When Apple first announced its new M1 Ultra last week, the company was full of bluster, boasting about the chip's performance credentials. The company claimed that the M1 Ultra could offer greater performance than the Intel Core i9-12900K while consuming 100 fewer watts at load. But the most outrageous claim was likely the assertion that the M1 Ultra's 64-core GPU offered better performance than the flagship NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3090 while undercutting it by 200 watts in power consumption.
Those parts rank among the best CPUs and best graphics cards, and many people were rightfully skeptical about these claims, especially after Apple's GPU performance projections for the M1 Pro and M1 Max didn't quite mesh with real-world performance. To test Apple's claims, the folks at the Verge got their hands on a maxed-out Mac Studio configured with the most potent M1 Ultra SoC (20-core CPU, 64-core GPU) paired with 128GB of unified memory.
The most problematic aspects of Apple's benchmarks from last week were that it provided no frame of reference for its figures, didn't properly label them, and didn't even tell us which apps were being tested. This is typical Apple behavior, so it shouldn't be too surprising. However, the Verge's testing showed that its test rig with a Core i9-10900 and 64GB of RAM put up a Geekbench 5 Compute score of 215,034 compared to 83,121 for the Mac Studio with M1 Ultra (102,156 when using Metal).
Not everyone puts a lot of stock in synthetic benchmarks like Geekbench, so the Verge also fired up Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and the RTX 3090 easily mopped the floor with the M1 Ultra, delivering 142 fps at 1440p and 114 fps at 4K. Unfortunately, the Mac Studio could only muster 108 fps and 96 fps, respectively. Those aren't horrible numbers, but we expected more from an alleged RTX 3090 killer.
Perhaps more important is that the publication's $6,199 Mac Studio provided nearly as much grunt as its previous generation $14,000 Mac Pro test system in a much smaller package. Arguably, that's a more impressive feat for Apple than picking a fight with dedicated graphics cards like the RTX 3090.
Why does Apple even bother with these fanciful benchmark graphs to tout superiority over processors and GPUs from the PC sphere? Even with its 5nm process node, Apple can only push the 64-core M1 Ultra GPU so far in a 60-watt envelope. On the other hand, the RTX 3090 can take full advantage of its 350-watt TDP to deliver blazing fast and consistent performance in a wide variety of scenarios. Sure, there might be a few specific benchmarks where the M1 Ultra's GPU might come out ahead on the performance-per-watt scale, but if we're talking all-out performance, we have to side with the RTX 3090.
Are the M1 Ultra's 20 CPU cores and 64 GPU cores impressive? Yes, most definitely. However, should Nvidia GPU and Intel CPU engineers be hanging their heads in shame over the mere arrival of the M1 Ultra? Absolutely not.