I received a new MacBook Pro 14" M3 from my employer, which starts at €2.049 ($2224) in Italy. It looks like a solid machine, at least physically speaking. I wired it up to my fairly basic dual-monitor office setup, just to realize that confusingly enough, I could not use the HDMI and USB-C port at the same time.

I thought that was a cable issue, then a bug, but nope. It turns out the “base” M3 chip is essentially an overclocked iPad chip put into a computer, and it does not have two display controllers. For that, you will need a confusingly named M3 Pro MacBook Pro, which retails for a mouth-watering EUR 2.599, aka US $ 2821 at the current change rate.

I have been driving dual monitors on a MacBook Pro since 2012 or so, if my memory is not that bad. I have been driving them on my 2017 Dell XPS 13 for ages, on Linux.

Embarrassing Excuses

When I posted this on Mastodon, and talked to friends in real life, I heard many people try to justify Apple on this.

‘That’s what the M3 Pro is for’

No. A machine that has Pro in its name needs to have at least the very basic features for any pro user. Everyone from developers to doctors to university researchers with a bunch of browser tabs need at least two displays nowadays.

What Apple is doing is trying to squeeze even more profit out of all users who didn’t read the fine print, buy the “basic” MacBook Pro Tier, and produce a ton of e-waste since this machine will be unused by them and flow on the used market.

‘The base M3 is a mobile chip’

Then Apple should not have shoved a mobile chip in a $2k so-called-Pro laptop in the first place. Making willingly unusable “poverty specced” products (32GB iPad, anyone?) for absurd prices is highly unethical and preys on the lack of technical expertise for users to buy stuff that will date fast and require a replacement within a couple of years.

Display Controllers are expensive / take space

As someone who is quite nerdy about ARM chips, I restate that if even Qualcomm has had two or more display controllers for years, at EUR 2K, saving a couple of dollars on the chip price should be the last of Apple’s priorities. If Intel, another very-for-profit company, could take enough chip real estate to embed all the required display controllers in their graphics silicon since years, so can Apple after many years.

‘You can close the lid and use it in clamshell mode’

Some people suggested me to close the lid as a hack to re-route the second screen. This is an official workaround according to Apple.com:

  1. Connect an external keyboard and mouse or trackpad.

  2. Connect the Mac to power. If the external display provides power to the Mac, a separate power adapter isn’t needed.

  3. Connect the first display. This will be the primary display, supporting up to 6K resolution at 60 Hz (or 4K at 144 Hz).

  4. Close the MacBook Air lid.

  5. Connect the second display. This will be the secondary display, supporting up to 5K resolution at 60 Hz (or 4K at 100 Hz).

First of all, this does not work. Apple has implemented this workaround in the cheaper MacBook Air, but it still does not look to work on the (more expensive) Pro model I am using - it has been promised some months ago, but not yet delivered.

Secondly, I use my laptop’s webcam for videoconferencing, which obviously won’t work with my lid closed, and I like to keep less important windows (Slack, Spotify, Outlook…) on the builtin laptop display as a third monitor while using the desk setup for serious stuff.

And even if this feature did exist, it still looks like a fairly third-world hack for such a “first world” machine.

‘This issue has existed since the M1 chip’

So Apple has had almost three years to fix it, but still didn’t? Brilliant.

Bye Apple, once again

To be clear, I am far from an Apple “hater”. Believing that technology needs to make my life easier without much configuration hassle, I owned many bits of their ecosystem at some point in my life.

Having seen Apple try to destroy amazingly engineered hardware to squeeze more income is disheartening, and I lost the trust I had long ago in this brand long ago to help me as an engineer to build things faster and more productively.

In 2013 or so, I considered the MacBook Pro in my household a genuine “pro” machine. My father still uses that Mac as a secondary machine from time to time, after I put an SSD and more RAM in it to make it jumped at least five years further in usability and spec range.

This M3 is a beautifully looking, but impractical boutique machine that makes me miss my much older (and flawed) XPS 13 a lot. Apple is a trillion-dollar company, and this product seems like the latest lazy attempt at growing its stock value by bringing basic features to more and more extremely upmarket models and reducing the lifespan of their hardware.

Even software-wise, there is not much advantage to it, really. Fedora Linux has become impressively stable on newer GNOME releases - at least on a non-Nvidia machine like mine. The bugs I found appearing in newer macOS releases over the years (screen sharing leaking windows from other workspaces, sound routing and DNS crashing, etc.) are things that have been resolved in Linux thanks to systemd, PipeWire, and a lot of work on GNOME since at least 3-4 years, making it possibly the most polished desktop on the planet.