Apple’s M1 chip vs Intel: What are the key differences?

Apple M1 vs. Intel CPU
Apple’s M1 chip is quite different from the Intel CPU, but is it better? Pic credit: Apple

Apple’s M1 chip is at the heart of the new Mac Mini desktop computers that run macOS.

This is the first time that Apple has ditched its longtime partner Intel in favor of its own chip.

Apple claims the M1 chip is faster than the Intel Core i7 processors which were used in the previous generations of MacBook Pro.

However, there are several key differences between the Apple’s M1 chip and Intel’s equivalent silicon. Moreover, the differences force buyers into making some tough buying decisions.

It is rather odd that Apple is pitting its new Apple M1 chip against Intel Core i7 when Intel has long moved up to make Core i9 its best processor chip.

Starting this month, Apple has begun selling its popular Mac mini small form-factor desktop computer with its own M1 chip.

Incidentally, Apple continues to sell its older, Intel-based Mac mini. It is interesting to note that Apple is selling the Intel-based ‌Mac mini‌ as a premium or higher-end option.

Apart from Mac mini, even the new MacBook Air and MacBook Pro will have the M1 Chip made by Apple’s engineers.

Apple’s M1 Chip vs Intel i7 in terms of raw performance

There’s a single Apple Mac mini with the M1 chip available on the market. The processor is an eight-core CPU with four performance cores and four efficiency cores.

The M1 chip also has an integrated GPU which has eight cores. Moving on to the Intel side, however, there are two options. Apple is offering Mac mini with a 3.0 GHz 6-core Intel Core i5, with Turbo Boost up to 4.1 GHz. Then there’s the 3.2 GHz 6-core Intel Core i7 with Turbo Boost up to 4.6 GHz.

Both the processors come with the same Intel UHD Graphics 630. The Apple M1 has a Base Clock of 1.80 GHz. The CPU’s single-core Boost Clock goes up to 3.2 GHz.

Despite the lower CPU Clock Speeds, Apple’s new M1 chip does outshine Intel’s Core series of processors in the graphics processing segment. The Intel UHD Graphics 630, integrated within the Core i7, sits at just 0.35 GHz. Meanwhile, the M1’s GPU has a Base Clock of 1.80 Ghz. Moreover, the M1’s GPU can reach 3.10 GHz during short bursts. This is far beyond Intel GPU’s capabilities.

Apart from the CPU Speeds, the Mac Mini with Intel CPU can be configurable with 10 Gbps Ethernet, while the M1 is restricted to 1 Gbps. There are additional USB ports as well on the Intel-based macOS machine. The M1 ‌Mac mini, on the other hand,‌ has two Thunderbolt and USB 4 ports. Hence buyers have to choose between availability of high-speed expansion ports or running all of them at top speed.

Is Apple’s M1 chip better than Intel’s equivalent Core series CPU?

Apple’s M1 processor is no match for the Intel Core i7 in terms of raw performance or clock speeds.

However, the company has indicated the M1 CPU was never intended to be a powerhouse that sets benchmark records. Instead, the Apple M1 chip is geared more towards efficiency.

Its thermal output is heavily optimized. Despite this, comparative benchmarks have painted an impressive picture of Apple M1.

Apart from the CPU, GPU, and the RAM, the Apple M1 also includes a 16-core Neural Engine which is capable of up to 11 trillion operations per second.

Apple has deployed a unified memory architecture. This means there’s direct access to high-bandwidth, low-latency memory for multiple components. Intel CPUs do not have this feature as RAM is external to the CPU.

Apple has built the M1 SoC on the advanced 5 nm fabrication process. It houses 16 billion transistors.

The chip relies on Apple’s design experience with its A-series line for iPhones and iPads. It is essentially an advanced version of the A14 Bionic chip that was initially designed for portable devices, and later reworked to create a desktop-class SoC.

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