Apple snuck out a surprise announcement last night!
Before we go there, I’ve been asked whether it’s a good idea to update to macOS 14 Sonoma or not. The answer is: yes, it appears safe to do so at this point, though the more cautious thing to do is remain on macOS 13.6.1 Ventura, or 12.7.1 Monterey, which are “fully baked” at this point, with many bug fix releases. If you are a Safari user, and are choosing not to upgrade to Sonoma, you will still want to update to Safari 17.1, via the “Other Updates Available > More Info” link under Apple Menu > System Settings/Preferences > Software Update. If you are on macOS 11 Big Sur, 10.15 Catalina, 10.14 Mojave, or older (you can check under Apple menu > About This Mac), it’s time to upgrade if your computer supports it; ask us if you need help. And, as always, make sure you have a Time Machine or other full backup if you’re going to upgrade your operating system. Also, iOS/iPadOS 17.1 appears to be fine, if you’re still on version 16.
On Monday night, Apple announced new upgrades to their MacBook Pro line of computers, and significantly, their desktop iMac computer. These feature their new M3 family of processors, called, in keeping with their predecessors, M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max. (There will also presumably be an M3 Ultra released in the future for their Mac Studio and Mac Pro computers.) These new processors offer superior (but not earth-shattering) performance improvements over their M2 and M1 antecedents.
Apple’s iconic all-in-one desktop has finally been updated since its redesign two and a half years ago; it never was given an M2 chip, so it is jumping straight from its original M1 to the new M3. Other than that, it’s the same machine, at the same price, with the same 24-inch screen, and the same fanciful color options. If you want an all-in-one desktop computer, it certainly gets the job done with a cheerful and elegant design. The base model (with only two USB-C/Thunderbolt ports) starts at $1,299, and the full-featured model (which includes two additional USB-C only ports, a slightly better M3 chip, an Ethernet port, and a Touch ID keyboard) starts at $1,499. I recommend you configure it with at least 16 GB of memory and 512 GB of storage (and even consider 1 TB) if you want to it to perform well for years to come.
If you’re content with your existing M1-based iMac, there is no reason to replace it, though if you do, you’ll probably feel some performance boost. If you’re thinking about replacing a 27-inch Intel iMac, and are concerned about the reduction in screen size, you could instead consider a Mac mini, paired with a 27-inch Apple Studio Display (or a display from another vendor). Or, if your Intel iMac is still working well for you, you can kick that can down the road until the Mac mini receives an M3 chip.
As before, Apple’s 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models are available with a Pro or Max chip, each with their own variations. However, the 14-inch model is also now available in a less expensive configuration with a plain old M3 chip, replacing the long-in-the-tooth 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (which was mostly inferior to the less expensive MacBook Air).
The MacBook Pro design itself remains unaltered from the original M1 Pro/Max model introduced in 2021: 3.5 pounds, a superb “Liquid Retina XDR” display, excellent sound, an HDMI port for connecting to external displays, an SD card port for reading camera cards, and seemingly endless battery life. However, the lowest-price M3 model makes a small change I very much dislike, which is the removal of the right-side USB-C/Thunderbolt port, eliminating the option of charging the computer from either side. However, if you only ever use the MagSafe charging cable, this will make no difference besides reducing your USB-C ports from three to two.
The MacBook Pro 14-inch starts at $1,599 with an M3 chip, $1,999 with an M3 Pro chip, and $2,999 with the M3 Max chip. The 16-inch models start at $2,499 for an M3 Pro chip, and $3,299 for an M3 Max chip. Machines equipped with the Pro or Max chip are available in a new, fingerprint-resistant “Space Black” color, replacing the gunmetal “Space Grey” color, which is now reserved for models with the standard, lower-cost M3 chip.
Which one should you buy? The basic M3 model is more than good enough for everyday computing, but I don’t recommend it, because it comes with only 8 GB of memory, and I only ever recommend you buy your Mac with at least 16 GB of memory if you want it to perform well for several years. The 16 GB upgrade will add $200 to the cost, but from there it’s only another $200 to get a much better M3 Pro chip with 18 GB of memory. (Plus, Space Black.) So, if you want a MacBook Pro, it’s worth the extra to get it with a Pro chip, unless what you’re looking for is the best possible screen quality at the lowest possible price. Otherwise, get a MacBook Air, which is an ideal general purpose Mac for less money.
M3 Pro or M3 Max? More computing power is always better, but the $700 premium for the Max is substantial. If you have either the need or the budget, go for it. Otherwise, stick with the Pro (which is the decision I personally made). If you need help deciding which M3 Pro or Max chip to get – there are several to choose from – please ask us.
Should you upgrade? If you’ve already got an M1 or M2 family MacBook Pro (or Air), and you’re happy with it, then keep using it. The performance improvements of these new chips are meaningful, but not life changing, and you’ve already got a very high-performing computer. But, if you’ve got an Intel-based Mac (you can check by going to Apple Menu > About This Mac), then, sure, absolutely upgrade! These new machines run circles around the one you’ve got, are much quieter, have better screens, have better sound, have better webcams, and have absurdly long battery life. Plus, Apple is going to stop supporting Intel-based Mac computers any day now.
Air or Pro? This is a tough one. The MacBook Air is a really great computer, and a tremendous value, and what I recommend to most people. It’s even now available with a 15-inch screen for those who want a large screen in what is still a fairly light laptop. However, the Air retains its M2 chip for now, and its screen quality and battery life, while wonderful, are bested by the MacBook Pro, which I’ve been a bit spoiled by. I’d still recommend the MacBook Air over the Pro for everyday computing, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Pro for those so inclined, and who don’t mind the extra weight. As always, please ask us if you’d like to talk it through.
Here’s a quick summary of Apple’s current Mac options:
- iMac: 24-inch all-in-one desktop computer; M3 processor. Starts at $1,299.
- Mac mini: Small desktop computer which needs separate monitor (Apple’s 27-inch Studio Display plus Mac mini makes a logical replacement for a 27-inch Intel iMac, but you can also buy any vendor’s display); M2 or M2 Pro processor. Starts at $599. (Apple Studio Display starts at $1,599.)
- Mac Studio: Higher performing, taller version of Mac mini, with more ports; M2 Max or M2 Ultra processor. Starts at $1,999.
- Mac Pro: Mac Studio in a gigantic, expensive “tower” box, with the same options as the Studio. Almost no one needs this. Starts at $6,999.
- MacBook Air (Mid 2022): Excellent general purpose laptop, available with 13-inch or 15-inch screen; M2 processor. Starts at $1,099 for 13-inch, $1,299 for 15-inch.
- MacBook Air (Late 2020): Lowest cost general purpose laptop, with 13-inch screen; M1 processor. Starts at $999. (For $100 more, you should probably get the 2022 model.)
- MacBook Pro: Fancier, heavier laptop, with very high quality 14-inch or 16-inch screen, longer battery life, and more ports than Air; M3, M3 Pro, or M3 Max processor. Starts at $1,599 for 14-inch, and $2,499 for 16-inch.
Note that prices for stock configurations may be significantly cheaper at non-Apple vendors such as Amazon and Best Buy, and you get the same support from Apple. Custom configurations are often available for a discount on Apple’s refurbished products page, and I consider those to be as good as new, and usually buy from there for myself. New custom configurations are also sometimes available at a discount from specialty vendors such as Adorama Camera and B&H Photo. We always recommend getting AppleCare+ for laptops.
This announcement was a surprise from Apple – the rumor mill suggested there would be no new Mac models until next year. I’m delighted, though, that the iMac has been refreshed, so for those who have been holding out to buy one, now’s the time! Of course, if you’d like to talk about any of these new announcements, we’re here for you.