In recent years, it became possible to have a computer without a dedicated GPU card and still enjoy gaming—if you’re willing to settle for medium graphics settings and framerate. Considering that any GPU card providing above-60fps performance will cost you as much as 50% of your computer, more people than ever are seeking chips with integrated graphics.
Apple’s latest M1 chip marks a new generation of Mac computers in which a single chip takes care of both graphics and computing tasks, thus drastically cutting down on power expenditure and price tag.
In this article, we’ll explore the specifics of Apple’s M1 chip and what it means for everyday consumers. Here’s everything you need to know about the new M1 chip by Apple.
It All Started With AMD’s APU
For the longest time, if you wanted to enjoy 3D games, you had to buy a discrete graphics card in addition to the CPU. This all changed with the Radeon Graphics chip integrated onto AMD’s Ryzen CPU chips. If you tweak some of the graphics options for the latest AAA games, you can get a comfortable near-60fps gaming experience on a Full HD resolution (1080p).
AMD CPU chips with integrated graphics, also named APUs (accelerated processing units), have “G” added to their model name. Even though APUs launched in 2011, it was AMD’s RX Vega 7-11 that really brought a drastic spike in performance.
Currently, the most cost-effective models are:
- AMD Ryzen 5 3400G
- AMD Ryzen 5 PRO 4650G
- AMD Ryzen 5 4600G
Except for Ryzen PRO, the 4000 series has not yet made its appearance in stores, whether it is Ryzen 3, 5, or 7. However, Ryzen 5 PRO 4650G is largely available, and represents a big upgrade from Ryzen 5 3400G:
As you can see, the older 3400G has superior integrated graphics, but less overall computing power compared to the 4000G series, which yields about a 5 fps difference in gaming performance on the side of 3400G.
So how does Apple’s latest M1 chip shake things up?
The New Era of Apple’s M1 Chip
Although Apple’s Macs are technically PCs (personal computers), all of their components are built by Apple running on its proprietary Mac operating system. This creates a closed ecosystem in which one cannot simply pick and choose components and build a PC, as is the custom for many Windows users.
In turn, Apple customers don’t have to worry about any compatibility issues and tinker with their computers. Apple’s philosophy has always been to provide products that are easy to use, emphasizing minimalism, elegance, and productivity. The M1 chip, unveiled on November 10, doesn’t depart from this philosophy.
In essence, the M1 chip is all about combining multiple computer functions into a single chip, and that’s technically called system on a chip (SoC). These functions include:
- Central processor (CPU): 8 cores on ARM architecture, 4 of those cores dedicated to high-performance tasks
- Graphics processor (GPU): 8 cores capable of managing 2.5 teraflops of graphics data within 128 compute units (CUs)
- Memory: Unified memory architecture (UMA) at 4266Mhz SDRAM in either 8GB or 16GB
- Neural engine: 16 cores capable of handling 11 trillion operations per second. This is used for handling a variety of machine learning tasks, which you can find in software such as Final Cut Pro or Pixelmator Pro.
All built with the cutting-edge 5nm CMOS process and composed of 16 billion transistors.
For comparison, AMD’s RX Vega 11 is capable of 1.9 teraflops, while a dedicated GPU like RTX 3070 (~$550) handles about 20.3 teraflops (39.7 ray tracing teraflops).
In its promotional material, Apple promises massive performance improvements over older Mac mobile chips:
- Up to 3.9x faster video processing
- Up to 7.1x faster image processing
- Up to 3.5x faster CPU performance
- Up to 15x faster machine learning performance
- Up to 3x better performance per watt
Overall, the M1 chip should use 25–33% less power for 2–4x faster performance for most tasks. All of that compact power should be well-utilized by the specially designed MacOS Big Sur.
What Is Apple M1’s Actual Performance?
According to the first wave of tests, M1 represents a huge leap for Apple’s mobile and desktop computers. For example, Paul Hudson posted an interesting comparison with his Intel i9, 64GB laptop.
My M1 MacBook Pro arrived today. Chances are you have various questions, but I think a whole lot is summed up in this 50-second video. (Alt text, because Twitter still doesn’t make this easy: Xcode 12.3 beta unzips in 5 minutes on an M1, vs 13 minutes 22 seconds on an Intel i9) pic.twitter.com/STiivUXXnH
— Paul Hudson (@twostraws) November 17, 2020
This means that M1 can effectively beat a 3x more expensive computer while using less power and producing minimal noise and heat!
Based on five Geekbench tests, Engadget reported M1’s 1,619/6,292 average score compared to 1,130/3,053 score on i7 MacBookAir (2020). Likewise, Ars Technica reported M1 scoring 11,476 in 3Dmark’s Slingshot test compared to 9,978 on iPad Pro (2020) and iPhone 12 Pro at 6,226.
You can tell that M1 represents a new leap in computing when it can thoroughly beat not-so-old dedicated GPUs as well. On GFXBench’s 1440p Manhattan 3.1.1 test, M1 scores 130.9 fps while 1050 Ti scores 127.4 fps and thoroughly beats RX 560, which scores 101.4 fps. (Keep in mind that RX 560 graphics card costs as much as Ryzen 5 3400G, so this is truly an outstanding price-to-performance ratio.)
Which Apple Computers Will Feature the M1 Chip?
From cheapest to the most expensive, here is the M1 lineup:
- Apple Mac mini ($700+)
- Apple MacBook Air ($1,000+)
- Apple MacBook Pro 13” ($1,300+)
These are the cheapest versions, but each one has two different configurations, accounting for storage and screen size (in the case of MacBook Pro). They are already available for purchase, as of November 16.
Apple’s Closed Ecosystem Is Still a Compromise
The cheapest M1 version is more expensive than the Ryzen IGP configuration. However, you get lightweight, slim mobility, and extra performance that trounces all previous Apple models in the same category.
On the other hand, if you want to enter Apple’s closed ecosystem, be prepared for a significantly smaller pool of games. For macOS, you have about 7,000 games at your disposal, while Windows/Steam users can access over 20,000 games. Likewise, there is a greater range of software for the PC as well. Still, Apple games tend to be more polished.
Nonetheless, if you are already accustomed to Apple’s ecosystem and don’t mind fewer gaming options, upgrading to M1 laptops is a no-brainer. After all, you can use the Steam Link app to access Steam games. Moreover, no other platform can match M1’s performance in such a compact form.
The new MacBook Pro boasts Apple’s flagship M1 chip, and has an impressively compact design.
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