MacBook Pros are faster than Windows laptops

MacBook Air in the test: New Apple chip M1 outclasses Windows PCs

Apple has started shipping the Macs with the new M1 processor and is leaving the IT world speechless. The new M1 processor outclasses most Windows notebooks. Is this the beginning of a trend reversal?

The competition between the Windows and MacOS operating systems and the associated computers has been rather boring in recent years. Similar to Android and iOS, Windows and MacOS are the two dominant operating systems: Windows has a market share of 76 percent, according to Statcounter figures, MacOS and the older OS X versions have almost 17 percent, the rest, such as Linux (1.5%) or Chrome OS (1.5%) doesn't really play a role here.

There have never been any surprising performance differences between Windows PCs and Macs in recent years - after all, both Windows PCs and Apple Macs have relied on the x86 processor architecture and, in recent years, mainly on Intel CPUs and chipsets.

This is over now, because now Apple is selling MacBooks and Mac Minis with the self-developed M1 processor. It is based on Apple's A14 chip, which is in the current iPhones, but Apple has turned a few screws and made the processor for its Macs a little more powerful than the model in the iPhone.

Apple's new chip outclasses the mobile competition

How well the new chip does right from the start is remarkable, however: various benchmark results have been circulating online for days - and the results of the M1 chip are almost always well above their own weight class, and in many cases the Intel CPUs are clearly outclassed.

In the typical test programs, the chip mainly shows its dominance where the performance of a single processor core is tested. In "Cinebench" it is roughly on par with Intel's latest Tigerlake i7 mobile processors - which, however, require significantly higher clock rates and significantly more energy for the same performance. If Cinebench is allowed to use all cores, Intel's fastest Tigerlake mobile processor clearly falls behind, the M1 is almost 25 percent faster here. Of course, the M1 has to admit defeat to the processors that can send more than the four high-performance cores of the M1 into the race.

The MacBook Air only has two USB-C ports (Source: Jan Mölleken)

The M1's superiority is even clearer in the Geekbench test program: A single core achieves better values ​​here than the fastest desktop CPUs from Intel and AMD.

But all of these values ​​are of course more of a theoretical nature. Much more important: In a first test of the new MacBook Air in the t-online editorial team, the impressive performance could also be confirmed subjectively in everyday life: Apple's M1 processor does its job noticeably faster than previously available Intel Macs and consumes it in the process less electricity.

This is noticeable in computationally intensive applications such as Apple's programming environment Xcode, but it is also noticeable in everyday applications such as surfing with the Safari browser: even image-heavy pages are there almost immediately - provided a usable internet connection is available - while typical notebooks sometimes are Allow several seconds to build.

New chip promises longer battery life

Apple states that the MacBook Air can play 18 hours of film in full HD resolution on one battery charge - six hours more than the previously cheapest Apple notebook could offer. We did not check the runtime for this special usage scenario - and in fact, such a test is only very meaningful with regard to the daily battery life. However, it became clear in the test that the new MacBook Air runs for a very long time.

In fact, you would have to make a lot of effort to bring the battery to its knees within one working day - despite many downloads, a few benchmark tests and a fairly bright display, the battery easily lasted for one and a half working days in our test - that is very impressive.

The MacBook Air also has a headphone jack and a fingerprint scanner in the power button (source: Jan Mölleken)

Since there is no fan built into the MacBook Air, the device was always absolutely silent, and it never got really warm or even hot during normal use.

Another good thing is that the MacBook Air wakes up immediately from standby. If you have closed it in the meantime and opened it again, the device is immediately ready for use. Intel MacBooks allow themselves a few seconds of thought even with a faster SSD, Windows notebooks often require significantly more.

Does the software have to be adapted to the new processor?

Yes and no. In fact, the new M1 processor is fundamentally different from the Intel processors used so far. The Intel chips are based on the x86-64 architecture, Apple's new M1 is an ARM chip. The two architectures differ fundamentally from each other, so that programs that are to run on the new Macs actually have to be recompiled and partially programmed, i.e. first translated into a different processor language.

Apple has already done this for its own applications, but most programs are not yet available in the appropriate version. But that's still not bad: Apple has programmed a kind of translator for the processor: Rosetta 2. This is software that translates programs that were still written for Intel Macs in the background so that the new M1 chips understand them can.

Of course, programs that were programmed directly for the new M1 chip are more powerful - but Rosetta 2 works so effectively that the new Macs still sometimes run these old programs as quickly or even faster than the old Intel predecessors.

However, there are exceptions. Certain virtualization programs, such as "Parallels" for example, are not yet working. And Windows can no longer be installed on Macs either - on Intel Macs this was possible via Bootcamp.

Conclusion: Apple is making a quantum leap - none of the others

Even if the new iPhones received more attention this year: The M1 processor is the real star. It's a quantum leap for Apple - and a smack for Intel, AMD and Microsoft. With its ARM processor, Apple has made a leap in performance that its competitors will not be able to catch up with for the time being.

The MacBook Air is - also in comparison to Windows notebooks - a real price tip (source: Jan Mölleken)

This also has to do with a major advantage that Windows systems do not have: Apple has the entire product chain, from the chip design of the processor to the hardware of the computer to the operating system, in its hand - and can optimally coordinate these with one another.

Since the M1 processor is based on Apple's iPhone A14 chip, years of optimization work also flow directly into the impressive result of the M1 chips: Apple's new Macs, for example, load websites with Safari so quickly because Apple hardware and software take years to do so has trimmed.

Intel and AMD, on the other hand, manufacture CPUs that are designed for a wide variety of purposes and different systems, where mobile processors are usually only trimmed descendants of the power-hungry top models. And with Windows, Microsoft has to offer an operating system that works on all of these diverse system variants. A similar level of optimization is simply not possible here.

The exciting question now is whether Apple can also translate this performance advantage in mobile processors to desktop systems. Because for its desktop computers, Apple will certainly develop further, more powerful offshoots of the M1 in the coming year.

There is little to complain about and much to praise about the new MacBook Air. The basic model costs 1,100.50 euros and offers 8 GB of RAM and 265 GB of SSD storage. Sure, two USB-C ports are not exactly a lot and the surcharge of 224.20 euros each for an upgrade to 16 GB RAM or 512 GB storage is as usual steep. Otherwise, as in previous years, it is a chic and, above all, excellently processed notebook.

What is new this year, however, is that the MacBook Air is so powerful and durable, even in its basic configuration, that it is now a real price tip - even compared to Windows notebooks.

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