Simply explained: high-efficiency cores vs. high-performance cores in Apple silicon chips

efficiency-performance-cores featured image

In our podcast and in various blog posts that deal with Apple chips such as the M1, M2 Max or M3 Ultra or similar variations, the terms "high-efficiency cores" and "high-performance cores" are used again and again. But what exactly is it all about? I would like to explain that in this post.

Warning: Entry Level Statement

If you have an idea of ​​​​technical terms such as CPUs, GPUs and processors, then the article is certainly not for you. I don't have much knowledge in this area myself and just want to give a very simple explanation for the readers who don't understand the terms in the title.

If you continue reading anyway and get a headache: I warned you! But without fun: If you notice an error, please leave a comment here. I always try to iron out the technical errors in the contributions, if there are any.

m1 cores
On this schematic drawing of the M1 chip you can see the division into efficiency cores and performance cores at the top left - this division exists with all Apple silicon chips and even with the Ax chips of the iPhones and iPads.

Apple Silicon: impressive performance and energy efficiency

The term "Apple Silicon" is used by Apple to describe the homegrown family of ARM-based processors. For several years, Apple has only relied on these chips and has replaced the Intel chips in Mac computers.

These individual Apple silicon chips, in turn, have names like the M1, M2 or M3 and each of these generations has subdivisions into different powerful models such as Pro, Max and Ultra.

After swapping my Intel MacBook Pro for the first M1 MacBook Pro, I realized how much better these Apple silicon chips are in practice. They hardly develop any heat, which is why the fan is never audible. They have a lot of power, but still consume very little energy, which means that the battery lasts what feels like an eternity.

And the reason for these advantages is that Apple uses two types of cores on its chips. High efficiency cores and high performance cores. And what that is exactly is now explained.

This is just a comparison of how much faster the Apple silicon chips are compared to the Mac with an Intel processor - and that's just on Xcode.

high efficiency cores

The efficiency cores (high-efficiency cores) in Apple silicon chips are a type of computing cores that offer lower performance, but have a big plus in energy efficiency. They are used by the system when it needs to do simple, everyday tasks. Here are some of their advantages:

  • Energy Efficiency: These cores in Apple silicon chips deliver good performance at a tenth of the power consumption.
  • Everyday Tasks: They are the most efficient way to do light, everyday tasks like checking email or surfing the web.
  • Battery life: Due to the low power requirement, they help to significantly increase the battery life.
  • Almost noiseless: The Apple silicon chips hardly need any power and therefore get much less warm and the fan in the MacBook Pro models only rarely starts. The MacBook Air models don't even have fans installed. As a result, the Macs (including the other models besides the MacBook) are almost silent.
  • Longer lifetime: Energy efficiency also helps extend the life of the device, as less heat is put on the battery and electronic components.


high performance cores

The high-performance cores in Apple silicon chips are designed for demanding tasks where speed is crucial. They combine single-threading for focused tasks and multi-threading for parallel processing. Here is a short list of their benefits and features:

  • High performance with multi and single threading: These cores in Apple silicon chips offer high performance for single-threaded tasks (single-threading → only one task is processed at a time), but they can also be used together in multi-threaded mode to achieve a huge increase in performance (multithreaded performance → the tasks are distributed among the cores so that the individual task can be processed faster).
  • Fast processing of complex tasks: Creatives can, for example, edit high-resolution photos, cut 8K films, do real-time 3D renderings and compile apps much faster.
Here you can see the M2 Max, which as a system on a chip combines various functions and cores in one component.
Here you can see the M2 Max, which as a system on a chip combines various functions and cores in one component.

Advantages through the interaction

  • integration in one chip: Apple silicon chips are systems on a chip (SoC) that combine numerous powerful technologies in a single chip.
  • High performance on request: Combining the two types of cores allows Macs to deliver high performance when it's needed. Otherwise they work very energy-efficiently with the efficiency cores.
  • Very good CPU performance per watt: Apple chips offer excellent value when calculating CPU performance per watt.

Understood everything?

I hope my explanation makes it clear what a high-efficiency core is and what a high-performance core is. The solution with the two types of cores is excellent for battery life and makes the Macs significantly cheaper than they used to be with the Intel chips.

Do you have any questions about the explanations or additions? Then please leave me a comment.

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In the Sir Apfelot Blog you will find advice, instructions and reviews on Apple products such as the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods, iMac, Mac Pro, Mac Mini and Mac Studio.