All eyes are turning to the Apple M3 chip, which is expected to be the next generation of silicon from the Cupertino tech giant. Yes, we're still waiting on the next month's release of the first devices with the M2. But considering how long the development process takes, we're fairly confident that the M3 is already in testing, even if we're still due an M2 Pro M2 Max and M2 Ultra first.
Apple changed the game when it made the switch from Intel to start producing its own system on a chip. The first result was the M1, which shipped on the November 2020 MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and Mac mini. And it didn't disappoint, offering super fast processing and efficiency.
Apple followed up the even more powerful M1 Pro, Max and Ultra, taking things further, and now the M2, which is less powerful than those upgraded M1 chips but has more transistors and memory bandwidth than the original M1. So it's natural that people are now looking in anticipation at the Apple M3 chip, especially amid reports that Intel’s new Meteor Lake CPU could dethrone the M2.
If you can't wait for the release of M3 models before you upgrade your setup, the best MacBooks are already staggeringly fast with their M1 Pro and M1 Max chips. And next month, we'll see the release of the new MacBook Air (2022), offering a powerful M2-chipped laptop at a slightly more affordable price.
What do we know about the Apple M3 chip?
Apple has only just released the first devices with its M2 chip, and we expect that to be followed by M2 Pro and M2 Max chips, but we don't actually have anything official on those, so details of the Apple M3 chip are scant to say the least. To date, Apple itself hasn't let anything slip. But as ever there are leaks and rumours. And what we've heard from them is an M3 chip is in the works and is likely to make use of an updated manufacturing technology from the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC).
TSMC has developed what it's calling N3, a new 3-nanometer (3nm) chip design. The current M1 and M2 chips use TSMC's 5-nanometer technology. Moving to 3-nanometer would offer a significant boost in power and efficiency. TSMC (opens in new tab) has said that it plans to start volume production of 3-nanometer chip designs in the fourth quarter of this year.
How will the Apple M3 chip compare to M1 and M2?
TSMC claims that its N3 technology will offer up to a 15% speed improvement at the same power and up to 30% power reduction at the same speed as compared with N5.
Apple is said to be working on three M3 chips using the 3nm process, codenamed Ibiza, Lobos, and Palma. According to The Information (opens in new tab), they'll boast up to four dies (small blocks of silicon that contain an integrated circuit), which would support up to 40 compute cores. The original M1 and the M2 have 8-core CPUs, and the M1 Pro and Max have 10-core CPUs. If the rumour is true, 40 cores would mean a quite notable boost in performance.
“Ibiza” is rumoured to be the entry-level version for the Macbook Air, while the four-die versions would be “Lobos” and “Palma” – the M3 equivalents of the current Pro and Max M1 chips.
What Macs will get the M3 chip?
We risk going out on a limb here because Apple's not always consistent with its naming policies, but if we analyse the pattern so far, we can take an informed guess. The M1 chip was introduced in 2020 MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and Mac mini. That was followed by the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips in the higher-spec 14 and 16in MacBook Pros in 2021. The Mac Studio released in March of this year ships with the M1 Max or M1 Ultra.
Now, in July we have the release of a new 13in MacBook Pro and a MacBook Air with the M2 chip, and we might get a Mac mini with the same chip later this year. We're expecting new 14in and 16in MacBook Pros with M2 Pro and M2 Max chips to follow next year, the latter chip rumoured to feature a 12-core CPU, 38-core GPU and 64GB Memory.
If this pattern continues, it would suggest that the M3 would be destined to appear in the entry-level MacBook Pro and MacBook Air in two years' time. The higher-end MacBooks could then be expected to follow with M3 Pro and M3 Max chips going up to that massive 40 cores.
Of course, there are iMacs as well, and Bloomberg's Mark Gurman (opens in new tab) has claimed that Apple is already testing an M3 iMac, although he didn't specify whether it will be a new version of the 24-inch model or a larger device and suggested a late 2023 release at the earliest. Gurman also believes that Apple is working on an iMac Pro but that it won't be coming anytime soon.