Apple is on it’s third generation of chips for Mac computers now with the release of the M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max chips. But how do the M-series chips compare to what Intel and AMD have on offer? Let’s find out…
A Fair Comparison?
Now although Apple’s chips contain much more than just CPU capabilities, this comparison will strictly be for the CPU part. If you buy a Mac, you might be wondering how the relative performance stacks up toward a comparable Intel or AMD processor, and whether you’re actually getting something that can be considered top-tier in performance.
Of course, comparing performance between Apple’s chips and Intel or AMD offerings isn’t going to be completely fair, if for no other reason than the fact that you probably won’t be running the exact same operating system and software on them. However, there are cross-platform apps, and if you’re like me, you’re probably just curious about what an equivalent processor is to various Apple Silicon offerings.
So how are we going to compare them? There are numerous possibilities, but to simplify things, we’ll take a look at 3 cross-platform benchmarks: Geekbench, PassMark and Cinebench, to see which mainstream CPUs fall closest in performance to Apple’s. Supposedly, GeekBench tries to emulate real-world apps, while PassMark focuses on raw computational performance and Cinebench tests rendering performance, so this could explain some of the differences we’ll see later.
We’ll also look at mostly desktop CPUs for comparison today since there are so many laptop chip variations that talking about specific CPUs is less useful, and you’d really have to talk about specific laptops instead. Plus, you have much more choice of desktop CPUs when building a computer than when buying a laptop. And finally, we’ll conclude by discussing an advantage and disadvantage of Apple Silicon vs. Intel and AMD CPUs to get a better overall point of view. Let’s dive in!
M3 Family Single-Core
All of the M3 family of chips should have similar single-core CPU performance, which on Geekbench is between 3000-3100. This is actually at the highest end of Geekbench scores for Intel and AMD CPUs, with only the Core i9-13900KS able to step into this range, and the best from AMD just below 3000.
However, 14th generation Intel CPUs were recently released, but they provide only middling performance improvements over 13th Gen. So while they aren’t on the Geekbench charts yet, we can see them on PassMark, where single thread performance scores show similar results. The M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max are all at the top of the pile alongside the Core i9-14900 and 13900 chips.
On Cinebench, the M3 family ranges from 1880 to 1964, which is actually below the highest scoring CPUs, but is in the range of Intel’s 13600 and AMD’s 7800X.
When it comes to single core performance, the M3 chips do remarkably well. But workloads are rarely single core these days, so let’s look at multi-core.
The base M3 chip that is currently available in the iMac and 14” MacBook Pro has 8 CPU cores and has a Geekbench score around 11,600. This is just below the popular Intel Core i5-12600K, and also the Ryzen 9 5900X, both from a generation or two ago, which is impressive for the base non-Pro chip.
But we see quite a different picture on PassMark, where M3 scores 18,800, which is a far cry from the 12600K’s 27,800 or the 5900X’s 39,200! The base M3’s PassMark score is really only comparable to the 10th generation Core i7-10700 CPU, while that CPU only scores a measly 8100 Geekbench score.
And on Cinebench, the M3 does even worse, with scores only comparable to the Core i5 10600K.
Clearly, these benchmarks operate differently, and we see that Geekbench’s workload seems to give a significant advantage to Apple’s chips. All said, the base M3 appears to only be comparable to low to mid-range Intel and AMD desktop CPUs, with computational power similar to those from several generations ago.
Let’s move on to the M3 Pro, which is available in 11 and 12 core configurations, with Geekbench scores around 13,900 and 15,200, respectively. The 11-core M3 Pro scores between Intel’s 12700K and 12900 CPUs, and just under AMD’s Ryzen 7 7700. The 12-core M3 Pro does well against Intel’s 13600 CPUs and is just under the 12900K. It’s also comparable to AMD’s 7700X and 7800X3D, although likely not close at all to the latter for gaming.
On PassMark, we again see quite a different story, with the 11-core M3 Pro scoring 23,600 and the 12-core scoring 27,100. These are a far cry from the 12700K’s 34,700 or the Ryzen 7700X’s 36,100 scores. More comparable CPUs are the Ryzen 7 3800X at 23,200 score, and the Core i5-12600KF at 27,400.
Cinebench’s score for the 12-core M3 Pro shows it once again performing even worse at just under 15000, quite a bit lower than the 12600K’s 17000 score. A more comparable CPU is the AMD Ryzen 5 7600X.
In summary, the M3 Pro appears to be comparable to some mid-range Intel and AMD desktop CPUs.
Finally, the M3 Max comes in 14-core and 16-core flavors, with Geekbench scores around 19,100 and 21,000, respectively. This puts the M3 Max at the top of the overall score list, with the 14-core comparable to the top-of-the-line AMD Ryzen 9 7950X, and the 16-core butting heads with the top-of-the-other-line Intel Core i9-13900KS.
The PassMark story is once again slightly more down to earth, with scores in the 35,000 and 40,000 range for the 14- and 16-core M3 Max chips. This puts the 14-core Max in between the Core i7-12700K and Ryzen 7 7700X, while the 16-core Max is pretty close to the i5-14600K.
For Cinebench, the 16-core M3 Max sits right in the territory of the Core i5 14600 and 13600KF.
Overall, the M3 Max appears to be an impressive chip that can compete with high-end Intel and AMD desktop CPUs, although less so on raw computational and rendering performance.
Although the processors we looked at come close in performance to the M3 chips, it has to be noted that power efficiency is one area Apple Silicon really shines. The total system power of the M3 iMac ranges between 40 to 85 watts. That’s TOTAL system power including the display on the iMac, not just the CPU. The M2 Pro Mac mini can go as high as 100 watts, while the M2 Max Mac Studio maxes out at just 145 watts. These Macs don’t have M3 chips yet, but
Desktop CPUs from Intel and AMD alone are rated with a TDP between 65 to 125 watts, but actual power consumption can reach as high as 400 watts in extreme cases. And that’s just for the CPU, not including all the other system components!
The power efficiency of Apple Silicon is really important in enabling Apple’s laptops to be able to give you full performance on the go, something a lot of Intel and AMD laptops can’t do.
But it’s not all advantages for Apple either. A benefit of Intel and AMD CPUs is that you can overclock them if you care a lot about performance, raising the price to performance ratio, although at the cost of more power usage and the need for a beefier cooling system. However, this characteristic also means you can undervolt and underclock CPUs if desired to lower power usage.
Overclocking and undervolting is much harder to do on Macs, and I’m not even sure to what extent it’s possible.
In summary, Apple’s M-series chips seem to perform quite well against Intel and AMD desktop CPUs and with lower power consumption. Though, they aren’t the best in computational and rendering performance. Regardless, better Apple chips also means more competition and pressure on Intel and AMD to innovate, and that’s always a good thing.