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Apple Silicon M1 vs Intel i5 & i9 vs AMD 3960X

Apple Silicon M1 vs Intel i5 & i9 vs AMD 3960X

I recently upgraded my Mac laptop from 2018 top spec Mac Book Pro 15 into a new M1 Apple Silicon MacBook Pro 13. As someone else may also be looking into making the switch, here are some comparisons and observations. I reasoned my purchase that by selling off the old Mac I could switch to the M1 Mac pretty much directly without having to invest more money. I decided to trust that the computer would match the performance of the top spec laptop. Let’s see if my gamble paid off.

The new MacBook Pro M1 manages to be more casual and more professional all at once.

Unity?

First off the bat you want to know if Unity works on the M1 and is it at all usable?

I have good news. The Intel version of unity runs absolutely great on an M1 processor under Rosetta 2 emulation. In fact. With Rosetta 2 emulation my 13″ M1 MacBook Pro is exactly the same speed as my i9 MacBook Pro 15″. It is actually noticeably faster! After some software updates, I expect this new laptop to be additional 20 to 30 % faster than the previous 15″ model!

The M1 is also capable of screen recording Unity without issues where the 15″ i9 model produced unusable, stuttering videos! This is a huge bonus. I used to have to screen record using my Threadripper which I never liked that much as the rest of my workflow for this project was on my Mac laptop. Now I no longer need to, but can stay 100% on the Mac.

Specs comparison

MacBook Pro 13″ M1 2020

Processor
Apple M1
8 cores
3.2GHz

RAM
16GB
4266 MT/s LPDDR4X SDRAM

Graphics
065-C96Q 8-core GPU

SSD
1 TB

Price
Around 2200€ in 2020

MacBook Pro 13″ i5 2019

Processor
Intel Core i5,
4 cores (8 threads)
1.4GHz, Turbo Boost 3.9GHz

RAM
8GB
2133 MHz LPDDR3

Graphics
Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645

SSD
128 GB

Price
Around 1300€ in 2020

MacBook Pro 15″ i9 2018

Processor
Intel Core i9,
6 cores (12 threads)
2.9GHz, Turbo Boost 4.8GHz

RAM
32GB
2400MHz DDR4

Graphics
Radeon Pro 560X 4GB

SSD
1 TB

Price
Around 4700€ in 2018

Custom PC build
Threadripper 3960X

Processor
Ryzen Threadripper 3960X
24 cores (48 threads)
3.8GHz, Turbo Boost 4.5GHz

RAM
128 GB
3200MHz DDR4

Graphics
GTX 1080

SSD
2x 1 TB (Corsair Force MP600)

Price for my build
Around 5000€ in 2020

Prices…

The prices are what I have paid for the systems. Apple prices get high when installing bigger SSDs and more ram and the Threardipper includes everything from the case to the cooling to the RGB controller, multiple M.2 disks and a high end motherboard.

Image source: iFixit

Benchmarks

I did not want to spend too much time on the benchmarks, but here is a quick Run trough of the major ones. I will be mainly focusing on the single core performance as it is more important when working on game dev. For rendering 3D and video files, good multi core always wins.

Geekbench

MacBook Pro 13″ M1 2020

https://browser.geekbench.com/v5/cpu/5214885

Single: 1730
Multi: 7428

MacBook Pro 13″ i5 2019

https://browser.geekbench.com/v5/cpu/5283014

Single: 906
Multi: 3831

MacBook Pro 15″ i9 2018

https://browser.geekbench.com/v5/cpu/5214250

Single: 1136
Multi: 5444

Custom
Threadripper 3960X

https://browser.geekbench.com/v5/cpu/5201095

Single: 1277
Multi: 20924

Score comparison single core

M1 single core Geekbench

100%

Threadripper 3960x single core Geekbench

74%

i9 single core Geekbench

66%

i5 single core Geekbench

52%

Score comparison multi core

Threadripper 3960x multi core Geekbench

100%

M1 multi core Geekbench

35%

i9 multi core Geekbench

26%

i5 multi core Geekbench

18%

As expected, the synthetic test Geekbench, absolutely loves the M1. Everyone is quick to remind that it does not measure “real world performance” but come on at 10 watts it is still pretty cool!

I did not run these tests myself but simply searched for the results on the Geeckbench website. All the specs I saw on each result page were identical to my Macs. I also added in a basic score for Threadripper 3960x (my render machine).

Cinebench

MacBook Pro 13″ M1 2020

M1 single core: 1509
M1 multi core: 7712

MacBook Pro 13″ i5 2020

i5 single core: 949
i5 multi core: 4026

MacBook Pro 15″ i9 2018

i9 single core: 1117
i9 multi core: 5603

Custom PC build
Threadripper 3960X

3960X single core: 1257
3960X multi core: 33909

Score comparison single core

M1 single core Cinebench

100%

Threadripper 3960x single core Cinebench

83%

i9 single core Cinebench

74%

i5 single core Cinebench

63%

Score comparison multi core

Threadripper 3960x multi core Cinebench

100%

M1 multi core Cinebench

23%

i9 multi core Cinebench

17%

i5 multi core Cinebench

12%

After running these tests, all of the computers had heated up considerably, but the M1 was not uncomfortably hot.

In the single core test the M1 ran a cooler than the i9 Mac, and was also considerably more quiet! The i9 was like a jet engine compared to it. The Threadripper tower ran very quiet too, but it has liquid cooling. The 2019 MacBook Pro 13″ i5 ran surprisingly quiet, but considerably hotter than the M1. For this single core test, The M1 was the most silent, coolest, energy efficient and fastest!

For multi core testing, the Threadripper got absolutely piping hot and was loud like a vacuum cleaner. The i9 Mac was as loud as ever and very hot, and the M1 stayed quiet and the coolest, it was actually cool enough to hold comfortably on your lap. The 2019 i5 MacBook Pro 13″ got audible fan noise, but not as bad as the i9, but got extremely hot.

The M1 single core speed is simply amazing, but oh boy does the Threadripper go fast in multi core! It feels a little unfair to include a Threaripper in a laptop review.

I included the previous model of the MacBook Pro 13″ (2019) to show the performance gains expected to hit the other Mac models in 2021 and onwards. It is crazy how much faster the new 13″ M1 model is compared to the i5 version!

Disk write speeds

MacBook Pro 13″ M1 2020

Write 2747
Read 2892

MacBook Pro 13″ i5 2019

Write 486
Read 1266

MacBook Pro 15″ i9 2018

Write 2620
Read 2574

Custom PC build
M.2 PCIe 4.0 x4

Write 4023
Read 3930

Write speeds

Corsair Force MP600 (Threaripper) write

100%

MacBook Pro 13″ M1 (1tb ssd) write

68%

2018 MacBook Pro 15″ i9 (1tb ssd) i9 write

64%

2019 MacBook Pro 13″ i5 (128gb ssd) write

12%

Read speeds

Corsair Force MP600 (Threaripper) read

100%

MacBook Pro 13″ M1 read

73%

2018 MacBook Pro 15″ i9 (1tb ssd) i9 read

65%

2019 MacBook Pro 13″ i5 (128gb ssd) read

12%

The disk write speeds between my Macs are not that noticeable. Both have the 1TB drive option and they seem to be about the same in the speeds as well. Nothing to write home about here. These speeds were impressive a while back, but now with PCIe 4.0 M.2 drives things have gotten absolutely crazy. I performed these tests myself. Snappier drive helps with rendering and compiling speeds. But as you will be drinking coffee anyway and who really cares if a render is 10 or 15 minutes faster or not? Come on!

The previous year MacBook Pro 13″ fell woefully behind all of the other systems.

Unity performance

For Unity benchmarking I simply opened up the dynamic water test scene in all of the systems and opened up the profiler. I did not make this into a very respectable test, but it gives an idea of the overall base performance on Rosetta 2 emulation on the M1 compared to traditional Apple Intel i9 and my Threadripper sporting an already pretty long in the tooth GTX 1080.

Unity under Rosetta emulation on M1
Unity running on i9 MacBook Pro 15″
Same project and same scene under Unity on Windows 10 on 3960X with a GTX 1080.

I will not be going too much into what can be read from these screenshots as they are just a snapshot in time and I have forced the game to try and maintain 60fps. But the overall learnings are that M1 Mac can run Unity 2020 under Rosetta emulation just fine! I can do everything my i9 laptop was capable of for under half the price.

V-sync

In the unity profiler history view the large yellow chunk is just idling in order to hit 60fps. Because of some water physics and the way I implemented the render texture it is tied to the frame rate.
So the bigger the yellow stripe, the better the performance!

I did not time library rebuilding, but I did rebuild the same medium sized library from scratch a few times on both machines (M1 & i9). The Apple Silicon Mac built the library considerably faster than the 2018 15″ MacBook Pro.

Migrating to M1

Migrating from the old Mac to the new one was not as easy as I had imagined it to be. I have my Unity projects (multiple) in my documents folder and synced to iCloud. But iCloud does not seem to love these projects with hundreds of thousands of files. It takes for ever for it to sync. I would suggest moving all Unity projects away from iCloud to make the transition a lot smoother.

Eventually I ended up using migration assistant to transfer my documents from my old Mac, but now the new computer is re-uploading everything to iCloud and I can’t imagine how that will merge with the duplicates. It remains to be seen.. I hope that it sorts itself out somehow, but there is a pro tip: Do not store your Unity projects in iCloud!
(I have no reason for doing so, it just was convenient to have them in my documents folder)

Differences in general use

In day to day use these Macs seem about the same. I do not feel any difference in snappiness or program load times with the M1. I suppose it might be faster.

Brush lag in photoshop seems to be about identical on both laptops.

I was totally sure that my Focusrite Scarlett hardware audio interface would simply not work on the M1 mac, but after plugging it in it worked flawlessly. Both as input and as output! I did not install any drivers. It just works.

My thunderbolt dock also works perfectly. It outputs a 4k 60hz image trough HDMI perfectly fine like it did on the older Mac.

Audio quality

“Sisko” credits
Lyrics & Composition & Vocals & Piano: Kiia Kemppainen
Guitar: Antti Kemppainen
Mixing & Mastering: Jyri Sariola

A special mention must be given to the audio quality! The difference to the 2019 model of the MacBook Pro 13″ is clearly audible. This M1 Mac is actually very pleasant to listen to from the user’s position. Further away the sound begins to fall apart.

Conclusions

For the price, the M1 MacBook is clearly the best option for a developer not working on AAA games! It will be even better option once more Apple Silicon optimised apps start rolling out. I have been typing this text and running these tests without the computer plugged in the power. I am at 97% battery. This is unheard of! Also, the laptop is the first portable Mac since 2010 that does not absolutely scorch my thighs if I hold it on my lap. It is a new feeling of owning an actual laptop!

The old i9 MacBook Pro does not offer anything the M1 can not match. It gets beaten at every task. It has been made obsolete. Threadripper holds up in multi core, naturally, but in day to day use for pretty much everything else the MacBook 13″ is snappier. But they are in no direct competition. The Threadripper is capable of performing tasks that would simply melt the M1 Mac. But I personally do not need all that horsepower all of the time. Pretty rarely actually!

As the laptop does not get uncomfortably hot and is smaller and lighter than the 15″ and more powerful, it allows me to get work done in ways I had not imagined before. I am a lot more untethered, free to roam. Without covid, working in a cafeteria on a 3D animation, modelling or Unity game is now feasible for extended periods. Also, bringing he computer to bed for some late night movie watching is now much more pleasant because of the quiet operation.

The new MacBook Pro M1 manages to be more casual and more professional all at once.

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