The M1 silicon has set new standards in the thin and light segment of laptops as the productivity beast. Lets see what Apple M1 chip gaming capabilities are and also some benchmarks. We’ll also try to answer how the M1 is different from the chips Apple previously used by understanding how the M1 works.

Intel Chips vs Others in Macs

Prior to the announcement of M1 powered Macs, Apple was using the chips from Intel. This relation between Apple and Intel was there for 15 years. But recently, Intel has been lagging behind its competitor such as AMD, Samsung and TSMC.

Intel chips mostly ship with 10-nanometer transistors while AMD has already started to produce chips based on the 7-nanometer process. The smaller size of the transistors allows there to be a larger number of transistors to be packed onto the chip thus increasing the overall performance. Also, it’s much more efficient in terms of thermals and power. The Apple M1 chips are 5nm based.

x86 vs ARM

Other than the transistor size, M1 chips is different even on the architecture level. The Intel chip previously used was based on the x86 process whereas the M1 chip is ARM based.

ARM is RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing) based which means, the CPU instructions are of limited number. Due to this, each instruction runs in a single cycle and are much simpler in comparison. This architecture difference is the reason why you can see such a huge performance gap in terms of thermal, size and energy efficiency.

x86 is CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computing) based which has much more instructions. So, some of the instructions take more than one cycle to execute.

A huge challenge that Apple faced during this architecture change is that x86 programs can’t run directly on ARM. Apple has thus used Rosetta, which is a translation process allowing the apps that contain x86 instructions to run on Apple silicon. But, for getting the peak performance, the programs will be need to be rewritten for the ARM chip specifically.

About the M1

M1 is the first Apple designed SoC (System on a Chip). Apple has already invested in the silicon department since 2008 by making a purchase of P.A. Semi (Semiconductor company) at about $278 million. After 2010, the A-series chips used in the iPhones, iPads were built by Apple. M1 can be considered as the next venture of Apple to add even more products to their coexisting ecosystem of connected devices.

Since Apple will be building the chip as an SoC, there can be a tight integration with the Mac hardware. Before M1, Macs used multiple chips for different purposes. Now, there’s a unified memory architecture allowing components such as the CPU, GPU, RAM, Neural Engine, SSD controller to be integrated onto a single chip.

It allows for a better inter-connectivity as processor components don’t need to copy data between one another. They are accessible as the same data pool even for different components. Upgradability can be an issue in such a chip as RAM, CPU or the GPU can’t be removed or upgraded separately.

GPU in the Apple Silicon

The base model of MacBook has a 7-core GPU while an upgraded 8-core version is available in the pro model. The gaming performance of the Mac was not on par with similarly priced laptops beforehand. It was mostly due to the underwhelming performance of the Intel’s internal graphics.

For a more relatable comparison, the GPU of the M1 can easily beat the Nvidia GeForce 1050Ti. In some titles, it doesn’t fall far behind the Nvidia 1650 Max-Q or the AMD equivalents such as Radeon 5500M.

Apple M1 Chip Gaming

Popular titles such as Fortnite can be played with a decent gaming experience of 70-80 FPS depending upon the resolution you choose. If the resolution is lowered, the spikes can reach to the 100 FPS range.

Minecraft Java runs over Rosetta 2 on high settings with max chunk distance of 32 where you can get 120 FPS. But on ultra-high, the game crashes frequently. This is true for most of the games since all the games have not yet been optimized for the Apple M1 chip gaming.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider runs over Rosetta 2.  You can get an average of 30 FPS if you drop the resolution down to 1440 x 900. It might sound less but you have to consider that getting such numbers on a thin and light notebook which you bought for the value it provides on other ends. The Apple M1 Chip Gaming results are atleast on par with the equivalent windows devices.  

You can check for specific titles and their performance results at applesilicongames so that you won’t have the hassle of tuning and tweaking the settings for getting the games to work.

What’s next for M1?

The overall results show a promising future for the Apple M1 Chip gaming capabilities as the performance seen come on a thin and light package which will be optimized with time. Reports have suggested that M1x is in the making, but devices powered by it won’t be released until 2022. M1x or the M2 will most likely be used to power the MacBook Pro. It will get used in the iMac, Mac mini and similar devices as Apple provides the upgrade over the M1.

Here is a video for more views on M1:

Sources:

https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2020/11/apple-unleashes-m1/

https://www.section.io/engineering-education/arm-x86/

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/11/10/why-apple-is-breaking-a-15-year-partnership-with-intel-on-its-macs-.html

Image: Jorge Salvador

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