The company boldly claimed its new ARM-based Macs can handily beat Windows PCs when it comes to performance. The new Macs go on sale next week.
By Michael Kan
Apple’s hype machine went into overdrive yesterday as the company introduced its first Macs built with ARM-based processors—products it claims can beat most Windows PCs on the market.
Three versions of the new ARM-powered Macs go on sale next week: a 13-inch MacBook Pro (starting at $1,299), a 13-inch MacBook Air ($999), and a Mac mini ($699).
According to Apple, the upcoming hardware contains CPU and graphics performance that dwarfs the competition, thanks to the M1 chip inside, its first ARM-based processor for Macs.
The M1 stands out partly because it uses a 5-nanometer manufacturing process, likely from TSMC, enabling Apple to pack 16 billion transistors on the silicon. (In contrast, Intel is still stuck on 10nm, while AMD has been using TSMC’s 7nm process.)
The company was also able to consolidate the Mac’s components—such as the CPU, memory, and input/output controller—into a single system-on-chip for better efficiency and low latencies.
The M1 chip features eight CPU cores. The first four are designed to process heavy-duty tasks. For lighter software loads, the M1 chip can turn to the remaining “high-efficiency cores,” which consume less power.
“All together, the eight-core CPU in M1 is by far the highest performing CPU we’ve ever created,” said Johny Srouji, Apple’s SVP for hardware technologies, during Tuesday’s unveiling. “And most importantly, it delivers this performance at the lowest possible power.”
Srouji went on to claim the M1 is the world’s best CPU in terms of performance per watt. According to Apple’s benchmarks, the new processor outperforms rival silicon at every power level.
“When we look at M1 we see a massive three-times improvement in performance per watt. This is unheard of,” he added. The same chip also comes with an eight-core 2.6-teraflop GPU, which the company claims can handily beat the integrated graphics on rival silicon.
However, we recommend you take the claims with a grain of salt. Strangely, Apple refrained from disclosing the clock speeds for the M1 chip. The company’s benchmarks also didn’t clearly state what the M1 chip was tested against and under what conditions. But Apple did offer a glimpse of the performance consumers should expect on the new Macs.
On the MacBook Pro, the M1 chip promises to improve the laptop’s performance by up to 2.8 times over the previous generation. Meanwhile, GPU speeds have been boosted by up to five times. Thanks to the M1 chip, the company also extended the product’s battery life up to 20 hours on video playback—which is 10 hours longer than before. “That’s the longest battery life ever in a Mac,” said Shruti Haldea, Mac product line manager.
“When compared to the best-selling Windows laptop in its class, it’s up to three time faster,” she added without elaborating.
Expect similar gains for the MacBook Air, which should be up to 3.5 times faster on CPU processing than the previous generation. The product’s battery life can last for 18 hours on video playback—six hours longer than before. It also runs silently without the need for a cooling fan.
“With M1, MacBook Air is faster than 98 percent of PC laptops sold in the last year,” claimed Laura Metz, Mac product line manager, in another shot at Intel and Microsoft.
The Mac mini, on the other hand, packs the M1 chip inside a small desktop case you can connect to a monitor. As far as we can tell, there’s only one version of the M1 chip. So performance between all three products should be about the same.
The main challenge facing Apple is getting existing Mac apps to work on the new products when the programs were originally designed to run on Intel chips. However, the company has been helping software vendors port their apps to run natively on the ARM-based architecture.
For apps that have yet to make the transition, Apple says the programs will still be able to run on the new Macs through the company’s Rosetta 2 software, which can act as an emulator. But don’t be surprised if the programs drag. “The translation process takes time, so users might perceive that translated apps launch or run more slowly at times,” Apple wrote in the developer documentation for Rosetta 2.
On the plus side, the switch to ARM means the new Macs will be able to run iPhone and iPad apps natively for the first time. Apple is taking pre-orders for the new ARM-powered Macs on its website.
Originally published at https://www.pcmag.com.