Almost three years ago, Mac enthusiasts had a moment when the M1 chip was released. Ever since then, it’s been good times–Apple has now cycled through two generations of the M-series chips. And as reports began to leak about the M3, anticipation for another dramatic leap started to grow.
After some delays, reports now say M3 Macs are coming this fall. We’ve heard about possible CPU and GPU core configurations, but one key factor we have not heard about is the M3’s performance compared to the M2. Maybe it’s a little early for benchmark results for Macs that won’t be released until October, but we can’t help but wonder if maybe the M3’s release won’t be the major release we’re led to think it will be.
And now Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman has thrown more cold water on the M3. In his latest Power On newsletter, he reports that it’s “unclear” whether the October M3 Mac release will be “positioned as a formal event.” It’s not totally clear what that means, but it certainly suggests that Apple hasn’t begun planning an event. Considering the time and effort that is needed to produce an Apple event, there’s a good chance a Mac event is not going to happen. Apple could simply release the M3 Macs and issue press releases without the usual pomp and circumstance. That may not seem like a big deal, but it is.
M3 and 3 nanometers
An explanation is in order as to why we expect the M3 to be such a momentous chip. Reports have said that the M3 will be made using a 3nm fabrication process, which would make the M3 the first 3nm chip in a personal computer. That’s a nice bragging point for Apple—and a recent report from DigiTimes says Apple will scoop up TSMC’s entire 2023 run of 3nm chips, so there won’t be anything from Intel until 2024—but what’s more important is what the 3nm process allows for, which is a larger-than-usual increase in the number of transistors in the chip. That could lead to performance gains that are more than the typical 15 to 20 percent from generation to generation.
The first device that will get a 3nm chip is the upcoming iPhone 15 Pro, according to reports. As my colleague Jason Cross points out, TSMC (Apple’s chip manufacturer) may not have the capacity to churn out 3nm chips for both the iPhone and the Mac at this time. Since the iPhone takes priority, it’s not a stretch to speculate that Apple decided to make the M3 with the enhanced 5nm process, like the M2.
If that’s the case, then the M3 suddenly is not a big deal and it’s likely that we’ll see the usual 15 to 20 percent performance improvement from the M2 to the M3, which is what we saw between the M1 and M2. Apple won’t (and shouldn’t) have a formal event because the extra effort to market that kind of performance improvement isn’t necessary.
Any performance increase is good, yes, but the potential of a 3nm M3 is a big deal when looking at the whole PC landscape. Intel chips, which used to lag way behind Apple silicon, have caught up performance-wise. A 3nm M3 would help Apple regain the lead for a good, long while–Intel chips aren’t energy efficient, and they’re still working on the ability to boost performance without increasing power consumption. A 3nm M3 Mac event would be Apple’s chance to show how it’s able to perform these feats of engineering and how it’s making a better product. But an enhanced 5nm M3 gives Intel (and to a lesser extent, AMD) more time to talk about the advancements in their own chips.
Granted, we haven’t heard any reports about Apple’s M3 production schedule and maybe we’re looking too much into the situation. Perhaps Apple will be able to come through this October. But even if it can’t, you can count on a 3nm Mac chip in the near future and hopefully it’ll be as impressive as we think it could be.