Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro (Late 2023) Review: M3 Max Domination

Apple’s MacBook Pro laptops received a hardware upgrade earlier this year, which brought powerful M2 Pro and M2 Max chips with noticeable gains over their M1 Pro and M1 Max predecessors. We weren’t expecting a significant chip upgrade so soon, but Apple again surprised us with third-generation Apple Silicon in the form of the M3, M3 Pro and M3 Max for the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros.

Since Apple last did a major design overhaul of the MacBook Pro family in 2021, there isn’t any big news this time, save for one new color option: Space Black. Space Black replaces Space Gray on 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros with the M3 Pro and M3 Max processors (14-inch MacBook Pros with the base M3 chip soldier on with Space Gray).

Besides the powerful new chips based on a 3nm process node, the late 2023 MacBook Pros are available with up to 128GB of RAM (up from 96GB) and an 8TB SSD.

The new hardware upgrades make these new MacBook Pros the fastest yet, and they remain among the best ultrabooks available if you can get past RAM and SSD pricing that can quickly escalate.

MacBook Pro (Late 2023) Design

We received a 16-inch MacBook Pro review unit, and it looks identical to the M2 Max version that we tested earlier this year. The only exterior difference is the new Space Black color, which looks gorgeous. The matte black finish shimmers under light, and Apple says that the aluminum unibody uses an “anodization seal” process to reduce the appearance of fingerprints. You’ll still see fingerprints if you’re manhandling the laptop, but the smudges aren’t nearly as prevalent as seen on the MacBook Air in Midnight Blue.

As a nice touch, Apple includes a braided MagSafe 3 to USB-C cable in the box that is also finished in Space Black. However, the 140W power brick remains finished in the familiar shiny white plastic.

As before, the largest MacBook Pro has a beautiful 16.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display with a 16:10 aspect ratio. There remains a notch in the top-center of the display, which houses the 1080p webcam. The notch has been divisive with many in the Mac community, but I mostly have just grown to ignore it. Much like the notch on the iPhone 13 Pro or the “Dynamic Island” on the iPhone 15 Pro, the MacBook Pro’s notch mostly fades into obscurity the more you use it.

However, given how much space it takes up, it seems like a wasted opportunity to add Face ID hardware. Face ID has proliferated through Apple’s iPhone and iPad Pro product families, and it would be nice to see that feature added to the flagship MacBook Pro family. We’d imagine that Apple simply hasn’t been able to shrink the hardware down enough to fit Face ID into the MacBook Pro’s thin display lid, which is why Touch ID is still integrated into the power button.

The full-size keyboard remains as comfortable as ever with its scissor switches, and the massive trackpad, which supports haptic feedback, sits below it. There are no changes to the port layout on the latest 16-inch MacBook Pro. That means you get one HDMI 2.1 port, one Thunderbolt 4 port and an SDXC memory slot on the laptop’s right side. The left side of the laptop features a MagSafe 3 port, two more Thunderbolt 3 ports, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. It should be noted that 16-inch MacBook Pros with an M3 Pro processor support up to two external displays, while M3 Max-equipped machines (like our review sample), support up to four external displays.

Our MacBook Pro weighs 4.8 pounds and measures 14.01 x 9.77 x 0.66 inches; models with the M3 Pro weigh slightly less at 4.7 pounds. We brought along a Dell XPS 15 (9530) to represent Windows laptops, which measures 13.56 x 9.06 x 0.73 inches and weighs 4.31 pounds.

MacBook Pro (Late 2023) Specifications

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CPU Apple M3 Max (16-core CPU)
Graphics 40-core GPU
Memory 128GB unified memory
Storage 8TB SSD
Display 16.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display, 3,456 x 2,234, 120 Hz ProMotion
Networking Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3
Ports 3x Thunderbolt 4 over USB Type-C, HDMI, SDXC card slot, 3.5 mm headphone jack, MagSafe 3
Camera 1080p FaceTime HD camera
Battery 100 WHr
Power Adapter 140 W
Operating System macOS Sonoma
Dimensions (WxDxH) 14.01 x 9.77 x 0.66 inches (355.7 mm x 248.1 mm x 16.8 mm)
Weight 4.8 pounds (2.16 kg)
Price (as configured) $5,299.00

Productivity Performance of the MacBook Pro (Late 2023)

Our 16-inch MacBook Pro came with a full-fat M3 Max chip with 400 GBps of bandwidth. As a result, it has a 16-core CPU (12 performance cores, 4 efficiency cores), a 40-core GPU and a 16-core Neural Engine. Apple is reticent to disclose clock speeds for its products in its specs sheet, but Geekbench 6 says that the CPU has a clock speed of 4.05 GHz, compared to 3.66 GHz for the M2 Max.

The laptop blazed through the Geekbench 5 benchmark, achieving a score of 2,332 in single-core and 23,163 in multi-core mode. The single-core improvement over the M2 Max was 17 percent, but the multi-core score improved by a staggering 53 percent. We must note that the M3 Max has an additional four performance cores compared to the M2 Max and a higher clock speed, which helps contribute to that big uplift in performance. The Dell XPS 15 (9530) with its Core i7-13700H processor performed on par with the M1 Max in the 16-inch MacBook Pro from 2021.

The M3 Max flexed its muscles again in the Handbrake test, which involves transcoding a 4K video to 1080p. It finished the task in 2 minutes and 34 seconds, nearly a minute and half faster than the M2 Max (3:59) and well over two minutes ahead of the M1 Max (4:48). It was also roughly twice as fast as the XPS 15 (5:01).

Our file transfer test involves copying 25GB of files (reading and writing on the same SSD), and the 16-inch MacBook Pro with M3 Max achieved 2,461.25 MBps. This was a huge boost over its M1 Max and M2 Max counterparts, which hit 1,917.69 MBps and 1,789.85 MBps, respectively. It even easily outdistanced the XPS (9530) at 2,060.98 MBps.

We introduced the Xcode Benchmark when testing the 16-inch MacBook Pro with M2 Max earlier this year. That laptop took 85 seconds to complete the test, while our M3 Max review unit accomplished the same feat in just 70 seconds.

We stress-tested the system with Cinebench R24, performing 20 runs with the multi-core test. Cinebench R24 estimated the single-core clock at 4GHz and the multi-core clock at 3.4GHz. The scores for Cinebench R24 aren’t directly comparable to prior versions, but the 16-inch MacBook Pro hovered between 1,600 and 1,700 on the multi-core test. The fan kicked in relatively early during the testing, and while they were noticeable, the sound wasn’t objectionable.

We normally use TG Pro to verify CPU temperatures for Macs. However, the current version of the utility isn’t fully compatible with Apple’s new M3 family and couldn’t provide a readout of temperatures for performance and efficiency cores. However, the app did report package temperatures that ranged from 99 to 104 degrees Celsius during the Cinebench R24 stress test.

Gaming and Graphics on the MacBook Pro (Late 2023)

The M3 Max in our 16-inch MacBook Pro review unit comes with a 40-core GPU (two more than the M2 Max we tested earlier this year). Creative professionals will primarily use a machine of this caliber, especially in this flagship configuration. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t do some gaming on the side.

I tested the system with Resident Evil Village, a game with native Apple Silicon support using the Metal 3 API. With the resolution set at 3456 x 2160, the graphics preset dialed to “Max,” and MetalFX upscaling set to “Quality,” the game showed that it would use 12.53 GB out of the 94 GB that the game can reserve. The game locked in at 60 fps (measured using the FPS Hud in macOS, which is accessible from Terminal) in just about every scene with these settings enabled.

We also tried to push the GPU with much older games, like Shadow of the Tomb Raider. We were able to achieve 118 fps at 1920 x 1200 and 47 fps at native resolution (3456 x 2234). Borderlands 3 hit 59 fps at 1920 x 1200 (we couldn’t get it to run at native resolution).

Display on the MacBook Pro (Late 2023)

The 16-inch MacBook Pro uses what Apple brands as a “Liquid Retina XDR” display. More to the point, it’s a Mini-LED panel with a 3456 x 2234 resolution with up to a 120Hz refresh rate.

Since I’m a big Marvel fan, I watched Season 2, Episode 5 of Loki on the MacBook Pro on Disney Plus. The overall aesthetic of the show (especially inside the TVA) gives me a late 70s/early 80s vibe, and that was on clear display on the Mini-LED panel with the muted earthy color tones and vintage gadgets. It was also especially unsettling and creepy to see the colorful strands of reality unraveling as the episode progressed.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

Testing with our colorimeter showed that the panel covered 117 percent of the sRGB gamut and 82.7 percent of DCI-P3. Both figures closely matched what we found on its M2 Max counterpart that we tested in February.

In SDR content, brightness maxed out at 563 nits, which confirms Apple’s assertion of a 20 percent boost compared to the previous generation. Switching to HDR content, we hit a maximum of 1539 nits with 40 percent coverage, compared to 1,470 nits for the older model.

As always, Apple enables True Tone by default on its MacBooks. True Tone does its best to adjust the colors on the display to match your current working environment better, whether in a darkened room or in a brightly lit area. However, for professionals who will likely be using the MacBook Pro for color-critical work, it’s probably best to leave this True Tone disabled in the Display settings menu.

Keyboard and Touchpad on the MacBook Pro (Late 2023)

The keyboard and touchpad on the MacBook Pro are unchanged, and that’s a good thing. The backlit keys still feature a scissor-switch mechanism. There’s nothing remarkable about the keyboard other than the Touch ID biometric sensor embedded in the power button.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

I used keyhero.com for my typing tests, averaging 90 words per minute with 95.67 percent accuracy.

The touchpad measures a massive 6.3 x 3.9 inches, giving you plenty of room to swipe, scroll, and use multi-touch gestures to your heart’s content.

Audio on the MacBook Pro (Late 2023)

Given that the chassis of the MacBook Pro hasn’t changed, the excellent audio system remains. In this case, Apple outfitted the laptop with six speakers with force-cancelling woofers. The speakers also support Dolby Atmos audio and support for Apple’s Spatial Audio. Spatial Audio is also supported when connecting to AirPods Pro or AirPods Max over Bluetooth.

The speakers sound great, as you would expect from a system with a $2,499 base price, and are among the best in the laptop world (PC or Mac). To test them, I watched the bank robbery scene from the movie “Heat” and was floored by the sounds from the Colt Model 733 short-barreled carbines used by the film’s antagonists. Director Michael Mann is known for his realistic depiction of gunfire in his movies, and the MacBook Pro did it justice.

Upgradeability on the MacBook Pro (Late 2023)

As with all recent MacBook Pro and MacBook Air laptops, there’s no avenue for future hardware upgrades. You must make all your decisions based on what you expect to use the machine for at the time of purchase. The RAM is integrated into the M3 Max package, while the NAND for the SSD is soldered onto the motherboard. This isn’t anything new to the Apple faithful, but it is certainly an eyebrow-raiser for the PC crowd, where you can at least expect to upgrade your SSDs without issue.

Still, you can take off the bottom panel of the MacBook Pro via eight pentalobe screws, where you’ll have access to any serviceable components. However, we highly suggest you visit Apple’s website and check out the repair manual before you start tinkering.

Battery Life on the MacBook Pro (Late 2023)

Battery life has always been a strong point with Apple Silicon Macs, and that remains the same with this latest iteration of the 16-inch MacBook Pro. Our review unit lasted 17 hours and 11 minutes on our battery test, where we browse the web, run OpenGL tests and stream video connected to Wi-Fi with the screen set to 150 nits. That said, we didn’t quite hit the high watermark set by its M2 Max predecessor, which lasted for 18 hours and 56 minutes under the same parameters – both laptops feature a 100-WHr battery, the largest allowed by law.

For comparison, the older M1 Max version ran for 15 hours and 31 minutes, while the XPS 15 conked out after 9 hours and 12 minutes.

Heat on the MacBook Pro (Late 2023)

We measured the heat on the MacBook Pro while running the Cinebench R24 stress test. At the center of the keyboard, between the G and H keys, we measured 36.3 degrees Celsius (97.34 degrees Fahrenheit), while the touchpad registered 26.1 C (78.98 F).

The hottest point of the laptop was on its underside, which hit 37.1 C (98.78 F).

Webcam on the MacBook Pro (Late 2023)

The 16-inch MacBook Pro soldiers on with a 1080p webcam, which is comparable to some of the best cameras we’ve seen on PC-based laptops. Color reproduction was accurate and fine detail was well captured. My brown skin tones were captured well, which is often challenging for laptops with lesser hardware.

The camera is nestled in a notch at the top of the display, which robs some screen real estate. It doesn’t bother me as much as some folks, but it would have been nice if Apple could have found a way to avoid this design choice. If Face ID hardware had been included in the mix, the complaints about the notch wouldn’t have been nearly as vocal from the Mac community.

If the 1080p webcam’s performance isn’t good enough for your needs, you can pair an iPhone with Continuity Camera (a feature introduced in macOS Ventura). This feature lets you leverage the iPhone’s primary camera sensor for video recording duties.

macOS Sonoma, Software and Warranty

The latest MacBook Pro ships preinstalled with macOS Sonoma (Version 14.1). Sonoma doesn’t feel like a dramatic departure from Ventura, but there are some notable features. Game Mode gives resource priority to the CPU and GPU to boost gaming performance and reduce latency for wireless accessories (AirPods, wireless mice, etc.). You can now place useful widgets on your desktop, including those from your iPhone, when using Continuity. Private Browsing now has better security, and you can use search filters in the Messages app. There are also many other smaller features sprinkled in, which you read about here.

Macs don’t come bundled with crapware; everything installed is made by Apple. That means you won’t find the typical Windows 11 bloat, like app shortcuts for Disney Plus, Netflix or TikTok. Instead, you’ll find all the essentials like Mail, Messages, Photos, Safari and Maps. These apps, of course, all sync across your iOS/iPadOS devices and other Macs that are signed in to your iCloud account. Apple’s free productivity suite (Numbers, Pages, Keynote) is included and will serve you well if you have basic needs.

The 16-inch MacBook Pro comes with a standard one-year warranty, and you can add the AppleCare Plus three-year extended warranty for a flat fee of $399. If you still want the extended warranty but would rather pay as you go, AppleCare Plus is also offered for $149/year.

MacBook Pro (Late 2023) Configurations

Our 16-inch MacBook Pro came finished in Space Black and features an M3 Max chip (16 CPU cores, 40 GPU cores), 128GB of unified memory and a spacious 8TB SSD. The price for this top-of-the-line system is a staggering $7,199. Quite frankly, it’s hard to justify that price unless you need that added memory and storage.

The MacBook Pro’s starting price of $2,499 is more palatable and still gets you the great build quality, screen, audio system, and plethora of ports for connectivity. The base pre-configured 16-inch MacBook Pro has an M3 Pro chip (12 CPU cores, 18 GPU cores), 18GB of unified memory and a 512GB SSD. An additional $400 bumps you to 36GB of unified memory. The cheapest M1 Max configuration (14 CPU cores, 30 GPU cores) comes with 36GB of unified memory and a 1TB SSD.

As always, the price premium to upgrade the memory and storage is enormous. Upgrading from 18GB of unified memory to 36GB on the M3 Pro configuration costs $400. Going from a 512GB SSD to 1TB, 2TB or 4TB costs $200, $600 or $1,200, respectively.

Bottom Line

The 16-inch MacBook Pro remains a formidable entry in the high-end laptop space due to several factors. The build quality remains best in class, the Mini-LED display is bright and colorful, the speakers and webcam are class-leading, and battery life is unmatched by anything in the Windows sphere.

The raw power of the M3 Max chip is undeniable, offering impressive performance gains over the M2 Max released less than a year ago. We noticed some regression in battery endurance compared to its M2 Max counterpart, but it still lasts nearly twice as long as the Dell XPS 15 (9530) with a 13th-generation Intel Raptor Lake processor.

At its starting price of $2,499, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is a great all-around machine if you can get by with 18GB of RAM and 512GB of internal storage. Where things start to fall apart is with Apple’s memory and storage upgrades, which quickly inflate the price. Adding a few options will see pricing soar well past the $3,000 mark. And in the case of our fully loaded M3 Max review unit, the price was an eye-popping $7,199.

If you already have a 16-inch MacBook Pro with an M2-class processor, we think you’ll be fine skipping this generation. However, if you’re running a M1 Pro/Max MacBook Pro or anything Intel-based, now is a good time to upgrade – as long as you go easy on the hardware options.

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