If you’re shopping for a new Mac today and are confused by Apple’s M1 chip option in the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac mini, read all of the details you need to know.
Apple Silicon M1 Chip
Apple first detailed its plans to convert Intel’s Mac product range at WWDC. The Mac has been using Intel processors since 2006, but the transition to Apple Silicon means the Mac will use Apple’s own processors. This is similar to the iPhone and iPad that Apple uses its A-series processors on.
If Apple controls the silicon in a Mac, it can offer significantly better software optimization. For Mac, this means that macOS 11 Big Sur is specially optimized for the M1 processor. By creating the silicon in-house, Apple has much more control over how well macOS and a Mac work together. Even without touching the technical specifications of the new M1 chip, the improved optimization in macOS should lead to dramatic improvements in performance and reliability.The use of Apple Silicon on the Mac also means that the Mac can now run iPhone and iPad applications. While developers can opt-out, it does mean that this is the first time you can find iPhone and iPad applications on the Mac App Store.
- iPhone and iPad apps on Mac through the Mac App Store
- Rosetta 2 translation allows you to run apps for Intel Macs on Apple Silicon. Sometimes apps in Rosetta perform better with M1 than Intel, Apple says.
- Universal apps are apps that have been developed for Apple Silicon and Intel processors and can be downloaded from the Mac App Store or the Internet.
When Apple announced the new M1 processor during a special “One more thing” event from Apple Park, Apple pointed out that it was the “first chip designed specifically for the Mac”. It was built using a 5 nanometer with 16 billion transistors and, according to Apple, “was designed for Mac systems where small size and energy efficiency are critical”.
Therefore, the M1 offers industry-leading performance per watt. Because of this, the first Apple Silicon MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models can significantly improve battery life compared to their Intel predecessors.
Die Apple M1 CPU
The heart of the M1 chip is an 8-core CPU with four high-performance cores and four high-performance cores. The high-performance cores each offer industry-leading performance for single-threaded tasks, and Apple says they are “the world’s fastest CPU cores in silicon with low power consumption.”
Interestingly, the four highly efficient cores deliver “excellent performance at a tenth of the performance” according to Apple. In fact, the high-efficiency cores themselves are powerful enough to offer similar performance to the dual-core Intel MacBook Air while being much more efficient.
Overall, according to Apple, the eight cores work together to “provide incredible computing power for the most demanding tasks and deliver the world’s best CPU performance per watt”. Early signs from experts suggest that the M1 chip lives up to the hype.
But the M1 doesn’t stop there: it also has an 8-core GPU that can run 25,000 threads simultaneously. According to Apple, this means that the M1 “can handle extremely demanding tasks without any problems”. According to Apple’s data, the M1 has the “world’s fastest integrated graphics in a personal computer” with a throughput of 2.6 teraflops.
What does it all mean for real use? As soon as the first M1 Macs become available, we will learn more about them. In theory, however, it means you can easily play Apple Arcade, edit videos, power a 6K external display, and much more.
The new MacBook Pro and Mac mini are both exclusively available with the 8-core GPU. The new MacBook Air can be equipped with a 7-core version or an 8-core version of the GPU. You can find more information about the restriction here:
The M1 chip brings Apple’s industry-leading neural engine to the Mac for the first time. The M1 Neural Engine has a 16-core design that can perform 11 trillion operations per second. Apple has been using the Neural Engine for the iPhone and iPad since the introduction of the A11 processor in 2017.
What improvements can you expect with the Neural Engine? Think of the Neural Engine as something specifically designed for machine learning tasks. This includes things like video analysis, speech recognition, artificial intelligence and a lot more.
Many modern applications increasingly rely on machine learning for everyday tasks, so the neural engine in the M1 chip will play a very important role. It works in conjunction with the CPU and GPU to provide power to your Apple Silicon Mac.
Consistent storage and SSD performance
The new Apple M1 chip also contains a new unified memory architecture:
M1 also has a unified storage architecture that pools high bandwidth, low latency storage into a single pool in a custom package. This allows all technologies in the SoC to access the same data without copying it between multiple storage pools, further improving performance and efficiency.
For SSD storage, Apple has integrated a new high-performance storage controller with AES encryption hardware for improved security and faster performance. According to Apple, the new MacBook Air with M1 drive offers SSD performance up to 2 times faster.
Secure enclave and ISP
As expected, the M1 also has Apple’s Secure Enclave, for example to handle Touch ID authentication and other security tasks. However, this isn’t the first time Apple has brought the Secure Enclave to the Mac. In previous Macs, Apple built the Secure Enclave into the T1 or T2 chip, but now it can be built directly into the M1.
According to Apple, the M1 chip offers the latest image signal processor for higher video quality with better noise reduction as well as improved white balance and a wider dynamic range. This is how Apple claims that the new MacBook Air and MacBook Pro have better webcam quality despite keeping the same 720p camera.
Apple M1 restrictions
The new Apple M1 chip is not without its limitations, which is to be expected as this is the first chip developed by Apple for the Mac.
The first Macs to run on the M1 chip are the MacBook Air, Mac mini, and 13-inch MacBook Pro. You’ll find that all three devices have two USB-C ports that support USB 4 and Thunderbolt. It is likely a limitation of the M1 controller that it only supports two ports.
Second, you’ll find that the M1 Macs have a maximum of 16GB of RAM, while Intel Macs can work significantly higher. The same goes for SSD storage, where M1 Macs are limited to 2TB but Intel Macs can go to 4TB and even beyond. Again, these are likely limitations of the M1 chip.
A family of chips
After all, Apple has said that the M1 chip is just the beginning of a “new family of chips designed specifically for the Mac”. Here, too, the new M1 processor was specially developed for machines with lower performance, where efficiency is particularly important.
Looking ahead, there’s a lot more to do with Apple’s silicon transition for the Mac. Apple will build on the M1 chip with more powerful and versatile processors for the rest of the Mac lineup.
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