YouTube blogger James Zhan compared the performance of Apple M1 Pro, M2 Pro and M3 Pro chips when working in a DAW. The results were unexpected: the first generation of processors outperformed newer chips in almost all popular workstations.
James Zhan tested Apple’s M1 Pro, M2 Pro and M3 Pro chips in all popular DAWs to find out how much the performance of the company’s newer processors differs. The blogger noted that one of the reasons for the verification was the common assertion about the superiority of current chips over their previous versions, which is referred to in most of Apple’s marketing materials.
Apple Silicon processors are built on a mixed architecture that combines energy-efficient (E) and high-performance (P) cores. Depending on the tasks being performed, the operating system redistributes the load, performing the necessary operations on energy-efficient, high-performance, or both cores. This solution provides greater energy efficiency.
Apple M1 Pro processors included 10 cores, eight of which were high-performance and two were energy-efficient. Subsequently, Apple changed the structure of the chips: for example, the M2 Pro was built around the same 10 cores (six high-performance, four energy-efficient), while the M3 Pro received 11 cores (five high-performance and six energy-efficient).
The differences in architecture have also led to intense discussion about how DAWs utilize available processor power during operation. In particular, users on forums suggest that some workstations use only high-performance cores, others actively work with energy-efficient cores, while still others use all available power. These considerations also became one of the reasons for conducting the test, the blogger noted.
To test performance, Jean prepared three laptops, differing only in the installed processor. All other characteristics of the computers were identical. Testing was carried out in DAW Cockos Reaper, Steinberg Cubase, Avid Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Ableton Live, Image-Line FL Studio and PreSonus Studio One.
A project with the same content was prepared for all workstations. The project was based on an audio track with a recording of a guitar, the Neural DSP Nolly plugin (a native version with support for Apple Silicon, released recently ). The track was then duplicated until the system issued a “CPU Overload” warning indicating that the processor was overloaded. The buffer size in all programs was set to 1024 samples.
Jean monitored the processor load for each core through the built-in Activity Monitor in macOS (analogous to the Task Manager on Windows), showing the impact of applications on system components and the overall load. Monitoring has confirmed that some DAWs perform all operations on only one type of core, which is why systems with M1 Pro are in some cases able to load more tracks in a project than systems with the supposedly more powerful M2 Pro and M3 Pro.
According to testing results, the Apple M1 Pro processor was faster than the newer M2 Pro and M3 Pro chips. At least when working with Ableton Live, Logic Pro, Avid Pro Tools and PreSonus Studio One. In the case of DAW Image-Line FL Studio, Cockos Reaper and Steinberg Cubase, the M3 Pro processor was the winner, but the M1 Pro’s performance was identical to the newer M2 Pro processor.
Discussing the results of his research, Jean noted that the reason for such differences in performance lies not in the processors themselves, but in the way programs use the cores available to them. Given that Apple’s own Logic Pro DAW runs better on the M1 Pro than the latest M3 Pro, the real differences lie in the software and how developers optimize their products for Apple’s processors.
According to the blogger, the reality is that for modern musicians it makes no difference which processor is installed in their computer. Testing has shown that the first generation of Apple chips still confidently competes with the company’s newer processors, so before buying a new laptop, musicians should think about whether they should overpay for the latest hardware. The performance difference isn’t as big as the marketing materials make it out to be. And if there is no difference, then… why pay more?