Today we’re taking our benchmarking to places it’s never been before with an in-depth look at an Apple Silicon product. A few weeks ago we bought a new Apple MacBook Pro 16 powered by the M1 Pro SoC, and have been putting it through its paces ever since.
So this review is all about benchmarking the new M1 Pro and properly comparing it to the best x86-based CPUs we have today from AMD and Intel. And by properly comparing, we don’t mean running Geekbench and calling it a day. In fact, we won’t be running Geekbench at all… we mean running a wide range of real-world multi-platform applications and comparing performance across the best laptop chips available today, all run under fair and equivalent conditions.
This is going to be interesting because it’s fair to say there’s a lot of hype around Apple M1 silicon and its supposed desktop-destroying performance. With hype there’s often overhype and certainly a lot of fanboyism, including taking Apple’s in-house benchmarks as gospel, so we’ll see how warranted all of that is today.
The Apple M1 Pro is a very different SoC design to the chips we normally review because it uses the Arm architecture family instead of x86. That doesn’t mean it’s better, it just goes about things in a different way. At the heart of this processor are a maximum of 10 CPU cores, split into 8 high performance Firestorm cores and 2 efficient Icestorm cores in a hybrid design. The Firestorm cores are clocked up to 3.2 GHz and the Icestorm cores hit 2.1 GHz, though this depends on the amount of load in the system and all-core workloads drop those clocks by a few hundred MHz.
On the GPU side we have a 16-core design in the M1 Pro, which goes up to 32 cores in the M1 Max (which is offered in a more expensive version of the same laptop). Connected to the CPU and GPU in a unified design is a 256-bit wide LPDDR5 memory bus providing slightly over 200 GB/s, you can think of this like if an x86 design included quad-channel memory instead of dual-channel, it’s certainly a lot of memory bandwidth and much more than you’d get in similar products from Intel or AMD. There’s also lots of L2 cache and 24 MB of top level cache on the M1 Pro. Both the top level cache and memory controllers are doubled on the M1 Max design to feed the larger GPU.
Apple has taken the Nvidia approach to naming the M1 Pro by launching two configurations under basically the same name. The top-level design packs the full 10-core CPU and 16-core GPU, but the base design cuts that down to just 8 CPU cores and 14 GPU cores. While this is advertised prominently on their product page for the MacBook Pros, Apple doesn’t bother differentiating the actual product name beyond M1 Pro.
For our testing we purchased a 16-inch MacBook Pro with the full M1 Pro configuration. We also chose 16GB of unified memory to match our existing laptop test data that uses 16GB of RAM, and a 512 GB SSD. Apple’s upgrades to both RAM and storage are disgustingly expensive, it would have cost an additional $600 to bump that to 32GB of memory and 1TB of SSD. You can’t upgrade these components yourself either, so you’ve got no choice but to pay these prices if you need higher capacities, not that you’d expect anything different from Apple.
For testing today we’ll be comparing the M1 Pro to our existing data for AMD and Intel CPUs, which is all power normalized to the default TDPs of those chips. There are, of course, some added challenges which we’ve spent the last week working through. Namely, not all applications we benchmark are available on macOS. So we’re only including cross platform benchmarks with a macOS version, whether that’s a native ARM version or an x86 version emulated on Apple Silicon via Rosetta 2.
This immediately introduces a variable in that Windows and macOS versions of apps will work slightly differently, but it’s the best we can do given the circumstances. Let’s get to the testing.
In Cinebench R23 multi-threading, which is a native Apple Silicon app, the M1 Pro is slightly faster than the next best CPU that we’ve tested, the Ryzen 9 5900HX. Across a 10 minute duration the M1 Pro came out 4 percent faster, though it also consumed less power as we’ll talk about later.https://7ed29e3da672d5150282306fe475dd61.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
The M1 Pro is more like a 35W class CPU, versus 45W for the 5900HX; the M1 Pro ends up 12 percent faster than AMD’s best 35W CPU in the Ryzen 9 5980HS which is probably more comparable. Apple has an even larger lead on Intel, where the M1 Pro is 14% faster than Intel’s best silicon at 45W, the Core i9-11980HK.
Also of note is the Intel Core i7-10875H. This CPU is most equivalent in multi-thread performance to the 9th-gen Core i9-9980HK that was available in the best 2019 MacBook Pro configurations. The M1 Pro is nearly 60 percent faster in this benchmark, which is why Apple users are excited about the performance uplift with this new generation using Apple Silicon.
In single thread performance, there isn’t much separating the M1 Pro and the best CPUs from Intel or AMD. Apple’s chip is sitting right between the Ryzen 9 5980HS and Core i9-11980HK, it’s all a bit of a much of a muchness with these CPUs in this workload. However performance is more than 20% faster than the previous Intel CPUs Apple used to use.
Handbrake is available as a native Apple Silicon app on macOS, and shows us CPU-based video encoding using x265. While this app does run natively on the M1 Pro, it benefits significantly on x86-based CPUs from AVX instructions. As such, the M1 Pro isn’t that impressive compared to its x86 equivalents, such as the Ryzen 9 5980HS or Core i9-11980HK. While performance isn’t bad, the M1 Pro does come in 9 percent behind Intel’s best Core i9, and 24% behind AMD’s best Ryzen 9 processor, though Apple’s power consumption is lower.