Earlier this year, Apple announced it will be moving to its own ARM-based silicon across the Mac line. This means the company will be ditching the Intel processors currently found in its computers and laptops over the course of the next two years. Read on to find out how Apple Silicon will differ from Intel’s Tiger Lake.
According to reports (via MacRumors), Apple has at least three Mac processors in development based on the iPhone 12’s A14 chipset, with the first set to arrive by the end of the year. Many believe the first to be the 12-inch MacBook ARM, with the rest of the Mac line to follow.
Intel, on the other hand, recently unveiled its 11th Generation processor for thin and light laptops, Tiger Lake. The successor to Ice Lake is already slated to appear in over 150 laptops, including devices from Acer, Dell, Lenovo and Samsung, to name just a few.
We’re also expected to see the Intel Rocket Lake-S desktop processors arrive in 2021, which may well be a similar launch window to when the first Apple Silicon iMac becomes available.
Here’s how Apple Silicon compares with Intel’s latest processor.
Related: Apple Silicon
Intel vs Apple Silicon: Specs and features
Apple and Intel both have yet to release their latest processors so it’s difficult to determine how each performs in real life. Both companies have, however, given us some insight into what is inside either chip.
Intel’s Tiger Lake mobile processor series is based on its 10nm Willow Cove architecture and is capable of up to 4.8GHz frequency speeds. The CPU supports Thunderbolt 4, 5G connectivity, 8K HDR displays and Wi-Fi 6.
Apple’s CPU is supposedly called the A12Z. The silicon is packed with tech that allows it to support audio processing, image processing from cameras, and Apple’s new neural engine for better machine learning. Another key benefit to the Apple Silicon is that it is built on the same Arm-based architecture as the rest of Apple’s products, including the iPhone, the iPad and the Apple Watch. This means any app written for these products will also be optimised for the new Macs, and vice versa.
As far as cores go, the most powerful Tiger Lake CPU will have four cores and eight threads. According to a representative for Intel, the company isn’t concerned about having less cores than other CPU makers because Intel’s cores are ‘better’ than competing offerings. According to a report by MacRumors, the first Apple Silicon processor will feature 12 cores (eight performance cores and four energy-efficient cores). However, since the two processor families are using very different architectures (Intel x86 vs Arm) the contrasting core counts don’t offer a very useful insight on the differences in performance.
Both processors also feature integrated graphics engines. Intel has brought in its new Xe graphics for double the performance power compared to the 10th Generation of Intel chips. Likewise, the Apple Silicon includes a custom-built GPU with high-performance DRAM to support high-end games and content creation. Again, it’s far too early to establish which will be more powerful.
Related: What is an Arm processor?
Intel vs Apple Silicon: Performance
Intel plans to release at least nine Tiger Lake processors, ranging from a 15-watt thermal envelope to 28-watts for increased performance power. The new Intel Xe integrated graphics arguably offers the most exciting generational leap, as Intel claims high-end chips will be capable of playing the likes of Borderlands 3, Far Cry New Dawn and Hitman 2 in 1080p. For comparison, its predecessor (Ice Lake) struggled to run much more than Fortnite or Apex Legends.
The Apple Silicon’s performance is a bit more of a mystery. ARM-based processors aren’t generally as powerful as the x86 Intel CPUs that Apple previously kitted its Mac out with in the past, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be. It’s entirely possible for Apple to surpass Tiger Lake in terms of performance – after all, the world’s most powerful supercomputer is built on ARM architecture.
The strengths of ARM typically lie in battery life and portability, which makes the Apple Silicon a perfect fit for ultrabooks like the MacBook Air. However, Apple also believes it will be able to use the architecture to develop processors for more performance-focused machines such as the iMac Pro and MacBook Pro.
As previously mentioned, ARM devices have excellent battery lives so the MacBook line could see a major improvement in this department. The 12-inch MacBook ARM is rumoured to have a battery life of 15 to 20 hours. Compare this to the Intel-based MacBook Air’s 11 hours and we’re sure to be impressed.
Intel has likewise stated that its Tiger Lake processors will be capable of operating at a lower power level for improved battery life, so we can expect a boost in Intel-powered devices too. However, they’ll unlikely be able to be as power efficient as the Arm-based counterparts.
Related: Intel Tiger Lake
Intel vs Apple Silicon: Early verdict
Apple Silicon is the future for Macs and we’re excited to see what Apple does with the ARM-based processor. Not only do we expect to see a boost in performance, but also greater power efficiency for a longer battery life and improved GPU grunt for content creation.
We’re also looking forward to seeing how Intel improves upon Ice Lake with its 11th Generation processor and how it compares with Apple Silicon in rival laptops and ultrabooks. And don’t Intel’s Rocket Lake-S desktop processors, which should launch in 2021 and potentially make iMac owners envious.
For now, it sounds as though Silicon is the way to go for Apple, but we’ll need to test both processors ourselves to see which performs best in a real life setting.