Hi, I’m a mac…
More than a few industry insiders were surprised by Apple’s sudden announcement to abandon a 15-year partnership with Intel to start producing CPUs based on the Arm Instruction Set (AIS).
Intel wasn’t the only company on the books because Apple also has a lengthy history with ARM. All of Apple’s portable devices use ARM’s extensive range of power-sipping, energy-efficient processors to keep their customer’s devices powered up all day long.
Apple used that wealth of talent and experience to design a chip that would enable them to slice off a corner of the PC market without any help from Intel. And so, in 2020, the first M1 chip rolled off the production line, but how does it stack up to the competition?
Apple M1 Overview
The M1 is a SOC (System on a Chip), which means it is all-inclusive with a GPU, CPU, Neural Engine, and I/O on a single die.
Sixteen billion transistors over four performance cores on a 5nm manufacturing process deliver horsepower Apple says is equivalent to 3.5X the CPU performance of the 1.2 GHz Core I7-1060NG7 used in last generation’s MacBook Air.
Apple M1 Performance
There are four performance cores on the M1, each designed to maximize performance by running a single task as efficiently as possible. Lighter workloads are handled by four efficiency cores. The chip also sports an eight-core integrated GPU.
Geekbench results report the M1 single-core test scored 1,690, which means that the new MacBook Air is more powerful than any other model before it, including every Intel-based Mac.
The multi-core test returned a result of 7,304, so it’s not the fastest chip on the block. It might not hold a candle to the Mac Pro with its 28-core Xeon powerhouse, but it certainly pulls ahead of anything that doesn’t have Pro in its name.
Apple didn’t include any fan or active cooling in the MacBook Air, so it’s always interesting to know how the processor handles heat when the cycles ramp up. For example, is there any throttling going on? If so, how does that impact performance?
The system has some detection mechanism watching over temperatures, as it stops charging when the CPU starts warming up. This is most likely to prevent overheating or the system from getting uncomfortably warm on the lap. Reduce the stress on the CPU, and it soon returns to charging.
In general, testing revealed lower scores overall while the chip was warm. However, at around a 5% drop, you likely won’t notice much of a performance hit in your day-to-day work.
Apple’s first foray into the laptop and small desktop scene can be called nothing short of a success. The M1, while not the fastest chip out of the gate, is a decent enough workhorse to get the job done.
It’s also the fastest chip Apple has ever used in a Mac, so it is definitely an upgrade however you look at it. If you need even more power, you have only to look to the M1 Pro, which Apple says will deliver 70% more performance than the M1.
In short, Apple has proven it can create a successful lineup of efficient devices that can keep you connected and productive all day long.