When we reviewed the excellent MacBook Air (M1, 2020), which is our pick for the best laptop in the world, we knew it would spell trouble for Microsoft and its Windows on ARM devices, and new benchmarks appear to bear that out.
The latest MacBook AIr, along with the refreshed MacBook Pro 13-inch and new Mac mini, all use Apple’s new ARM-based M1 chip, rather than the Intel hardware they used to run on. In our tests we were really impressed by the performance of the M1 chip, and thanks to the Rosetta 2 tool, Apple provided a way to run older Mac apps that were designed to run on Intel hardware with a minimum of impact to performance.
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Meanwhile, Windows on ARM devices have been around for a while. These are Windows 10 laptops that run on ARM-based chips, usually by Qualcomm. Microsoft has also released its own device, the Surface Pro X, which runs on the SQ1 (and newer SQ2) chip, which is also ARM-based and was created by Microsoft and Qualcomm.
However, while we commended Apple’s M1 devices for their excellent performance and ability to run legacy apps, with Windows on ARM devices we often experienced the opposite: poor performance and a lack of apps due to Microsoft not providing a way to run legacy apps on the new hardware.
The good news is that Microsoft has finally gotten around to releasing a tool for running 64-bit x86 apps (eg standard Windows apps that run on Intel and AMD processors) in Windows on ARM, and it’s allowed the fine folk at PC World to run some benchmarks (opens in new tab) to compare performance between the M1 MacBook Air, and the Surface Pro X. And it’s pretty bad news for Microsoft.
According to PC World’s benchmark results, the MacBook Air M1 pretty much destroys the Surface Pro X in the results.
In its Geekbench 5, Cinebench and Handbrake tests, the performance difference between Apple’s machine and Microsofts is so huge it’s almost embarrassing.
It shows how impressive Apple’s M1 tech is, even so early on in its life, and also just how much of an uphill struggle Microsoft has to make Windows on ARM devices competitive.
While the benchmark results come with lots of caveats, namely that Microsoft’s emulation tool is still in beta, which could impact performance, it’s still a very stark example of just how much better the M1 chip is, and how well macOS Big Sur runs on it.
It also matches our experiences with both machines. We were very impressed with the M1 MacBook Air, but were less than thrilled by the Surface Pro X.
With the prices being around the same, but the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) offering vastly improved performance, it’s an easy choice when it comes to which one you should buy.
This isn't the first time we've seen Apple's M1 chip embarrass the Surface Pro X, as we've also seen an M1 MacBook run Windows 10 (via emulation) better than the Pro X. Ouch.
Hopefully the success of Apple’s M1 chip means that Microsoft, along with Qualcomm, takes a long hard look at Windows on ARM. If this leads to better ARM-based Windows devices, then we’ll be very happy indeed.
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