Apple states that each of the new M1-equipped models - MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac mini - have a performance that is roughly three times higher than their predecessors, and even claims that the new MacBook Air is faster than 98 percent of PC laptops sold in the past year.

We can only take Apple's word for this and the company isn't revealing details such as clock speed so it's not a simple case of glancing at GHz to see whether a machine is faster or slower. Apple only reveals the number of cores - there being an 8-core CPU, an 8-core graphics card (7 for the entry-level Air) and a 16-core Neural Engine.

In this article we'll look into how Apple gets to these results.

The first benchmarks are looking impressive though. For example, the MacBook Air M1 has beaten 16in MacBook Pro on Geekbench!

CPU 2.8x faster

According to Apple, the new M1 CPU is up to 2.8 times faster than the CPU in the old MacBook Pro. Apple also claims that the M1 MacBook Pro is "3x faster than the best-selling Windows laptop in its class".

How Apple comes to this figure is explained in more detail in the footnotes - with interesting details. According to the small print, to arrive at the claimed performance jump Apple is comparing to "Intel Core i7-based PC systems with Intel Iris Plus Graphics".

Apple goes on to claim that "the new 13in MacBook Pro is now the world's fastest compact pro notebook," a claim that is based on comparison with "Intel Core i7-based PC systems with discrete graphics".

These comparison models are inexpensive quad-core model with a Core i7 CPU, not the top models with quad-cores of the tenth Intel generation or even a Core i9 with 8 cores.

The increase in performance itself sounds credible, it was tested with examples from everyday programming and an open source was created: With Xcode 12.2 with Apple Clang 12.0.0, Ninja 1.10.0.git and CMake 3.16.5. The catch: this is an ARM version of Xcode. Performance measurements with non-native software such as Premiere or Word could be significantly worse.

Graphics 5x faster

Integrated graphics solutions like the Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645 of the old MacBook Pro are rather slow and only suitable for games to a very limited extent. With the graphics of the M1 chip, Apple promises a particularly significant performance improvement - by a factor of around five.

There is still a lack of native ARM apps, so a preliminary version of Final Cut Pro 10.5 was therefore chosen to test the graphics performance along with a 10-second project with Apple ProRes 422 at a resolution of 3840 × 2160 and 30 frames per second.

Rendering has apparently been accelerated for the MacBook Air by a factor of 5.3 - very impressive. But the M1 also performs well in a 'real' game test. Compared to the Intel Mac mini, the M1 version delivered four times the frame rate - an impressive performance and all the more since the game was probably not available as an ARM version.

Even compared to the MacBook Air with a better Iris graphics card, the performance increased significantly: with Tom Raider by a factor of 3.1. Less impressive is the performance of Shapr3D, here the real-time 3D performance increased only by 2.2 times in comparison.

But what you shouldn't forget: Apple tested the performance with M1 chips with 16GB of RAM. Not the 8GB that comes as standard. The M1 versions with 8GB of RAM will likely perform significantly slower - especially since the RAM on the M1 CPU and graphics card share.

Neural Engine

The Neural Engine should also be up to 11x faster. However, this was tested in a very special case: with a pre-release version of Xcode 12.2 and Create ML 2.0, with an Action Classification model created in the app.

This is only relevant if a software developer supports this engine - which reminds us a little of the old Altivec unit of the G4 processor (this was a 128-bit vector processing unit which Apple marketed as the Velocity Engine.)

Conclusion

Apple's performance promises seem to be more or less true. As a benchmark, however, Apple uses rather weak entry-level models and, above all, apps that are already available as ARM versions. We are curious to see how the new Macs will hold up against a 16in MacBook Pro, especially with apps that don't yet have ARM versions available.

This article originally appeared on Macwelt. Translation by Karen Haslam.