Apple Shooting for the Stars: x86 Incumbents Beware

The previous pages were written ahead of Apple officially announcing the new M1 chip. We already saw the A14 performing outstandingly and outperforming the best that Intel has to offer. The new M1 should perform notably above that.

We come back to a few of Apple’s slides during the presentations as to what to expect in terms of performance and efficiency. Particularly the performance/power curves are the most detail that Apple is sharing at this moment in time:

In this graphic, Apple showcases the new M1 chip featuring a CPU power consumption peak of around 18W. The competing PC laptop chip here is peaking at the 35-40W range so certainly these are not single-threaded performance figures, but rather whole-chip multi-threaded performance. We don’t know if this is comparing M1 to an AMD Renoir chip or an Intel ICL or TGL chip, but in both cases the same general verdict applies:

Apple’s usage of a significantly more advanced microarchitecture that offers significant IPC, enabling high performance at low core clocks, allows for significant power efficiency gains versus the incumbent x86 players. The graphic shows that at peak-to-peak, M1 offers around a 40% performance uplift compared to the existing competitive offering, all whilst doing it at 40% of the power consumption.

Apple’s comparison of random performance points is to be criticised, however the 10W measurement point where Apple claims 2.5x the performance does make some sense, as this is the nominal TDP of the chips used in the Intel-based MacBook Air. Again, it’s thanks to the power efficiency characteristics that Apple has been able to achieve in the mobile space that the M1 is promised to showcase such large gains – it certainly matches our A14 data.

Don't forget about the GPU

Today we mostly covered the CPU side of things as that’s where the unprecedented industry shift is happening. However, we shouldn’t forget about the GPU, as the new M1 represents Apple’s first-time introduction of their custom designs into the Mac space.

Apple’s performance and power efficiency claims here are really lacking context as we have no idea what their comparison point is. I won’t try to theorise here as there’s just too many variables at play, and we don’t know enough details.

What we do know is that in the mobile space, Apple is absolutely leading the pack in terms of performance and power efficiency. The last time we tested the A12Z the design was more than able to compete and beat integrated graphics designs. But since then we’ve seen more significant jumps from both AMD and Intel.

Performance Leadership?

Apple claims the M1 to be the fastest CPU in the world. Given our data on the A14, beating all of Intel’s designs, and just falling short of AMD’s newest Zen3 chips – a higher clocked Firestorm above 3GHz, the 50% larger L2 cache, and an unleashed TDP, we can certainly believe Apple and the M1 to be able to achieve that claim.

This moment has been brewing for years now, and the new Apple Silicon is both shocking, but also very much expected. In the coming weeks we’ll be trying to get our hands on the new hardware and verify Apple’s claims.

Intel has stagnated itself out of the market, and has lost a major customer today. AMD has shown lots of progress lately, however it’ll be incredibly hard to catch up to Apple’s power efficiency. If Apple’s performance trajectory continues at this pace, the x86 performance crown might never be regained.

From Mobile to Mac: What to Expect?


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  • mdriftmeyer - Thursday, November 12, 2020 - link

    This is an utterly ignorant comment. Reply
  • vais - Thursday, November 12, 2020 - link

    Please preorder a macbook air and run any of this years AAA games on highest settings. Take a screenshot of the FPS and post it. Those losers will cry!

    Or maybe you will be the one crying, who knows.
  • corinthos - Thursday, November 12, 2020 - link

    won't need to.. i can get a ps5 or xbox series x for games.. for video editing, i'll use the measly macbook air m1 and blow away the pcmr "beasts" Reply
  • vais - Friday, November 13, 2020 - link

    Oh yes, I bet Macbook air M1's will soon replace the crappy hardware in render farms too. Reply
  • MrCrispy - Thursday, November 12, 2020 - link

    There is no doubt that Apple Silicon/M1 is a great technical achievement.

    There is also no doubt about Apple's consistent history of lies, misleading statements, consistently refusing to provide technical data or meaningful comparisons and relying on RDF/hype.

    e.g. 'x86 via emulation on AS performs as fast as native x86' - complete nonsense, since they compared a 2yr old cpu, have not bothered to test any edge cases or any guarantee they can offer full backward compatibility.

    Inb fact backcompat is almost 100% NOT guaranteed, as Apple in general scoffs at the concept and has never bothered to engineer it unlike Microsoft, and companies with much more experience e.g. Microsoft/IBM have failed to provide it when they tried.

    Will an M1 MBP be faster than the latest Ryzen/Intel desktop class cpu in any general purpose computing task, in all perf bands and not just in burst mode, whilst having 2x battery life, AND provide perfect emulation for any x86 app including 30-40 years of legacy code - highly doubtful.

    And even if it does it comes at a massive price premium, completely locked hardware and software, no upgrade or servicing or any reuse/recycling at all, extremely bad for environment.

    Apple is the very definition of a closed, anti-consumer, for profit company. Do I want the massive plethora of x86 pc's at every possible price range to disappear in favor of $$$$$$ Apple products that exclude 99% of thr world population - hell no !!
  • andynormancx - Thursday, November 12, 2020 - link

    Apple aren't claiming 100% backwards compatibility with all x86 code, they don't need to support "30-40 years of legacy code" and they aren't saying they are going to.

    For a start they are only support 64 bit x86 code, they don't need to support 32 bit code as they already depreciated support for that in the last version of MacOS (no doubt partly to support the x86 - ARM transition).

    They have also said that some instructions won't be supported, I think it was some of the vector based ones.

    It of course isn't Apple's first time to do this either. They had the very successfully PowerPC to Intel emulation when they moved to Intel. People including me ran lots of PowerPC apps on Intel for several years, it worked very well.
  • andynormancx - Thursday, November 12, 2020 - link

    I should say that emulation isn't really the right word to be using. Rosetta 2 isn't really attempting to model the inner workings of a x86 chip.

    It is translating the x86 code to equivalent ARM code when the app is first run. This includes wiring it up to the equivalent native ARM versions of any system frameworks the app uses. So apps that spend a lot of time in native non-translated ARM code for a lot of their run time.

    For things like games that use the Metal GPU framework extensively, there is every chance that they _could_ end up running faster on the new ARM machines with their translated code than they did in the outgoing x86 MacBooks.
  • andynormancx - Thursday, November 12, 2020 - link

    Microsoft have posted that x86 Office 2019 works on the ARM translation and "There are no feature differences". And for performance they say "The first launch of each Office app will take longer as the operating system has to generate optimized code for the Apple Silicon processor. Users will notice that the apps 'bounce' in the dock for approximately 20 seconds while this process completes. Subsequent app launches will be fast."
  • MrCrispy - Thursday, November 12, 2020 - link

    I understand Rosetta 2 won't support virtualization or AVX, thats fine. The question is will an x86 app run identically on an Intel and AS MBP? I don't know how much demand there is going to be for this as Apple is pretty strict about forcing devs to upgrade to latest, and app developers will be quick to claim 'natively runs on AS' badges which I'm sure will forthcoming.

    The question of speed still remains. When does embargo lift on M1 MBP reviews?

    Also M1 will not be able run a VM. MBPs are very popular with devs and running VMs is a big part of that.
  • andynormancx - Thursday, November 12, 2020 - link

    There will be plenty of demand for it. There will be plenty of apps that with take months or years to get updated fully and plenty that never get updated (though admittedly quite a few of those probably went away with the 32 bit depreciation).

    The embargo will typically lift the day before people starting receiving the first orders. So probably on Monday.

    Not being able to run x86 in a VM will certainly be a disadvantage for some people. I would have been one of those people until four years ago, I spent a lot of time in VirtualBox running Visual Studio on my Mac. An ARM laptop certainly wouldn't have been an attractive option for me then.

    There will I'm sure be truly emulated options, to run Windows/Linux in x86 on Apple Silicon, but then of course that will have a whole different level of performance overhead. If I need to run x86 Windows on my ARM Mac, when I have one, I expect I'll opt for a VM in the cloud instead.

    Also, I'm sure if performance under Rosetta 2 was bad then there would have been mutterings from the developers who've had the A12X based machines, NDA or no NDA...

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