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Apple M1 vs Intel Core i9: In-Depth Comparison

The History Between Apple and Intel

For over 15 years, Apple relied on Intel as the exclusive supplier of CPUs for Mac computer systems. Prior to 2005, Macs utilized PowerPC processors. But facing performance challenges, Steve Jobs announced a dramatic switch. The move meant macOS would share the same underlying x86 architecture as Windows PCs – enabling greater software compatibility.

This Intel partnership persisted for nearly two decades. But issues began emerging in recent years as delays plagued Intel‘s advanced manufacturing capabilities. Their next-gen 10nm process node fell consistently behind schedule. Facing unanticipated defects and yield problems, Intel struggled to deliver higher core counts while maintaining high peak clock speeds.

Meanwhile, competitors like AMD and Apple‘s contract manufacturer TSMC began mass producing more power efficient chips on physics-defying 7nm and 5nm fabrication nodes. Thus in 2020, Apple decide to take control over their silicon destiny rather than remain constrained by Intel‘s roadmap delays.

The M1 system-on-a-chip delivered energy efficiency unprecedented in the PC space thanks to Arm‘s architectural advantages and cutting edge 5nm TSMC process technology. Apple had already proven the capabilities of their custom silicon in iPhone and iPad. Now they aim to scale up performance further while retaining battery life virtues.

Arm vs x86 CPU Architectures

The M1 derives benefits from Arm‘s RISC reduced instruction set computing design which emphasizers power efficiency. Arm CPUs utilize shorter, simpler instructions able to often execute within a single clock cycle while minimizing overall transistor count.

In contrast, Intel‘s x86 CISC complex instruction set computing architecture supports a vast array of sophisticated operations. While tremendously flexible, many x86 instructions require multi-cycle decompression before executing. The overhead results in higher power draw during equivalent workloads.

Apple licenses the Arm instruction set but engineers significant customizations for their M1 SoC focused on accelerating the unique needs of macOS. The integrated memory subsystem and SSD also employ aggressive power saving techniques recognizing the specific rhythms and cadences of Apple software scenarios.

Hybrid Architecture

Both the M1 series and Intel 12th Gen Core leverage hybrid CPU designs to balance high performance and power efficiency. By combining both bigger, more powerful cores along with smaller, efficient cores on the same piece of silicon, workloads can be dynamically shifted between core types to optimize operation.

Low intensity background tasks are routed towards the small cores to conserve energy while demanding foreground processes tap the large cores to drive maximum throughput. Idle efficiency improves during lulls as more cores can power down completely. The hybrid architecture adapts on-the-fly based on computing demands.

Now let‘s see how these architectural decisions directly impact real-world experience across both ecosystems..

Benchmark Performance Comparison

While specifications reveal part of the story, putting these processors to the test in actual applications reveals more interesting insights. Here we evaluate productivity, content creation and gaming scenario results.

Productivity Performance

Intel i9-12900HK M1 Max
Geekbench 5 Single-Core 1,879 1,797
Geekbench 5 Multi-Core 15,483 12,683
PCMark 10 7,425 7,298

For productivity workloads like web browsing, document editing and basic business apps, most modern processors provide plenty of headroom. Still we see a ~15% average lead in GB5 and PCMark 10 for the i9-12900HK config thanks higher peak frequencies scaling across more performance cores.

But even demanding office power users would be unlikely to perceive much difference. Both deliver excellent responsiveness tackling Excel, math/science applications or financial analysis routines. Unless every last drop of performance matters, productivity suites feel just as snappy on Apple vs Intel hardware.

Content Creation Performance

Intel i9-12900HK M1 Max
PugetBench Premiere Pro 1,095 926
Redshift Render 2m 04s 2m 41s
Blender BMW Render 3m 22s 4m 17s

Creation workloads like video editing, 3D modelling and code compilation give CPUs an intensive workout. Having more cores and computing resources directly accelerates these tasks. Here again we see the i9-12900HK‘s higher power budget extracting roughly 15-20% faster rendering across Adobe, Redshift and Blender tests.

Still, the M1 Max delivers excellent performance in its own right – likely sufficient for all but the most demanding creative professionals. When running Apple native apps like Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro, M1 often sees another extra boost thanks to optimizations. So Chrome experience depends heavily on your specific software stack.

Gaming Performance

Intel i9-12900HK + RTX 3080 M1 Max
Fortnite 1080p Medium 122 fps 67 fps
Rocket League 1440p High 163 fps 102 fps

Given far wider software support and the ability to pair dedicated GPUs, Intel gaming platforms currently maintain a commanding lead on peak frame rates. Even translating Windows games via CrossOver, Apple Silicon can hit hardware limits more easily.

Top tier Windows laptops offer upgrades to RTX 3080 GPUs and beyond, producing buttery smooth high refresh gaming exceeding the capabilities of M1 Max integrated graphics. If gaming matters, Intel remains the obvious best choice today.

Upgrade Potential & Compatibility

Apple‘s tight integration between hardware and software leaves little flexibility for end user upgrades. M1 Max MacBook Pro configurations cannot be changed after purchase. You are limited to only the memory, storage and ports included by Apple at order time.

Their decision to utilize unified memory also restricts options. With a set pool shared between the CPU/GPU rather than dedicated VRAM, Apple‘s approach simplifies system design efficiency while capping gaming graphics performance.

Meanwhile Intel‘s ubiquitous presence in the PC ecosystem provides tremendous choice to shoppers in designing their dream systems. Most enthusiasts opting for premium Core i9 models also pair the CPU with equally capable high wattage graphics cards, speedy NVME storage, copious RAM and elaborate cooling solutions.

Sample upgrades may include:

  • Doubling RAM from 32GB to 64GB for complex creative projects
  • Adding 8TB of secondary SSD storage for video files
  • Installing an RTX 3090 to accelerate 3D renders and gaming

While less plug-and-play, this level of personalization gives budget-minded power users a potential upgrade path over multiple generations rather being boxed into a fixed configuration.

Power Efficiency

Intel i9-12900HK M1 Max
Multi-Core Cinebench (Watts) 115W 55W
Idle at Desktop (Watts) 10W 5W

Apple‘s integrated approach optimizing silicon design and software integration affords massive power savings, yielding 2-4X better battery life longevity compared to the peak performance Intel part. But this efficiency comes at the cost of reduced flexibility mentioned earlier.

The i9-12900HK exhibits spikier power draw behavior under load. While its hybrid architecture helps reign things in during light workloads, heavy rendering or computational tasks can quickly slam into 115+ watt territory as the CPU turbo boosts aggressively. High end discrete GPU add-ins only swell power demands further.

So Apple certainly holds the advantage for users focused on maximizing mobility and avoiding the need to constantly plug in. But pursuers of ultimate processing throughput expect to pay the price in electron guzzling.

Cost & Configurations

As Apple‘s M1 Max ships exclusively in high-end MacBook Pro models presently, putting a discrete dollar value on the silicon alone poses challenges. But looking at retail configs gives us a baseline:

  • MacBook Pro 14 M1 Max (10-core CPU, 32-core GPU, 32GB RAM, 1TB SSD): $3,099

Of course deals, sales and special financing offer can drop the total price a few hundred bucks lower at times. Still, there is currently no route to obtaining Apple‘s latest chip separate from a premium pro-grade laptop bundle.

In contrast, Intel‘s socketed CPUs pose almost infinite combination possibilities:

  • Core i9-12900HK retail cost: $550
  • Z790 motherboard: ~$350
  • 32GB DDR5 RAM: ~$150
  • 1TB Samsung 980 Pro SSD: ~$150
  • 360mm AIO cooler: ~$150
  • 80 Plus Gold PSU: ~$100
  • Case, fans, etc: ~$150

Estimated total: $1600

While still saving over the MacBook Pro once you factor in display, keyboard, trackpad and other components – there is no questioning the convenience premium Apple commands by controlling the entire device package. Yet DIYers seeking peak performance for dollar can ultimately stretch their budgets further crafting an Intel-powered beast.

Key Takeaways

  • Apple‘s M1 Max affords excellent multi-threaded speed while setting new standards for battery efficiency – though best experienced within macOS ecosystem.
  • Intel Core i9-12900HK and compatible platforms provide more raw computing bandwidth and expansive Windows software compatibility along with broad upgradability.
  • For creative professionals invested in Final Cut Pro, Logic Pro and Apple‘s infrastructure, M1 Max notebooks enable plenty of power in slick integrated designs.
  • DIY enthusiasts, hardcore gamers and developers wanting maximum configurability will still get more value from Intel 12th Gen plus compatible PC components.

Determining the "best" option remains largely subjective based on your workflow priorities. But hopefully the benchmarks and analysis provided help narrow down the right solution fitting your needs!