The first computers with Apple’s new M1 microprocessor chip have been released, the 13-inch MacBook Pro and Air, as well as the new Mac mini. But is the new processor really as fast and as durable as the manufacturer claims? This test provides the answer.
To be honest, the new Apple Watches, iPads, medium, small and large iPhones and HomePods were all quite nice, but Apple had saved its most interesting innovation for the third of its fall events, the M1 processor. Here you can read about exactly what this new silicon is all about.
To find out, I’ve been testing the new MacBook Pro, which looks exactly like its predecessor with an Intel processor, but is equipped with the new Apple chip instead. What strikes me is that when I open it, it is instantly ready for use, just like an iPhone is immediately “there” when you press the power button in standby. A 16-inch MacBook Pro – Apple’s top notebook – tested for comparison takes about two seconds. The difference is noticeable.
You can feel the proximity of the new Apple notebooks to the iPads and iPhones. The M1 chip in my test device is a beefed up version of the chips that the company has been installing in its iPhones and iPads for the last decade. Apple had not spared superlatives upon presenting the M1 and the new MacBooks: the processor is up to three and a half times faster, the graphics are up to six times faster, and tasks based on machine learning, such as face recognition, are up to 15 times faster.
Which is only in the small print: As a reference for these specifications, Apple has sometimes chosen weak opponents, such as the Mac Mini with a lame Core i3 processor and a cheap MacBook Pro with an Intel processor. Only the new MacBook Air had to compete against the previous top variant of this model, with Intel Core i7 processor.
The M1 is really that fast
This can be done. Especially since the model that I have for testing is the cheapest in its series with a price of 1412.45 Euro. But much more exciting seems to me the question: If the new models with the M1 are so much faster than the old ones, how do they beat a high-end MacBook with Intel processor? So I let my test device compete against the 16 inch model from last year, equipped with a 2.4 GHz fast Core i9 processor and 32 gigabytes of memory. List price about 4000 Euro.
I unleashed several test programs on both computers: Geekbench 5, Cinebench R23, various browser tests and even the 3DMark Sling Shot Benchmark, which was actually developed for iPhones and iPads. But this is also one of the goodies that the M1 chip brings with it: All of a sudden you can use iPhone and iPad apps on your MacBook. More about this later.
The result: In all tests that only stress one of the eight processor cores of the M1, the new MacBook Pro is 25 to 45 percent faster than the 16 inch MacBook, which is twice as expensive, and according to Geekbench even the fastest Mac ever. The results look a little different when testing multicore applications that put a strain on all the computing cores of the chip. Here, the new MacBook and the old high-end model are roughly on a par. In terms of graphics performance, the MacBook with an M1 chip achieved four times higher values than the model with Intel chips.
To test the performance of machine learning, I got a pre-release version of the graphics program Pixelmator Pro 2.0. The software, which is already optimized for Apple’s new hardware, has a function called “ML Super Resolution”, which is based on machine learning when it artificially increases the resolution of photos, for example to enlarge low-resolution images. The result: To edit a vacation photo with “ML Super Resolution”, Pixelmator Pro needed 15 seconds on the new MacBook Pro and 24 seconds on the 16-inch MacBook Pro.
How long does it last?
So the M1 chip delivers significantly more power, that much is clear. But what about endurance? To test this, I have for the first time put a notebook through the same endurance test I use to torture smartphones and tablets, playing a Full HD movie in an endless loop. Apple promises up to 20 hours of runtime for this scenario. After the first round – my test video has about two hours of playing time – I was afraid I would actually have to wait that long, the battery indicator was still at 97 percent.
But the MacBook didn’t last that long, it switched off after 16 hours. The fact that it didn’t reach Apple’s 20-hour target may be partly due to the fact that I had the movie played on the VLC player, which is not yet adapted to the M1. The app must therefore run in Rosetta 2, a software that translates software written for Intel processors for the M1 chip, which requires additional processing power and thus energy.
iPhone apps on the Mac
But the fact that the VLC Player runs so smoothly on the new computer is basically a feat in itself. All programs not optimized for the M1 that I tried out on the new MacBook worked without any problems and without any loss of performance. The game “Cities Skylines” even ran more smoothly than on the big MacBook. However, some professional apps like the video program Adobe Premiere might still be faster on Intel Macs until they have been adapted to the M1 as well.
Interestingly, on Macs with an M1 chip you can also use iPhone and iPad apps, which can be downloaded from the App Store. They don’t even have to be adapted for this. The reason why some apps are missing is that developers have the option of excluding their apps from the Mac App Store. A brief tour of the offer shows that some have made use of this option
The new MacBook Pro is like a VW Beetle with a Porsche engine: You wonder when it overtakes you. But that is exactly what has just happened: My 1400-Euro-tester casually showed the rear lights to the 4000-Euro-MacBook from 2019. The performance leap is huge, especially when using software adapted to the M1 chip, like Logic ProX and Final Cut Pro. And also the endurance is impressive. In the seven days I’ve been able to test the new model so far, I’ve only had to plug it in three times despite intensive use. Once before and once after the battery test.
Apple still has to put up with two criticisms: Only two Thunderbolt connections and a maximum of 16 gigabytes of RAM are probably too few for professionals who work with image editing and video editing. I’m curious what Apple will come up with for this clientele. The M1 chip is probably only the beginning.