Apple M2 vs. Intel: Do Intel’s Fastest Processors Top M2?

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Apple M2 vs. Intel: Do Intel’s Fastest Processors Top M2?

Key Points

  • The Apple M2 and Intel i9-12900K are very different processors in terms of capabilities.
  • The Intel i9-12900K has more RAM, CPU threads, and cores, making it more powerful in terms of raw speed.
  • The Apple M2 has lower thermals, drawing only 15 watts of power compared to the i9-12900K’s 125 watts.
  • The Apple M2 is a fully integrated system, while the i9-12900K requires additional components for a complete build.
  • The M2 is an attractive option in terms of pricing, with a Mac Mini including the M2 available for under $600.

Who is the real winner when it comes down to the Apple M2 vs. Intel? Apple has already come out to say that the M2 won’t trounce the highest-level processors available from the likes of Intel.

This could of course just be pure speculation, however. One thing to understand before diving into the subject is that these processors are very different in terms of capabilities.

At the end of the day, they’re accomplishing the same basic functions. However, the way the Apple Silicon line of products operates is vastly different when compared to a traditional processor.

With that in mind, it is certainly worth a deep exploration of the capabilities of the Apple M2 against the Intel i9-12900K. Now, the M2 isn’t Apple’s top processor, you’d be looking at the M2 Max for that. However, it is certainly worth comparing since you’ll be using these for similar workflows.

Apple M2 vs. Intel: Side-by-Side Comparison

Apple M2Intel i9-12900K
Processor TypeDesktop and LaptopDesktop
Integrated GraphicsYesYes
Core Count816
Thermal Draw15 watts125 watts
Semiconductor Size5 nm10 nm
Socket TypeNot applicableLGA 1700
Clock speedFour cores at 3.2 GHz and four cores at 2 GHzEight cores at 3.2 GHz and eight cores at 2.4 GHz
CPU Threads824
Maximum Clock Speed3.2 GHz5.2 GHz
L2 Cache16MB14MB

The Intel i9-12900K makes quite an impressive showing when compared to the Apple M2. However, raw specs are rarely indicative of how a user might determine what is best for their needs.

Apple M2 vs. Intel: What’s the Difference?

While the Intel i9-12900K certainly looks more impressive on paper, there are some distinctions that need to be made. Apple’s M2 uses unified memory and storage, meaning it has great throughput. In terms of synthetic benchmarks and practical use, this can make quite a difference.


The Intel i9-12900K simply has more of everything. You can slot in more RAM, and it has more CPU threads and more cores for defining its overall performance. Since it can take advantage of up to 128GB of RAM, you’re in luck in terms of just raw speed.

The Apple M2 is decidedly less impressive when it comes to raw stats and crushing benchmarks. Typical benchmarks like Passmark have the M2 left in the dust by the i9. Scores for the i9 in the general Passmark test come in at 41,591 points compared to the M2’s 15,363.

Single-core performance is far more even, however, with the M2 scoring 4,006 points compared to the Intel i9’s 4,206.

M2 Excellence at a Low Price
Apple 2023 Mac Mini M2 Chip
  • Comes with multiple configurations for RAM and onboard storage.
  • 8 core CPU can handle just about everything you throw at it.
  • Great for general web browsing, video editing, image creation, and other tasks.
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The M2 line isn’t known as a gaming powerhouse, although that could very easily change with the right implementation by Apple. The Intel i9 can take full advantage of additional GPUs, however, so it handily beats Apple when it comes to gaming.

When it comes down to thermals, however, the Apple M2 takes the prize and runs with it. The M2 draws a paltry 15 watts of power, meaning thermal output never gets excessive. Intel’s i9-12900K, on the other hand, draws 125 watts of power from the wall.

When you start factoring in all your other components, you’ll need quite a beefy power supply to turn it into a high-powered rig.

Additional Components

When you purchase an Apple M2 device, it is a fully integrated system. What this means, regardless of being a desktop or laptop, is that you have a fully enclosed system. It will have RAM and storage provided.

With the Intel i9, it is only a CPU. You’ll still need things like a power supply, motherboard, RAM, SSDs, and other vital components. The i9-12900K is a desktop-only processor. As such, you’ll need a case and external displays.

Best for Complex Applications
Intel Core i9-12900K Desktop Processor
  • Improved performance compared to the previous generation.
  • Plenty of L2 and L3 cache for processing tasks quickly.
  • 24 CPU threads to handle parallel processing for intensive tasks like AI modeling.
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Now, for some, this isn’t a huge deal. After all, part of the fun of desktop PCs is just building them to your exact specifications. If you’re a casual user and just need a computer that works right away, an M2 laptop might be a more ideal choice.

Availability and Pricing

You cannot purchase a separate M2 processor from Apple to do your own custom build. You’ll be stuck with whatever hardware Apple sells to get access to the M2.

The i9-12900K can be purchased from retailers like NewEgg, Amazon, and Best Buy quite readily. This is great for users looking to perform their own builds. However, if you’re a business, casual user, or school, then this might not be a great fit.

Motherboards and other compatible components for the i9-12900K are readily available, as it is one of the latest releases from Intel.

Also of note is the pricing. You can get into an Apple M2 with the purchase of a Mac Mini. These are regularly found for under $600 and come with everything you need aside from a keyboard, mouse, and monitor.

Compared to the i9-12900K, which retails at around $400 for just the processor, the M2 is an attractive option.

Builds vs. Pre-Built

You’ll find some pre-built computers running the i9-12900K, but the more likely solution is just to build one yourself. Now, building your own PC certainly has its advantages. If you aren’t tech-savvy, it might be a bit of an undertaking.

All Apple M2 products come only as pre-built options, as previously discussed. Pricing options can vary wildly for the Apple M2, but you typically get a fairly flexible computer out of the box even at the lowest options.

Premium M2 Laptop
Apple 2022 MacBook Pro Laptop with M2
  • Handle heavy workloads on the go.
  • Up to 20 hours of battery life on a single charge.
  • Run all your favorite Mac applications on the go.
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The Intel i9-12900K doesn’t really have a lower option, you’ll be building a machine around it to take advantage of its capabilities. As such, how much RAM you deem necessary or storage is going to be fully up to what your budget allows for when building a computer.

There are numerous debates surrounding custom builds and pre-built computers. Effectively it’ll come down to what you need and what you’ll be willing to compromise upon.

Apple M2 vs. Intel: 6 Must-Know Facts

  1. The Apple M2 has unified memory and storage.
  2. The Apple M2 is only available in Apple products.
  3. The Apple M2 is actually based on an iPhone processor.
  4. The Intel i9-12900K is one of the strongest consumer processors available.
  5. The Intel i9-12900K can support up to 128GB of DDR5 RAM.
  6. The Intel i9-12900K is only available for desktop PCs.

Apple M2 vs. Intel: Which One Is Better? Which Should You Choose?

It is always exceptionally tough to decide which processor is a real winner. If you’re after something with low thermals, shocking performance, and is part of the Apple ecosystem, then a computer using the M2 might be right up your alley.

If you’re after a serious processor that can handle gaming, machine learning work, and anything else you throw at it, the Intel i9-12900K is a great choice. It will be a noisy and hot PC that it goes into, but will be more than adequate at handling most tasks you throw its way.

The M2 is a capable and powerful processor, as many M1 owners can attest. If you’re wanting to stick with Windows or Linux, however, it might not be the best option. Really it’ll come down to what operating system you prefer on top of the workloads you’re expecting to perform.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can the M2 play games?

If they’re compatible with Apple hardware, they can certainly play games. There are some tricks and work arounds to getting Windows-only games to run on newer Macs, but it isn’t for the faint of heart.

Is the M2 good for programming?

Macs have been the weapon of choice for programmers for a number of years. If you’re developing in Xcode, Swift, or just about any other programming language, the M2 is a great choice.

Is the i9-12900K good for AI work?

If you have a CUDA-compatible GPU, it’ll make short work of most hobbyist AI projects. However, if you’re looking at doing things for a business, enterprise hardware might be a better option.

Is the i9-12900K good for gaming?

It will make short work of any game you through at it with the right GPU behind it.

Can you use the M2 for AI work?

You certainly could, but it doesn’t excel at that task. AI is very GPU driven, and while the M2’s integrated graphics card is solid it doesn’t have the CUDA cores to handle the parallel processing.

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