Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

This Week's Sponsor

Unite 5 - Turn Web Apps into Supercharged macOS apps

By Jason Snell

Fun with charts: The iPad bests the MacBook

Note: This story has not been updated since 2020.

On this week’s episode of Accidental Tech Podcast, the hosts rolled a bunch of the hot topics of the moment into one – namely, how the iPad Pro compares to laptops and the potential Mac future of Apple’s custom-built processors.

John Siracusa mentioned that he had built a few charts based on the price of various Apple devices as well as their GeekBench 4 processor scores. The stats definitely show some interesting quirks in Apple’s product line-up — most notably that the iPad Pro kills the Macs in terms of the price/performance ratio.

A chart showing mobile Apple devices on overall value per processor speed.

You might say it’s not fair to compare these devices because the iPad Pro is a computer but not a PC. But even if you don’t buy the fact that the iPad Pro is perhaps the best value in terms of processor performance in Apple’s mobile product lineup today, you’ve got to admire the power of that eight-core A12X Bionic processor. The only MacBooks that can beat it right now in overall score are the two fastest 15-inch MacBook Pro models.[^single]

(For those who are concerned that only measuring multi-processor scores is unfair because so many software tasks aren’t multithreaded and have to push a single processor core to the limit—don’t sweat it. The iPad Pro still comes out on top in all the single-core versions of these measurements.)

More starkly, it’s clear from the above chart that Apple’s chip design team is killing it, because all four of the top items on the chart are iPads. Of course a MacBook comes with a keyboard and a trackpad and the iPads don’t! It’s not a perfect comparison. But it’s still interesting, when you start to consider what Apple could do with their own processors inside Mac laptops.

With apologies to FiveThirtyEight, I also whipped up this scatter chart, showing current models, charting their benchmark scores against their prices.

A chart showing trends in processor speed versus price over time.

The real thing to measure in this chart is height above the trend line. And by that measure, the 2018 iPad Pro is way ahead. Meanwhile, the Touch Bar MacBook Pro models all retain a fairly consistent height above the trend line. (And the less said about the 12-inch MacBook, the better.)

You can’t measure the overall value of a product with a price/performance chart. Size and weight matter (for some). Compatible software matters. Screen size matters. There’s a lot that goes into a computer purchase, which is great, because otherwise you could replace me with a spreadsheet and call it a day. But it’s still fun to look at charts and graphs and ponder the ramifications.

If you appreciate articles like this one, support us by becoming a Six Colors subscriber. Subscribers get access to an exclusive podcast, members-only stories, and a special community.

Search Six Colors