The base model in the new 2023 MacBook Pro lineup comes with Apple’s standard M3 chip. This model, which replaces the discontinued 13-inch MacBook Pro, costs $400 less than the next model up, which runs on an M3 Pro chip.
The two laptops look almost identical. The big question is, will the entry-level M3 MacBook Pro suit your needs? Or should you spend the extra $400 and get the one with the M3 Pro chip? Find out in this comparison.
M3 vs. M3 Pro MacBook Pro comparison
As mentioned, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the M3 and M3 Pro laptops from the outside. All the models in the M3 lineup look basically the same. Inside, though, it’s another story altogether. Substantial differences between the M3 and M3 Pro chips make the latter a far superior machine for pro users who require better performance.
Table of contents
- Design and display
- SoC: M3 vs. M3 Pro
- Ports and connectivity: Almost the same
- Battery life: All-day performance is a given
Design and display: No M3 Pro chip, no space black finish for entry-level MacBook Pro
- M3 MacBook Pro: 0.61 x 12.31 x 8.71 inches, 1.55 kg; 14.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display; space gray and silver finishes
- M3 Pro MacBook Pro: 0.61 x 12.31 x 8.71 inches, 1.61 kg; 14.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display; space black and silver finishes
The M3 MacBook Pro looks the same as its Pro sibling. The exterior design and dimensions of both machines are the same. The M3 Pro configuration is a wee bit heavier, likely due to its more robust cooling system. However, the difference is not big enough to be noticeable. In every other aspect, the two MacBooks are the same. You get the same six-speaker sound system, three-mic array, Magic Keyboard with Touch ID, a large Force Touch trackpad, and a 1080p camera for video calling.
When it comes to color options, there is a difference, though. Apple only offers its hot new space black color on the M3 Pro MacBook Pro (and the even more expensive M3 Max model). The model with the entry-level M3 chip is available in the older space gray shade. (All the new laptops in the M3 lineup are also available in silver.)
Thankfully, Apple uses the same 14-inch Liquid Retina XDR panels on both the M3 and M3 Pro laptops. So, you get 120Hz ProMotion support, 1,000 nits of sustained full-screen brightness, and wide color support.
SoC: M3 vs. M3 Pro
- M3 MacBook Pro: 8-core CPU, 10-core GPU, 8GB unified memory, 512GB SSD
- M3 Pro MacBook Pro: 11-core GPU, 14-core GPU, 18GB unified memory, 512GB SSD
There’s a big performance gap between the M3 and M3 Pro chips. The base model packs three fewer CPU cores and four fewer GPU cores than the Pro variant. It even has 50% less bandwidth than the M3 Pro. That’s a significant performance difference, which will have a visible impact on daily use, especially if you have a heavy workload.
If you bump up to the model with 1TB storage, the M3 Pro MacBook Pro ships with an even more powerful 18-core GPU, further boosting the already significant performance gap.
Another key difference is that both M3-powered configurations of the 14-inch MacBook Pro ship with 8GB of unified memory versus 18GB on the M3 Pro models. 8GB of system memory is not enough in this day and age, especially for a Pro machine. Even on a tight budget, consider bumping the unified memory on the M3 MacBook Pro to 16GB for an extra $200. It will drastically extend the laptop’s capability and life span.
Additionally, the M3 MacBook Pro only supports one external monitor — a significant limitation. You’ll need to spring for the M3 Pro model if you connect your laptop to multiple displays.
Ports and connectivity: Almost the same
- M3 MacBook Pro: Two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, HDMI port, SDXC slot, headphone jack, MagSafe 3 port, Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3
- M3 Pro MacBook Pro: Three Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, HDMI port, SDXC slot, headphone jack, MagSafe 3 port, Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3
Apple’s M3 and M3 Pro MacBook Pros offer the same connectivity options. Both support Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.3. As for ports, they are almost the same. You get a MagSafe 3 port for charging, an SDXC slot for memory cards and an HDMI port.
The only difference is that the M3 MacBook Pro comes with only two USB-C/Thunderbolt ports, one less than the M3 Pro variant. This could be an issue if you frequently plug many high-bandwidth accessories into your laptop. You can always get a Thunderbolt dock as a workaround, though this solution might not work for everyone.
Battery life: All-day performance is a given
- M3 MacBook Pro: 70-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery; up to 15 hours of wireless web browsing or 22 hours of Apple TV movie playback
- M3 Pro MacBook Pro: 72.4-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery; up to 12 hours of wireless web browsing or 18 hours of Apple TV movie playback
Apple equipped the M3 Pro MacBook Pro with a slightly larger 72.4wH battery. Yet, it does not last as long as the battery in the M3 model. Apple says the M3 MacBook Pro provides up to 15 hours of runtime while browsing the web. The Pro variant lasts three hours less.
Admittedly, both laptops offer excellent battery life, and you should have little reason to complain with either one. Just remember: While the M3 MacBook Pro lasts longer, its performance is inferior to its Pro sibling.
Another important thing to note is that the entry-level models of both laptops ship with a 70W USB-C adapter. And while they support fast charging, you must use at least a 96W adapter to get faster top-offs.
Price: $400 makes all the difference
- M3 MacBook Pro: Starts at $1,599
- M3 Pro MacBook Pro: Starts at $1,999
While it might seem tempting to opt for the M3 MacBook Pro and save $400, the decision could cost you in the long run. The entry-level model’s 8GB of unified memory is a major limitation and could pose problems, especially if you have a heavy workload.
Which M3 MacBook Pro is right for you?
The M3 MacBook Pro sits between the 15-inch MacBook Air with an M2 chip and the M3 MacBook Pro. If the Air did not exist, it would have been far easier to recommend the 14-inch MacBook Pro with an M3 chip. While you can upgrade the RAM on the machine by paying $200 extra, getting the M3 Pro model makes more sense for that much money.
As things stand right now, you are better off getting the 15-inch MacBook Air with 16GB RAM for light and casual use. For heavy workloads, stretch your budget and buy the M3 Pro MacBook Pro. It ships with 18GB RAM and a faster GPU, making it a better option. Both machines should last you considerably longer than the M3 MacBook Pro.