Our colleagues at Macwelt in Germany have published an interesting insight into how the Mac mini Apple is sending out to developers testing how their apps work on Apple Silicon compares to the 16in MacBook Pro. The encouraging conclusion: “Apple Silicon is already competitive and comparable to current Intel chips. It can be assumed that Apple will continue to drastically improve the performance of its own chips. The first commercial Macs with Apple Silicon should be in no way inferior to the current Intel Macs, at least in terms of CPU performance.”
Macwelt published speed comparisons using a native, self-developed benchmark program – and they claim to have seen “sensational results”. A few month ago benchmarks for the developer Mac mini showed up on Geekbench, but at the time it was noted that these used benchmarking software that was running via Rosetta 2 emulation, and therefore wouldn’t demonstrate how the machine would perform when running natively.
“That costs a lot of performance and does not show the real possibilities of the Apple chip,” notes Macwelt, adding: “So we sat down, installed the current beta version of Xcode 12 and wrote our own benchmark tool called ‘Apple Silicon Benchmark’ in Swift and SwiftUI. It performs three extremely CPU-intensive functions and measures the time in milliseconds.”
Macwelt’s tool generates a million random numbers each in different number formats (integers in 8 to 64 bits, floating point, floating point for graphic output). It performs a million Fast Fourier Transforms (FFT) to transform a data packet (sine wave) from time to frequency domain (often used in audio applications). To do this it uses the “Accelerate” framework from Apple, which accelerates FFT operations.
It then starts the open source ray tracer “SwiftRay” (thanks to Renaud Pradenc) and calculates a virtual scene by ray tracing.
The first two tests only use one CPU core (single core), while SwiftRay tries to use all cores at the same time (multi-core), explains Macwelt. “The overall result should result in a good cross-section of CPU-heavy applications,” they claim. Macwelt is not measuring graphics performance.
The site ran the Apple Silicon Benchmark tool three times in total. First using the DTK in native mode, then under the Intel emulation Rosetta. They also ran the benchmarking tool on a 16-inch MacBook Pro with an Intel Core i9 processor (8 cores). In both cases the Macs were running the current developer beta of macOS 11 Big Sur.
The results show that running through Rosetta actually absorbs 50 percent of the power. Macwelt claims that the DTK is “about as fast in existing Intel applications as a 15in MacBook Pro from 2012.”
Macwelt adds that when it came to the native results the DTK achieved the same performance as the current 16in MacBook Pro with an eight-core Intel chip.
The Apple’s Developer Transition Kit (DTK) costs $500 – although it’s a loan that you have to return to Apple and uses the Apple A12Z Bionic (as seen in the iPad Pro).
We have this article comparing Intel to Silicon. And here’s our guide to Apple’s Silicon plans.