Running a CPU benchmark on Apple Silicon M1

When I started working with my Mac Mini M1, I felt it was faster, but I couldn’t really compare with a proper benchmark. I work a lot with video so I created an Apple (M1 and older) benchmark that is focused on CPU-heavy video programs: ffmpeg and primitive.

Benchmark 1: ffmpeg

For my first benchmark, I take a large photo from Unsplash (Landscape by David Marcu, 4288×2848) and prepare a low-res, B/W version of it, and then use ffmpeg to create a cross-fade MP4 from the low res to the hi-res photo, a 5 seconds movie at 10 fps. That is 50 frames of 12 megapixels. This takes a Mac Mini M1 about 75 seconds.

low-res GIF of the actual MP4 that is rendered through ffmpeg

Benchmark 2: primitive

fogleman/primitive is a cool Go package that reduces a picture to N primitive shapes. I use it often (e.g. because I like to experiment with how much information your brain needs to recognize familiar images. It also is very CPU intensive, certainly when you create a GIF movie where a shape is added every frame. It takes the Mac Mini M1 almost 100 seconds to generate the GIF sequence.

low-res GIF of the actual sequence that is rendered through primitive

Running the benchmarks

I created a bash script (with bashew, of course) that runs these two benchmarks, and calculates an index %, compared to my computer (the 2020 Mac Mini M1 8GB). It saves the results as a .md Markdown file in the results folder. Anyone who wants, can test their Apple (or Linux) machine by git clone-ing the repo and running the script. They can even do better: fork the repo, run the script, commit and push the results of their own machine and then issue a pull request, so I can add their results to the main repository.

macOS 11.1 i386
    Hardware details: Macmini9,1 - 8 CPUs - 8 GiB RAM - Apple M1 GPU
    CPU details : Apple M1
    OS Details : macOS 11.1
    OS Install date : 2020-11-15
    all indexes : Apple Mac Mini M1 2020 8GB = 100%

    Max CPU: 579.4
    benchmark finished after: 72 secs
    performance index: 104.17 %

    Max CPU: 684.8
    benchmark finished after: 98 secs
    performance index: 96.94 %

    Combined performance index: 100 %

Some explanation: the Max CPU is the maximum CPU load the ffmpeg or primitive process takes. This is running on a 8-core M1, so you could expect the top value to be 800. However, the M1’s cores are not all equal. There are 4 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores, and I have a feeling the latter can not give the same 100% as the former. So it could be that the 685 CPU load in the last benchmark is very close to the theoretical maximum for an M1.

PS: the performance of both benchmarks varies a bit every time you run it. With the M1 computer I always end up close to 100%, but rarely exactly at 100%.

Comparison: MacBook Pro 13″ Retina (2013)

When I bought my old MBP laptop in 2013, it was an impressive machine, with an impressive price. I’ve used it mainly for photography and software development. It has become more and more buggy the last year (CPU overheating, screen flickering, …). And it feels slow, certainly compared to the M1.

# macOS 11.1 i386
    * Hardware details: MacBookPro11,1 - 4 CPUs - 16 GiB RAM - Intel Iris GPU
    * CPU details : Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-4558U CPU @ 2.80GHz

    * Max CPU: 256.4
    * benchmark finished after: 189 secs
    * performance index: 39.68 %

    * Max CPU: 256.9
    * benchmark finished after: 465 secs
    * performance index: 20.43 %

    * Combined performance index: 28 %

So, for these kind of CPU-intensive tasks, the M1 is sometimes up to 5x faster than my old MacBook Pro (100% vs 20%).

PS: This MacBook Pro claims 4 cores, but it’s actual 4 virtual cores on a 2 physical cores CPU. This is why the Max CPU is not a full 400 but rather close to 260.

Comparison: Dell XPS 15 i7 – Win10 WSL (2017)

The other machine I have handy is my work laptop. I was always rather happy with its performance. I am using Ubuntu 16 via WSL1 (Windows Subsystem for Linux).

# Ubuntu 16.04 x86_64
* Hardware details: 8 CPUs - 16 GiB RAM - Nvidia GeForce GTX1050 GPU
* CPU details     : Intel(R)Core(TM)i7-7700HQCPU@2.80GHz
* Max CPU: 800.0
* benchmark finished after: 97 secs
* performance index: 77.32 %
* Max CPU: 800.0
* benchmark finished after: 198 secs
* performance index: 47.98 %
* Combined performance index: 60 %

Here the results are much better. The ffmpeg benchmark runs at 70% of the Apple M1 and the primitive benchmark at +- 50%. Here you see that all 8 cores are fully used by both benchmarks with a Max CPU of 800. Also, the cooling fans start blowing on max speed very quickly after the benchmark starts.

Join in!

If you have an old or recent Mac computer, please join in and send me pull requests on Github with your results! Also, if you have suggestions for more (CLI-based) benchmarks, let me know.

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