by Brandon Butler
First Apple M1 scores are huge, and thoughts on the other guys 11/11/2020

MacRumors has found the Geekbench scores for the new MacBooks, and they are huge.

So, there are three entities one might be prone to compare or relate the release of Apple’s new M1 chips to:

AMD: AMD has never had a CPU in a Mac (outside of Apple’s secret underground bunker) and they don’t have a lot to lose here. AMD is a powerhouse in the PC gaming word and their CPUs/GPUs pair well together for little performance boosts. They have powerful server processors as well, and Windows Server won’t run on an ARM based Mac mini, so they’re probably impressed but unfazed by this. And while Intel is struggling to get their 7nm CPUs into production, AMD is expecting their Zen 4 5nm CPU to drop in 2022.

Microsoft/Qualcomm: Microsoft and Qualcomm, recall, made an early attempt at sticking ARM CPUs made for phones into Surface tablets running a bastardized version of Windows (Windows RT). The tablets were slow and the software compatibility between the x86 and ARM systems was confusing, with very little Windows software being able to run on Windows RT. It was a disaster that some are comparing to Apple’s ARM Macs before having used one. (The big difference between MS and Apple is Apple has built-in emulators in macOS that will allow x86 programs to run on the ARM hardware, with Apple going so far as to say that some x86 software runs better on the M1 chip than it does on Intel CPUs!) Qualcomm probably looks at the M1 as either “Apple is lying” or they’re seeing “what could have been” if they’d been just a lot more competent at making processors. Keep in mind, Qualcomm’s name and identity branding are never directly tied to the devices in which their Snapdragon and other CPUs are inside of, so when a phone is “slow” or a tablet is “laggy,” that’s on the device manufacturer, like Microsoft. For Apple, if the MacBook Air with the M1 chip inside was perceived as slow or laggy, that’s entirely on Apple. Apple has a lot more to lose when they stick an M1 chip into a MacBook than Qualcomm does when they stick a Snapdragon into a laptop.

Intel: Intel’s 7nm processor has been delayed again and again — I don’t know if we’ll ever see it in a PC, but definitely not a Mac. I don’t know what’s been happening at Intel for the past five years, but they are falling apart over there. Hopefully with new leadership they can get their act together, but Intel has completely missed the smartphone and tablet markets and they’re getting stomped by AMD on the desktop. They’re the only company that supplies Apple with CPUs for their laptops and desktops, and last quarter Apple reported $9 billion in revenue for the Mac, and a good chunk of that went to Intel (Intel predicts $17 billion revenue for Q4, less than double what Apple makes on the Mac alone). And in less than two years Apple will be canceling all CPU orders from Intel. Yeah, it’s not great to be Intel right now.

I’m surprised to be reading commentary from major publications that are treating what Apple’s saying about M1 performance as either speculative or highly suspect, or comparing the M1 to the failures of Microsoft’s attempts at ARM. Look back at the original iPhone, and recall how much of a leap in computing that was compared to the Palms and Blackberrys of the day. If Apple’s Silicon team has a budget — and that’s a big if — I bet that budget is larger than all of Intel’s Q4 revenue. The M1 isn’t some huge bet from Apple — every game in a casino is designed with the odds in the house’s favor, and in the case of the M1, Apple is the house: they wouldn’t let you sit down at the table if they didn’t already know they were going to win.