Milwaukee M12 Fuel 3403-20 (Gen 3) Vs Milwaukee M18 Fuel 2903-20 (Gen 4)

Milwaukee 3403-20 Angle 5

Milwaukee 3403-20

Quick take

The Milwaukee M12 Fuel 3403-20 and Milwaukee M18 Fuel 2903-20 are sister flagship drills in different voltage classes. The 3403-20 is incredibly compact but lacks power for demanding jobs, like any 12V drill, making it ideal for woodworkers and other prosumers and professionals wanting a dedicated light-duty drill. The 2903-20 is exceptionally fast under load, rarely bogs down, and is much heavier and bulkier. Neither includes a hammer drilling functionality. Both drills come in a hammer drill version, which we recommend, including the Milwaukee M12 Fuel 3404-20 and Milwaukee M18 Fuel 2904-20.

Brand Milwaukee
Platform M12 Fuel
Motor Brushless
Speeds 2
Torque in-lbs 400.0
BPM N/A
Clutch settings 13
Chuck size 1/2"
Same as M12 gen 3 drill
Brand Milwaukee
Platform M18 Fuel
Motor Brushless
Speeds 2
Torque in-lbs 1400.0
BPM N/A
Clutch settings 16
Chuck size 1/2"
Same as M18 gen 4 drill

Editorial opinion

Rating

3.79 / 5 stars

Methodology used: Light duty

Pros

  • Exceptionally compact and lightweight
  • Fast drilling and driving performance in its class
  • Solid build quality
  • Long warranty
  • Brushless motor

Cons

  • No hammer drilling functionality

Rating

4.30 / 5 stars

Methodology used: Heavy duty

Pros

  • Fast drilling and driving speeds
  • Kickback control technology
  • Fantastic build quality
  • Long warranty

Cons

  • Bulky and heavy
  • No hammer drill functionality

Global rankings

18 models tested

TestResultRank
Drilling speed (sec.)25.113
Driving speed (sec.)16.213
Torque (in-lbs)400.010
RPM1,430.018
Bare weight (lbs)2.103
Drilling Noise (dBA)84.16
TestResultRank
Drilling speed (sec.)10.01
Driving speed (sec.)7.75
Torque (in-lbs)1400.01
RPM2,059.01
Bare weight (lbs)3.1615
Drilling Noise (dBA)83.25

Recommended configuration

3403-22

Includes (1) M12 Red Lithium XC 4Ah, (1) M12 Red Lithium CP 2Ah battery

Lab results

Drilling speed

Drilling speed total time (drill mode, sec.): 25.1
Drilling speed average time (drill mode, sec.): 5.0
Drilling speed total time (hammer mode, sec.): N/A
Drilling speed average time (hammer mode, sec.): N/A
Hammer mode speed improvement: N/A

The 3403-20 is one of our test fleet’s fastest and most powerful 12V drills. No 12V drill has the RPMs and power to take the speed crown from flagship 18V models. But the 3403-20 is one of the few 12V drills powerful enough that we didn’t need to drop down a gear during our drilling speed test for additional torque to finish the job.

Since our drilling speed tests are designed to test the upper limits of a drill using a 1/2-inch drill bit, it’s no surprise that the 3403-20 is exceptionally fast in more typical scenarios with boring narrower holes.

We also tested a range of spade, forstner, and auger bits in various sizes to further understand the 3403-20’s limits. Only when boring holes wider than 1/2 inch did it bind up. In these cases, dropping a gear for more torque finished the task, albeit slowly, and sometimes needing to remove and reinsert the bit to clear holes.

The overall drilling performance, combined with its weight and compact footprint, explains why the 3403-20 is perfect for most tasks around the home and woodworking, which don’t push drills to their limits.

Compare drilling speed test results

Drilling speed

Drilling speed total time (drill mode, sec.): 10.0
Drilling speed average time (drill mode, sec.): 2.0
Drilling speed total time (hammer mode, sec.): N/A
Drilling speed average time (hammer mode, sec.): N/A
Hammer mode speed improvement: N/A

The 2903-20 is incredibly fast, boring small and wide holes alike. It sustained high RPMs throughout the depth of the hole in our test of drilling a 1/2-inch drill bit through three stacked 2x6s. Never did it think of bogging down, primarily due to the high speed that impressively launches chips out of the hole.

The 2903-20 may not be the ideal drill for homeowners since it is overpowered and overkill for most jobs around the home.

Compare drilling speed test results

Driving speed

GRK total driving time forward (sec.): 16.2
GRK average driving time forward (sec.): 3.2
GRK total driving time reverse (sec.): 10.6
GRK average driving time reverse (sec.): 2.1

The 3403-20 also impresses with its driving speed. It turned in some of the fastest driving times of any 12V models in our test fleet, explaining why it’s an ideal tool around the home that’s compact, versatile, and powerful.

Providing additional context to our driving speed test results further highlights the 3403-20’s performance. The closest competitor needed approximately ten more seconds to complete our driving speed test. This performance is astounding when comparing performance against our flagship and mid-tier 18V tested models, where the difference is a few seconds.

Compare driving speed test results

Driving speed

GRK total driving time forward (sec.): 7.7
GRK average driving time forward (sec.): 1.5
GRK total driving time reverse (sec.): 6.6
GRK average driving time reverse (sec.): 1.3

Unsurprisingly, the 2903-20 also drives big structural screws fast, tallying one of the best results in our driving speed tests. It blazed through driving five GRK RSS screws in 7.7 seconds.

While it didn’t take the podium position in our driving speed tests – that goes to the Dewalt 20V Max XR DCD800 and Dewalt 20V Max XR DCD805 Hammer Drill – context is essential. The total driving time difference between the top drills in our test fleet is just over a second, which isn’t too discernible in practice.

We also tested the 2903-20 using several different gauge and length lag bolts and three-inch decking screws. We don’t measure the performance for these data points. Still, the 2903-20 impressed with whatever driving task we threw at it.

Compare driving speed test results

RPM

Milwaukee 3403-20 RPM Chart

Max RPM speed 2: 1,430.0
Max RPM speed 1: 425.0

We tested the 3403-20’s RPM output using a contact tachometer. The test results highlight the performance decisions Milwaukee’s product managers made to tune the drill for performance in specific tasks. The 3403-20’s tested RPM output is low, which is a head-scratcher when considering our tests’ best-in-class drilling and driving speed.

But our drilling and driving speed tests are designed to test how each drill performs at the top of its range. The 3403-20 is geared to outshine competing models in the most demanding tasks. Milwaukee is happy to give up some time in lighter-duty jobs to other drills that can’t compete on speed at the top of their range. All power tools have these performance tradeoffs.

Arguably, speed in light-duty tasks doesn’t matter for most people. For example, there’s little value to being the fastest drill when drilling 1/8-inch holes since all drills complete this task efficiently.

These tradeoff relationships explain why the 3403-20’s low RPM output isn’t a downside. It is fast when it matters most for saving time.

Compare drill RPM test results

RPM

Milwaukee 2903-20 RPM Chart

Max RPM speed 2: 2,059.0
Max RPM speed 1: 468.0

One reason the 2903-20 shined in our performance tests is its high RPM output. Importantly, it has enough power to sustain high RPMs under load. Some drills advertise high RPMs but aren’t fast in practice since they’re underpowered and meaningfully slow down at the top of their range.

The 2903-20 also dishes out moderately high RPMs in the low setting, as we measured using a contact tachometer. In practice, this means this drill will be faster than other drills in the same low setting when gearing down for extra torque.

Compare drill RPM test results

Torque

Advertised max torque (in-lbs): 400.0
Advertised max torque (ft-lbs): 33.3

While 400.0 in-lbs of torque isn’t high compared to all drills in our test fleet, it is high for a 12V drill, which shouldn’t be surprising since the 3403-20 sits within Milwaukee’s flagship Fuel-branded lineup.

However, we don’t consider torque a critical factor when purchasing a 12V drill. Firstly, impact drivers are the preferred tool for driving tasks that rely on torque to power through a job with lots of twisting force. Next in line is an 18V drill, which is needed for heavy-duty drilling applications.

Focusing on size, weight, and RPM performance under load are more important since 12V drills are mostly used as dedicated light-duty tools for professionals or for homeowners who don’t need brute force power.

Note: We don’t currently test drill torque in-house, as we do for impact drivers using a torque meter. The torque commentary discussed here relies upon both advertised torque specifications provided by manufacturers and practical insights learned from performance in our various drilling and driving tests.

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Torque

Advertised max torque (in-lbs): 1400.0
Advertised max torque (ft-lbs): 116.7

The 2903-20 advertises the highest torque of any drill in our Summer ‘23 test fleet with 1,400.0 in-lbs. This level closely matches the performance of some of the best impact drivers, which are safer and more user-friendly options when driving lags and big fasteners.

Throughout testing, there were several instances where the combined RPM and torque profile led to binding in heavy-duty applications. In those scenarios, Milwaukee’s Autostop kickback control technology shined, helping to avoid wrist injury by instantly stopping the motor.

Note: We don’t currently test drill torque in-house, as we do for impact drivers using a torque meter. The torque commentary discussed here relies upon both advertised torque specifications provided by manufacturers and practical insights learned from performance in our various drilling and driving tests.

Compare drill torque

Chuck

Milwaukee 3403-20 Chuck Closeup

Chuck size: 1/2″
Chuck sleeve material: Knurled metal

The 3403-20 includes a fantastic all-metal chuck that is more premium than most other drills in our test fleet. The knurled metal sleeve provides the right amount of friction on your hand for grip when tightening and loosening.

The three-jaw chuck also holds bits well since the ratcheting mechanism locks tightly onto a bit when tightening. We didn’t run into scenarios where the chuck inadvertently loosened during use.

Chuck

Milwaukee 2903-20 Chuck Closeup

Chuck size: 1/2″
Chuck sleeve material: Metal

The 2903-20 has an exceptional all-metal chuck that feels and looks more premium than most drills. The sleeve has a knurled metal design that helps tighten the chuck with enough friction on your hand for grip.

We were impressed throughout testing with how well the three-jaw chuck holds bits. The ratcheting jaws lock tightly onto a bit when tightening, and we didn’t run into any scenarios where the chuck inadvertently loosened during use.

Motor & BPM

Milwaukee 3403-20 Drill Modes

Motor type: Brushless
Action modes: Drill only
Advertised blows per min. (speed 2): N/A
Advertised blows per min. (speed 1): N/A
Variable speed trigger: Yes
Kickback control technology: No
Trigger draw length (in.): 0.375

The Powerstate brushless motor powers only a single action mode. Like all drills, the drill mode disengages the clutch and delivers the highest torque output in the low setting.

You’ll need to jump to the Milwaukee M12 Fuel 3404-20 Hammer Drill if you need a hammering functionality for efficiently drilling masonry and thick lumber.

No kickback control technology is included with the 3043-20, to be expected in the 12V category.

Compare drill motors

Motor & BPM

Milwaukee 2903-20 Drill Modes
Milwaukee 2903-20 Over Rotations Closeup

Motor type: Brushless
Action modes: Drill only
Advertised blows per min. (speed 2): N/A
Advertised blows per min. (speed 1): N/A
Variable speed trigger: Yes
Kickback control technology: Yes
Trigger draw length (in.): 0.375

As should be expected at this price point, the 2903-20 includes Milwaukee’s Powerstate-branded brushless motor, which offers better efficiency and longevity than brushed motors.

There is only a single drill mode setting that is positioned on the same set ring as the clutch settings.

One standout feature is that the 2903-20 features kickback control technology, which helps reduce the risk of wrist injuries when binding up. Near the light in the base, there is a small Autostop light that flashes when the kickback mechanism is triggered.

We tested the kickback control using several large spade and forstner bits and found that it worked as advertised and immediately stopped drilling to avoid over-rotating when the bit binds up. But we don’t run standardized tests to understand if Milwaukee’s technology works better than any competing kickback control technology.

There is no hammer drill functionality, which the sister Milwaukee M18 Fuel 2904-20 Hammer Drill includes.

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Clutch & speed settings

Milwaukee 3403-20 Clutch & Speed

Speed settings: 2
Clutch settings: 13

The 3403-20 has a two-speed gearbox with 13 clutch settings. All the clutch options and drill single mode can be run in the high or low-speed setting, helping to fine-tune the performance profile to the task at hand.

While 13 clutch settings are fewer than many competing drills, we don’t see it as a downside. 13 options are more than enough to precisely fine-tune the 3403-20 with the appropriate torque output to help avoid cam-out and stripped threads for any driving scenario.

Compare drill clutch and speed settings

Clutch & speed settings

Milwaukee 2903-20 Clutch & Speed

Speed settings: 2
Clutch settings: 16

The two-speed gearbox determines the RPM output and can be used in drill mode when the clutch is disengaged or when a clutch setting is selected.

While 16 clutch settings isn’t the highest number available, it’s more than most people will need in practice. Including more clutch settings would only allow you to finely tune the torque to a given driving task. Still, the 2903-20 is precise when the proper clutch setting is engaged.

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Charging time

Milwaukee 3403-20 Fuel Gauge

Charger tested: Milwaukee M12 & M18 Multi-Volt (48-59-1812)
Charging time 2Ah battery (min.): 38.0
Charging time 4Ah battery (min.): Not tested
Charging time 5Ah battery (min.): Not tested
Charging time per Ah (min.): 19.0
Fuel gauge: Onboard tool

The Milwaukee M12 and M18 multi-volt charger (model 48-59-1812) included in most kits is reasonably fast at charging batteries, including to beat out team red’s most frequent adversary, Dewalt. It takes 38 minutes to charge an M12 2Ah battery, equivalent to 19 minutes per amp-hour.

Many Milwaukee drills come in kits with chargers that charge multiple voltage batteries in one, conveniently saving space in your shop if you have several M12 and M18 ecosystem tools.

Compare drill charging test results

Charging time

Milwaukee 2903-20 Fuel Gauge

Charger tested: Milwaukee M12 & M18 Multi-Volt (48-59-1812)
Charging time 2Ah battery (min.): 41.0
Charging time 4Ah battery (min.): Not tested
Charging time 5Ah battery (min.): 98.0
Charging time per Ah (min.): 20.1
Fuel gauge: On battery

The Milwaukee M12 and M18 multi-volt charger (model 48-59-1812) included in most kits is reasonably fast at charging batteries, including to beat out team red’s most frequent adversary, Dewalt. It takes 41 minutes to charge an M18 2Ah battery and 98 minutes for a 5Ah battery, or approximately 20 minutes per amp-hour.

Milwaukee’s 48-59-1812 charger charges multiple battery voltages in one, conveniently saving space in your shop if you have several M12 and M18 ecosystem tools.

Compare drill charging test results

Design & ergonomics

Stands upright (no battery): No
Stands upright (w/ battery): Yes
Grip material: Rubber overgrip
Magnetic holder: No
Bit holder: No
Belt hook: Yes
Lanyard compatible: No

Design & ergonomics

Stands upright (no battery): Yes
Stands upright (w/ battery): Yes
Grip material: Rubber overgrip
Magnetic holder: No
Bit holder: No
Belt hook: Yes
Lanyard compatible: Yes

Weight

Milwaukee 3403-20 On Scale

Bare weight (lbs): 2.10
Weight w/ 2Ah battery (lbs): 2.49
Weight w/ 4Ah battery (lbs): Not tested
Weight w/ 5Ah battery (lbs): Not tested

The 3403-20 is exceptionally lightweight for a drill, weighing in at 2.10 lbs in its bare form. Milwaukee’s batteries are also comparably lightweight, helping to retain its light status kitted with a battery. As a result, unlike other heavier drills in our test fleet, we didn’t frequently experience hand and arm fatigue throughout our testing.

We tested different battery configurations since the working weight can differ meaningfully from the bare tool weight. We recommend combining the 3403-20 with Milwaukee’s M12 Red Lithium CP 2Ah Ah battery for a good balance of drilling performance and weight in a lightweight setup.

If weight is less of a concern, Milwaukee offers several higher Ah-capacity M12 batteries in its lineup. But you lose the seamless in-handle design for a slightly bulkier footprint and heavier weight.

Compare drill weight test results

Weight

Milwaukee 2903-20 On Scale

Bare weight (lbs): 3.16
Weight w/ 2Ah battery (lbs): 4.10
Weight w/ 4Ah battery (lbs): Not tested
Weight w/ 5Ah battery (lbs): 4.77

No powerful drill is lightweight, including the 2903-20, one of our test fleet’s heavier drills. Most users will experience hand and arm muscle fatigue when operating the 2903-20 over prolonged periods, as we experienced in several tests.

We tested different battery configurations since the working weight can differ meaningfully from the bare weight. We recommend combining the 2903-20 with Milwaukee’s M18 Red Lithium CP 2Ah battery for as lightweight a setup as possible while still retaining acceptable performance for a high-powered drill.

Pair the 2903-20 with Milwaukee’s M18 Red Lithium XC 5Ah battery for a longer run time and improved drilling performance if weight is less of a concern.

Compare drill weight test results

Footprint

Milwaukee 3403-20 Footprint1

Max height (in.): 8.250
Max width (in.): 2.250
Chuck to back length (in.): 6.000
Base length (in.): 2.000
Base width (in.): 2.250

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more compact and equally powerful drill on the market. The 3403-20 is incredibly agile, with a smaller footprint in all dimensions than most drills. The size helps the 3403-20 fit well into tight spaces, vastly improving its versatility.

Compare drill footprint test results

Footprint

Milwaukee 2903-20 Footprint1
Milwaukee 2903-20 Footprint2

Max height (in.): 9.500
Max width (in.): 3.125
Chuck to back length (in.): 6.875
Base length (in.): 4.625
Base width (in.): 3.125

The 2903-20 is bulky when measured in a variety of orientations. Notably, it is tall with a battery attached, and the head is somewhat wide. The tip-to-tail length is surprisingly compact for such a powerful drill, helping it fit into some tight areas better than other high-end models in our test fleet.

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Drilling clearance

Min. interior width clearance (in.): 7.750
Min. top edge clearance (in.): 1.250
Min. interior 45-deg. clearance (in.): 6.000

Unsurprisingly, the 3403-20 shined in our clearance tests, designed to understand how well a drill fits into areas with limited access and drills in tight spaces. The short tip-to-tail length is impressive, helping it fit easily between vertical boards and in tight corners. The head is also compact, which allows it to fit under shelves well.

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Drilling clearance

Min. interior width clearance (in.): 8.625
Min. top edge clearance (in.): 1.375
Min. interior 45-deg. clearance (in.): 6.875

Since it is bulky, we weren’t surprised that the 2903-20 didn’t beat our test fleet with its driving clearances. This drill is designed more for brute force unobstructed drilling power than for squeezing through narrow spaces and into tight corners.

In the three clearance tests we conducted, it performed best with its interior width clearance. It fits moderately well between two vertical boards, primarily thanks to its tip-to-tail footprint.

Compare drilling clearance test results

Auxiliary arm

Auxiliary arm: No

The 3403-20 doesn’t include an auxiliary handle to control recoil and enhance stability during heavy-duty drilling tasks. But we don’t see this as a downside. The 3403-20 isn’t designed to tackle the heaviest-duty drilling tasks, such as drilling wide and deep holes in masonry or wood, where an auxiliary handle is helpful.

Auxiliary arm

Milwaukee 2903-20 Auxiliary Arm

Auxiliary arm: Yes

The 2903-20 includes an auxiliary handle to control recoil and enhance stability during heavy-duty drilling tasks, improving user safety. The 2903-20 is a powerful drill, so it makes sense that an auxiliary arm is included.

The handle is easy to attach and remove just behind the chuck and is mountable on either the right or left side.

Noise

Milwaukee 3403-20 Noise Chart

Max no-load noise (dBA): 84.2
Max drilling noise (dBA): 84.1

The 3403-20 is moderately quiet when drilling under load, primarily because it doesn’t include a hammer drill functionality, which is loud.

Compare drill noise test results

Noise

Milwaukee 2903-20 Noise Chart

Max no-load noise (dBA): 85.7
Max drilling noise (dBA): 83.2

The 2903-20’s maximum drilling noise under load is far quieter than most models in our test fleet, including much louder hammer drills that rival the noise output of many impact drivers.

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Light

Milwaukee 3403-20 Light Wall
Milwaukee 3403-20 Light Closeup

Light: Yes
Light location: Near trigger
Light positions: 1
Customizable light settings: None
Light count: Single LED
Light active time (sec.): 15.0

A single LED above the trigger brightly illuminates the drilling surface in front of the head. Unlike some Dewalt drills, there are no extra light features, such as a spotlight mode or the ability to turn off the light when pressing the trigger.

Light

Milwaukee 2903-20 Light Wall
Milwaukee 2903-20 Light Closeup

Light: Yes
Light location: In base
Light positions: 1
Customizable light settings: None
Light count: Single LED
Light active time (sec.): 15.0

The work light located in the base is effective and bright and no-frills at the same time. Several competing high-end Dewalt drills include a three-position light that has a spotlight mode or can be disabled. These premium features enhance the versatility, which is an area for improvement with the 2903-20.

Warranty

Tool warranty (years): 2-3 (depends on model)
Battery warranty (years): 5

Milwaukee stands behind the durability of its drills with exceptionally long warranties. The 3403-20 has a five-year warranty, which is among the longest offered by any manufacturer. Milwaukee’s M12 Li-Ion batteries have two or three-year warranties, depending on the specific model.

Warranty

Tool warranty (years): 2-3 (depends on model)
Battery warranty (years): 5

Milwaukee stands behind the durability of its drills with exceptionally long warranties. The 2903-20 has a five-year warranty, which is among the longest offered by any manufacturer. Milwaukee’s M18 Li-Ion batteries have two or three-year warranties, depending on the specific model.

Picture of Nathan Hamilton
Nathan Hamilton
Nathan Hamilton is the founder of DIY Gear Reviews and a recognized expert in the home and DIY space. He has over 200 bylines covering topics such as power tools, hand tools, and woodworking. Nathan is the strategic director for DIY Gear Reviews, deciding everything from the content covered to designing the testing methodologies for lab-tested reviews. He can be emailed at nhamilton@diygearreviews.com.

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