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3rd July 2020

How Fast Is The Desktop A12Z?

By now, I’m sure that everyone is aware of Apple’s historic announcement at this year’s WWDC, the decision to leave Intel behind and transition their Macs over to use their own Apple silicon, perhaps a decision that was long overdue. This is, however, not a new trend and 15 years ago at the 2006 WWDC, we saw Apple make a similar move. This is when Apple first transitioned from the Power PC chips to the Intel x86 chips that are still used today in today’s Macs.

What We Know About The A12Z

What caught most people’s attention was during the run-through of Mac OS 11 Big Sur, the machine that Craig Federighi was using was powered by the A12Z Bionic chip. This is not a new chip and is actually found in the 2020 iPad Pro that was released earlier this year. Anyone that owns the 2020 iPad Pro will tell you that this machine does not lack power, and for the small footprint and lack of fans it sports, it is certainly very impressive.

Now, for the same chip to be used in a desktop, running professional-level software such as Adobe’s Photoshop and Lightroom, as well as running Final Cut Pro X with three streams of 4K footage with not a stutter in sight, really sets a precedent to what the future of Apple silicon might look like.

Apple also announced at the keynote that developers would start to receive the Developer Transition Kit (DTK), which is essentially the iPad Pro (with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD) inside a MacMini running a Beta version of Big Sur. At the time of writing this, just over a week after the keynote, devs have started to receive their DTK and as a result, Geekbench 5 results have started cropping up, despite the Apple NDA.

But just how fast is the A12Z Bionic chip?

Currently, as many as 8 Geekbench results have indicated that the A12Z Bionic chip features average single-core and multi-core scores of 811 and 2,871, respectively. It is worth noting that there is currently no support for Geekbench on Apple silicon, therefore it is most likely that these results have been achieved using the Rosetta 2 emulation.

To put the DTK scores into perspective, when compared with the 2020 iPad Pro 12.9 inch version, the DTK scores suddenly don’t look as impressive. The 2020 iPad Pro achieved an average single-core test of about 1,117 and a multi-core test of 4,712. Therefore the iPad Pro is roughly 25% higher on single-core performance and roughly 40% higher on multi-core performance. So why is there such a big difference in performance? With the same chip running in the iPad Pro, you would expect these results to be somewhat similar or potentially even higher due to the fact that the desktop version has access to higher power limits and more relaxed thermal environments compared to that of the iPad Pro. Yet we are seeing a significant drop in performance here.

While these scores are very interesting, they should be taken with a pinch of salt. They serve well as a brief preview of what some of the performance could hint to under emulation, it is almost definitely not what you should expect from Apple silicon Macs that will go on sale later this year. For starters, Apple is simply not going to chuck an iPad Pro chip into future Macs, we should expect something much more tailored to the Mac’s performance needs. Starting with, as previously mentioned, the higher power limits and the relaxed thermal environment that is possible to achieve inside an iMac or MacBook.

These scores, and the power of the A12Z, demonstrate the immense potential that Apple silicon has if the DTK performance is anything to go by. Craig Federighi even went on to describe the performance of the A12Z Bionic chip as “What our silicon team can do when they’re not even trying”. This is a bold statement, and the numbers on display from the Geekbench leaked scores are not telling the full story. Partnered with the already impressive numbers put up by the iPad Pro, the A12Z chip in a desktop setting with more power availability and proper colling infrastructure in place could prove to be a magnificent bit of tech. Not to mention the fact that Big Sur is still in Beta, and is likely to undergo further optimisation, we are looking at some very promising times.

So why do the Apple Geekbench scores not match the tablet that uses the same chip? According to to benchmarks of the A12Z not in the DTK we should be looking at equal performance to the Mac Pro 2013 6 Core. It’s likely that Apple has reduced the performance of the chip pulling it back as they don’t want to show their hand quite yet. They included an NDA with the purchase but benchmarks would always leak so neutering the A12Z DTK is an insurance policy. The A12Z is an 8 core chip running four performance and four efficiency cores with similar drawing up to 23W. Reconfiguring with more performance cores and with double the power and cooling available it could 10% faster than the Intel Core i9-9980HK in the 16-inch 2019 MacBook Pro without any further changes.

These are therefore exciting times and Apple has definitely caused a buzz in the tech market with their most recent announcement, it will be interesting to see just how much performance can be squeezed out of these new chips.

Apple has already confirmed that we can expect a release of ARM-based Macs later this year and have stated that we can expect the complete transition within two years. But don’t worry if you’ve just bought a new Mac with an Intel chip as Apple have confirmed that they will still provide support for years to come, even announcing that we can expect new Intel-based Macs releasing this year too.

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