The M1 Max excels when it comes to power efficiency, and is a great option for content creators and video editors. The RTX 3080 is much better at gaming and competes with the M1 Max for other use cases. Laptops featuring the RTX 3080 are generally cheaper than MacBooks with the M1 Max.
Apple’s M1 Max
Towards the end of 2021, Apple announced both the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips. Both were presented as upgraded versions of their M1’s architecture, with faster CPU and GPU performance.
The M1 Pro and M1 Max are also both incredible when it comes to power efficiency. They deliver industry-leading performance per watt, making them great for laptops.
The new M1 chips both contain a 10-core CPU with 8 high-performance cores and 2 power-efficient cores. The M1 Max has a hugely upgraded GPU when compared to the M1 Pro, however.
The GPU on the M1 Max has 32 cores, twice as many as the M1 Pro. Compared to the original M1, the M1 Max has 4x the graphics performance.
There’s also a lower-tier M1 max that has 24 cores on the GPU, but we’ll mostly look at the 32-core option. In general, the 24-core GPU will have three-fourths the performance of the 32-core GPU.
Apple fans have a serious reason to upgrade their MacBooks to the M1 Max with all these performance gains, especially if they do a lot of gaming or work that needs a well-performing GPU.
NVIDIA’s RTX 3080
The NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 is certainly a mouthful to say when compared to the M1 Max. It’s also fundamentally different than Apple’s chip.
To begin with, there are two majorly different versions of the RTX 3080. There’s a desktop variant, and another for laptops. The desktop RTX 3080 is larger and has more hardware, allowing for better performance.
The laptop version is still a powerhouse, and that’s what will be the focus of this comparison to the M1 Max.
The laptop RTX 3080 was released in early 2021, roughly six months behind the desktop version of the card. You’ll mostly find them in high-end gaming laptops, as their performance beats many other laptop graphics cards.
The laptop RTX 3080 comes with the full suite of proprietary NVIDIA features and hardware, such as DLSS and CUDA cores. Additionally, the RTX 3080 is capable of ray tracing, something many gamers might be interested in.
The M1 Pro and RTX 3080 are not the same or even similar hardware-wise. They both work as GPUs but that’s about all they have in common.
To begin with, the M1 Max contains a CPU and GPU. The RTX 3080 is only a GPU. That means when you buy a laptop with an RTX 3080, you’ll have a few options for CPU. Usually, the laptops containing RTX 3080s will come with an equally high-end CPU, such as the Intel Core i9.
Secondly, the RTX 3080 has a dedicated VRAM. This is memory for the purposes of video rendering, and displaying graphics. The M1 Max shares RAM and VRAM, which has both benefits and drawbacks.
Another thing to keep in mind is that while all M1 Max computers are produced by Apple, RTX 3080 laptops can be put together by many different brands, so the build quality of laptops containing this card can vary by quite a bit.
Productivity or Gaming
Your main use case for either a MacBook or RTX 3080 laptop can definitely impact which device will work better for you.
If you plan to mainly use your computer for productivity, that means you’re doing a lot of video editing, 3D rendering, or other CPU and GPU-heavy tasks.
If you really don’t do any of that, and just want to play some games on the computer then you should care about gaming performance and frames per second (FPS) more than the productivity metrics for evaluation.
If you’re not doing productivity or gaming, you probably don’t need the M1 Max or RTX 3080 in a computer. You could likely set your sights on cheaper options to meet your needs.
Since there are many different possible hardware combinations for laptops featuring the RTX 3080, it’s hard to give a battery life estimate. Different manufacturers could include different capacity batteries, or have a more power-hungry CPU, for instance.
In general, it seems many laptops equipped with an RTX 3080 have as little as four hours of battery, and at most ten hours.
The 16-inch MacBook is advertised by Apple to have a battery life of up to 21 hours when equipped with an M1 Pro. Apple does not provide the stats for the M1 Max MacBooks, but it can be expected to be slightly lower than the M1 Pro, as there are more GPU cores to power.
A mixed load on a MacBook with the M1 Max has been found to have a battery life of over 15 hours, which is very good.
When under heavy load, your computer will drain its battery much faster than normal, regardless of if you have a MacBook or RTX 3080 laptop.
Since the M1 Max is lauded for its power efficiency you’d expect it to perform well even when drawing fewer watts than competitors, and it does.
Compared to laptops featuring the RTX 3080, the M1 Max has a much lower power draw. Even when fully using the GPU of the M1 Max, the chip will draw less than half of what a high-end laptop, such as MSI’s GE76 Raider, does.
Regardless of whether it’s performing CPU or GPU-heavy tasks, the M1 Max will almost always use less power.
There’s a secondary benefit to using less power beyond saving money on bills. If your computer uses less power, it will generate less heat.
That means the M1 Max does not need to work as hard to cool itself down, unlike some gaming laptops sporting fans that sound like an airplane taking off.
Gaming on M1 Max vs. RTX 3080
Most of the laptops you’ll find that have an RTX 3080 installed are marketed as gaming laptops. With that in mind, you’d expect them to perform very well when playing games.
In almost all cases, the RTX 3080 beats the M1 Max for gaming. This means gamers can expect higher FPS and better overall performance with the RTX 3080. An RTX 3060 is a closer comparison to the M1 Max than the much more powerful RTX 3080.
The NVIDIA card also supports features like DLSS and ray tracing, allowing the graphics in supported games to look much better than you’ll see on a MacBook with the M1 Max.
The M1 Max is still rather impressive in its capacity to run games, as integrated GPUs are rarely so competitive with discrete GPUs. Apple does acknowledge that though they compare the M1 Max to the RTX 3080, the RTX 3080 outperforms the M1 Max at higher wattages.
Gaming on Apple vs. Windows
For a gamer, it’s important to know that the gaming experience will differ when on a MacBook compared to a Windows laptop for more than just hardware reasons.
Windows computers have access to a much wider variety of games. Many games just are not supported on MacOS, as there are far fewer gamers on Apple computers.
Additionally, games are better optimized for Windows. Oftentimes, gaming on Mac means running the game through a compatibility layer that further hurts performance.
If you’re a gamer that cares about having access to a lot of indie games or just wants the best performance possible, you’ll want to stick with an RTX 3080 on a Windows computer.
If you want a good general computer that can do a decent job running the occasional game or two, then a MacBook might fit your needs.
Productivity Work on the M1 Max
This is where the M1 Max really shines. Apple knows that most of its users do not game, and the company really doesn’t go out of its way to support gaming.
Video and picture editing is a totally different story. Apple is known to have great apps for creative works, and the M1 Max does a wonderful job running these apps.
The M1 Max allows for 400 GB/s of memory bandwidth, meaning that even the most demanding raw video files can be handled with ease.
For content creators and video editors, MacBooks featuring the M1 Max are a very real option for not just one of the best laptops, but one of the best devices for the task.
Productivity Work on the RTX 3080
First off, you should keep an eye out for the different laptop RTX 3080 versions. There are 8GB VRAM and 16GB VRAM models out there. The 16GB model will perform better when it comes to this workload.
Additionally, some RTX 3080s have differing thermal design powers (TDPs), meaning they draw different amounts of power. Those that have higher power consumption typically perform better, with higher clock speeds.
The memory bandwidth of the RTX 3080 is on par with the M1 Max, ranging from 384 GB/s to 448 GB/s, depending on the particular RTX 3080 version you get.
In general, the RTX 3080 will perform similar or better than the M1 Max. If you do a lot of 3D rendering, then the RTX 3080 will give you a significant advantage. There are some benchmarks that show the M1 Max beating the lowest TDP RTX 3080s on certain workloads, but there’s nothing conclusive.
Using Your Computer On-the-Go
We’ve already gone into battery life – the MacBooks with M1 chips easily win. The RTX 3080 alone can draw more power than both the CPU and GPU in the M1 Max without even factoring in the separate processor paired with the graphics card.
If you plan on gaming or working without access to power and relying on the laptop’s battery, there’s one more thing to consider.
By default, Windows will limit the power draw an RTX 3080 can guzzle when on battery. You can disable this, but then you’ll lose battery very, very quickly.
Meanwhile, the M1 Max is capable of providing as much power as the M1 Max needs on battery life while maintaining a decent battery life.
This makes a MacBook with the M1 Max chip the much more appealing option for productivity work if you’re frequently spending a lot of time on battery power. The MacBook should still be considered by gamers that do the same. If the games you play are supported by macOS and you don’t mind taking a performance hit, the M1 Max will give you longer gaming sessions between charges.
The Final Determining Factor: Price
You can’t fully compare two products without looking at their prices.
The MSRP of a 16-inch MacBook with the M1 Max 32-core GPU, 32 GB RAM, and 1 TB SSD is $3,499. If you want to upgrade the RAM to 64 GB, it will cost you an extra $400. Storage upgrades are also available up to an 8 TB SSD for an extra $2,200.
It’s worth noting that the M1 Max with a 24-core GPU is only $200 less, making the 32-core version a much better overall option for people who plan to make use of the GPU.
You’re paying for more than just the M1 Max, of course. You get Apple’s great build quality, Retina display, sleek design, MacOS, and more.
RTX 3080 Laptops
Since there are many different companies creating laptops, and lots of different hardware combinations, these prices can be all over the place.
The diversity of options is a benefit here. You’re able to find the laptop that best meets your needs. Laptops that carry the RTX 3080 will be between 14 inches and 17.3 inches generally, and will almost always have a high-performing AMD or Intel processor.
These laptops will all support Windows, but beyond that there can be major differences. Screen quality and overall build quality can be all over the place. Some gaming laptops have 1080p screens, and others have 2160p (4K) displays, for instance.
You’ll find that the majority of these laptops sit between $2,000-$3,000. This is cheaper than the base option of the M1 Max, giving the RTX 3080 a clear win on price.