Basic Apple M1 Pro CPU Benchmarks

Last week I received a work-provided (on loan) new Apple MacBook Pro (14-inch, 2021) with the Apple M1 Pro 10-core processor, so I was very curious to see how it performed with some of my code, given the generally excellent reviews and reports I’d seen by people with it online.

I have my own MacBook Pro 15-inch 2015 (Intel i7) model which I’ll be comparing it against as a basic benchmark performance test, although it won’t be a completely fair test as the two machines are running different versions of MacOS and the clang compiler, and I didn’t want to upgrade my own machine’s MacOS version to a newer version (for various reasons). So the code being executed on the different machines will be generated by different versions of clang, but given the micro-architecture is totally different anyway, I think it’s still a meaningful test and at least will show the performance difference between the two laptops.

My old MacBook Pro 15-inch 2015 is a 2.5 GHz Intel Core i7, with four cores, eight threads, and 1600 Mhz DDR3 memory, running macOS 10.14.5 (Mojave), with Xcode 10.2.1 installed which has clang version 10.0.1.

The new MacBook Pro 14-inch 2021 is the M1 Pro 10-core version, with 8 performance cores and 2 efficiency cores, running macOS 12.3 (Monterey), with Xcode 13.4.1 installed which has clang version 13.1.6.


I’ll be using two of my apps as benchmarks: my Mint interpreter language VM (originally based off Robert Nystrom’s excellent Crafting Interpreters Lox language tutorial) but with additional functionality and performance improvements, which I’ll use to benchmark two Mint scripts as single-threaded tests, and also my Imagine pathtracing renderer, which has native SSE intrinsics support for Intel and native Neon intrinsics support for ARM, which I’ll run in both single- and multi-threaded scenarios.

Both apps will be compiled with -march=native on the Intel side and -mcpu=native on the Apple M1 Pro ARM side, using the clang version on the machine in question, as well as optimisation level: -O3.

The two Mint script tests will be loop value calculation as Test 1:

var a = 1;
for (var i = 0; i < 100000000; i += 1)
    a = (i + i + 3 * 2 + i + 1 - 0.42) / a;
print a;

and a variation of Project Euler 21 to calculate the sum of all Amicable numbers under 15,000 as Test 2.

The Imagine rendering tests will render the below example scene of a basic maze with 12 spherical area lights and one hemisphere light, with four Next Event Estimation samples being taken each bounce to evaluate the lighting, and using Cone sampling to perfectly sample each spherical area light from each hitpoint, with 256 samples-per-pixel being done, using stratified sampling and a ray depth of 6 diffuse bounces. Depending on the setup of the tests (single-threaded, multi-threaded, etc), I’ll render the scene at resolutions of: 150 x 150, 300 x 300 and 600 x 600.

Example Maze Lighting scene

For all tests, I’ll run them on battery power and then mains power, in case that affects the clocking of the processors, and will also wait between test runs for the processor temperatures to be below 50 degC before running the next test, to try and reduce the impact of thermal throttling. However, for the longer-running multi-threaded Imagine rendering tests I’m fairly sure thermal throttling will start to take place on the Intel 2015 machine given how fast the fans start to spin in longer-running scenarios.

All tests will be run three times, and results below will show the mean average of those numbers.


Single-threaded Mint VM interpreter:

Single-threaded Mint interpreter VM benchmarks, smaller values are better: Single-threaded Mint interpreter VM benchmarks

For these single-threaded tests, the M1 Pro has fairly modest (~11% faster in Test 1, ~16% faster in Test 2) improvements over the seven year old Intel i7, however as the Mint VM execution is often branch-prediction constrained within the main VM bytecode interpreter loop, I expect this doesn’t really allow the M1 Pro’s eight-wide design to really stretch its legs running these benchmarks, as there’s a limit to the amount of Instruction-Level Parallelism that’s achievable.

It’s interesting to see that there’s no apparent difference in performance between running on battery vs running connected to the mains: I was expecting to see a difference - even if only on the Intel i7 MBP - as I know my Thinkpad T480s running Linux shows significant performance differences between the two states, but Apple clearly don’t seem to be implementing that strategy.

Single-threaded Imagine rendering:

Single-threaded Imagine rendering benchmarks, smaller values are better: Single-threaded Imagine Render benchmarks

Things start to look more impressive for the M1 Pro in the single-threaded rendering tests, as here there are a lot more floating point calculations being done with a lot less branching, and there’s a fair amount of SIMD use (i.e. ray intersection / traversal code, which uses native SSE or Neon instructions for the respective platform architectures) allowing the M1 Pro to show what it can do.

For both the 150 x 150 resolution and 300 x 300 resolution renders, the M1 Pro machine completed the tasks in ~46% less time, so it’s close to twice as fast as the older Intel machine. Again, there was no apparent performance difference between running powered off the battery compared to running with the machines plugged into the mains power.

Multi-threaded Imagine rendering:

Multi-threaded Imagine rendering benchmarks, smaller values are better: Multi-threaded Imagine Render benchmarks

The multi-threaded rendering tests show that for the shorter-duration 300 x 300 resolution render, the M1 Pro was more than three times faster (render time was less than a 1/3 of the Intel MBP’s i7 render time), and for the longer-duration 600 x 600 resolution render this ratio was slightly better still - I suspect because of the fact the Apple M1 Pro has significantly better thermal performance than the Intel i7, so is not throttling as much - if at all - although watching the temps on the M1 Pro machine towards the end of the test shows it did reach 84 degC, so it’s possible throttling is happening a bit.


So for most code that’s likely not branch/dependency-bound, it would seem the almost one year-old M1 Pro being tested here is around three times faster than the seven year-old Intel i7 model (although the base M1 Pro model with two less performance cores will not be as fast), and for multi-threaded code that parallelises well it can be more than three times faster, with much better thermal performance (which means less fan noise) and battery life, which is exactly what you’d want from a laptop, and I think shows that the Apple M1 processors are something to be excited about.

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