Mac processor comparison: M1, M2, M3 vs Intel

Macworld

If you’re choosing between two different types of Mac, or two generations of the same Mac, you may be wondering just how much of a difference the processor will make.

Since November 2020 all new Macs have featured one of Apple’s own system-on-chip based on the ARM architecture and sometimes referred to as Apple Silicon. A number of Apple chips have joined the line up including the M1, M1 Pro, M1 Max, M1 Ultra, M2, M2 Pro, M2 Max and M2 Ultra, M3, M3 Pro and M3 Max so far. The final Mac to move from Intel to Apple Silicon was the Mac Pro in June 2023.

Now that the transition from Intel to Apple’s own chips is complete, and it has been a while since Apple sold any new Macs powered by an Intel chip, you might think that there is no point comparing Intel and Apple, but some stockists are still selling Intel-powered Macs and it is even possible to buy refurbished Macs with Intel chips from Apple’s refurbished store. Those wishing to upgrade from an Intel-powered Mac to an M1 or M2-series Mac may also be curious about how much of a difference to expect.

With such variety on offer, there is also a question of which Apple processor is best – or at least sufficient for your needs. The M3 represents the third generation of Apple Silicon, but the M3 is still less powerful than the M1 Max, for example. It’s also worth noting that the difference between a Pro and Max version of Apple’s ships is all in the GPUs and memory support: the CPU is essentially the same.

Here we will compare all the Mac and MacBook CPUs, GPUs, and other specs, such as RAM (aka unified memory), to demonstrate how the M1-, M2- and M3-series chips compare to each other and to their Intel predecessors.

For more help choosing which Mac to buy read our buying guides where we assess the Best Mac and Best MacBook. You might also like to take a look at the article where we compare all of Apple’s chips.

M1 to M3 timeline

November 2020: Apple introduced its first Mac system-on-chip – the M1. It still features in the MacBook Air, and did feature in the 13-inch MacBook Pro and Mac mini.

April 2021: Apple launched an iMac with a M1 chip.

October 2021: The M1 formed the bases for powerful variants, the M1 Pro and M1 Max that arrived in the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro in October 2021.

March 2022: The final M1-series chip, the M1 Ultra, arrived with the Mac Studio in March 2022.

June 2022: The next generation of Apple Silicon arrived in June 2022 with the introduction of the M2 chip.

January 2023: The M2 Pro and M2 Max arrived in the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro. The Mac mini gained an M2 and M2 Pro chip.

June 2023: The M2 Ultra arrived in the Mac Studio and Mac Pro. The Mac Studio also ships with the M2 Max.

October 2023: The M3 series arrives with the M3, M3 Pro and M3 Max landing at the same time. So far only the MacBook Pro ships with M3, M3 Pro and M3 Max chips, while the iMac offers the M3.

Which processor should you choose for your Mac and does it really matter? Read on to find out.

Mac and MacBook processors compared

The M1 arrived with the MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro and Mac mini at the end of 2020.

The processor inside a Mac makes a big difference to how powerful the Mac is. However, it can actually be quite confusing if you aren’t familiar with the terminology. The processor is sometimes referred to as the CPU (central processing unit), which is different to the GPU (graphics processing unit). Sometimes people will refer to the processor when they actually mean the SoC (system on a chip) that contains both the CPU and GPU. You may even hear it referred to as a SiP (system in package).

We often refer to Apple Silicon as chips because they are system-on-chips that combine the CPU and GPU (and for that matter RAM, which Apple refers to as Unified Memory). The various M-series chips offer a variety of CPU and GPU cores.

Similarly, there are a number of different Intel chips that combine a number of CPU cores with integrated or discrete graphics options, all of which we will discuss below.

Mac processors from Apple

M1

Apple MacBook Air (2020) M1




In June 2020 Apple announced that it would transition Mac from Intel to its “world-class custom silicon.” This process began with Apple’s M1 processor, which was introduced in November 2020.

The M1 still features inside these Macs:

MacBook Air (2020) (buy from Apple here)

The M1 no longer features inside these Macs:

13-inch MacBook Pro (2020)

Mac mini (2020)

iMac (2021)

The M1 specs are as follows:

8-core CPU (4 performance cores/4 efficiency cores)

7- or 8-core graphics processor (GPU)

16-core Neural Engine

8GB or 16GB of RAM

68.25GBps memory bandwidth

16 billion transistors

The M1 was Apple’s first chip designed by Apple specifically for the Mac and it made shockwaves in the industry with giant leaps in performance. However, some people criticized the RAM limitations, with the M1 Macs only able to support up to 16GB Unified Memory.

M1 Pro

Apple introduced the M1 Pro in October 2021.  It is no longer available in any new Macs, but you may get one in Apple’s refurbished store or elsewhere.

The M1 Pro featured in these Macs:

14-inch MacBook Pro (2021)

16-inch MacBook Pro (2021)

The M1 Pro specs were as follows:

8- or 10-core CPU (6 or 8 performance cores/2 efficiency cores)

14- or 16-core GPU

16-core Neural Engine

16GB or 32GB of RAM

200GBps memory bandwidth

33.7 billion transistors

The M1 Pro offers a 14-core GPU or a 16-core GPU. At launch, Apple claimed the GPU in the M1 Pro to be 2x faster than the M1. Apple also claimed that the GPU was up to 7x faster than the integrated graphics on the latest 8-core PC laptop chip.

The M1 Pro also added a ProRes accelerator in the media engine to speed up video processing. Apple claimed that the M1 Pro could deliver up to 200GB/s of memory bandwidth, which is nearly 3x the bandwidth of the M1.

The M1 Pro supports up to 32GB RAM (compared to a maximum of 16GB for the M1).

M1 Max

The M1 Max was also introduced in October 2021 as a standard option for the 16-inch MacBook Pro, and a build-to-order option for the 14-inch MacBook Pro. Then in March 2022, the M1 Max became one of the options for the Mac Studio. The M1 Max is no longer available in any new Macs, but you may get one in Apple’s refurbished store or elsewhere.

The M1 Max features in these Macs:

14-inch MacBook Pro (2021)

16-inch MacBook Pro (2021)

Mac Studio (2022)

The M1 Max specs are as follows:

10-core CPU (8 performance cores/2 efficiency cores)

24- or 32-core GPU

16-core Neural Engine

32GB or 64GB of RAM

400GBps memory bandwidth

57 billion

The M1 Max has the same 10-core CPU as the M1 Pro, but everything else is significantly enhanced. The GPU is probably the most important difference between the M1 Pro and M1 Max. The M1 Max GPU goes all the way up to 32 cores (there is also a build-to-order 24-core option.)

At launch, Apple claimed the graphics performance of the 32GB GPU to be up to 4x faster than the M1.

M1 Max also has two ProRes accelerators that help it deliver up to 2x faster video encoding than M1 Pro. Apple claimed the M1 Max-powered MacBook Pros can edit up to 30 streams of 4K ProRes video or up to seven streams of 8K ProRes video in Final Cut Pro. That’s more streams than on a 28-core Mac Pro with Afterburner.

At launch, Apple stated that the performance of the M1 Max is “similar to that of the highest-end GPU in the largest PC laptops while using up to 100 watts less power.”

M1 Max also offers up to 400GB/s of memory bandwidth. That is 2x that of M1 Pro and nearly 6x that of M1. As a result, a maximum of 64GB RAM is possible with the Max.

M1 Ultra

The M1 Ultra was also introduced in March 2022 as an option for the Mac Studio, it has now been replaced by the M2 Ultra, but you may still find a 2022 Mac Studio available, potentially at a good discount.

The M1 Ultra featured in the:

Mac Studio (2022)

The M1 Ultra specs were as follows:

20-core CPU (16 performance cores/4 efficiency cores)

48- or 64-core GPU

32-core Neural Engine

64GB or 128GB of RAM

800GBps memory bandwidth

114 billion transistors

The M1 Ultra is essentially two M1 Mac chips, so it can offer a 20-core CPU and up to 64-core GPU. Apple achieves this using UltraFusion architecture to connect the two M1 Max chips to avoid trade-offs such as increased latency, reduced bandwidth, and increased power consumption. Apple also explained that the M1 Ultra behaves like, and is recognized by software, as one chip.

At launch Apple claimed to offer “4x the bandwidth of the leading multi-chip interconnect technology” and that the m1 Ultra “delivers 90 percent higher multi-threaded performance than the fastest available 16-core PC desktop chip in the same power envelope.”

Apple also claimed that the 64-core GPU delivers faster performance than the highest-end PC GPU available – all while using 200 fewer watts of power.

The M1 Ultra can be configured with up to 128GB unified memory – according to Apple the most powerful PC graphics cards max out at 48GB. The ‌M1‌ Ultra also offers twice the media engine capabilities of the ‌M1 Max‌, for accelerated video encoding and decoding.

M2

Apple 13-inch MacBook Air (M2, 2022)


Price When Reviewed:


₹1,19,900

The M2 was introduced in June 2022 with the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro. Apple later added the M2 as an option for the Mac mini in January 2023, and a new 15-inch MacBook Air in June 2023.

Apple 15-inch MacBook Air (M2, 2023)




The M2 features in these Macs:

13-inch MacBook Air (2022) (buy from Apple here)

Mac mini (2023) (buy from Apple here)

15-inch MacBook Air (2023) (buy from Apple here)

The M2 no longer features in this Mac:

13-inch MacBook Pro (2022)

The M2 specs are as follows:

8-core CPU (4 performance cores/4 efficiency cores)

8- or 10-core GPU

16-core Neural Engine

8GB, 16GB or 24GB of RAM

100GBps memory bandwidth

20 billion transistors

Apple Mac mini (M2, 2023)




At launch, Apple claimed: “Compared with the latest 10-core PC laptop chip, the CPU in M2 provides nearly twice the performance at the same power level.” Apple also stated that the “M2 provides nearly 90 percent of the peak performance of the 12-core chip while using just one-fourth the power.”

Apple also claimed the 10-core GPU delivers “up to 25 percent higher graphics performance than M1 at the same power level”, thanks to the larger cache and higher memory bandwidth. At maximum power this is 35 percent better, claimed Apple.

Thanks to the additional GPU cores, 10-cores rather than the 8-core limit of the M1, the M2 performs better than the M1, but it’s still below the M1 Pro with 14-cores.

M2 Pro

Apple Mac mini (M2 Pro, 2023)




The M2 Pro was introduced in January 2023 with the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro and the M2 Pro Mac mini.

The M2 Pro features in this Macs:

Mac mini (2023) (buy from Apple here)

The M2 Pro no longer features in these Macs:

14-inch MacBook Pro (early 2023)

16-inch MacBook Pro (early 2023)

The M2 Pro specs are as follows:

10-core or 12-core CPU (6 or 8 performance cores/2 efficiency cores)

14- or 16-core GPU

16-core Neural Engine

16GB or 32GB of RAM

200GBps memory bandwidth

40 billion transistors

Like the M1 Pro, the M2 Pro has a built-in media engine that accelerates H.264, HEVC, and ProRes video encoding and decoding. Better power efficiency during playback of multiple streams of 4K and 8K ProRes video can also be expected.

At launch Apple claimed that the M2 Pro is 40 percent faster in Adobe Photoshop image processing, and 25 percent faster in Xcode code compiling when compared to the M1 Pro.

Apple claimed that, when compared to the Core i9 16-inch MacBook Pro, the M2 Pro is 2.5 times faster in Photoshop and 80 percent faster in Xcode.

M2 Max

The M2 Max was also introduced in January 2023 with the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro.

The M2 Max features in this Mac:

Mac Studio (2023) (buy from Apple here)

The M2 Max no longer features in these Macs:

14-inch MacBook Pro (2023)

16-inch MacBook Pro (2023)

The M2 Max specs are as follows:

12-core CPU (8 performance cores/4 efficiency core)

30- or 38-core GPU

16-core Neural Engine

32GB, 64GB or 96GB of RAM

400GBps memory bandwidth

67 billion transistors

Apple Mac Studio (M2 Max, 2023)




Like the M1 Max, the M2 Max offers two video-encode engines and ProRes engines. At launch Apple claimed the M2 Max would see a 30 percent improvement over the M1 Max when using color grading in DaVinci Resolve, while it would be 2 times faster than the Intel Core i9 MacBook Pro in the same test.

For effects rendering in Cinema 4D, Apple claimed that the M2 Max is 30 percent faster than the M1 Max, and 6 times faster than the Core i9 MacBook Pro.

M2 Ultra

The M2 Ultra arrived in June 2023. It is an option for both the Mac Studio and the Mac Pro.

Apple Mac Studio (M2 Ultra, 2023)




Apple Mac Pro (M2 Ultra, 2023)




The M2 Ultra features in these Macs:

Mac Studio (2023) (buy from Apple here)

Mac Pro (2023) (buy from Apple here)

The M2 Ultra’s specs are as follows:

24-core CPU (16 performance cores/8 efficiency core)

60- or 76-core GPU

32-core Neural Engine

64GB, 128GB or 192GB of RAM

800GBps memory bandwidth

134 billion transistors

M3

The M3 arrived at the end of October 2023. It is an option for both the 14-inch MacBook Pro and the iMac.

Apple 24-inch iMac (M3, 2023)*




Apple 14-inch MacBook Pro (M3, 2023)




The M3 features in these Macs:

iMac (2023) (buy from Apple here)

14-inch MacBook Pro (2023) (buy from Apple here)

The M3 specs are as follows:

8-core CPU (4 performance cores/4 efficiency cores)

8- or 10-core GPU

16-core Neural Engine

8GB, 16GB or 24GB of RAM

100GBps memory bandwidth

25 billion transistors

M3 Pro

The M3 Pro also arrived at the end of October 2023. It is an option for both the 14-inch MacBook Pro and the 16-inch MacBook Pro.

The M3 Pro features in these Macs:

Apple 14-inch MacBook Pro (M3 Pro, 2023)




14-inch MacBook Pro (2023) (buy from Apple here)

16-inch MacBook Pro (2023) (buy from Apple here)

Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro (M3 Pro, 2023)




The M3 Pro specs are as follows::

11- or 12-core CPU (5 or 6 performance cores/6 efficiency cores)

14- or 18-core GPU

16-core Neural Engine

18GB or 36GB of RAM

150GBps memory bandwidth

37 billion transistors

M3 Mac

Like the other M3 chips, the M3 Max arrived at the end of October 2023. It is an option for both the 14-inch MacBook Pro and the 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Apple 14-inch MacBook Pro (M3 Max, 2023)




Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro (M3 Max, 2023)




The M3 Max features in these Macs:

14-inch MacBook Pro (2023) (buy from Apple here)

16-inch MacBook Pro (2023) (buy from Apple here)

The M3 Max specs are as follows::

14- or 16-core CPU (10 or 12 performance cores/4 efficiency cores)

14- or 18-core GPU

16-core Neural Engine

36GB, 48GB, 128GB of RAM

300GBps or 400GBps memory bandwidth

92 billion transistors

Mac Processor Benchmarks

The benchmarks below include the M3, M3 Pro and M3 Max which were released with the new iMac and the MacBook Pro at the end of 2023. The M3 Ultra has not been released, so the Mac Studio and Mac Pro still use the M2 Ultra, which as you can see is still the fastest Apple processor, for now.

Note that the M3 chip is actually faster than some iterations of the M1 Pro (namely the 8-core CPU). This shows how much Apple’s chips have progressed since they were introduced.

M1 vs Intel: Benchmarks

As for how Apple’s silicon compares to the Intel processors that used to power Macs, when we tested we found that even Apple’s M1 chips delivered a performance that was equal to, or even better, than the most powerful Intel laptop chips found in Macs at the time – and the M1 Macs weren’t even targeted at the kind of people who need the most powerful laptops. The M1 really was better than a comparable Intel chip – just as Apple claimed when it launched.

As you can see from the benchmarks above and below, there is no reason to avoid buying an M1- or M2-, or M3-series Mac over any Intel-powered Mac. Even the iMac with M3 beats the fastest iMac Pro (with a 2.3GHz Intel Xeon W-2191B) by some margin.

M1 vs Intel: What’s the difference?

The Intel processors that Apple used in its Macs since 2006 were x86 chips. Apple Silicon is based on ARM, but includes a number of Apple technologies (so they aren’t ARM chips, strictly speaking). ARM and x86 are completely different architectures-which means that they need different code, and hence the operating systems and software need to be tailored to them.

Therefore one of the main concerns with the move to Apple Silicon (M1, M2 or M3) could be whether the required software is compatible with ARM. Apple addressed this with Rosetta 2, which translates the code from x86 to ARM and, with a few exceptions, there was no issue with software written for x86 running on the M1 Macs. Many software developers were quick to update their software to run on M-series Macs, though.

The M1-series Macs beat the equivalent Intel models.

One advantage of ARM over Intel’s X86 is power consumption, this is evident in the long battery life of the M-series Macs. The 16-inch MacBook Pro has the longest-ever battery life for a Mac at 22 hours. The 2019 Intel-powered 16-inch MacBook Pro could only manage 11 hours.

There are other ways in which the M-series chips are more efficient than Intel processors. Macs with Apple chips have two kinds of processor cores: high-performance and efficiency. Having two types of cores ensures that background processes don’t slow down the computer because there is always enough power available for programs to run. For example, even the fastest Intel-powered Mac might have experienced slowdowns and performance drops if a system process like iCloud, or the indexing of Photos or Spotlight, was running in the background.

This is all great in theory, but in practice, the benchmarks prove that there is a leap in performance from Intel to M1, and beyond.

Mac processors made by Intel

If you bought your Mac before the end of 2020 it will have Intel inside.

Apple has used various generations of Intel processor over the years. Here are details of some of the Intel chips you may find inside any Macs that predate Apple’s move to the M1 and beyond.

The only Macs Apple currently sells with Intel processors are to be found in Apple’s refurbished store.

If you are considering buying a used Intel-powered Mac we would recommend that you don’t! Read Should I buy a secondhand Mac?

Back when Macs were powered by Intel, Apple specified an Intel processor generation for each Mac in its marketing materials. So you would have seen a description such as ‘2.0GHz quad-core 10th-generation Intel Core i5 processor’ associated with a particular Mac. However, without those marketing materials, it isn’t so easy to find out which processor is inside an Intel-powered Mac because the About This Mac information shows the year that Mac went on sale and the processor specifics such as GHz and the number of cores, but not the processor generation. Identifying the processor generation can be useful in comparing different Macs – and PCs. If you want to find out the specs of your Intel Mac we suggest you read our guide to how to check the specs of your Mac.

Here’s how the Intel processor lineup has looked since around 2011:

1st Generation – Nehalem (2011)

2nd Generation – Sandy Bridge (2011)

3rd Generation – Ivy Bridge (2012)

4th Generation – Haswell (2013)

5th Generation – Broadwell (2015)

6th Generation – Skylake (2015)

7th Generation – Kaby Lake (2017)

8th Generation – Coffee Lake (2018)

9th Generation – Coffee Lake Refresh (2018)

10th Generation – Ice Lake (2019)

How to choose a Mac processor

Whether you are comparing two Macs with Apple chips, or one Apple chip and one Intel chip, or even two Intel chips, this is what to consider:

How many CPU cores?

You will notice that Apple’s M1 has eight CPU cores, the M1 Pro and M1 Max have ten CPU cores, and the M1 Ultra has 20 CPU cores.

The M2 series extends that, with the M2 CPU having 10 or 12 CPU cores and the M2 Pro and M2 Max having a 12 core CPU, and the M2 Ultra having 24-cores.

Among the Intel Macs you would generally find dual-core, quad-core, 6-core, 8-core and 10-core CPUs, while the Mac Pro offers a Xeon processor with 8, 12, 16, 24, or 28-cores.

Having more cores available means that your Mac will be able to run multiple processes at once. Apple’s M-series Macs have two kinds of cores: high-performance and high-efficiency cores. The difference between high-performance and efficiency cores is that the efficiency cores are power-saving while the performance cores can be used for more demanding tasks. So while the performance cores focus on demanding tasks there won’t be a hit on power-efficient processing, both can happen in tandem.

How much CPU Cache?

The more processor cache you have the better. The cache is on-board memory and it helps the processor deal with repetitive tasks faster because information can be held in the memory. Greater amounts of cache will also help with multitasking because several tasks can be run simultaneously.

How many GPU cores?

This is more apparent on the M-series Macs because Apple highlights the number of GPU cores and this extends as you move up the range.

Apple’s M1 has 7 or 8 GPU cores, the M1 Pro had a 14-core or 16-core GPU, the M1 Max had a 24-core or 32-core GPU, and the M1 Ultra had a 48-core or 64-core GPU.

The M2 series extends that, with the M2 GPU having 8 or 10 GPU cores and the M2 Pro having 14 or 16 GPU cores, the M2 Max having a 30-core or 38-core GPU and the M2 Ultra having a 60-core or 76-core GPU.

Intel Macs either had integrated graphics or a discrete graphics card. The discrete option was more for professionals who were using graphics-intensive programs on their Macs. A discrete graphics card has its own memory, while integrated graphics share memory with the processor.

There were concerns when Apple introduced the M-series chips because the graphics are integrated into the system-on-chip, but there are benefits to this. Because the M-series Macs integrate the GPU, the CPU the RAM onto the same system on chip (SoC) the GPU and CPU can exchange information quickly and the RAM can be shared efficiently – Apple refers to its Unified Memory Architecture which makes this possible.

As you can see from the chart above, even the Pro, Max and Ultra variants of the M1 topped the best graphics options in the Intel-powered Macs.

How many GHz?

GHz reflects the number of clock cycles per second. So a 2.3GHz processor’s internal clock beats 2.3 billion times per second. Hence people refer to the number of GHz as the clock speed.

You’ll notice that it’s not easy to compare the M1 with an Intel processor because while Intel lists GHz Apple doesn’t. However, you can find out the maximum clock speed of the M1-series Macs. The M1 is known to be clocked at 3.2GHz, for example.

Each range of Intel-equipped Macs usually has more than one option in terms of GHz. Sometimes it will look like a more powerful Mac has a slower clock speed. This is invariably due to the Mac in question having more cores available. For example, the 3.1GHz 6-Core iMac costs considerably more than the  3.6GHz Quad-Core model. At first glance that might look like a bad deal, but that’s six 3.1GHz cores, rather than four 3.6GHz cores. And the more cores the better.

With Intel Macs it’s not only GHz you need to consider, but how many cores and the generation of processor.

What is Turbo Boost?

There is no Turbo Boost figure to consider with Apple’s M1- or M2-series, but it was a significant part of Intel’s marketing, so we will discuss it here.

The simplest way to think of Turbo Boost is as a way of safely over-clocking the cores on a processor. This figure can sometimes give a clue as to how one generation’s processor compares to the next.

The Turbo Boost controller samples the power consumption and temperature of the cores hundreds of times a second while monitoring the demands made of them by software. If any of the cores are being driven to their theoretical maximum, Turbo Boost can, if enough power is available and the temperature is at a safe level ‘over-clock’ the core and enable it to work faster.

So the eight cores in a MacBook Pro’s 2.3GHz 8-Core i9 processor can, if needed, be pushed to 4.8GHz subject to power consumption and heat dissipation.

Not all processors can Turbo Boost. The i3 processors, found in the 3.6GHz Quad-Core iMac do not include Turbo Boost, so the 3.6GHz speed is never going to be over-clocked.

Why would you need Turbo Boost? Turbo Boost kicks in when you aren’t using all the cores, so the clock speed can be increased on the cores that are in use. So, Turbo Boost is a feature that will benefit you most if you aren’t using applications that use multiple cores.

Why you might not want Turbo Boost? When Turbo Boost is in use your computer will be using more power, so if you have a laptop it might not be in your interest to have Turbo Boost.

Apple would quote Turbo Boost figure for older Macs, like the iMac above.

Intel processor types

It’s not only processor generation you need to consider with Intel. There was a lot of variety in terms of processor speed, number of cores, Turbo Boost figures and whether it is an i3 or an i9. Wondering if i5 is better than i7, or if i3 is going to be inadequate? We look through the different processors right up to i9 below.

Incidentally, perhaps in response to Apple’s move to the Pro, Max and Ultra chip descriptions Intel has changed the way it refers to its new chips. Intel’s next processors will drop the ‘i’ and add a new high-end tier, but that change won’t affect existing Intel-powered Macs.

Core M – The M is a mobile version of Intel’s chips – it appeared in the first Retina MacBook when it launched in 2014. There were three M processors with increasing performance: m3, m5 and m7.

Core i3 – i3 processors featured in some Macs. They don’t feature Turbo Boost.

Core i5 – The majority of Macs used to use Intel’s i5 processors. The i5 tended to be quad-core or 6-core. If you find a dual-core it’s an older generation.

Core i7 – The i7 is worth looking out for if you are thinking of purchasing an older Mac because, in older generations of Macs, when it came to quad-core the i5 and i7 versions were not equal. The quad-core i7, which was once used in the 15in MacBook Pro offered some features that the quad-core i5 didn’t, one of which was Hyper-threading. Another difference was the size of the cache. Thanks to these features, i7 processors were better for multitasking, multimedia, high-end gaming, and scientific work.

Core i9 – Intel’s i9 processors arrived with the 9th generation Coffee Lake refresh, and have up to 8-cores.

Xeon – Intel’s Xeon processors are workstation or server processors. Xeon processors support more memory than the i5/i7/i9 processors.

Hyper-threading

Hyper-threading allows the processor to handle twice as many ‘streams’ as it has cores, by fooling software into thinking it has twice as many cores. So a quad-core processor with hyperthreading should be able to execute four times as many sets of instructions in a given time period as a dual-core processor with the same clock speed but without hyper-threading.

This means that a quad-core i7, for example, can act like it has eight cores, but a quad-core i5 will only be able to use the four cores available to it.

Which Mac Processor to choose?

Now that Apple has almost completed its transition from Intel to Apple Silicon, the question of which processor is no longer a choice between Intel and Apple. We have in the past recommended waiting for a second-generation product, but now that the M3 series is here there is no reason to wait. If you need a powerful Mac go ahead and buy one. The only reason to delay would be if you want to wait for the Mac you want to get an M3 chip, or for the M3 Ultra, which could arrive in early 2024.

And for the best deals right now check out our:

Best iMac deals

Best Mac mini deals

Best Mac Studio deals

Best MacBook Pro deals

Best MacBook Air deals

Mac, MacBook

​Macworld Macworld

If you’re choosing between two different types of Mac, or two generations of the same Mac, you may be wondering just how much of a difference the processor will make.

Since November 2020 all new Macs have featured one of Apple’s own system-on-chip based on the ARM architecture and sometimes referred to as Apple Silicon. A number of Apple chips have joined the line up including the M1, M1 Pro, M1 Max, M1 Ultra, M2, M2 Pro, M2 Max and M2 Ultra, M3, M3 Pro and M3 Max so far. The final Mac to move from Intel to Apple Silicon was the Mac Pro in June 2023.

Now that the transition from Intel to Apple’s own chips is complete, and it has been a while since Apple sold any new Macs powered by an Intel chip, you might think that there is no point comparing Intel and Apple, but some stockists are still selling Intel-powered Macs and it is even possible to buy refurbished Macs with Intel chips from Apple’s refurbished store. Those wishing to upgrade from an Intel-powered Mac to an M1 or M2-series Mac may also be curious about how much of a difference to expect.

With such variety on offer, there is also a question of which Apple processor is best – or at least sufficient for your needs. The M3 represents the third generation of Apple Silicon, but the M3 is still less powerful than the M1 Max, for example. It’s also worth noting that the difference between a Pro and Max version of Apple’s ships is all in the GPUs and memory support: the CPU is essentially the same.

Here we will compare all the Mac and MacBook CPUs, GPUs, and other specs, such as RAM (aka unified memory), to demonstrate how the M1-, M2- and M3-series chips compare to each other and to their Intel predecessors.

For more help choosing which Mac to buy read our buying guides where we assess the Best Mac and Best MacBook. You might also like to take a look at the article where we compare all of Apple’s chips.

M1 to M3 timeline

November 2020: Apple introduced its first Mac system-on-chip – the M1. It still features in the MacBook Air, and did feature in the 13-inch MacBook Pro and Mac mini.

April 2021: Apple launched an iMac with a M1 chip.

October 2021: The M1 formed the bases for powerful variants, the M1 Pro and M1 Max that arrived in the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro in October 2021.

March 2022: The final M1-series chip, the M1 Ultra, arrived with the Mac Studio in March 2022.

June 2022: The next generation of Apple Silicon arrived in June 2022 with the introduction of the M2 chip.

January 2023: The M2 Pro and M2 Max arrived in the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro. The Mac mini gained an M2 and M2 Pro chip.

June 2023: The M2 Ultra arrived in the Mac Studio and Mac Pro. The Mac Studio also ships with the M2 Max.

October 2023: The M3 series arrives with the M3, M3 Pro and M3 Max landing at the same time. So far only the MacBook Pro ships with M3, M3 Pro and M3 Max chips, while the iMac offers the M3.

Which processor should you choose for your Mac and does it really matter? Read on to find out.

Mac and MacBook processors compared

The M1 arrived with the MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro and Mac mini at the end of 2020.

The processor inside a Mac makes a big difference to how powerful the Mac is. However, it can actually be quite confusing if you aren’t familiar with the terminology. The processor is sometimes referred to as the CPU (central processing unit), which is different to the GPU (graphics processing unit). Sometimes people will refer to the processor when they actually mean the SoC (system on a chip) that contains both the CPU and GPU. You may even hear it referred to as a SiP (system in package).

We often refer to Apple Silicon as chips because they are system-on-chips that combine the CPU and GPU (and for that matter RAM, which Apple refers to as Unified Memory). The various M-series chips offer a variety of CPU and GPU cores.

Similarly, there are a number of different Intel chips that combine a number of CPU cores with integrated or discrete graphics options, all of which we will discuss below.

Mac processors from Apple

M1

Apple MacBook Air (2020) M1

Read our review

In June 2020 Apple announced that it would transition Mac from Intel to its “world-class custom silicon.” This process began with Apple’s M1 processor, which was introduced in November 2020.

The M1 still features inside these Macs:

MacBook Air (2020) (buy from Apple here)

The M1 no longer features inside these Macs:

13-inch MacBook Pro (2020)

Mac mini (2020)

iMac (2021)

The M1 specs are as follows:

8-core CPU (4 performance cores/4 efficiency cores)

7- or 8-core graphics processor (GPU)

16-core Neural Engine

8GB or 16GB of RAM

68.25GBps memory bandwidth

16 billion transistors

The M1 was Apple’s first chip designed by Apple specifically for the Mac and it made shockwaves in the industry with giant leaps in performance. However, some people criticized the RAM limitations, with the M1 Macs only able to support up to 16GB Unified Memory.

M1 Pro

Apple introduced the M1 Pro in October 2021.  It is no longer available in any new Macs, but you may get one in Apple’s refurbished store or elsewhere.

The M1 Pro featured in these Macs:

14-inch MacBook Pro (2021)

16-inch MacBook Pro (2021)

The M1 Pro specs were as follows:

8- or 10-core CPU (6 or 8 performance cores/2 efficiency cores)

14- or 16-core GPU

16-core Neural Engine

16GB or 32GB of RAM

200GBps memory bandwidth

33.7 billion transistors

The M1 Pro offers a 14-core GPU or a 16-core GPU. At launch, Apple claimed the GPU in the M1 Pro to be 2x faster than the M1. Apple also claimed that the GPU was up to 7x faster than the integrated graphics on the latest 8-core PC laptop chip.

The M1 Pro also added a ProRes accelerator in the media engine to speed up video processing. Apple claimed that the M1 Pro could deliver up to 200GB/s of memory bandwidth, which is nearly 3x the bandwidth of the M1.

The M1 Pro supports up to 32GB RAM (compared to a maximum of 16GB for the M1).

M1 Max

The M1 Max was also introduced in October 2021 as a standard option for the 16-inch MacBook Pro, and a build-to-order option for the 14-inch MacBook Pro. Then in March 2022, the M1 Max became one of the options for the Mac Studio. The M1 Max is no longer available in any new Macs, but you may get one in Apple’s refurbished store or elsewhere.

The M1 Max features in these Macs:

14-inch MacBook Pro (2021)

16-inch MacBook Pro (2021)

Mac Studio (2022)

The M1 Max specs are as follows:

10-core CPU (8 performance cores/2 efficiency cores)

24- or 32-core GPU

16-core Neural Engine

32GB or 64GB of RAM

400GBps memory bandwidth

57 billion

The M1 Max has the same 10-core CPU as the M1 Pro, but everything else is significantly enhanced. The GPU is probably the most important difference between the M1 Pro and M1 Max. The M1 Max GPU goes all the way up to 32 cores (there is also a build-to-order 24-core option.)

At launch, Apple claimed the graphics performance of the 32GB GPU to be up to 4x faster than the M1.

M1 Max also has two ProRes accelerators that help it deliver up to 2x faster video encoding than M1 Pro. Apple claimed the M1 Max-powered MacBook Pros can edit up to 30 streams of 4K ProRes video or up to seven streams of 8K ProRes video in Final Cut Pro. That’s more streams than on a 28-core Mac Pro with Afterburner.

At launch, Apple stated that the performance of the M1 Max is “similar to that of the highest-end GPU in the largest PC laptops while using up to 100 watts less power.”

M1 Max also offers up to 400GB/s of memory bandwidth. That is 2x that of M1 Pro and nearly 6x that of M1. As a result, a maximum of 64GB RAM is possible with the Max.

M1 Ultra

The M1 Ultra was also introduced in March 2022 as an option for the Mac Studio, it has now been replaced by the M2 Ultra, but you may still find a 2022 Mac Studio available, potentially at a good discount.

The M1 Ultra featured in the:

Mac Studio (2022)

The M1 Ultra specs were as follows:

20-core CPU (16 performance cores/4 efficiency cores)

48- or 64-core GPU

32-core Neural Engine

64GB or 128GB of RAM

800GBps memory bandwidth

114 billion transistors

The M1 Ultra is essentially two M1 Mac chips, so it can offer a 20-core CPU and up to 64-core GPU. Apple achieves this using UltraFusion architecture to connect the two M1 Max chips to avoid trade-offs such as increased latency, reduced bandwidth, and increased power consumption. Apple also explained that the M1 Ultra behaves like, and is recognized by software, as one chip.

At launch Apple claimed to offer “4x the bandwidth of the leading multi-chip interconnect technology” and that the m1 Ultra “delivers 90 percent higher multi-threaded performance than the fastest available 16-core PC desktop chip in the same power envelope.”

Apple also claimed that the 64-core GPU delivers faster performance than the highest-end PC GPU available – all while using 200 fewer watts of power.

The M1 Ultra can be configured with up to 128GB unified memory – according to Apple the most powerful PC graphics cards max out at 48GB. The ‌M1‌ Ultra also offers twice the media engine capabilities of the ‌M1 Max‌, for accelerated video encoding and decoding.

M2

Apple 13-inch MacBook Air (M2, 2022)

Read our review

Price When Reviewed:

₹1,19,900

Best Prices Today:

₹104900 at B&H Photo |
₹106900 at Flipkart |
₹119900 at Apple

The M2 was introduced in June 2022 with the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro. Apple later added the M2 as an option for the Mac mini in January 2023, and a new 15-inch MacBook Air in June 2023.

Apple 15-inch MacBook Air (M2, 2023)

Read our review

The M2 features in these Macs:

13-inch MacBook Air (2022) (buy from Apple here)

Mac mini (2023) (buy from Apple here)

15-inch MacBook Air (2023) (buy from Apple here)

The M2 no longer features in this Mac:

13-inch MacBook Pro (2022)

The M2 specs are as follows:

8-core CPU (4 performance cores/4 efficiency cores)

8- or 10-core GPU

16-core Neural Engine

8GB, 16GB or 24GB of RAM

100GBps memory bandwidth

20 billion transistors

Apple Mac mini (M2, 2023)

Read our review

At launch, Apple claimed: “Compared with the latest 10-core PC laptop chip, the CPU in M2 provides nearly twice the performance at the same power level.” Apple also stated that the “M2 provides nearly 90 percent of the peak performance of the 12-core chip while using just one-fourth the power.”

Apple also claimed the 10-core GPU delivers “up to 25 percent higher graphics performance than M1 at the same power level”, thanks to the larger cache and higher memory bandwidth. At maximum power this is 35 percent better, claimed Apple.

Thanks to the additional GPU cores, 10-cores rather than the 8-core limit of the M1, the M2 performs better than the M1, but it’s still below the M1 Pro with 14-cores.

M2 Pro

Apple Mac mini (M2 Pro, 2023)

Read our review

The M2 Pro was introduced in January 2023 with the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro and the M2 Pro Mac mini.

The M2 Pro features in this Macs:

Mac mini (2023) (buy from Apple here)

The M2 Pro no longer features in these Macs:

14-inch MacBook Pro (early 2023)

16-inch MacBook Pro (early 2023)

The M2 Pro specs are as follows:

10-core or 12-core CPU (6 or 8 performance cores/2 efficiency cores)

14- or 16-core GPU

16-core Neural Engine

16GB or 32GB of RAM

200GBps memory bandwidth

40 billion transistors

Like the M1 Pro, the M2 Pro has a built-in media engine that accelerates H.264, HEVC, and ProRes video encoding and decoding. Better power efficiency during playback of multiple streams of 4K and 8K ProRes video can also be expected.

At launch Apple claimed that the M2 Pro is 40 percent faster in Adobe Photoshop image processing, and 25 percent faster in Xcode code compiling when compared to the M1 Pro.

Apple claimed that, when compared to the Core i9 16-inch MacBook Pro, the M2 Pro is 2.5 times faster in Photoshop and 80 percent faster in Xcode.

M2 Max

The M2 Max was also introduced in January 2023 with the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro.

The M2 Max features in this Mac:

Mac Studio (2023) (buy from Apple here)

The M2 Max no longer features in these Macs:

14-inch MacBook Pro (2023)

16-inch MacBook Pro (2023)

The M2 Max specs are as follows:

12-core CPU (8 performance cores/4 efficiency core)

30- or 38-core GPU

16-core Neural Engine

32GB, 64GB or 96GB of RAM

400GBps memory bandwidth

67 billion transistors

Apple Mac Studio (M2 Max, 2023)

Read our review

Like the M1 Max, the M2 Max offers two video-encode engines and ProRes engines. At launch Apple claimed the M2 Max would see a 30 percent improvement over the M1 Max when using color grading in DaVinci Resolve, while it would be 2 times faster than the Intel Core i9 MacBook Pro in the same test.

For effects rendering in Cinema 4D, Apple claimed that the M2 Max is 30 percent faster than the M1 Max, and 6 times faster than the Core i9 MacBook Pro.

M2 Ultra

The M2 Ultra arrived in June 2023. It is an option for both the Mac Studio and the Mac Pro.

Apple Mac Studio (M2 Ultra, 2023)

Apple Mac Pro (M2 Ultra, 2023)

The M2 Ultra features in these Macs:

Mac Studio (2023) (buy from Apple here)

Mac Pro (2023) (buy from Apple here)

The M2 Ultra’s specs are as follows:

24-core CPU (16 performance cores/8 efficiency core)

60- or 76-core GPU

32-core Neural Engine

64GB, 128GB or 192GB of RAM

800GBps memory bandwidth

134 billion transistors

M3

The M3 arrived at the end of October 2023. It is an option for both the 14-inch MacBook Pro and the iMac.

Apple 24-inch iMac (M3, 2023)*

Read our review

Apple 14-inch MacBook Pro (M3, 2023)

The M3 features in these Macs:

iMac (2023) (buy from Apple here)

14-inch MacBook Pro (2023) (buy from Apple here)

The M3 specs are as follows:

8-core CPU (4 performance cores/4 efficiency cores)

8- or 10-core GPU

16-core Neural Engine

8GB, 16GB or 24GB of RAM

100GBps memory bandwidth

25 billion transistors

M3 Pro

The M3 Pro also arrived at the end of October 2023. It is an option for both the 14-inch MacBook Pro and the 16-inch MacBook Pro.

The M3 Pro features in these Macs:

Apple 14-inch MacBook Pro (M3 Pro, 2023)

14-inch MacBook Pro (2023) (buy from Apple here)

16-inch MacBook Pro (2023) (buy from Apple here)

Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro (M3 Pro, 2023)

The M3 Pro specs are as follows::

11- or 12-core CPU (5 or 6 performance cores/6 efficiency cores)

14- or 18-core GPU

16-core Neural Engine

18GB or 36GB of RAM

150GBps memory bandwidth

37 billion transistors

M3 Mac

Like the other M3 chips, the M3 Max arrived at the end of October 2023. It is an option for both the 14-inch MacBook Pro and the 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Apple 14-inch MacBook Pro (M3 Max, 2023)

Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro (M3 Max, 2023)

Read our review

The M3 Max features in these Macs:

14-inch MacBook Pro (2023) (buy from Apple here)

16-inch MacBook Pro (2023) (buy from Apple here)

The M3 Max specs are as follows::

14- or 16-core CPU (10 or 12 performance cores/4 efficiency cores)

14- or 18-core GPU

16-core Neural Engine

36GB, 48GB, 128GB of RAM

300GBps or 400GBps memory bandwidth

92 billion transistors

Mac Processor Benchmarks

The benchmarks below include the M3, M3 Pro and M3 Max which were released with the new iMac and the MacBook Pro at the end of 2023. The M3 Ultra has not been released, so the Mac Studio and Mac Pro still use the M2 Ultra, which as you can see is still the fastest Apple processor, for now.

Note that the M3 chip is actually faster than some iterations of the M1 Pro (namely the 8-core CPU). This shows how much Apple’s chips have progressed since they were introduced.

M1 vs Intel: Benchmarks

As for how Apple’s silicon compares to the Intel processors that used to power Macs, when we tested we found that even Apple’s M1 chips delivered a performance that was equal to, or even better, than the most powerful Intel laptop chips found in Macs at the time – and the M1 Macs weren’t even targeted at the kind of people who need the most powerful laptops. The M1 really was better than a comparable Intel chip – just as Apple claimed when it launched.

As you can see from the benchmarks above and below, there is no reason to avoid buying an M1- or M2-, or M3-series Mac over any Intel-powered Mac. Even the iMac with M3 beats the fastest iMac Pro (with a 2.3GHz Intel Xeon W-2191B) by some margin.

M1 vs Intel: What’s the difference?

The Intel processors that Apple used in its Macs since 2006 were x86 chips. Apple Silicon is based on ARM, but includes a number of Apple technologies (so they aren’t ARM chips, strictly speaking). ARM and x86 are completely different architectures-which means that they need different code, and hence the operating systems and software need to be tailored to them.

Therefore one of the main concerns with the move to Apple Silicon (M1, M2 or M3) could be whether the required software is compatible with ARM. Apple addressed this with Rosetta 2, which translates the code from x86 to ARM and, with a few exceptions, there was no issue with software written for x86 running on the M1 Macs. Many software developers were quick to update their software to run on M-series Macs, though.

The M1-series Macs beat the equivalent Intel models.

One advantage of ARM over Intel’s X86 is power consumption, this is evident in the long battery life of the M-series Macs. The 16-inch MacBook Pro has the longest-ever battery life for a Mac at 22 hours. The 2019 Intel-powered 16-inch MacBook Pro could only manage 11 hours.

There are other ways in which the M-series chips are more efficient than Intel processors. Macs with Apple chips have two kinds of processor cores: high-performance and efficiency. Having two types of cores ensures that background processes don’t slow down the computer because there is always enough power available for programs to run. For example, even the fastest Intel-powered Mac might have experienced slowdowns and performance drops if a system process like iCloud, or the indexing of Photos or Spotlight, was running in the background.

This is all great in theory, but in practice, the benchmarks prove that there is a leap in performance from Intel to M1, and beyond.

Mac processors made by Intel

If you bought your Mac before the end of 2020 it will have Intel inside.

Apple has used various generations of Intel processor over the years. Here are details of some of the Intel chips you may find inside any Macs that predate Apple’s move to the M1 and beyond.

The only Macs Apple currently sells with Intel processors are to be found in Apple’s refurbished store.

If you are considering buying a used Intel-powered Mac we would recommend that you don’t! Read Should I buy a secondhand Mac?

Back when Macs were powered by Intel, Apple specified an Intel processor generation for each Mac in its marketing materials. So you would have seen a description such as ‘2.0GHz quad-core 10th-generation Intel Core i5 processor’ associated with a particular Mac. However, without those marketing materials, it isn’t so easy to find out which processor is inside an Intel-powered Mac because the About This Mac information shows the year that Mac went on sale and the processor specifics such as GHz and the number of cores, but not the processor generation. Identifying the processor generation can be useful in comparing different Macs – and PCs. If you want to find out the specs of your Intel Mac we suggest you read our guide to how to check the specs of your Mac.

Here’s how the Intel processor lineup has looked since around 2011:

1st Generation – Nehalem (2011)

2nd Generation – Sandy Bridge (2011)

3rd Generation – Ivy Bridge (2012)

4th Generation – Haswell (2013)

5th Generation – Broadwell (2015)

6th Generation – Skylake (2015)

7th Generation – Kaby Lake (2017)

8th Generation – Coffee Lake (2018)

9th Generation – Coffee Lake Refresh (2018)

10th Generation – Ice Lake (2019)

How to choose a Mac processor

Whether you are comparing two Macs with Apple chips, or one Apple chip and one Intel chip, or even two Intel chips, this is what to consider:

How many CPU cores?

You will notice that Apple’s M1 has eight CPU cores, the M1 Pro and M1 Max have ten CPU cores, and the M1 Ultra has 20 CPU cores.

The M2 series extends that, with the M2 CPU having 10 or 12 CPU cores and the M2 Pro and M2 Max having a 12 core CPU, and the M2 Ultra having 24-cores.

Among the Intel Macs you would generally find dual-core, quad-core, 6-core, 8-core and 10-core CPUs, while the Mac Pro offers a Xeon processor with 8, 12, 16, 24, or 28-cores.

Having more cores available means that your Mac will be able to run multiple processes at once. Apple’s M-series Macs have two kinds of cores: high-performance and high-efficiency cores. The difference between high-performance and efficiency cores is that the efficiency cores are power-saving while the performance cores can be used for more demanding tasks. So while the performance cores focus on demanding tasks there won’t be a hit on power-efficient processing, both can happen in tandem.

How much CPU Cache?

The more processor cache you have the better. The cache is on-board memory and it helps the processor deal with repetitive tasks faster because information can be held in the memory. Greater amounts of cache will also help with multitasking because several tasks can be run simultaneously.

How many GPU cores?

This is more apparent on the M-series Macs because Apple highlights the number of GPU cores and this extends as you move up the range.

Apple’s M1 has 7 or 8 GPU cores, the M1 Pro had a 14-core or 16-core GPU, the M1 Max had a 24-core or 32-core GPU, and the M1 Ultra had a 48-core or 64-core GPU.

The M2 series extends that, with the M2 GPU having 8 or 10 GPU cores and the M2 Pro having 14 or 16 GPU cores, the M2 Max having a 30-core or 38-core GPU and the M2 Ultra having a 60-core or 76-core GPU.

Intel Macs either had integrated graphics or a discrete graphics card. The discrete option was more for professionals who were using graphics-intensive programs on their Macs. A discrete graphics card has its own memory, while integrated graphics share memory with the processor.

There were concerns when Apple introduced the M-series chips because the graphics are integrated into the system-on-chip, but there are benefits to this. Because the M-series Macs integrate the GPU, the CPU the RAM onto the same system on chip (SoC) the GPU and CPU can exchange information quickly and the RAM can be shared efficiently – Apple refers to its Unified Memory Architecture which makes this possible.

As you can see from the chart above, even the Pro, Max and Ultra variants of the M1 topped the best graphics options in the Intel-powered Macs.

How many GHz?

GHz reflects the number of clock cycles per second. So a 2.3GHz processor’s internal clock beats 2.3 billion times per second. Hence people refer to the number of GHz as the clock speed.

You’ll notice that it’s not easy to compare the M1 with an Intel processor because while Intel lists GHz Apple doesn’t. However, you can find out the maximum clock speed of the M1-series Macs. The M1 is known to be clocked at 3.2GHz, for example.

Each range of Intel-equipped Macs usually has more than one option in terms of GHz. Sometimes it will look like a more powerful Mac has a slower clock speed. This is invariably due to the Mac in question having more cores available. For example, the 3.1GHz 6-Core iMac costs considerably more than the  3.6GHz Quad-Core model. At first glance that might look like a bad deal, but that’s six 3.1GHz cores, rather than four 3.6GHz cores. And the more cores the better.

With Intel Macs it’s not only GHz you need to consider, but how many cores and the generation of processor.

What is Turbo Boost?

There is no Turbo Boost figure to consider with Apple’s M1- or M2-series, but it was a significant part of Intel’s marketing, so we will discuss it here.

The simplest way to think of Turbo Boost is as a way of safely over-clocking the cores on a processor. This figure can sometimes give a clue as to how one generation’s processor compares to the next.

The Turbo Boost controller samples the power consumption and temperature of the cores hundreds of times a second while monitoring the demands made of them by software. If any of the cores are being driven to their theoretical maximum, Turbo Boost can, if enough power is available and the temperature is at a safe level ‘over-clock’ the core and enable it to work faster.

So the eight cores in a MacBook Pro’s 2.3GHz 8-Core i9 processor can, if needed, be pushed to 4.8GHz subject to power consumption and heat dissipation.

Not all processors can Turbo Boost. The i3 processors, found in the 3.6GHz Quad-Core iMac do not include Turbo Boost, so the 3.6GHz speed is never going to be over-clocked.

Why would you need Turbo Boost? Turbo Boost kicks in when you aren’t using all the cores, so the clock speed can be increased on the cores that are in use. So, Turbo Boost is a feature that will benefit you most if you aren’t using applications that use multiple cores.

Why you might not want Turbo Boost? When Turbo Boost is in use your computer will be using more power, so if you have a laptop it might not be in your interest to have Turbo Boost.

Apple would quote Turbo Boost figure for older Macs, like the iMac above.

Intel processor types

It’s not only processor generation you need to consider with Intel. There was a lot of variety in terms of processor speed, number of cores, Turbo Boost figures and whether it is an i3 or an i9. Wondering if i5 is better than i7, or if i3 is going to be inadequate? We look through the different processors right up to i9 below.

Incidentally, perhaps in response to Apple’s move to the Pro, Max and Ultra chip descriptions Intel has changed the way it refers to its new chips. Intel’s next processors will drop the ‘i’ and add a new high-end tier, but that change won’t affect existing Intel-powered Macs.

Core M – The M is a mobile version of Intel’s chips – it appeared in the first Retina MacBook when it launched in 2014. There were three M processors with increasing performance: m3, m5 and m7.

Core i3 – i3 processors featured in some Macs. They don’t feature Turbo Boost.

Core i5 – The majority of Macs used to use Intel’s i5 processors. The i5 tended to be quad-core or 6-core. If you find a dual-core it’s an older generation.

Core i7 – The i7 is worth looking out for if you are thinking of purchasing an older Mac because, in older generations of Macs, when it came to quad-core the i5 and i7 versions were not equal. The quad-core i7, which was once used in the 15in MacBook Pro offered some features that the quad-core i5 didn’t, one of which was Hyper-threading. Another difference was the size of the cache. Thanks to these features, i7 processors were better for multitasking, multimedia, high-end gaming, and scientific work.

Core i9 – Intel’s i9 processors arrived with the 9th generation Coffee Lake refresh, and have up to 8-cores.

Xeon – Intel’s Xeon processors are workstation or server processors. Xeon processors support more memory than the i5/i7/i9 processors.

Hyper-threading

Hyper-threading allows the processor to handle twice as many ‘streams’ as it has cores, by fooling software into thinking it has twice as many cores. So a quad-core processor with hyperthreading should be able to execute four times as many sets of instructions in a given time period as a dual-core processor with the same clock speed but without hyper-threading.

This means that a quad-core i7, for example, can act like it has eight cores, but a quad-core i5 will only be able to use the four cores available to it.

Which Mac Processor to choose?

Now that Apple has almost completed its transition from Intel to Apple Silicon, the question of which processor is no longer a choice between Intel and Apple. We have in the past recommended waiting for a second-generation product, but now that the M3 series is here there is no reason to wait. If you need a powerful Mac go ahead and buy one. The only reason to delay would be if you want to wait for the Mac you want to get an M3 chip, or for the M3 Ultra, which could arrive in early 2024.

And for the best deals right now check out our:

Best iMac deals

Best Mac mini deals

Best Mac Studio deals

Best MacBook Pro deals

Best MacBook Air deals

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