M3 MacBook Pro vs M1 MacBook Pro: Should you upgrade to Apple’s latest laptop?

ZDNET's Jason Hiner with Apple MacBook Pro (M3 Max)

Jason Hiner/ZDNET

It was just back in January that Apple upgraded its MacBook Pro from the M1 version that was released in 2021 to the M2, but we’re already seeing the leap to the MacBook Pro M3, which is available now. 

When any new model comes out, you probably start wondering if it’s time to upgrade. If you already have the M2, there’s really no reason to upgrade to the M3 outside of the slight performance bump and new color — Space Black. The specs on the M3 are better than the M2, but not enough to warrant a whole new purchase.

Also: MacBook Pro (M3 Max) review: A desktop-class laptop for an AI-powered age

But if you have the M1 MacBook Pro, the question of upgrading becomes a little tougher. There are a few scenarios where the M1 would better suit you, and there are a few where the M3 is better. If you’re trying to decide whether or not you should take the leap or you’re simply in the market for a new MacBook, here’s a breakdown of the key buying reasons.

Specifications

M1 MacBook Pro

M3 MacBook Pro

Display size 13 inch, 14 inch, and 16 inch 14 inch and 16 inch
Colors Silver, Space Gray Silver, Space Gray, Space Black
Touch Bar Yes (on the 13-inch model) No

Chip

‌M1‌ chip (5nm/N5)

M3 chip (3nm/N3B)

CPU and GPU Up to 8 core for both Up to 12 core and up to 18 core

Unified memory

Up to 16GB

Up to 128GB

Storage Up to 2TB SSD Up to 4TB SSD

Ports

Two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports                

Three Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C) ports, HDMI port, SDXC card slot

Battery 58.2-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery with up to 17 hours wireless web and up to 20 hours Apple TV app movie playback 72.4-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery with up to 12 hours wireless web and up to 18 hours Apple TV app movie playback  
Camera 720p FaceTime HD camera 1080p FaceTime HD camera
Price Starting at $999 Starting at $1,599

You should buy the M1 MacBook Pro if…

Apple MacBook Pro 13.3 inch M1 on a table

Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

1. You need more battery life

While you might expect the newest device to have the better battery life, the extra processing power does take a toll. In terms of pure battery life, the M1 beats the M3 by a decent margin. For general use, the M1 has up to 17 hours while the M3 only makes it to 12. Solely on streaming, the gap lessens a little at 20 hours compared to 18. 

Also: MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air: How to decide which Apple laptop to buy

Now, it’s worth noting that most people do use their MacBooks plugged…