Apple M1 Ultra is a performance beast, but definitely not an RTX 3090 killer

bottom line: Apple is probably right when it claims the M1 Ultra is the most powerful consumer-grade desktop chip, but that’s because it’s hard to compare a SoC with 114 billion transistors to what’s currently available in the x86 space. Early benchmarks seem to show that performance per watt is stellar, but GPU performance falls short of dedicated GPUs like Nvidia’s RTX 3090.

When Apple introduced its M1 Ultra chipset, the company paid great attention to its performance and power efficiency, extolling the advantages of the chipset design, UltraFusion packaging, and interconnect technology that made it possible.

To be fair, a lot of the engineering was clearly involved in both the hardware and software aspects of the new chipset, as Apple essentially merged two M1 Max chips and paired them with a bunch of unified high-bandwidth memory. It also made the two chips recognizable in software as one chip, which would certainly make it easier to develop applications.

However, as is the case with many performance claims from Apple (and, for that matter, any company that competes in hardware), they usually don’t tell the whole story. Companies like to choose test scores to make their products look better than the competition, and that’s why independent reviews are an important resource to turn to before deciding what works for you.

Apple decided to benchmark the performance of the M1 Ultra against the Intel Core i9-12900K and Nvidia RTX 3090, two of the fastest and most power-hungry consumer desktop components right now. During the presentation, the company said that its new chipset is capable of slightly outperforming the RTX 3090 with much more modest power consumption, but did not say what tests were used.

Now that the first independent reviews are out, things are beginning to clear up. edge ran a series of benchmarks including NPBench Python and Geekbench as well as some Puget benchmarks and gaming benchmarks and the results were interesting.

The M1 Ultra’s processor definitely outperforms the M1 Max, as well as the 28-core Intel Xeon W found in the standard Mac Pro, but its GPU doesn’t quite match the compute performance levels of the RTX 3090.

The Verge used a PC with an Intel Core i9-10900 processor, 64GB of RAM and an Nvidia RTX 3090 GPU, and received a Geekbench 5 Compute score of over 215,000. By comparison, the M1 Ultra in Mac Studio was able to score just over 83,000 points, or 102,156 points when using Metal.

This is still an impressive result, which is why The Verge also took notice of the gaming performance of Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Apple is notorious for not optimizing its hardware for gaming loads, and the M1 Ultra is no exception. While it was able to hit a respectable 108fps at 1080p and 96fps at 1440p, Nvidia’s dedicated GPU had an 18 to 31 percent advantage.

Much of this difference can be attributed to the M1 Ultra’s 100-watt GPU power and how it shares memory bandwidth with the CPU. For reference, only the RTX 3090 has a TGP of 320W, and the Core i9-12900K can add over 241W to that. We’ve seen a similar story with other Apple Silicon chipsets like the M1 Pro, which is good in terms of performance per watt but struggles to keep up with the more power hungry hardware from the x86 space.

The key takeaway from the M1 Ultra tests we’ve seen so far is that Apple has built a small desktop that approaches the performance levels of the much larger and more expensive Mac Pro. The $6,199 Mac Studio might seem like an expensive kit, but for professionals who depend on macOS and Apple Silicon-optimized apps, it might seem like a bargain compared to the slightly more powerful $14,000 Mac Pro.

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