Not for the first time, Apple has completely changed the underlying technology that its computers use. It happened when the company switched from Motorola CPUs to IBM PowerPC in 1995. Then again when they switched to Intel in 2006. We now have three new Macs using Apple’s ARM-based M1 chip. .
Here’s an iPad-derived CPU being compared to the likes of the Intel Core i7. Does the idea of Apple M1 and Intel Core i7 make sense? If you’re looking for a new Mac with a focus on performance, read on and we’ll break it all down for you.
What’s so special about the M1?
The M1 chip is called “Apple silicon”. In other words, it’s a custom processor that Apple designed in-house. It uses the ARM instruction set, which is what the vast majority of mobile phones and tablets use. That is in contrast to the Intel x86 instruction set, which is used by most of the world’s desktop and laptop computers.
Apple’s ARM chips are special for a number of reasons. First, they are larger and more complex than most mobile ARM CPUs. They also tightly integrate the entire system, including the CPU, cache, RAM, and GPU.
These chips are also designed to run Apple’s iOS and ARM-based macOS software as efficiently as possible. This seamless design promises amazing results. At least under ideal circumstances. So the question is: How fast is the Apple M1 compared to the usual professional high-performance chips? CPU like Intel Core i7?
Yes, the M1 is beating the Intel i7 (and i9!)
The M1 MacBook Air, Macbook Pro, and Mac Mini are available for pre-order only at the time of writing. However, some members of the media have units under their ownership. There have also been more than a few leaked benchmarks comparing the M1 with chips like the Core i7-1165G7.
Benchmarks include Cinebench R23 and Geekbench. These are programs that can test performance on different CPU and instruction set architectures. Since the different versions of this benchmark present the CPU with the same workload, they represent the true capabilities of the CPU.
According to a Techradar article, leaked results show that the M1 in the MacBook Pro 13 scored 1498 on the single-core test in Cinebench R23. Core i7-1165G7 scored 1382 points in comparison. The M1 also leads slightly in the multi-core test.
Even more impressive, Apple Insider reports that the M1 outperforms the Core i9 in the MacBook Pro 16. At least when it comes to Geekbench scores. However, remember that a Macbook Pro 16 costs thousands of dollars!
The bottom line is that anyone who cares about raw performance when it comes to these new Macs has nothing to worry about. They’re a clear step above (or at least equal to) anything Apple has ever released.
M1 is more than performance
Performance is only part of the equation when it comes to M1. Apple computers like the Macbook have been struggling with high power consumption and hot CPU temperatures for years now. Intel didn’t offer cooler, more power-efficient chips. This leads to performance throttling.
The M1 solves both of these problems. ARM processors are designed to do more with less power. This results in longer battery life and less heat. The M1 does this so well that Apple hasn’t put any fans on the Macbook Air M1 at all. This means that its name is now just a bit ironic.
With much longer battery life, the portable usability of these new Macbooks is dramatically increased. That means you don’t have to sacrifice raw performance and get longer battery life. Seems like a pretty good deal, right?
It’s also important to note that the Macbook Air M1, despite having the same chip as the Pro, won’t perform at the same level. That’s thanks to the passive cooling solution that Apple is using. This limits how hard the M1 can push itself. So don’t expect the M1 in the Air to be as fast as an air-cooled i7 processor running under constant load!
M1 vs Intel i7: It’s Complicated
This is where the good news turns a little less bright. M1 is a fast and power efficient chip. However, Apple had to run computer code designed for Intel chips through a complex translation system called Rosetta 2.
While this allows the Mac M1 to run any software designed for Intel Macs, it comes with a performance penalty. For some programs, the performance drop doesn’t make a difference in any practical sense. For others, it could be a problem. The problem is that there’s no way to know how well or poorly x86 software will perform on an ARM Mac until someone tests it.
Software support problem
That brings us to software support for the Apple M1 computer. Apple itself provides full-performance, original versions of all its software for the M1. As you can imagine, the productivity and creativity apps that current Mac users rely on are also being moved to work natively on the M1. How quickly your mission-critical macOS apps will be translated into M1-compatible code is up to each developer.
It also depends on the complexity of the program in question. Some companies are off to a good start. For example, Adobe ported the core code for PhotoShop to ARM for iOS.
Speaking of which, iOS apps will run natively on M1-equipped Macs. Gives you access to iPad and iPhone software libraries. That’s another bonus to consider when weighing an M1 Mac as an overall package.
Ultimately, a computer that runs the software you need poorly isn’t going to be very useful. No matter how good it looks on paper.
Should you buy the M1 computer?
The big question is whether you should buy a Mac M1 to replace your current device. In the case of the Mac Mini, we think the answer is generally “no” right now. The M1 Mac Mini cannot be upgraded, has slower network connections than the older model, and is less attractive than an overall package.
With the Macbook M1, things get more interesting. Both the M1 Macbook Air and M1 Macbook Pro 13 laptops are physically almost identical to the Intel-based models. They will run all the same software as the Intel models, as well as iOS apps and (obviously) M1 native apps. Their battery life has been significantly improved, and their performance with native code is significantly higher than Intel-versioned apps running on Intel Macbook models.
They have a variable performance impact when running through Rosetta 2, but in many cases this makes them no slower than Intel Macbooks running the same apps.
Overall, it seems most users will appreciate the Macbook M1’s quality of life and performance improvements. However, there are some situations where you should think again:
- The specific applications you need to run poorly through Rosetta.
- You want to use Boot Camp to run Windows on your Mac.
Other than that, it’s a pretty safe move as far as we can tell. Apple Silicon is the future of the Mac. The only other caveat is that these first-generation Mac M1s will likely soon be replaced with better tech apps. So if you’re not due for an upgrade, your existing Macs will be fine in the meantime.