If you’re choosing between two different types of Mac, or two generations of the same Mac, you may be wondering just how much of a difference the processors will make. Plus, with Apple announcing in June 2020 that it will not be using Intel processors inside future Macs, instead preferring to use its own Apple Silicon processors, that means the question of which processor to choose is more complicated than ever. Luckily we are here to help.
In this article we will endeavour to clarify the differences between Apple’s M1 processors and the Intel processors in some Macs.
We will also look at whether you should choose Apple’s M1 processors now – or if you should wait until Apple introduces its next generation of processors.
And we will examine the differences between the different generations of Intel processors, with names like Kaby Lake, Coffee Lake, Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge and so on, including what you can expect from an i3, i5, i7, i9 or even a Xeon processor. Plus we’ll look at why it matters how many cores you get, and what Turbo Boost really means.
There are so many different terms used to describe the processor in the current crop of Macs that trying to figure out which is best for you is enough to make your head spin. So which processor should you choose? And does it really matter?
What processor is in my Mac?
Your Mac will most likely have an Apple processor (known as the M1) or an Intel processor. If your Mac is very old (pre 2007) then it could have a Power PC processor.
Apple’s M1 processor was introduced in November 2020 and it featured inside three different Macs: two MacBook Air, two Mac mini and two 13in MacBook Pro models. It has eight processor cores (four of which are high performance and four are high-efficiency). It also has up to eight graphics cores. All on the same chip. The M1 is Apple’s first chip designed by Apple specifically for the Mac. It has made shockwaves in the industry with giant leaps in performance. We discuss the M1, also known as Apple Silicon in more detail below. We also have this article: Complete Guide To Apple Silicon And Apple’s ARM Mac plans.
All other current Macs – and all Macs since around 2006/2007 feature Intel processors. Apple has used various generations of Intel processor over the year, bringing benefit such as improved speed, support for more cores, support for more RAM, improved power consumption and energy management, and so on.
In recent years Apple has specified an Intel processor generation for each Mac in its marketing materials. So you will probably see a description such as 2.0GHz quad-core 10th-generation Intel Core i5 processor. That should help you identify how old the model is and whether a different Mac might be a better choice.
As we said above, some older Macs from before 2006 could feature a PowerPC chip, usually referred to as G4, G5, and so on. It’s unlikely you have one of these so we won’t go in to a lot of detail. If you are considering buying one second hand we would recommend that you don’t!
How to check Mac processor generation
It’s likely that the Mac you are looking at has either an Apple M1 processor or a Intel processor. How can you tell which one?
Unfortunately this information is not so easy to check on a Mac itself. Normally we would turn to the About This Mac information (click on the Apple logo in the left corner of the screen > About This Mac) for details of the specs of a machine, but there is no processor generation listed here.
This means that it can be pretty tricky to find out which generation of processor you have inside a Mac.In fact you might want to go and grab your detective hat and spy glass.
- First you need to find out what kind of processor is inside your Mac. Go to About This Mac and note the details of the processor (e.g 2.7GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i5).
- Next note the launch date – this will be included in the product name, e.g. MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Early 2015).
- Now you have that information you can attempt to locate it at Everymac.com. Once you have found it you can view a page that gives you the specific processor information (in this case Broadwell)
If you want to find out more about the specs of your Mac we suggest you read our guide to how to check the specs of your Mac.
How to tell which Intel processor generation
The above method for identifying which processor you have can still be a bit confusing because Intel processor generations are sometimes referred to by their code name (usually a bridge or a lake), and sometimes just by a number (e.g. 7th generation). How can you tell which generation it is?
Here’s how that Intel processor line up has looked since around 2011:
- 1st Generation – Nehalem (2011)
- 2nd Generation – Sandy Bridge (2011)
- 3rd Generation – Ivy Bridge (2012)
- 4th Generation – Haswell (2013)
- 5th Generation – Broadwell (2015)
- 6th Generation – Skylake (2015)
- 7th Generation – Kaby Lake (2017)
- 8th Generation – Coffee Lake (2018)
- 9th Generation – Coffee Lake Refresh (2018)
- 10th Generation – Ice Lake (2019)
The names Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge, Haswell, Broadwell, and Skylake are Intel’s codenames for its processor architectures. Nehalem and Sandy Bridge date back to 2011, and Ivy Bridge was an update to Sandy Bridge in 2012.
Haswell came in 2013 and was a major re-design of the Ivy Bridge architecture. Broadwell, in 2015, was a relatively minor update to Haswell. Skylake first appeared in late 2015, then in 2017 Kaby Lake processors started to appear.
Kaby Lake was followed by Coffee Lake. Coffee Lake brought some big changes, with 6-core options and more quad core options at the entry-level. The initial Coffee Lake release was the 8th generation of Intel processors. In autumn 2018 the 9th generation launched – known as the Coffee Lake refresh – which added 8-core i9 processor options.