Apple M3 finally brings ray tracing to Mac

Apple’s newly announced M3 chip will come with hardware-accelerated ray tracing—finally bringing a feature to Mac that PC has had for years now.

During its “Scary Fast” Halloween Eve events, Apple officially debuted its new M3, M3 Pro and M3 Max chips. The new chips will be features in the revamped revamped MacBook Pro 14-inch and 16-inch, as well as the 24-inch iMac—the latter of which never got an M2 refresh.

The new M3 chips are mainly positioned as upgrades over the older M1 chips—people on M2 systems won’t need to replace their Macs yet. The one exception to this is any gamers on Mac looking to take advantage of the M3’s new features like mesh shading and the aforementioned hardware-accelerated ray tracing.

The latter should already be familiar for most gamers, being a key feature in high-end graphics cards from Nvidia, AMD and even Intel. Ray tracing allows for improved lighting and shadows that are rendered in real-time and not pre-baked. (Read: What is ray tracing – understanding the next big leap in video game graphics)

Mesh shading, on the other hand, is likely less familiar to most people. This relatively new technology—at least for games—allows developers to process polygons with far more power and control than the old vertex shaders ever did. The technology has only been available in AMD Radeon 6000 series or Nvidia RTX 2000 series cards or newer.

So far, only the recently released Alan Wake 2 requires mesh shader support, preventing players on older graphics cards from playing it.

In addition, Apple also revealed that the M3 chips will come with a new Dynamic Caching feature. This allows the chip to dynamically allocate memory in hardware for each task using the GPU. The company claims that this is an automatic and transparent process, meaning that developers won’t have to build around it.

The M3 coming with hardware support for both ray tracing and mesh shading, on top of the Dynamic Caching feature, could help the platform gain a foothold with gamers. The latter traditionally tend to gravitate towards PC. As part of the event, Apple showed off games running on M3 hardware.

Lies of P running on the new M3-powered MacBook Pro. Image: Apple

Of course, whether or not gamers start moving to Mac still depends on whether more games start appearing on the platform. Apple already has made some moves to entice developers, dropping a new translation tool—similar to Valve’s Proton for Linux—earlier this year for developers. Perhaps, combined with the M3 chips’ hardware-accelerated ray tracing and mesh shading, more developers will start porting their games to the platform in the future.

The first M3 powered hardware, the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro models, and 24-inch iMac will arrive on November 7, 2023.

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