Over the last few months, we’ve seen Intel go on the marketing offensive against Apple and the M1 in multiple ways. Much of the discussion I’ve seen around Intel’s various ads and marketing decisions has been critical of them in one respect or another. I didn’t necessarily expect much when I clicked on the company’s new comparison page for x86 PCs versus the M1.
I’m not endorsing Intel’s decision to bring back Justin Long or rendering a verdict on its performance or battery life claims versus Apple. I also don’t agree with all of Intel’s arguments. With that said, Intel does raise some very solid points in favor of an x86 PC over an M1-based Mac. Among them:
PCs are available in a larger range of form factors than Apple Macs are. Apple does not offer a 2-in-1 device like the Surface Book, or a laptop with a 360-degree hinge, or touch screens, or a 26-pound notebook with seven displays. I don’t know how many people buy PCs specifically for these features, but if you do, Apple doesn’t manufacture an equivalent product. Whether the iPad Pro counts as an equivalent replacement depends on what you’re doing with it.
Intel’s second-strongest argument is about gaming. If you care about gaming, you probably aren’t a Mac buyer at this point. Apple has never particularly cared about gaming and the compatibility situation on the M1 is particularly poor. Don’t buy an M1 Mac to game on it, period.
There are also some current limits on M1 systems that will likely not apply in the future but are true at the moment. Third-party device compatibility still depends on driver availability, for example. Applications that do not run natively on the M1 are more likely to perform better on an x86 platform. Intel makes specific claims that favor its CPUs, as you’d expect, but many of the PC strengths it points to are real. Apple plays almost entirely in the $1,000+ market, and there are a lot of premium laptop PCs in that space from various vendors.
The M1 Isn’t Intel’s Biggest Long-Term Challenge
So long as Apple chooses to limit the types of machines it builds and the segments it sells them into, Intel will be able to maintain a valid argument for PCs. The vast majority of Windows users are not going to decamp for Apple, and Apple is unlikely to suddenly copy every single PC concept under the sun.
The challenge for Intel is that future ARM machines built around chips from companies like Qualcomm will have all the PC ecosystem advantages Intel enjoys today. Backward compatibility will always be an x86 advantage over ARM, but services like Xbox Game Pass could provide access to PC games that otherwise might not run.
The M1’s biggest direct threat to Intel, beyond the potential for a bit of lost market share, is that Apple’s marketing will establish ARM as a credible alternative to x86 in laptops and desktops, potentially clearing the way for a company like Qualcomm to chew into x86 Windows share in the future. We already know Qualcomm intends to bring Nuvia’s CPU to laptops. If Qualcomm’s silicon proves competitive with x86, Intel (and AMD) will have to answer the challenge at the engineering level, without nearly as much leeway to fall back on aspects of the wider PC ecosystem.
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