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Apple A15 vs Apple M1: How do the two chips compare?

Apple recently unveiled a new iPad Air, surprising everyone by fitting it with an Apple M1 chip instead of the Apple A15 Bionic.

But what kind of performance difference does the Apple M1 offer over the A15 Bionic? We’ve rounded up all of the information that Apple has provided, detailing a full breakdown of both processors. So without further ado, here’s everything you need to know for the Apple A15 vs Apple M1 faceoff. 

The M1 is built for Macs, and the A15 for phones

The first thing to know about both chips is that they’re intended for very different devices. The M1 has been designed for Macs, appearing in the likes of the MacBook Air, Mac Mini and iMac so far. 

Meanwhile, the newly announced A15 Bionic will feature inside the iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro and iPad Mini 6, so essentially anything smaller and more portable than a laptop. While the M1 likely has a faster performance, the A15 has a greater focus on battery life. 

However, it’s not quite that clear cut, as Apple has also fitted the M1 processor inside the most recent iPad Pro and iPad Air 5 tablet. This means Apple is seemingly happy to use the M1 outside of the Mac range whenever it wants to boost the performance to the level of an entry-level laptop. 

Apple A15 breakdown

They use completely different architectures 

Comparing the Apple A15 Bionic to the Apple M1 processor is a bit like comparing apples with oranges. Despite both chips being based on Arm, they use different architectures, which means even if they had the same number of CPU and GPU cores, the performance could still be very different. 

Both the Apple A15 Bionic and Apple M1 processors use a 5nm fabrication process, yet have a different number of transistors: 15 billion and 16 billion respectively. A higher number of transistors generally allows for a speedier performance, giving the Apple M1 the advantage. 

The A15 prioritizes battery over performance

As I said before, comparing cores only tells you so much when processors are using different architectures. That said, looking at Apple’s balance of high-performance and energy-efficient cores still tells us a lot about how the Apple A15 and Apple M1 differ. 

The Apple Bionic has a total of 6 CPU cores, made up of 2 high-performance cores and 4 energy-efficient cores. The Apple M1 has 8 CPU cores, with 4 high-performance cores and 4 energy-efficient cores. 

Apple A15 BionicApple M1
Energy-efficient cores24
High-performance cores44

This tells us that Apple is clearly prioritising battery life for any device with an A15 chip, while the M1 tries to hit an equal balance for both performance and battery life. This makes a lot of sense, as battery life is generally more important for a smartphone than it is for a laptop. 

Apple M1 breakdown

The M1 has more firepower for graphics 

It’s not worth getting too caught up about the number of graphics cores, as there are a lot more details you need to factor in to understand how the performance will differ. Still, given the intended use case for the M1, it’s safe to assume that it’s the superior chip for GPU-focused workloads such as editing videos and playing games. 

Apple A15 BionicApple M1
Graphics cores5 / 48 / 7

One of the most intriguing aspects about the Apple A15 Bionic is that it has copied the same tactic as the M1 and disabled a core for lower configurations. This also means the iPhone 13 Pro and iPad Mini have one additional GPU core compared to the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini, despite all of these devices using an Apple A15 Bionic chip. 

You can expect Apple to offer different GPU configurations with future processors too, with the Apple M1X (for MacBook Pro 2021) rumoured to have both 16 and 32 GPU core options. 

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