The first reviews and head-to-head comparisons of Apple’s M1 are finally here. The new ARM core has been the subject of a great deal of speculation since Apple announced it would move away from Intel CPUs and towards its own designs. After some leaked individual tests, publications are finally putting their own experiences and tests to paper.
The results collectively suggest that neither Intel nor AMD can afford to take any long vacations. While some leaked benchmark results we wrote up earlier today tried to argue that the M1 wouldn’t be a problem for Intel and AMD, the full review results available today from places such as our sister site PCMag, Ars Technica, and Anandtech all say the same things: The M1 is a serious, serious contender for one of the all-time most efficient and highest-performing architectures we’ve ever seen deploy. That doesn’t mean it beats x86 in every single test, or that it’s going to sweep Intel or AMD from the market. It does mean that this is a competitive threat Intel and AMD absolutely must take seriously, not just because of what it says about Apple, but because of what it says about x86’s ability to compete against ARM, long-term.
Evaluating the M1
There’s a dearth of benchmarks available for measuring M1 performance, so websites have run with what they’ve got. There are still enough tests available to make some broad comparisons.
GeekBench 5, as anticipated, is a huge win for the M1. Nothing competes with it in ST or MT, and no other laptop or system in its TDP range really comes close.
Test likes Cinebench R23 show more nuance. Here’s the official ST breakout:
Note that the “990” score reported for the Mac Mini in our discussion of leaked CB23 results from this AM is an emulated score, not an apples-to-apples native score. In native code, the M1 is as fast as anything in-market except for AMD’s Ryzen 9 5950X. The Intel 1165G7 — a Tiger Lake powered SoC — can tie things up with the M1.
In multi-threaded code, things improve slightly, though I’d note that the performance Anandtech logs for the 4800U, at 9286, is quite a bit higher than what I’ve seen personally. Clearly, some laptops give that CPU more breathing room than others, and the difference is material.
While different sites ran different benchmarks, the conclusions they reach are broadly similar: The M1 is an impressive CPU. PCMag found that it particularly excels in Handbrake 1.4.0 beta, outperforming any Intel-based system in that application. It remained competitive when emulating x86 in the Handbrake 1.1.0 benchmark:
These are exceptional results for a first-time CPU, and the language used in various reviews reflects that. The Mac Mini, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air do not win every test or benchmark, but they compete exceptionally well across the board. When forced to rely on emulation, they may not be the fastest, but they do not embarrass or disappoint. Multiple reviewers state that using the device felt like using an x86 product, even on emulated applications.
All of the reviews we read were cautious and pointed out that we only have a handful of tests to compare against right now. Given the vagaries of CPU performance, we can safely assume that there will be some applications that will not run particularly well on the M1. Emulation is tricky and there are always difficult corner cases. When you look at the performance of the M1 in emulated apps, it’s typically competitive with x86 but not necessarily better.
The problem for x86 is, even when it’s merely competitive, it’s competitive while using much less power. That’s going to be the biggest challenge for AMD and Intel going forward — not just to prove they can compete in absolute performance, but to demonstrate that they can do so in the same power envelopes. A lot of people are praising TSMC’s 5nm process as being responsible for some of these gains, and it undoubtedly is, but remember — TSMC has repeatedly told us not to expect much from 5nm in terms of speeds or power consumption. 5nm’s major improvement over 7nm is in area.
PCMag, which reviewed the M1 in the MacBook Air, calls it “simply an amazing laptop.” Ars Technica says the M1 is “a world-leading design that marries high performance to high efficiency.” Anandtech writes: “Overall, Apple hit it out of the park with the M1.”
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