Whoa, the new $999 MacBook Air is FASTER than the $2399 MacBook Pro

MacBook Air benchmarks in a key pro app and on Geekbench suggest great things for Apple Silicon

Apple's new 2020 M1 Macs
(Image credit: Apple)

At Apple’s ‘One More Thing’ event on Tuesday, the company stated that the new ARM-based M1 chipset was not only power efficient – apparently producing “the world’s best CPU performance per watt” – but capable of great performance when pushed, too. 

During the presentation Apple stated that the new MacBook Pro, for example, would offer 2.8x the performance of the previous base model. That’s exciting in itself, but it’s an even more enticing prospect for the cheaper MacBook Air, which uses the same M1 chip (though has no fan, so may have to limit its speeds for longer tasks.)

Now we have our first taste of exactly how powerful the new MacBook Air could be, thanks to benchmarks from Geekbench 5 and Serif's Affinity Photo software. And it’s very impressive indeed. 

The 2020 M1 MacBook Air has appeared on Geekbench

(Image credit: Geekbench)

As you can see from the screenshot above, the new $999 MacBook Air records a single-core score of 1687 and a multi-core score of 7433. This compares pretty favourably to the $2399+ Intel Core i9 powered 16-inch MacBook Pro which generally seems to record scores of between 1000 to 1200 for single-core performance, and 5500 to 7000 in multi-core tests. In our MacBook Pro 16 review, it managed a multi-core score of 6974, for the record.

Obviously it’s slightly unfair to compare a whole range of scores across multiple MacBook Pros against a single instance for the new MacBook Air, and the wide variety of numbers for the former shows just how variable these things can be. But even if the scores recorded by the new MacBook Air are on the high end, it still shows a huge amount of promise from the new M1 chipset.

And Geekbench isn't the only tool showing seriously high performance. Serif's Affinity Photo image-editing software has a benchmarking tool based on the real-world operation of that app, and in tests run against a six-core 2019 iMac with dedicated graphics card, the M1 still comes out on top. We spoke to Serif, who confirmed that their tests were run on the Mac Mini rather than the MacBook Air, but the chip is the same.

In the figures above, the M1 easily beats the iMac when it comes to CPU performance, and though the big dedicated AMD 580X graphics chip in the iMac does better for the GPU task in theory, the unified memory system in the M1 actually means it still beats the iMac, because it's more efficient for tasks that combine GPU and CPU (which many will).

Serif added: “we have seen speed increases of over 3x faster running on the new MacBook Air. It just makes our apps run faster, smoother and feel more responsive than ever before.”

It’s important not to get too carried away: benchmarks can only tell you so much, and real world performance may feel very different – especially if software compatibility is flakey to begin with. All the same, it’s hard not to be excited by the potential of Apple Silicon: if a $999 ultrabook can compete with the performance of a $2399 laptop, then the M1 chip may prove to be every bit as game changing as Apple's press releases make it appear.

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