M1 Benchmarks & Experience — MacBook Pro, Air, Mac mini!

I’ve been switching between these three new M1 machines for about 3 days now, so this is all super preliminary and super… ficial. But if you’re trying to make a decision now, now, now, I’m going to give you my first impressions, and I’ll throw a bunch of shots up on screen while I’m doing it for all you geeky and graphics benchers and deep in the workflow trenchers out there.

And keep in mind while I’m saying all this, M1 is the first, and therefore worst Mac silicon Apple is ever going to ship. It’s analogue to Intel’s Y-series. Designed for ultra-low power systems, prioritizing efficiency as in battery life, the performance is not really but kinda incidental, and there will be more powerful chips both for the bigger Mac systems this generation, and future generations beyond this first set of chips to come. So, keep this as a baseline in the back of your minds. You know, because they’re about to be blown.

So let’s compare the 8GB M1 MacBook Air to the 16GB Intel 10th Gen Y-series MacBook Air, the 16GB 2-port M1 MacBook Pro to the 16GB 4-port Intel 10th Gen U-Series MacBook Pro — yes, it’s a higher end system, but it’s all I had handy — and the 8GB M1 Mac mini to the 8GB Intel 8th Gen U-Series Mac mini.

All of these Mac max out at 16GB of LPDDR4X RAM, but so do the systems they’re replacing, and Apple is good enough with memory compression, ultra-fast swap, and other mitigations, that for these types of ultra low power, entry-level systems, it’s just a non-issue.

Also, the Intel Macs all have Apple T2 co-processors, which are basically A10 chipsets, which will help out for things like H.264/265 encode and decode, so for some tests it’s not even a fair fight.

For Geekbench 5, popular synthetic benchmark… it was surprising.

The M1 chips in all the Macs performed almost identically, no surprise, because it’s short enough it didn’t even cause any fans to kick on. And M1 just… trounced the Intel versions. Single core better, multicore and Metal just WAY, WAY better.

And single core in general on these chips is just ridiculous. Pure beast mode. Like, better than anything else on the market up to what AMD is just releasing now.

For multicore and compute, you can get other systems with way more cores and way bigger graphics still. And again, these are low power parts.

GFXBench Metal is another synthetic benchmark, and I’ll just talk Aztech but throw the whole thing up for you…

Again, the M1 Macs all performed almost identically, even though this test runs longer, there just wasn’t much if any ramping down. And just… MDK’d the intel. 4 times better for the Air, 3 times better for the Pro, and just embarrassingly faster for the mini. And the Intel Air fan was just blazing, the Intel pro fan was audible but not loud, the M1 Air has no fan, and the M1 Pro and mini didn’t even come on.

Cinebench, based on Cinema 4D is just an industry standard for CPU flexing

For single core single run, still identical across the M1 Macs, and no fan for the Pro or mini, even though they were 1 1/2 times faster than the Intel versions.

For multi core single run, basically the thing. But the intel Air was just ground and pounded. Instead of 1 1/2 times like the rest, the M1 Air was more than 2x faster.

For multi core 10 minute, we got the M1 Air finally ramping down for the first time, and got proof of life on the M1 Pro fan. Not so much as a peep still from the M1 mini fan. Meanwhile, Intel fans were all screaming in their hearts. That did mean the Intel Air didn’t ramp down, but honestly there was much down to ramp.

The M1 Air was still more than 2 times faster, even with the ramp down. The M1 Pro was still 1 1/2 times faster. The M1 mini ran laps and then danced waiting for the Intel mini to catch up.

Now, my preferred benchmarks are always time to completed work. For example, from when I start editing a video to when I can start uploading it. I haven’t had time to much if any in the way of those tests yet, so I’ll cover them in the full reviews, but as a quick test I dropped Big Buck Bunny 4K 60fps into Final Cut Pro X, and then rendered it out at H.264. And these results were much more competitive… at least on the surface. And I’ll explain what I mean by that in a hot literal take minute, but I also need to find out if this was part M1 vs. Intel and part M1 vs. T2. Anyway:

The M1 Air was slightly faster, no fan. The Intel Air was fan screaming. The Intel Pro was slightly faster though, soft fan. M1 fan stayed off. The M1 Mac mini was twice as fast.

I am editing this video on the M1 Pro, and I’ll throw some comparisons up on screen for that as well, but the Canon 10-bit XF-AVC codec I’m using requires Rosetta even on the M1-Native Final Cut Pro X, so it’ll be a little Apple to emulated Apple. And I still have to do emulation tests in general.

Now, that’s all fine and perf-y, but here’s the part that starts to make the mind well and truly blown:

First, the M1 Macs stay way, way, way — so many ways — cooler than the Intel Macs. Like the intel Mac mini could keep your coffee warm while the M1 mini stayed cool to the touch.

Second, battery life. With the obvious exception of the Mac mini, all the MacBook tests were run purely on battery. No plugs.

From beginning to end, starting everything at 100%, after all those tests, the Intel Air was down to 40% battery while the M1 was still at 64%. The Intel Pro was down to 27% battery, while the M1 Pro was still at 70%.

Which is fine, when I’m just thinking about working from home while watching virtual events and making my own damn coffee, but when I think about life after the world stops ending, and I’m traveling again, and bouncing between airports and hotels and venues, the ability to write and record and edit and render and upload with that much battery is just… transformative.

As to the 720p webcams, now with M1 image signal processing, which is basically A14 iPhone 12-level image signal processing, as well as the Air’s mics and Pro’s studio quality mics, here’s how they compare to previous and other current Macs.

Now, the big one for me, quality of life. Which is a weird thing to talk about but just something I couldn’t get out of my head while doing these tests.

  • Single core perf makes everything feel immediately responsive.
  • Like using an iPad.
  • Can’t talk about all the apps yet, but lack of waiting and beech balls feels like it’s giving you slices of your life back.
  • Brand new, clean machines, so remains to be seen how that sustains over time, but based on the iPad I don’t expect any problems.
  • Efficiency means even with a fan, it stays off or quieter longer, so less noise.

Low power reality

  • These are the low power, low end, entry level Macs, all of them, so while perf is amazing, next round will be better and unless you have money to burn or devices you want to use for now and hand off later, you shouldn’t buy the wrong Mac just to have an M1 Mac. If you need more, wait for more.
  • For low power machines, though, especially for the Air, M1 removes a ton of previous compromises. It’s… astonishing.

And for the air, you’re getting all of this, performance and battery life, at the same price. For the Pro, you’re getting better performance and way better battery life than even the higher-end, more expensive Intel systems. And for the mini, you’re getting a cheaper option at the lower end if you just want a small, silver box with MacBook Pro-level performance you can throw on any TV, display, or glue together any production process.