Apple’s new in-house M1 chip is officially on the market. The first reviews and benchmarks are starting to pop up, so we’re gathering everything we know about it into one handy place, which we’ll update as we learn more.
Apple M1 Cheat Sheet: Key details at a glance
|Release Date:||Ships Week of 11/16|
|Found in:||MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac Mini|
|CPU Cores:||8-core CPU|
|Graphics:||Integrated 8-core GPU with 2.6 teraflops of throughput|
|Memory:||8GB or 16GB of LPDDR4X-4266 MHz SDRAM|
Apple M1 Release Date
The first computers with Apple’s M1 chip are already up for purchase. To try it, you’re going to have to choose between one of the three new products that feature the chip: the new MacBook Air, the 13-inch MacBook Pro or the Mac Mini. Each comes with two configurations using the M1. The MacBook Pro also still has two Intel configurations on offer, and the Mac Mini has one Intel processor offering.
Apple started shipping out M1 device purchases this week.
Apple M1 Price
The M1 is a mobile chip, so you have to get it built into one of Apple’s machines.
The Mac Mini starts at $699 with 256GB of storage, making it the cheapest way to get an M1 processor. The price range stretches all the way to $2,099, which will net you the 13-inch MacBook Pro with 2TB of storage.
Pricing is largely down to the specifics of your purchase. But so far, it doesn’t seem like M1 Macs will be significantly more expensive than Intel-based Intel counterparts. The M1 MacBook Air configuration that is most similar to the Intel MacBook Air we reviewed earlier this year is $1,249, for instance, which is $50 cheaper than last year’s version. The $999 starting price remains unchanged.
Apple M1 Specs
Here’s the M1’s bread-and-butter. What does Apple’s new Arm-based chip have that Intel’s x86 architecture doesn’t? Well, it uses a 5nm process, for one. By comparison, even Intel’s 7nm process isn’t expected to start hitting its products until at least 2022. Apple’s CPU has 8 cores, which you would typically need to step up to Intel’s H-series product stack to get on mobile chips.
Four of the M1’s cores are dedicated to high-power performance, while the other 4 are for low-power efficiency. That evens out to a 10W thermal envelope overall, with the low power cores supposedly taking up a tenth of the power needed for the high-power cores. The chip also has a total of 16 billion transistors.
The M1 is also a system on a chip (SOC) with integrated graphics and onboard memory. The included GPU has 8 cores as well, with 128 total compute units and 2.6 teraflops of throughput (there is one exception here: the entry level MacBook Air uses a version of the M1 with a 7-core GPU). The “unified memory” replaces the need for separate RAM, meaning that the chip comes with either 8GB or 16GB of LPDDR4X-4266 MHz SDRAM, depending on your device.
The M1 also has a separate 16-core neural engine for machine learning tasks.
Apple M1 Native Performance
The core drawback to the M1 chip right now is that, because it uses a different architecture and instruction set from Intel or AMD parts, it won’t be able to run x86 apps without emulating them. Developers are already on the case, with Microsoft saying it’s working on a version of Microsoft Office that will run natively on M1 machines and Adobe saying that it’s working on an M1-native creative suite. But early adopters might have to wait a bit to get the most performance they can out of their new chips.
When the M1 does get to run natively, though, it seems to pack some serious power. Engadget reports that the M1 MacBook Air had Geekbench 5 results of 1,619/6,292. That’s well above their results for the 2020 i7 MacBook Air, which were 1,130/3,053. Meanwhile, the Tiger Lake Dell XPS 13 9310 scored in 1,496/5,254 on our own Geekbench 5.0 benchmarks, while the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Extreme Gen 3 with an Intel Core i7-10850H chip scored 1,221/6,116.
The M1’s single-core score also beats the 27-inch 2020 Core i9 iMac’s single-core score, which only hit 1,246. It loses out to the iMac’s 9,046 multi-core score, but that officially gives the M1 higher single-core test results out of any Intel Macs, even desktops.
Outlets like The Verge also tested the M1, but under different conditions. Using a MacBook Pro and testing with Geekbench 5.3, The Verge found its review unit scored 1,730/7,510 points.
We’re curious to see how the M1 stacks against a potential 8-core Tiger Lake chip down the line, as well as AMD’s new Ryzen 5000 processors, which are also looking to take Intel’s CPU crown. For now, though, the M1 is looking to be the fastest mobile chip you can buy.
Apple M1 Emulated Performance
Finally, we reach the biggest potential drawback for the M1: Since the Apple M1 uses a completely new architecture (at least new for Macs), it can’t natively run apps designed for x86 chips. Instead, it has to emulate them. Apple’s built a tool to let users easily do this, called Rosetta 2, but running apps through Rosetta 2 means they’re going to take a performance hit.
Official reviews are reporting on emulation more anecdotally rather than with official numbers, but user Geekbench results show that, even when emulating apps, the M1 chip is still faster than Intel counterparts. On November 14th, a user posted test results for an M1-equipped MacBook Air running the x86 version of Geekbench. The machine earned a single-core score of 1,313 and a multi-core score of 5,888. That’s about 79% as powerful as the native scores for the same machine, which were 1,687 on single-core and 7,433 on multi-core. Still, even the emulated scores are higher than any other Intel Mac on single-core, including the 2020 27-inch iMac with a Core i9 processor. As for the multi-core score, it’s still much higher than the 3,067 score of the Core i7 2020 MacBook Air.
Keep in mind that performance varies from program to program, however. When The Verge tested the x86 version of Adobe Creative Cloud on its MacBook Pro review unit, the publication came across a bug that consistently halved its export bitrate. The publication said that export times stayed flat even when running multiple 4K exports in a row, suggesting strong performance, but it’s a good reminder that emulation still has drawbacks even if benchmark results look strong.
Again, this is a place where we’re looking forward to seeing how the M1 fares against the newest Intel and AMD chips. Because the M1 isn’t going to be running at its best here, other chipmakers might be able to make up the current performance gap more easily in upcoming mobile chip releases.
Apple M1 Graphics Performance
With Apple M1-equipped machines already starting to hit the public, preliminary benchmark results are starting to show up on the GFXBench browser. And while the 8-core, 128 CU, 2.6-teraflop chip’s obviously not going to compete with recent behemoths like the RTX 3000 series or even with older yet higher-end discrete GPUs like the GTX 1080, it does beat old standards like the Radeon RX 560 and the GTX 1050 Ti.
For instance, on high-level GFXBench tests like 1440p Manhattan 3.1.1, the Apple M1 hit 130.9 frames per second, while the 1050 Ti only hit 127.4 fps and the Radeon RX 560 was capped out at 101.4 fps. Meanwhile, on the more intensive Aztec Ruins High Tier test, the M1 hit 77.4 fps while the GTX 1050 Ti maxed out at 61.4 fps. The Radeon RX 560 did perform best in this test, with a score of 82.5 fps, but generally has lower frame rates across most tests.
Meanwhile, Ars Technica found that the M1 scored 11,476 points in 3DMark’s Slingshot Extreme Unlimited GPU test, as compared to the iPad Pro 2020’s score of 9,978 and the iPhone 12 Pro’s score of 6,226.
While it’s tricky to try to judge overall chip performance off of a few online and mobile benchmarks, these tests are the best official benchmark results we have right now. Still, reviews are making strong anecdotal claims as well. Engadget said that The Pathless runs at a solid 60 fps on its review MacBook Air, as does Fortnite at 1,400 x 900.
Apple M1 Battery Life
Despite packing more processing power overall, the M1 chip comes with 4 low-power cores that help it conserve battery life. Apple’s saying that this gives M1-equipped machines “the best battery life ever on a Mac,” which it tested by wirelessly browsing the web with brightness set to “8 clicks from the bottom” and by playing FHD videos under the same brightness settings. These tests are far from comprehensive, but reviews generally tend to place M1 Macs either around or above current Intel counterparts.
According to Engadget’s battery benchmarks, which “involved looping an HD video,” the M1 MacBook Air can stay powered on for up to 16 hours and 20 minutes, which is about 5 hours more than the publication’s numbers for the latest Intel MacBook Air. That’s also about 7 hours more than we got on our own battery benchmark for the the latest Intel MacBook Air.
The Verge found that the M1 MacBook Pro’s numbers are a little less impressive, which is to be expected with more power. The publication claimed to “easily get 10 hours on a charge” and said it had to resort to running 4K YouTube videos on Chrome in the background to drop that down to 8 hours.
The Verge is less optimistic on MacBook Air, though, saying it’s getting “between 8 and 10 hours of real, sustained work.”
macOS Big Sur, iPhone and iPad Apps
One of the coolest new features of the M1 chip is that, because it uses the same processor architecture as the iPhone and iPad, it can now run apps designed for those devices natively. However, reviewers are skeptical of this feature’s current implementation.
First, you’ll have to download these programs through the Mac app store using a filter, since developers still aren’t allowed to directly distribute iOS apps even on more traditional systems. Second, you’ll find that many of your favorites won’t be available, like Gmail, Slack and Instagram. That’s because developers are allowed to opt out of making their apps available on Mac, which plenty seem to be opting for. Third, apps that require touch input direct you to a series of unintuitive “touch alternatives,” like pressing space to tap in the center of a window or using the arrow keys to swipe.
The Verge called using iOS apps on Mac a “messy, weird experience,” in part because the apps that are available are “from developers that haven’t been updated to be aware of newer devices.” While Overcast, a podcast app, worked great for The Verge, HBO Max was stuck to a small window that couldn’t be resized and couldn’t play fullscreen videos.
Playing iOS games also proved to be a chore for some reviewers, as TechCrunch noted. The publication tried the iOS version of Among Us on an M1 MacBook Air and found that, while it ran smoothly, using the trackpad to emulate a touchscreen was a chore. There’s also an option to operate a virtual touchscreen with your mouse, but as the reviewer also ran across a fixed window size with no full screen functionality, it’s clear that gaming on M1 still has a way to go.
The elephant in the room here across all experiences seems to be the lack of a touchscreen. We were hoping Apple would announce touchscreen Macs during its ‘One More Thing’ event earlier this month. But with no word on those yet, it’s hard for iOS apps on M1 to feel like more than an afterthought. There’s also the lack of support from big developers, who are probably waiting for these kinks, like no touchscreen support, to work themselves out.