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Arm race: How Apple’s M3 squares off against the Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite

In some corners of the laptop market, the PC versus Mac war is firing up again. Apple reignited the flames by including broad comparisons to PC laptops in its marketing for the M1 and subsequent chips—and then delivered incredible speeds compared to its Intel predecessors. But a downright inferno erupted when Qualcomm introduced its Snapdragon X Elite processor, taking direct aim Apple with claims of faster performance then the M3 MacBook Air.

Qualcomm announced the Snapdragon X Elite last fall and it finally started shipping in the new Microsoft Surface Pro this month. Our colleagues at PCWorld give it a full review with benchmarks and it’s worth a read. However, their review is PC-focused and only mentions the Mac in passing, so we decided to take a look at their results with a more a Mac-centric lens.

M3 vs. Snapdragon X Elite: Specs

Qualcomm takes direct shots at Apple’s M3 in its marketing, so to get the comparison started, here are the basic specifications for the Snapdragon Elite X and the M3.

M3Snapdragon X Elite
CPU cores8
(4 performance cores, 4 efficiency cores)
(dual-core boost)
Frequencies3.7GHz performance
2.4GHz efficiency
4.0GHz boost
3.4GHz base
Memory (as tested)16GB16GB
Graphics10-core GPUQualcomm Adreno GPU

At a glance, the specs don’t look “equal” in the sense that the number of CPU cores and the frequencies don’t match. The reality is that Windows and Macs have always been difficult to compare with straight specs, and in the bigger picture, it’s inconsequential because most customers don’t look at it that way.

M3 vs. Snapdragon X Elite: CPU performance

While PCWorld ran a battery of different benchmarks, we’ll look at two suites in particular. The first is Geekbench 6, which is a popular general-purpose benchmark to gauge the chip’s performance. The other benchmark results are from Cinebench 2024, a benchmark that performs 3D rendering that demands more of the chips.

Apple offers faster variations of the M3 in the M3 Pro and M3 Max, which are included in the test results for reference. Qualcomm also offers variations of its Snapdragon X Elite, but it doesn’t specifically target the M3 Pro and M3 Max in its marketing. Besides, the M3 Pro/Max is used in the more expensive MacBook Pro, which Microsoft would probably say isn’t comparable to the Surface Pro.

Geekbench 6.3

Results are expressed as Geekbench scores. Higher scores/longer bars are faster. *M3 results shown here were tested with Metal; the Snapdragon X Elite was tested with OpenCL.

Qualcomm’s claims that its Snapdragon X Elite is as fast as the M3 holds up. The benchmarks show that the X Elite is 19 percent faster than the M3 in multi-core performance, which is a difference that should be noticeable when doing certain high-end tasks. However, the M3 is faster in single-core testing by 12 percent, which affects everyday tasks but probably won’t have too much of a difference on performance.

Cinebench 2024

Results are expressed as Cinebench scores. Higher scores/longer bars are faster.

The MacBook Air and Surface Pro probably aren’t the types of computers that would be picked by someone who performs the kind of work done in Cinebench, but the benchmark is a good indicator of performance. Here, the Snapdragon X Elite is 26 percent faster in multi-core performance, a significant boost. The M3 again is better with its single-core performance, beating the X Elite by a substantial 32 percent. However, anyone doing this kind of work would be using software that is taking advantage of multi-core processing.

M3 vs. Snapdragon X Elite: GPU performance

If you, as a die-hard Mac fan, are starting to feel a little disappointed by the fact that Qualcomm’s marketing claims are consistent, there’s one place to look at to turn that frown upside down: GPU performance.

In the Geekbench Compute benchmark, the M3 blows past the Snapdragon X Elite, especially when Geekbench Compute is set to test with Metal, Apple’s graphics API that the M3 is optimized for. The M3 boasts a 143 percent improvement over the X Elite. (All of the M-series chips in the Geekbench Compute chart above are tested using Metal.)

But even when testing the M3 using OpenCL (Windows’ framework for graphics), the M3 posts a Geekbench Compute score of 30391, which is 54 percent faster.

M4 vs. Snapdragon X Elite

If pointing out the GPU performance isn’t enough for your debates with Windows devotees, here’s another point you can bring up. The M3 may be the current chip in the MacBook Air, but the future is already here with the M4–it’s already in the iPad Pro, and it will likely make its way to the MacBook Air soon.

Geekbench results are available for the iPad Pro’s M4, and its multi-core performance is basically the same as the Snapdragon X Elite. In single-core performance, the M4 is 31 percent faster. Take that, Qualcomm.

But before you start to do a victory dance, keep in mind that the M4 MacBook Air might not arrive until next spring, according to reports. That’s a point that could be made against you, though you can easily point out that the M4 chip shipped before the Snapdragon X Elite.

In any case, the whole PC-versus-Mac thing is a thing, again, at least from a silicon standpoint. As it’s often been said, competition is a good thing because it pushes innovation, so even if you have no desire to switch to Windows, the “war” will inspire chip innovations that will benefit Mac users.