirPods Pro (they connected instantly) so as to not annoy people around me.
Next, I installed Lies of P, a brand-new game seemingly inspired by Pinocchio, that is at home on all major consoles and now, thanks to Steam, the MacBook Pro, too.
It’s a beautiful and quietly atmospheric game that starts in an old, deserted train station. Everything is rendered in such exquisite detail and, thanks to all the M3 Max’s onboard graphics power, every surface looked about as real as they can in a game of this nature.
The system seemed to keep up with the action quite well (I played this game with a Bluetooth-connected PlayStation 5 controller; the system supports Bluetooth 5.3, which has just 100ms of latency). I used Terminal for a real-time view of Frame rates and found that, depending on the action, they bounced between 30 and 60fps. Action generally looked smooth in most sequences, including fast-paced puppet-on-puppet battles.
l also played Shadow of the Tomb Raider at the highest possible resolution of 3024 x 1964, and with every atmospheric element turned to the absolute highest. At times, the fans were so loud that they drowned out the game sounds, but the gameplay and graphics were all at their cinematic best, and in the game’s benchmarks I could achieve 108fps at 1920 x 1200 mode and 56fps at the highest, native resolution settings. Pretty impressive.
When I cranked all of Total WarHammer III settings to, where possible, ultra, (with 1920 x 1220 resolution), the fan churned on high, and there was some object (or sprite) flickering in the benchmark test. But the detail was all there, and the system reported an average frame rate of 56.1. Then I reran the test at the MacBook Pro’s highest native resolution. The gameplay looked even better, naturally, though, the fps dropped to 33.8.
I won’t claim to be a hardcore gamer, but it’s clear to me that game developers are now thinking about the Mac as a viable platform, using the Game Porting Toolkit Apple released at WWDC 2023 to bring AAA games to the platform on the same date they arrive on your best console. It’s not just that the games arrive on the Mac; it’s that they’re as playable and as immersive as anything on a Windows 11 gaming rig.
Overall, a quick look at all the benchmarks comparing the M1 Max to this M3 Max system shows a quantum leap across every aspect of performance. And, yes, the single number that is lower, AI Turn Time in Civilization VI, is also an improvement, as it shows the system taking less time than before to make that turn.
Thanks to the larger system chassis, Apple fits three speakers on either side of the keyboard that can produce loud, clear sound. I played a wide variety of music, video, and gaming content through them. It all sounded great, with voices sharp and high notes clear as a bell. What this sound system lacks, though, is any discernable bass. Now, I wouldn’t really expect the MacBook Pro 14 M3 Max’s relatively tiny speakers to provide chest-thumping sound. Still, when I played White Stripes Seven Nation Army and Eminem’s Lose Yourself I was struck by how flat some of the drums and backbeats sounded. It’s not completely devoid of the richness necessary to deliver a nice drum solo, but I found the base side a bit hollow, robbing the tunes of their head-banging essence.
Remarkably, the MacBook Pro 14 still ships with a 3.5mm headphone jack. I’m sure audio and video professionals use it in their work, but for most people, the support you’ll find for your best AirPods Pros (especially the head-tracking spatial audio) will be more than enough in-ear audio support.
The MacBook Pro 14 M3 Max comes equipped with the same 1080 FaceTime camera as its predecessor. I can tell you that it gives your callers a nice clear view of you and, thanks to the new native Sonoma webcam features, I can use gestures to set off fireworks, drop confetti, pop up thumbs-up emojis, and release balloons during any video call. My wife wasn’t as amused as I thought she’d be.
- Rated for 18 hours
- Lasted in our tests over 12 hours with varied use
- Charges quickly
You may have read some reports that the new MacBook Pro can manage up to 22 hours of battery life. That’s the promise for the 14-inch M3 model; however, for my more powerful and more power-hungry M3 Max 14-inch MacBook Pro, the maximum I can expect is 18 hours, and that’s only if I do nothing but, say, stream virtually all episodes of Ted Lasso. The number drops down to 12 hours if I’m browsing the web over Wi-Fi. And, in my experience, the duration truly plummets if you play a AAA game like Lies of P or even Tomb Raider Legacy on battery power.
When I started playing the latter game I had about 73% battery life left. Within a couple of hours, it was below 20%. It’s clear that the MacBook Pro 14 M3 Max will give you all the gaming power you want and need (I usually played in High Power mode), but there’s probably also an assumption that you’re playing while plugged in.
My average battery life has been roughly 12 hours of mixed use, which is a little bit less than I was expecting from this more efficient 3-nanometer SoC.
I do have some good news. Fast charging works as promised, and I topped off to 50% in 30 minutes using the included 96W charge adapter and the woven black USB-C-to-MagSafe cable that strikes a discordant note when plugged into the perfectly white adapter (I’m not sure why Apple didn’t make that Space Black too).
Buy it if:
You want the most powerful MacBook Pro
The MacBook Pro 14 (M3 Max, 2023) easily joins our list of the best laptops you can buy, and for those who want the most power Apple has to offer in a slightly more portable size, it’s the right choice.
You’re a gamer who loves the Mac
With its hardware-based ray tracing, mesh shading and, impressive horsepower, the MacBook Pro 14 M3 Max may finally be the portable Mac gaming rig you’ve been dreaming of.
You want a seriously cool laptop
The MacBook Pro 14 M3 Max’s new Space Black, and that fingerprint-blocking anodization process, makes this one sexy-looking system that won’t, at the end of the day, look like a fingerprinted mess.
Don’t buy it if
Money is tight
Our tested system costs $4,299. It’s a fair price for such a powerful system, but not everyone needs the power on offer here. You might be happier with the $1,599 MacBook Pro 14 M3.