On November 10, 2020, during a regular event, Apple presented a new chip of its own production for Mac computers. It was named M1. According to Apple, the new processor can claim to be the fastest processor installed in laptops. And although such loud statements should be treated with a certain skepticism, it should be admitted that comparing the development trajectories of Apple’s A-series processors and solutions from Intel forms a clear picture: Apple has long been trying to catch up with the leader in the production of chips for PCs. And now, it seems, it turned out to be done.
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One of the key graphs of the M1 presentation was comparing the performance of Apple’s solution per unit of power relative to other computers. Comparison of computational solutions is an ambiguous thing. Apple has been criticized for its methodology. Comparison by random performance points is ambiguous, but the designated point for 10 W, in which Apple claims a performance advantage of 2 times compared to traditional processors, makes some sense. After all, this is the nominal TDP (thermal design power) of the chips used in the Intel-based MacBook Air.
Again, it is precisely because of the energy efficiency characteristics that Apple has been able to achieve in the mobile segment that the M1 promises to show such a big gain. The picture definitely matches the available data for the A14 processor. In other words, you can be sure that the pretty curves Apple drew to compare the performance of the M1 and Intel chips are accurate over the entire range shown. And the selected extreme points best show the superiority of one solution over another.
Apple’s claims about performance and energy efficiency lack precise context as it is difficult to know what to compare with what and under what conditions. There are really a lot of variables, but details are still frankly lacking. But these are all minor quibbles that confirm the superiority of even the less powerful Apple A14 over Intel’s PC chips in a number of tests.
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Apple mobile performance versus AMD and Intel processors
The performance data for the A14 is truly amazing. If it were not clear what kind of solution we are talking about, it might seem that we are talking about some new processor from AMD or Intel. And the fact that the A14 is currently competing with the best high-performance solutions in the x86 architecture market is an astounding achievement. Even in the famous SPECfp test, where workloads designed to work with a large amount of memory prevail, A14 (gray in the graph) not only keeps up, but in most cases outperforms Intel processors (blue in the graph). AMD (orange in the graphics) was only able to save face thanks to the recently released Zen3 architecture.
On the general charts, the SPEC2006 A14 shows absolutely fantastic results, leading in absolute performance and behind only the recent AMD Ryzen 5000 series.
The fact that Apple can achieve this with a total power consumption of 5W for devices with integrated controllers, relative to the power ratings of 21W (1185G7) and 49W (5950X) without controllers, makes the Cupertino-based company dominant.
While some have criticized the GeekBench benchmark as a means of comparing mobile versus PC performance, it makes little sense. The only actual difference between the SPEC and GB5 workloads is that the latter has fewer benchmarks that stress memory. In other words, GeekBench is more suitable for testing the processor itself, while SPEC is better at evaluating the processor and memory bundle.
And the fact that Apple handles both workloads well is indicative of a very well balanced microarchitecture. Obviously, Apple Silicon will be able to handle desktop workloads and deliver the required performance without too much trouble. You can believe Apple’s claims of superiority over Intel solutions even without regard to the release of the special M1 processor for Mac.
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Choosing a development strategy
These are critical times for the industry today as the Apple A14 clearly has the potential to perform better than Intel’s offerings. This trajectory for Apple’s solutions has evolved steadily over the years. Over the past 5 years, Intel has improved single-threaded performance by about 28%, while Apple was able to deliver a 198% improvement, or nearly 3 times. This is how the current chip is faster than the 2015 Apple A9. Staying right on track and flawlessly executing its decisions are what made Apple Silicon a reality. Anyone looking at the superiority graph will realize that Apple simply had no choice but to ditch Intel and the x86 architecture in favor of a different microarchitecture and its own solution. Maintaining the previous course would mean stagnation and deterioration of product capabilities. The move is a big risk for Apple, but there is clearly room for growth.
We’ve already seen that the A14 performs excellently and beats Intel’s solutions. And the new M1 chip should be even better. Apple claims the M1 is the world’s fastest processor. Taking into account the lag of the A14 only with the latest AMD Zen 3 chips and the operation of the Firestorm cores in the M1 at an increased frequency, 50% increased L2 cache, this statement can be believed.
Introducing yet another part of the hardware development process within the company will give Apple even more room to optimize its computers. No wonder the famous scientist Alan Kay said that a company that takes its software seriously should create its own hardware for it. You can add this phrase like this: a company that is serious about hardware and software should create its own chips.
And the first Macs with an M1 processor were the 13-inch fanless MacBook Air, the 13-inch MacBook Pro and, unexpectedly, the new Mac mini.
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Apple Silicon M1 Chip
In the summer of 2020, at WWDC, Apple announced its plans to ditch Intel’s Mac lineup. But the cooperation has been going on since 2006! Steve Jobs and Paul Otellini (CEO of Intel) then jointly announced the deal between Apple and Intel.
The transition to Apple Silicon will be similar to the situation with the iPhone and iPad, which use the company’s own processors labeled A. We can expect improved optimization of both the operating system and programs on the Mac – the manufacturer has received more control over the compatibility of hardware and software.
Using Apple Silicon on the Mac means that it will theoretically be able to run iPhone and iPad apps there. And although the reaction of the developers is still unclear, we should expect the appearance of proven mobile hits in the Mac App Store. Here’s what new Macs will be able to handle:
- IPhone and iPad apps on Mac installed via the Mac App Store
- The Rosetta 2 emulator will allow you to run applications designed for Intel Mac computers on Apple Silicon. Apple claims that sometimes apps will work better with Rosetta and M1 than Intel.
- Generic Apps are apps built 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 the “One More Thing” event at Apple Park, it announced the first chip designed specifically for the Mac.
It is built using 5nm technology and has 16 billion transistors. Apple says the M1 was designed for Mac systems where small size and energy efficiency are critical.
Plus, the M1 delivers industry-leading performance per watt. That’s why the first MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models with Apple Silicon will be able to offer noticeable battery life improvements over their Intel-based predecessors.
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Central processing unit M1
At the heart of the M1 chip is an 8-core processor with four high-performance cores and four high-performance cores. Each of the high-performance cores provides industry-leading single-threaded performance, and Apple claims they are “the fastest low-power processor cores.”
Interestingly, Apple claims that the four high-efficiency cores deliver “outstanding performance at one-tenth of its original capacity.” In fact, the high-efficiency cores themselves are so fast that they provide similar performance to the dual-core Intel MacBook Air, but the system is much more power efficient.
According to Apple, eight cores can work together to deliver “incredible processing power for the most demanding tasks and deliver the world’s best processor performance per watt.” And according to preliminary data from experts, the M1 chip will really live up to expectations.
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But the M1 doesn’t stop there: it also features an 8-core GPU that can handle 25,000 simultaneous threads. According to Apple, this means that the M1 can handle “extremely difficult tasks” with ease. The manufacturer said the M1 has “the world’s fastest integrated graphics in a personal computer” with 2.6 teraflops of bandwidth.
But what will all this give users in reality? More information will follow with the release of the first Mac M1 computers. In theory, you can easily play Apple Arcade, edit videos, connect an external 6K display, and more.
Both the new MacBook Pro and Mac mini are available exclusively with an 8-core GPU. The new MacBook Air will come with a 7-core or 8-core GPU option.
Continuing the conversation about the performance of the M1 processor, one cannot fail to mention the impressive Geekbench test results. The M1-powered MacBook Air outperforms Apple’s top Intel-based computers, including the 16-inch MacBook Pro:
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Neural processor M1
The M1 chip will also bring Apple’s industry-leading neural processor into this segment for the first time. The M1 Neural Engine has 16 cores that can perform 11 trillion operations per second. Apple has been using neural processing units in iPhones and iPads since the introduction of the A11 processor in 2017.
What performance improvements can you expect from a neural processor? Think of it as something designed specifically for machine learning tasks. This includes things like video analysis, voice recognition, artificial intelligence, and more.
Many modern applications increasingly rely on machine learning for day-to-day tasks, so the neural processor in the M1 chip will play a very important role. It works in tandem with the main processor and graphics cores to enhance the capabilities of the Apple Silicon Mac.
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Unified memory and SSD performance
Apple’s new M1 chip also includes a new unified memory architecture:
The M1 has a unified memory architecture that combines high and low bandwidth memory into a single pool in a dedicated package. This allows all modules on the chip to access the same data without copying it across multiple memory pools. This approach further improves the performance and efficiency of the M1 chip.
As for SSDs, Apple has added a new high-performance storage controller with AES encryption hardware to enhance security and improve performance. In fact, Apple says the new M1-based MacBook Air will get twice the SSD performance.
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Secure Enclave and Image Processor (ISP)
As expected, the M1 received an Apple Secure Enclave to handle Touch ID authentication and other security tasks. However, this is not the first time Apple has introduced the Secure Enclave to a Mac. In previous Macs, Apple included the Secure Enclave in a T1 or T2 chip, but the technology will now be integrated directly into the M1.
Apple also says that the M1 chip features the latest image processing technology for higher video quality and improved noise reduction, as well as improved white balance and greater dynamic range. This is what gives Apple reason to claim that the new MacBook Air and MacBook Pro have improved their webcams despite retaining their previous 720p resolution.
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Apple M1 limitations
Apple’s new M1 chip has some limitations. The ideal solution still did not work out, but you need to understand that this is the first chip in history developed by Apple for the Mac.
The first Macs to feature the M1 chip were the MacBook Air, Mac mini, and the 13-inch MacBook Pro. You will notice that all three models have two USB-C ports that support USB 4 and Thunderbolt. Probably, it is the limitation of the M1 controller that does not allow placing more than two such ports.
Secondly, you will notice that the Mac M1 has a maximum of 16GB of RAM, while the Mac with Intel can have much more. The same goes for SSD storage, where the Mac M1 is limited to 2TB, but Macs with Intel can be 4TB or more. Again, this is probably where the hardware limitations of the M1 chip come into play.
Information has emerged that new Macs will not support external GPUs. You won’t be able to improve the performance of your computer by connecting an eGPU over Thunderbolt.
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The new M1 processor is specially designed for low-power machines where energy efficiency is especially important. The autonomy of the new MacBook Air has grown from 9-11 hours in various scenarios to 15-18, and the MacBook Pro will now work 17-20 hours instead of the previous 7-10!
You can look a little ahead and realize that Apple still has a lot to do to bring its processors to the Mac. Based on the M1 chip, you can expect powerful and versatile solutions for the rest of the Mac line.