Apple’s M1 chip has impressive performance in the new MacBooks and Mac mini, but competing with Intel and AMD desktop processors is a big ask.
When it revealed the latest 13-inch MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and Mac mini, Apple also announced that they are powered by its M1 system on a chip (SoC). This is the beginning of the transition to Apple Silicon in Mac computers and the tech giant is wasting no time, starting with three computers. It leaves just the larger 16-inch MacBook Pro, the iMac series, and the Mac Pro running Intel CPUs.
The previous generation Mac mini was released in 2018, so it was due for a refresh. Apple updated the Intel MacBook laptops in the first half of 2020, so replacing two of the three models so soon was a bit of a surprise, though rumors and leaks had strongly suggested a MacBook would be the first to receive Apple Silicon. With each new year, Apple computers get more powerful but this year has seen an especially big leap in performance, with Apple claiming three times the CPU performance and a GPU that’s six times as fast. The new MacBook models are compared to the previous generation’s Intel Core i7 variants with integrated graphics. Apple compared the new Mac mini to the previous generation’s Intel Core i3 version, so not quite as impressive a jump in performance as in the MacBook line, but still surprising to have the same chip compete well in a desktop model.
Apple’s claim of huge gains in performance versus the Intel processors is sure to be met with skepticism and until third-party reviews are available that will continue to be the case. However, this isn’t really as big of a surprise as some may think. For a few years, Apple has been describing iPad performance as surpassing PC performance. This year it came right out and stated that its M1 chip has the “world’s best CPU performance per watt.” Apple added that the M1 SoC also offers the world’s fastest integrated graphics in a personal computer. The footnotes state the tests were done in October using industry-standard benchmarks, commercial and open source applications. Apple indicated the M1 leads in low-power design, but is it ready to compete with desktop processors?
Is M1 Ready For The Desktop?
The M1 chip evolved from the A-series processors used in the iPhone and the iPad. The jump to a laptop is quite reasonable given that Apple has been improving these chips annually since 2007. However, the Mac mini is a desktop computer, without the power limitations that are imposed by a laptop. According to a preview of the M1 by Anandtech, Apple Silicon has the potential to compete with the best from Intel and AMD. Testing single-core performance versus competing desktop processors over a wide range of benchmarks, the A14 “not only keeps up, but actually beats both these competitors in memory-latency sensitive workloads.” The A14 was used for reference, as Apple launched it in September and the M1 chip will have much in common with the chip that powers the iPhone 12 and iPad Air 4.
Adding weight to this perspective is a recent benchmark that appeared on Geekbench showing a MacBook Air, running macOS 11, which is Big Sur. The results show single-core performance of 1687, which exceeds Apple’s fastest computer, the Intel-based Mac Pro, and even eclipses AMD’s fastest. The multi-core score of 7433, places it just behind the base Mac Pro model from 2019, which has a multi-core score of 7993. The M1 Geekbench score shows it as being faster than all current iMac computers, though not the iMac Pro. However, when compared to top-end desktop computers, it is far behind. For example, the top of the charts AMD Threadripper 3990X has a score of 25065. It will be interesting to see what comes from Apple next year. For now, the M1 promises to be a very impressive start to the new line of Apple Silicon Mac computers.
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