Apple's M1 processor delivered performance that was on par with
the most powerful Intel laptop chips while using a
tiny fraction of the power. When I reviewed the M1 MacBook Air I came to the same conclusion
that most other reviewers did: Apple silicon is legit.
It's just shocking how much better it is than a comparable Intel
chip. And this is just the low-end chip, I said at the time. Wait
until the big chips arrive!
And now with the M1 Pro and M1 Max, the big chips are here, and
Apple's about to embarrass Intel all over again.
with the M1 Pro
The M1 Pro takes everything about the M1 and nearly doubles it
all. The high-performance CPU cores are doubled from four to eight
(interestingly, the high-efficiency cores have been reduced from
four to two). The GPU cores have been doubled from eight to 16. The
memory bus width has been doubled from 128-bit to 256-bit, giving
it double the memory bandwidth (Apple switched to LPDDR5, too).
Instead of 8GB or 16GB options, memory has doubled to 16GB or
Apple dropped two of
the high-efficiency cores from the M1, and then doubled the
Apple says the CPU performance is up to 70 percent better than
the M1, and the GPU is up to twice as fast. Sure, these are all
Apple's performance numbers, so take them with a grain of salt
until we can verify them ourselves. But in our experience, Apple
rarely exaggerates its claims in this area. Apple's performance
comparisons may be frustratingly vague, but they're no bull.
If our experience with Apple's performance claims in the M1 is
anything to go by, and more recently the A15 processor in the iPhone 13 Pro, Apple's performance
characterizations are going to be generally on point. We think
you're going to see this performance in the real world.
Intel's Alder Lake processors are on the way, and they should be
a big improvement from the Tiger Lake architecture that the M1
already stomped all over. But is it more than 70 percent better? Is
the integrated GPU more than twice as good? I'm sure Alder Lake
desktop CPUs will be impressive, but Intel's not going to come
anywhere close to this performance in the roughly 35-45W laptop
It's not that Intel
and AMD can't make a faster laptop CPU, its that they're years away
from matching this power efficiency.
The M1 Pro is a massive 33.7 billion transistors. That's bigger
than a GeForce RTX 3090 desktop GPU.
down again with the M1 Max
Oh, is doubling up the M1 not enough for you? How about we
double it up again? The M1 Max is a total kick in the
teeth. It has the same CPU as the M1 Pro, but doubles the GPU up
again to 32 cores, doubles the memory to 32/64GB, and doubles the
memory bus and bandwidth, up to an astonishing 400GB/sec. Even the
media engine is twice as fast as that in the M1 Pro.
Let that sink in. A CPU that could easily trade blows with an
8-core AMD Zen 2 processor, a 10.4 teraflop GPU, and 400GB/sec of
unified memory bandwidthâ€¦ Apple basically stuffed a Playstation 5
into a 14-inch, 3.5 pound laptop that gets 17 hours of battery
A 512-bit LDPPR5
interface gives M1 Max a staggering 400GB/sec of bandwith. Image: Apple
Of course, Apple's GPUs don't have ray tracing acceleration
hardware (more's the pity) and it's not like Macs are exactly on
the cutting edge for big game releases. Nobody would suggest you
buy a new MacBook Pro if gaming is your primary passion.
But Apple seems to have gone out of its way to do more than just
throw more cores in the thing. The new M1 chips match the increases
in core count with increases in cache and memory bandwidth to
prevent bottlenecks. Even the SSDs are gobsmackingly fast. Apple
promises 7.4 GB/sec, which is twice the already crazy-fast SSD in
the existing M1 Macs.
No wonder the M1 Max is an eye-boggling 57 trillion transistors.
There's no laptop chip on the market even close to that. Even AMD's
64-core Epyc Rome processor for big server installations comes in
under 40 billion transistors.
It's going to
take Intel a while
The earliest leaked Geekbench 5 scores for the M1 Max show a
single-threaded score in the 1,700 to 1,800 range and a
multi-threaded score of 11,000 to 12,000. That's about 15 percent
higher than the very fastest Intel-based laptops (Geekbench scores
for Intel chips are highly dependent on the exact laptop
configuration and cooling). Could a laptop with Intel's new Alder
Lake architecture catch up to those scores? Maybe, and we might
even see high-end laptops using those chips within the next
You can get faster
graphics performance in a Windows laptop, but you have to accept
that the battery will only last 3 hours. Image: Apple
But no Alder Lake chip is going to come close to the M1 Pro/Max
performance without using a lot more power. And neither Intel nor
AMD have an integrated graphics chip on their roadmap with anything
remotely close to that in the M1 Max. And Apple's got a massive
advantage in memory bandwidth.
It's about more than just CPU and GPU performance, of course.
Apple's got an extremely faster 16-core Neural Engine, and a
terribly impressive media processor that does HEVC encoding and
decoding at a blazing rate, and even adds ProRes encoding and
decoding this year. All of Apple's standard frameworks take
advantage of all these un-core parts of the System-on-Chip, making
it relatively easy for developers to make software just fly.
The real question is how long Apple can keep this up? Anandtech
has a very detailed and fascinating deep dive into the A15 SoC, finding it to be
even faster and more energy efficient. Those micro-architectural
changes will surely find their way to the M2, M2 Pro, and M2 Max
over the next year or so.
You can bet we'll see another 15-20 percent improvement in
performance next year, which neither Intel nor AMD will not be able
to even approach in the same power envelope. The next architecture
will use a more advanced manufacturing process, and the march will
continue. But can Apple keep delivering those performance gains
every year? At some point, it has to taper off, right?
Apple has certainly defied expectations with its iPhone and iPad
processors over the years. We've heard that the next Qualcomm chip
will beat Apple's best more times than I can count, and Apple
manages to stay two steps ahead. It's probably foolish for Mr.
Gelsinger to think that Intel, or anyone else, will deliver a
superior product in the next two or three years, but there's little
doubt that Intel and AMD's attempts to beat the M1 Max (and the M2
Max in a year, and the M3 Max the year after that) will mean better
laptops for those buying Windows PCs.
As for whether Intel stands a chance at earning back Apple's
business? Not a chance, Mr. Gelsinger. And running a silly ad
campaign directly targeting Apple sure won't help.