Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Intel benchmarks say Apple’s M1 isn’t faster. Let’s reality-check the claims

After months of silence about Apple’s impressive M1 chip, Intel just clapped back with a carefully crafted takedown of the Arm-based chip. It isn’t pretty.

Intel said its testing shows:

  • An 11th gen Core i7-1185G7 can match or greatly exceed the M1’s performance in a MacBook Pro in both native and non-native applications.
  • In battery life, it’s pretty much a wash.
  • The MacBook Pro wouldn’t pass muster to be certified as an Evo laptop.
  • The M1 just won’t run a lot of software.
  • The new MacBooks have a range of compatibility issues, from multiple monitor to game controllers , as well as many documented software plug-in problems.

In the parlance of our time, it’s “shots fired” yet again, with Intel highlighting problems in competing products. In November, Intel did the same with AMD’s Ryzen 4000, which it found to suffer degraded performance when running on battery in many situations.

The normal reaction from outside observers and die-hard Apple fanboys is to dismiss these challenges as sour grapes. Intel, however, says it has benchmark receipts. Since we enjoy a good reality TV fight, we’ll detail Intel’s claims and tell you whether to believe them or not.


Claim: MacBook M1 is slower than Core i7

Intel says in the WebXPRT 3 test, using the same version of Chrome for both the Core i7 system as well as the Arm-native MacBook, Intel takes the lead. The Intel chip was largely ahead in WebXPRT 3, and the x86 chip was nearly three times faster in finishing the photo enhancement test.

Intel doesn’t just use WebXPRT 3, though. It also shows the Core i7 pummeling the M1 in a PowerPoint-to-PDF export, and in multiple Excel macros by a factor of 2.3x. And yes, Intel used the Arm-native versions of Office for its tests.

Our take: We’d really need to run similar tests, but we don’t doubt the results. Yes, you may think one multi-billion dollar company publicly beefing with another multi-billion dollar company means “it’s all fake benchmarks,” but that’s probably not the case because of the huge liability risk Intel might face. That’s why Diet Coke doesn’t outright call Diet Pepsi undrinkable swill (even though it is.)

What you can question is whether Intel picked tasks that favor its own CPU design. But even if you believed that, it doesn’t invalidate the testing, because exporting to a PDF is about as real—albeit boring—as you can get.

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