How does a three-year-old CPU beat the latest Apple Silicon chip in terms of performance in many popular DAWs? There has been a growing number of reports in recent months that some DAWs don’t fully utilize Apple’s latest M3 chip. James Zhan, Tech YouTuber, has put that to the test. The results are quite astonishing: Apple M1 Pro beats M3 Pro in for Ableton Live, Logic Pro, and Avid Pro Tools!
Apple M1 Pro vs M3 Pro – what’s this about?
You’d think that Apple’s new M3 CPUs would beat the company’s own M1 processors in terms of performance by a long shot. Apple proudly claimed this at the recent presentation of their new chips. However, it’s not all about the latest CPU generation; with the M3 models, the chips’ architecture has also changed.
Apple’s ARM CPUs consist partly of energy-saving E-cores and partly of high-performance P-cores. This way, the system distributes its workload depending on the task – this means that the new Macs with Apple Silicon chips can work much more energy-efficiently than previous systems.
With the M2 and then the M3, Apple has changed the CPU’s architecture, i.e., how the cores work and how the load is distributed. An Apple M1 Pro had a total of ten CPU cores, eight of which were P-cores and two E-cores. In contrast, an M2 Pro also had ten CPU cores, but in this case, there were six P-cores and four E-cores. And the new M3 Pro houses eleven cores: five P-cores and six E-cores.
Apple M1 Pro has better DAW performance – not everywhere!
YouTuber James Zhan has now carried out an extensive test that verifies an assumption that has been growing for months in various forums: Some DAWs only use the P-cores on Macs, but the E-cores are hardly used at all. In his test, he created the same setup in the DAWs Reaper, Cubase, Ableton, Studio One, Logic Pro, FL Studio, and Pro Tools.
He created an audio track with a mono clip of a guitar recording and loaded the plug-in “Nolly” from NeuralDSP (Apple Silicon native) as an insert effect onto it. He then duplicated the track until the typical crackling and dropouts in the audio signal occurred, which meant a CPU overload. The buffer was set to 1024 for all DAWs.
Zhan monitored the CPU load per core via the Mac’s internal “Activity Monitor” app. Lo and behold, there were indeed some DAWs that hardly put any load on the E-cores. This meant that, in some cases, his Apple M1 Pro system was able to load more tracks than the newer, supposedly more powerful M3 Pro!
The results of the DAW benchmark
On the one hand, there were DAWs, such as Reaper or Cubase, which fully used all CPU cores. Therefore, these DAWs could load more tracks on the new M3 Pro, as this CPU has more cores in total. Zhan was also able to load an additional nine tracks in FL Studio on an M3 Pro compared to an Apple M1 Pro or an M2 Pro.
But the real kicker comes with DAWs like Ableton Live, Avid Pro Tools, Presonus Studio One, and even Apple’s own DAW Logic Pro! In all four DAWs, the M3 Pro was slightly weaker than a system with a second-generation Apple Silicon M2 Pro, but clearly inferior to the Apple M1 Pro!
Why is the M1 Pro faster?
We can only speculate why the cores are used differently depending on the DAW. Since even Apple’s own DAW Logic performs worse with M3 Pro, the question arises as to whether it is due to the software itself or the operating system. However, this test is a clear indication for anyone who is still considering Apple’s new systems to take a closer look when making a purchase.
If you want to try it out for yourself, Archetype Nolly is available as a fully functioning 14-day trial version. Create an audio track in your DAW, load an audio clip in mono onto the track, and then use Nolly as an insert effect. Let us know in the comments how many times you were able to duplicate the track until your system reached its limits!