The first thought that is likely to strike you when it comes to most of Apple’s top-drawer products is: Exactly how much really is too much? This particular epiphany is perfectly apt when it comes to the most expensive laptop that Apple sells right now—the MacBook Pro (2023).
Before we get into epiphanies, the new MacBook Pro costs up to ₹7.2 lakh for its maxed-out configuration of a 16-inch display, the 40-core M3 Max chip, 128GB of “unified” memory, and an 8TB SSD for storage. The version that I have used for the past two months has all the performance chops mentioned above, only with a 14-inch display. Let’s take a closer look at how the laptop performed during this testing period.
You could buy a base-spec SUV from Renault or a sedan from Hyundai for the same amount of money. Chances are that you wouldn’t be considering this laptop if your priority was the car. But, are such comparison metrics fair when it comes to the value of a laptop that’s meant to run massive data models, edit multi-billion dollar blockbuster movies, and design the next all-conquering video game? That, as I found out, is an epiphany in itself.
There are a few things in the modern world as enduring as the nursery rhyme Old MacDonald Had A Farm.
It would be safe to say that for the most part, the MacBook shares some of this age-old rhyme’s endurance when it comes to reliability.
In the past two months, this durability and reliability showed up in the 2023 MacBook Pro’s ability to do the simplest of things.
Like many Mac users for whom work involves lots of writing, browsing and emailing, my previous work machine was an Intel-powered 2020 MacBook Air, the last Intel Air. In three and a half years, the laptop had slowed down considerably, and two browsers with around eight tabs each were enough to make the MacBook Air sweat. Yet, the performance decline wasn’t emphatic enough for me to be bothered.
Switching over to this laptop, however, proved that even Old MacDonald’s farm needs hydroponics. As I write this, I have two browsers open—Firefox with 38 tabs, and Safari with 19—alongside Spotify, Outlook, Notes, WhatsApp and DaVinci Resolve rendering a ProRes export of a 7-minute food showreel. The speed with which I can access any browser tab at will would give one the impression that the laptop has absolutely nothing running on it at all.
I loaded a 15GB single-level game design, built by Karteikay Dhuper, a final-year Purdue University, US, student. Built on Unreal Engine 5 as an homage to the glorious video game Firewatch, this game level was loaded alongside a 25GB 4K uncompressed video workflow on DaVinci Resolve. Loading and rendering all of the 365 individual elements of the game level, alongside applying multiple layers of colour grading for the entire 7-minute video showreel timeline, took less than three minutes to complete.
While doing this, I still had over 40 tabs open across two browsers, along with Microsoft’s heavy email service and Spotify in the background. Cumulatively, the M3 Max-powered MacBook Pro consumed a generous 70GB of memory and 55% of CPU power, while completing the fairly heavy workload that I had just thrown at it.
Three things stood out. One, all of this was done on battery; two, even with not-so-light workload, I had nearly half of my performance resources free at hand; and three, the MacBook Pro lasted nearly an hour on battery even when rendering a game and a 4K ProRes video. Dhuper’s game level, the poetically-titled Epoch Noir, even had hardware-level ray tracing enabled through the 40-core GPU of the M3 Max processor, and still played at a jaunty 50 frames per second.
Two months is long enough to settle in with a new laptop. Through this time, I have come to truly like the 2023, M3 Max-powered MacBook Pro. Apple’s fast refresh rate Liquid Retina XDR “ProMotion” display, which goes up to 120Hz, makes the already-smooth laptop feel even smoother. Yet, you can’t help but wonder if this Apple has fallen too close to its tree.
Nobody ever really doubted Apple’s engineering capabilities, which is why Apple is likely one of the few remaining consumer technology companies that is taken seriously when they lend the “Pro” moniker to their gadgets. To expect the M3 Max-powered MacBook Pro to be ludicrously smooth, would be well within your rights. After all, it does cost as much as a car.
The real challenge, however, would be for Apple to now be taken seriously by the game developer community. Sure, the natively ray-tracing M3 Max chip could be the start of a new chapter in gaming for Apple, and initial partnerships show promise. If there’s also any company that can beckon serious developers to make blockbuster games for a new platform, it is, indeed, Apple.
But then, you look at the price tag. There’s absolutely no reason why you cannot build an equally powerful gaming PC, with the same amount of memory and a top-drawer AMD Threadripper processor, and enjoy essentially the same smoothness in rendering games and video timelines. You’d also be able to make a supercharged desktop and get your hands on a new-generation Alienware laptop.
Yes, I can say that I designed a new game level on Unreal Engine 5 on battery power, but that’s not of vital importance. What I can understand, however, is that the M3 Max-powered MacBook Pro is a true desktop replacement—letting you hook up high-refresh rate displays and external keyboards when tethered at home, and going flexible when out.
Then, there is the absolutely delightfully perfect keyboard. There’s little to no reason to not like Apple’s most exuberant laptop ever made—even though that notch on the display remains as ridiculous as ever.