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Apple MacBook Air 2020 M1 Benchmarks: Should you get 7 or 8 GPU cores?

Apple MacBook Air 2020 M1
Apple MacBook Air 2020 M1
The new MacBook Air 2020 is equipped with Apple's own M1 processor by default, but there are two GPU versions with 7 or 8 cores. We have both units in our editorial office and had the chance to compare the two iGPUs. Is the 8-core model worth the additional price?

The new MacBook Air (Late 2020) has finally arrived. It looks the same, but there is a very interesting change inside the chassis. Apple announced it in the beginning of the year, and we have speculated about this in our last review of the MacBook Air with an Intel CPU: Apple now uses its own ARM processors. All versions of the new MacBook Air are equipped with the M1 chip, but there are differences in terms of the integrated graphics unit. The base model for $999 has 7 GPU cores, while the more expensive unit for $1249 has 8 GPU cores. We now have both models in our hands and were able to perform some initial benchmarks.

Synthetic Benchmarks

Both the M1 chip as well as macOS Big Sur are still very new, so not alle benchmarks are available as native apps yet, some benchmarks are still emulated Intel version. During our initial tests, this worked well in general, but there can still be some smaller issues.

The results of the two versions are usually very close to each other and we rarely see a difference of more than 10%. We have also included the results of the current MacBook Pro 16 with the Radeon 5500M, which is still faster, but the differences are not huge. Considering that the M1 chip inside the MacBook Air is completely passively cooled, these results are very impressive. The new A14 chip in the Apple iPad Air 2020 on the other hand is clearly beaten by the M1 chip.

Basemark GPU 1.2
3840x2160 Metal High Offscreen
Apple MacBook Pro 16 2019 i9 5500M
Radeon Pro 5500M, i9-9880H, Apple SSD AP1024 7171
30 (25min - 42max) fps ∼100% +43%
Apple MacBook Air Late 2020 (M1, 8 Core GPU, 8 GB RAM)
M1 8-Core GPU, M1, Apple SSD AP0512
21 fps ∼70%
Apple MacBook Air 2020 M1 Entry
M1 7-Core GPU, M1, Apple SSD AP0256Q
19.24 (15min - 24max) fps ∼64% -8%
1920x1080 Metal Medium Offscreen
Apple MacBook Pro 16 2019 i9 5500M
Radeon Pro 5500M, i9-9880H, Apple SSD AP1024 7171
356 (57min - 763max) fps ∼100% +26%
Apple MacBook Air Late 2020 (M1, 8 Core GPU, 8 GB RAM)
M1 8-Core GPU, M1, Apple SSD AP0512
283 fps ∼79%
Apple MacBook Air 2020 M1 Entry
M1 7-Core GPU, M1, Apple SSD AP0256Q
276 (63min - 506max) fps ∼78% -2%
3DMark
Wild Life Unlimited Score
Apple MacBook Air Late 2020 (M1, 8 Core GPU, 8 GB RAM)
M1 8-Core GPU, M1, Apple SSD AP0512
17731 Points ∼100%
Apple MacBook Air 2020 M1 Entry
M1 7-Core GPU, M1, Apple SSD AP0256Q
16159 Points ∼91% -9%
Apple iPad Air 2020
A14 Bionic GPU, A14, 256 GB NVMe
8955 Points ∼51% -49%
Wild Life Score
Apple MacBook Air Late 2020 (M1, 8 Core GPU, 8 GB RAM)
M1 8-Core GPU, M1, Apple SSD AP0512
10017 Points ∼100%
Apple iPad Air 2020
A14 Bionic GPU, A14, 256 GB NVMe
6632 Points ∼66% -34%
GFXBench
Aztec Ruins High Tier Onscreen
Apple MacBook Air Late 2020 (M1, 8 Core GPU, 8 GB RAM)
M1 8-Core GPU, M1, Apple SSD AP0512
55.5 fps ∼100%
Apple MacBook Air 2020 M1 Entry
M1 7-Core GPU, M1, Apple SSD AP0256Q
51.4 fps ∼93% -7%
Apple MacBook Pro 16 2019 i9 5500M
Radeon Pro 5500M, i9-9880H, Apple SSD AP1024 7171
42.7 fps ∼77% -23%
Apple iPad Air 2020
A14 Bionic GPU, A14, 256 GB NVMe
35.6 fps ∼64% -36%
2560x1440 Aztec Ruins High Tier Offscreen
Apple MacBook Pro 16 2019 i9 5500M
Radeon Pro 5500M, i9-9880H, Apple SSD AP1024 7171
94.7 fps ∼100% +17%
Apple MacBook Air Late 2020 (M1, 8 Core GPU, 8 GB RAM)
M1 8-Core GPU, M1, Apple SSD AP0512
81.2 fps ∼86%
Apple MacBook Air 2020 M1 Entry
M1 7-Core GPU, M1, Apple SSD AP0256Q
72.4 fps ∼76% -11%
Apple iPad Air 2020
A14 Bionic GPU, A14, 256 GB NVMe
32.9 fps ∼35% -59%
Aztec Ruins Normal Tier Onscreen
Apple MacBook Air 2020 M1 Entry
M1 7-Core GPU, M1, Apple SSD AP0256Q
60.1 fps ∼100% 0%
Apple MacBook Air Late 2020 (M1, 8 Core GPU, 8 GB RAM)
M1 8-Core GPU, M1, Apple SSD AP0512
60 fps ∼100%
Apple MacBook Pro 16 2019 i9 5500M
Radeon Pro 5500M, i9-9880H, Apple SSD AP1024 7171
59 fps ∼98% -2%
Apple iPad Air 2020
A14 Bionic GPU, A14, 256 GB NVMe
40.5 fps ∼67% -32%
1920x1080 Aztec Ruins Normal Tier Offscreen
Apple MacBook Pro 16 2019 i9 5500M
Radeon Pro 5500M, i9-9880H, Apple SSD AP1024 7171
254 fps ∼100% +18%
Apple MacBook Air Late 2020 (M1, 8 Core GPU, 8 GB RAM)
M1 8-Core GPU, M1, Apple SSD AP0512
214.4 fps ∼84%
Apple MacBook Air 2020 M1 Entry
M1 7-Core GPU, M1, Apple SSD AP0256Q
192 fps ∼76% -10%
Apple iPad Air 2020
A14 Bionic GPU, A14, 256 GB NVMe
105.6 fps ∼42% -51%
off screen Car Chase Offscreen
Apple MacBook Pro 16 2019 i9 5500M
Radeon Pro 5500M, i9-9880H, Apple SSD AP1024 7171
210 fps ∼100% +19%
Apple MacBook Air Late 2020 (M1, 8 Core GPU, 8 GB RAM)
M1 8-Core GPU, M1, Apple SSD AP0512
176.6 fps ∼84%
Apple MacBook Air 2020 M1 Entry
M1 7-Core GPU, M1, Apple SSD AP0256Q
162 fps ∼77% -8%
Apple iPad Air 2020
A14 Bionic GPU, A14, 256 GB NVMe
87.2 fps ∼42% -51%
on screen Car Chase Onscreen
Apple MacBook Air 2020 M1 Entry
M1 7-Core GPU, M1, Apple SSD AP0256Q
58.7 fps ∼100% +3%
Apple MacBook Air Late 2020 (M1, 8 Core GPU, 8 GB RAM)
M1 8-Core GPU, M1, Apple SSD AP0512
57.2 fps ∼97%
Apple MacBook Pro 16 2019 i9 5500M
Radeon Pro 5500M, i9-9880H, Apple SSD AP1024 7171
53.5 fps ∼91% -6%
Apple iPad Air 2020
A14 Bionic GPU, A14, 256 GB NVMe
40 fps ∼68% -30%
GFXBench 3.1
off screen Manhattan ES 3.1 Offscreen
Apple MacBook Air Late 2020 (M1, 8 Core GPU, 8 GB RAM)
M1 8-Core GPU, M1, Apple SSD AP0512
268.3 fps ∼100%
Apple MacBook Air 2020 M1 Entry
M1 7-Core GPU, M1, Apple SSD AP0256Q
240 fps ∼89% -11%
Apple iPad Air 2020
A14 Bionic GPU, A14, 256 GB NVMe
136.8 fps ∼51% -49%
on screen Manhattan ES 3.1 Onscreen
Apple MacBook Air Late 2020 (M1, 8 Core GPU, 8 GB RAM)
M1 8-Core GPU, M1, Apple SSD AP0512
60 fps ∼100%
Apple MacBook Air 2020 M1 Entry
M1 7-Core GPU, M1, Apple SSD AP0256Q
59.8 fps ∼100% 0%
Apple iPad Air 2020
A14 Bionic GPU, A14, 256 GB NVMe
45.4 fps ∼76% -24%

Gaming Performance

We have decided to use the game Borderlands 3 for our initial tests, because it allows a fair comparison thanks to its integrated benchmark. The game is emulated, but it worked very well in general. The only problem was when we tried to end the game, when the system sometimes froze and required a restart. 

The low preset still shows a pretty big advantage for the 8-core GPU, but the results between the two models are very close in the more demanding quality presets. The comparison with the rivals is much more interesting. For starters, the old MacBook Pro 15 with the 560X is hardly any faster, and both the Nvidia GeForce MX350 as well as the Intel Xe Graphics (96 EUs) from the current Tiger Lake chips are clearly beaten in higher quality settings.

The performance of the M1 GPU was surprisingly stable in a first stress test, but we want to perform more benchmarks before we can give our final verdict on this topic. We will also test more games with the new M1 chip for our final review.

Borderlands 3 / Very Low Overall Quality (DX11)
Apple MacBook Pro 15 2018 (2.6 GHz, 560X)
AMD Radeon Pro 560X
78 fps ∼100% +38%
Lenovo IdeaPad 5 15IIL05
NVIDIA GeForce MX350
68.2 fps ∼87% +20%
Apple MacBook Air Late 2020 (M1, 8 Core GPU, 8 GB RAM)
Apple M1 8-Core GPU
56.7 fps ∼73%
Acer SF514-55T
Intel Iris Xe Graphics G7 96EUs
50.4 fps ∼65% -11%
MSI Prestige 14 A10RC
NVIDIA GeForce MX330
45.4 fps ∼58% -20%
Apple MacBook Air 2020 M1 Entry
Apple M1 7-Core GPU
45.2 fps ∼58% -20%
Borderlands 3 / Medium Overall Quality (DX11)
Apple MacBook Pro 15 2018 (2.6 GHz, 560X)
AMD Radeon Pro 560X
33.6 fps ∼100% +9%
Apple MacBook Air Late 2020 (M1, 8 Core GPU, 8 GB RAM)
Apple M1 8-Core GPU
30.7 fps ∼91%
Apple MacBook Air 2020 M1 Entry
Apple M1 7-Core GPU
28 fps ∼83% -9%
Lenovo IdeaPad 5 15IIL05
NVIDIA GeForce MX350
26.3 fps ∼78% -14%
Acer SF514-55T
Intel Iris Xe Graphics G7 96EUs
24.9 fps ∼74% -19%
MSI Prestige 14 A10RC
NVIDIA GeForce MX330
14.2 fps ∼42% -54%
Borderlands 3 / High Overall Quality (DX11)
Apple MacBook Pro 16 2019 i9 5500M
AMD Radeon Pro 5500M
41.4 fps ∼100% +102%
Apple MacBook Pro 15 2018 (2.6 GHz, 560X)
AMD Radeon Pro 560X
20.8 fps ∼50% +1%
Apple MacBook Air Late 2020 (M1, 8 Core GPU, 8 GB RAM)
Apple M1 8-Core GPU
20.5 fps ∼50%
Apple MacBook Air 2020 M1 Entry
Apple M1 7-Core GPU
17.7 fps ∼43% -14%
Lenovo IdeaPad 5 15IIL05
NVIDIA GeForce MX350
17 fps ∼41% -17%
Acer SF514-55T
Intel Iris Xe Graphics G7 96EUs
15.6 fps ∼38% -24%
MSI Prestige 14 A10RC
NVIDIA GeForce MX330
12.1 fps ∼29% -41%

First Impressions

Our initial tests clearly show that Apple's new M1 chip offers a significant performance improvement over the old MacBook Air powered by Intel CPUs. The annoying chassis fan is finally gone as well, so the new MacBook Air is a completely silent device. It is also the only MacBook with dedicated function keys and no TouchBar.

The choice of the GPU (or the number of cores) does not really matter to be honest. It really depends on the storage you want. If 256 GB is sufficient for you, then you can go ahead and get the entry-level SKU with 7 GPU cores. If you prefer 512 GB, however, you can upgrade the entry-level SKU, but it would make more sense just to get the more expensive unit with the 8-core GPU instead.

We are currently working on the review of the new MacBook Air. The initial results are definitely promising. Please leave us a comment if you have special questions or suggestions for the review.

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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2020 11 > Apple MacBook Air 2020 M1 Benchmarks: Should you get 7 or 8 GPU cores?
Andreas Osthoff, 2020-11-26 (Update: 2020-11-26)
Andreas Osthoff
Andreas Osthoff - Managing Editor Business Notebooks
I grew up with computers and modern consumer electronics. I am interested in the technology since I had my first computer, a Commodore C64, and started building my own PCs after that. My focus here at Notebookcheck is the business segment including mobile workstations, but I also like to test new mobile devices. It is always a great experience to review and compare new products. My free time is filled with a lot of sports, in the summer mainly on my bike.