Let me just say it outloud, OK? Apple is full of it. I’m referring to Apple’s claim that its fanless, Arm-based MacBook Air is “faster than 98 percent of PC laptops.” Yes, you read that correctly: Apple officials literally claimed that the new MacBook Air using Apple’s custom M1 chip is faster than 98 percent of all PC laptops sold this year.
This is a totally reasonable point. After all, have Windows PCs running on ARM shown themselves as being stellar devices? Not so much.
But we’ve had benchmarks for the A14 for a month now. The iPhone 12 and iPad Air definitely smoke the Surface Pro X. Why would a custom Mac chip be expected to be inferior to that?
When Apple makes its claims, my guess is they are comparing the new M1 to Intel-based processors ranging from Atom to Celeron N to Core i3 and up, all with integrated graphics. But by not defining the word “performance,” all this becomes just pure marketing spin. And is it really fair to compare a $999 MacBook to one that costs $150? Because $150 PCs are included in the 98 percent of laptops sold.
Apple’s claim likely included all of the lower powered Intel offerings. Of course, looking up benchmarks for Atom, Celeron N, and Core i3 show these to be no challenge for 2020 devices. The two year old A12 matches or exceeds their performance, especially in single-core. But what about the beefier options?
Does that mean the new fanless MacBook Air is faster than, say, Asus’ stupidly fast Ryzen 4000 based, GeForce RTX 2060-based Zephyrus G14? Does it mean the MacBook Air is faster than Alienware’s updated Area 51M?
The answer, I’m going to guess is “no.” Not at all. Is it faster than the miniLED-based MSI Creator 17? Probably not, either.
The implication here is that Apple can out-perform the low powered Intel offerings but is far behind the powerful Windows laptops. “Could a fanless Mac with a low power chip truly be faster than these higher power, cooled systems?”
I tried to look up each of these and compare benchmarks.
Against the Zephyrus G14, the M1 blows it away in single-core performance. In terms of multi-core, it’s about even, with the M1 barely behind. The G14 is “stupidly fast”, he says? Guess that means the new MacBook Air and M1 are “stupidly fast”, too.
For this comparison, I used the 10-core option of the Area 51M. That seemed to give it a more substantial lead over the M1 in multi-core. Again, in single-core performance, the M1 takes the lead. And while not as fast in multi-core, I think it’s fair to again point out that the M1 is doing this in a fanless design starting at $999. Meanwhile, the Area 51M R2 is marketed as having “advanced cooling” and, for the 10-core model from Dell, can be purchased for $3,700. Did the Alienware win this one? I’d say it barely did, but at almost 4 times the cost. That’s telling.
The Creator 17 looks more like the G14. M1 wins single-core again. Multi-core is close. If you think the MSI Creator 17 is a fast machine, then again, the MacBook Air and M1 are going to easily match or outpace this (depending on whether your operations rely on single or multi core performance). And, like the Area 51M R2, the Creator 17 has a 3-fan design and starts at a more reasonable price of $1499.
So, is the M1 faster than 98% of laptops sold in the last 12 months? If it can closely match (or, in single-core, crush) these ‘top 3’ options, it likely is faster than any Intel offering with a lesser CPU. In which case, it’s not just marketing spin: Apple is telling the truth about the performance of the M1.
And this is all in a fanless design (it specs similarly in the Mac mini and 13-inch MacBook Pro, both which have a fan). When Apple starts churning out chips for the larger MacBook Pro, iMacs, or eventually the Mac Pro, these are going to embarrass the rest of Intel’s line.
Meanwhile, I don’t think that PC World article is going to age well.