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Apple's M1-Powered Macs Blow Away Intel-Powered Models in First Reviews

Macs powered by Apple's M1 SoC delivered impressive results in both performance and battery life tests.
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Apple  (AAPL)  made it pretty clear during last week’s Mac event that the first Macs powered by its M1 system-on-chip (SoC) would deliver substantial performance and battery life improvements relative to their Intel-powered  (INTC)  predecessors.

Nonetheless, reviewers taking the new Macs for a spin were often stunned at just how large those performance and battery life gains wound up being.

Reviews dropped on Tuesday morning for Apple’s M1-powered MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro and Mac Mini desktop. And just about every reviewer was taken aback by how much faster the Macs were relative to comparable, prior-generation systems -- both when handling demanding workloads and everyday tasks.

“The MacBook Air performs like a pro-level laptop,” wrote The Verge’s Dieter Bohn about Apple’s cheapest notebook, which has a $999 starting price. “It never groans under multiple apps. (I’ve run well over a dozen at a time.) It handles intensive apps like Photoshop and even video editing apps like Adobe Premiere without complaint. It has never made me think twice about loading up another browser tab or 10 -- even in Chrome.”

In The Verge’s tests, the M1 outperformed Intel-powered Mac and Windows notebooks with integrated graphics, and held its own against some notebooks packing discrete GPUs, when running Adobe’s Premiere video-editing software or playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider.

This performance was delivered, Bohn noted, even though neither program has yet been rewritten to run natively on the Arm-architecture M1. Rather, they rely on Apple’s Rosetta 2 software for translating macOS code written to run on Intel’s x86-architecture CPUs, which impacts performance some.

Likewise, in tests run by TechCrunch, M1-powered Macs handily beat an Intel-powered, 13-inch, 2019 MacBook Pro in both single-core and multi-core tests involving the popular GeekBench benchmark, when running code that needed to be translated by Rosetta 2.

They also outperformed an Intel-powered, 16-inch, 2019 MacBook Pro in single-core tests when using Rosetta 2, while comfortably beating it in both single-core and multi-core tests when running code natively written for Arm.

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TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino was also impressed by how quickly the M1-powered, 13-inch MacBook Pro, which starts at $1,299, launched apps and performed other basic tasks. “This thing works like an iPad...Every click is more responsive. Every interaction is immediate. It feels like an iOS device in all the best ways.”

Reviewer commentary about battery life was just as effusive. PC Magazine’s Matthew Buzzi called the M1-powered MacBook Air’s battery life “nothing short of exceptional,” while noting that it ran for more than a day when playing video on a loop. That, he noted, was the third-best performance PC Magazine has ever seen for a laptop when running this test.

In TechCrunch’s mixed web browsing and video test, the M1-powered MacBook Pro lasted 16 hours and 28 minutes. By comparison, the 16-inch 2019 MacBook Pro lasted 12 hours and 20 minutes, while the 13-inch 2019 model lasted 13 hours and 30 minutes.

Though reviews of the M1 Macs were mostly positive, reviewers were often critical of the user experience provided by running iOS apps on the systems. While the fact that iPhone and iPad apps are also written to run on Arm-architecture CPUs makes it possible for them to natively run on M1-powered Macs, the fact that the apps were written to run on devices with touchscreens (and in some cases, much smaller displays) was often found to yield a poor experience, as was the fact that the apps can’t run in full-screen mode.

Also: While the M1’s integrated GPU was found to handily outperform the integrated Intel GPUs found in various Macs, it’s not as powerful as the discrete AMD  (AMD)  GPUs found in 16-inch MacBook Pros and most iMac desktops. For example, while the M1 delivers 2.6 TFLOPS of single-precision (FP32) GPU performance, AMD’s Radeon Pro 5300M and 5500M GPUs, which go into 16-inch MacBook Pros, deliver 3.2 and 4 TFLOPS, respectively, of FP32 performance.

Of course, those 16-inch MacBook Pros also start, respectively, at $2,399 and $2,799. And while it looks like the iOS app user experience on M1-powered Macs needs some work, this is a feature that isn’t available to begin with on Intel-powered Macs.

All things considered, the launch of M1-powered Macs appears to represent a major step forward for the low end of Apple’s Mac lineup, at least from a hardware standpoint.

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