Apple Silicon M1: No Intel Inside
Updated: Mar 4
M1 is here. Apple's first chip designed specifically for Mac. Every device with M1 is transformed into a completely different class of product. This isn’t an upgrade. It’s a breakthrough ...
M1 delivers incredible performance, custom technologies, and revolutionary power efficiency. It was designed to work with Apple's advanced desktop operating system, macOS Big Sur.
Until now, a Mac needed multiple chips to deliver all of its features — including the processor, I/O, security, and memory. With M1, these technologies are combined into a single system on a chip (SoC) for maximum efficiency.
Small Chip, Big Leap
Before I get into all power and glory, of Apple's new M series of processors, I want to say a few words about Apple under Tim Cook's leadership ...
This year has been difficult for everyone worldwide. Despite the global ravages of Coronavirus, Apple displayed unprecedented forward momentum. Releasing new iPads, Apple Watch, four new groundbreaking iPhone models, and three brand new Mac devices that tout a powerhouse chipset.
Apple went back to their roots, deconstructed the design of one of their most iconic devices and reclaimed their soul as a PC killer with the pending release of these amazing, new Mac iterations.
While many companies seemed unprepared for the pandemic, it seemed the only beat Apple missed is when their manufacturing facilities buckled under the scourge of Covid-19. This delayed the rollout of iPhone 12 by approximately a month.
While other companies were trying to figure Zoom meetings, and shuttering - Apple seemed to thrive. I can only imagine they had an emergency preparedness plan in place for their worldwide organization. Mr. Cook, led his team to victory with record-breaking sales that will further drive the company. Apple has operationalized its organization, and its architecture. They are in complete control of every bit of their intellectual property, which will skyrocket their future growth.
Apple didn't just adapt to virtual, they flexed in a virtual environment, creating three separate virtual events that showed their chops in visual storytelling. These high production video segments actually allowed the watcher to concentrate on what was being announced without all those annoying Apple Fan Boys whooping and clapping every time 5G was mentioned.
While others were trying to get teams to work together virtually, Apple showed them how to do it.
To understand where we are we need to understand where we came from. You see this isn't just a new design, this is a total transition from one system architecture to another - their own. Apple is bidding adieu to Intel processor and the X-86 architecture with it. Something Steve would do.
This is the third time Apple has moved it's the core internals to another system. This time it's the same system they have been using for years in iPhone's. The A line of chips laid the foundation for the new M series. This is a volcanic eruption in the personal computing industry - it will have lasting repercussions throughout the industry. Both in the consumer and enterprise markets.
At the 2005 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), when then Apple CEO Steve Jobs made the announcement to transition away from the use of PowerPC microprocessors supplied by Freescale (formerly Motorola) and IBM. At that time, the transition marked the second time Apple migrated its personal computer product line from one instruction set architecture to another.
The first was the switch from the Mac's original Motorola 68000 series architecture to the then-new PowerPC platform in 1994. Apple's press release indicated the transition would begin by June 2006, and finish by the end of 2007, but it actually proceeded much more quickly.
The first generation Intel-based Macintoshes were released in January 2006 with Mac OS X 10.4.4 Tiger, and Steve Jobs announced the last models to switch in August 2006, the Mac Pro available immediately, with the Intel Xserve available by October 2006. The Xserve servers were available in December 2006.
Apple released Mac OS X v10.6 "Snow Leopard" on August 28, 2009 as Intel-only, removing support for the PowerPC architecture. It is also the last Mac OS X version that supports PowerPC-based applications, as Mac OS X v10.7 "Lion" dropped support for Rosetta.
Today, Tuesday, November 10, 2020, 15 years following the announcement to transition to Intel processors, Apple announced a transition of the Mac to ARM-based processors developed in-house and using Rosetta 2 and other internal software translation services to smooth the transition.
An entire system. On a single chip.
As you can see in the illustration above, the 8 core Central Processing Unit (CPU), is just one small corner of the M1 System-on-a-chip (SoC). Now remember this is the first iteration of the M series of chipsets. Apple built the iPhone on the A Series of chips that started with the A4, now at the A14 Bionic. This rise to power took place in just a decade.
You should take notice that Apple has introduced a lot of different chips within the last year or so that have the 1 designation on them. This is a totally new era for Apple, with new capabilities that will make last decade's "magic" look like a bad card trick from your weird Uncle Freddy. You see how far the iPhone has progressed in a decade, now add that exponent to laptops & desktops.
Like the A14, the M1 is a self contained system, there is very little outside of this chipset running this new macOS devices. Don't worry I'll cover all tat goodness shortly - but let's dig deeper ... The M1 has an 8-core CPU that's up to 3.5x faster than other chips in it's class.
Apple says the M1 is the first personal computer chip built using cutting-edge 5-nanometer process technology and is packed with an astounding 16 billion transistors, the most Apple has ever put into a chip. It features the world’s fastest CPU core in low-power silicon, the world’s best CPU performance per watt, the world’s fastest integrated graphics in a personal computer, and breakthrough machine learning performance with the Apple Neural Engine.
As a system on a chip (SoC), M1 combines numerous powerful technologies into a single piece of silicon, and features a unified memory architecture for dramatically improved performance and efficiency. Instead of having a CPU in the center of a motherboard surrounded by different chips, it's all in one elegantly performing little package.
Because there is no highway of circuits connect everything together - all parts of the chip can use the same memory pool and don't have to travel to use it. An easy way to think about the M1 is as an all-inclusive resort, everything is there for you. This all-in-one resort allows all of the technologies in the SoC to access the same data without copying it between multiple banks of memory, further improving performance and efficiency.
With its profound increase in performance and efficiency, M1 delivers on the biggest leap ever for Mac. “There has never been a chip like M1, our breakthrough SoC for the Mac. It builds on more than a decade of designing industry-leading chips for iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, and ushers in a whole new era for the Mac,” said Johny Srouji, Apple’s senior VP of Hardware Technologies.
“When it comes to low-power silicon, M1 has the world’s fastest CPU core, the world’s fastest integrated graphics in a personal computer, and the amazing machine learning performance of the Apple Neural Engine. With its unique combination of remarkable performance, powerful features, and incredible efficiency, M1 is by far the best chip we’ve ever created.” Srouji said with pride.
Worlds Fastest Integrated Graphics
So far all we have talked about is the CPU and RAM, but there is a lot more to this little dynamo The Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) in M1 is in a class by itself. It features up to eight powerful cores capable of running nearly 25,000 threads simultaneously. Now thats Hyper-threading!
Apple says the M1's GPU can handle extremely demanding tasks with ease, from smooth playback of multiple 4K video streams to rendering complex 3D scenes. With 2.6 teraflops of throughput, M1 has the world’s fastest integrated graphics in a personal computer. It benefits from years of analysis of Mac applications, including everyday app usage and super-challenging pro workloads.
In the past having integrated graphics usually meant you were taking a hit graphics wise. Pro users sought out machines with discrete graphics cards, so as to provide the image processing power they needed. But that old adage, can now be tossed. The GPU in M1 is the most advanced Apple has ever created, and the world’s fastest integrated graphics in a personal computer.
Learn About Machine Learning
Before we dive into describing what machine learning capabilities the M1 has, let's first define machine learning so you know how it applies to your new Mac and how it benefits you.
According to Wikipedia, Machine Learning (ML) is the study of computer algorithms that improve automatically through use and experience. It is seen as a subset of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
ML algorithms build a model based on sample data, known as "training data", in order to make predictions or decisions without being explicitly programmed to do so. We humans are the ones that train the algorithms, so please conduct yourself accordingly.
ML algorithms are used in a wide variety of applications, such as email filtering, chatbots and computer vision, where it is difficult or infeasible to develop conventional algorithms to perform the needed tasks. Developers leveraging machine learning can take full advantage of the blazing-fast performance of the Apple Neural Engine..
Apple states, the M1 chip brings the Neural Engine to the Mac, greatly accelerating ML tasks. Featuring Apple’s most advanced 16-core architecture capable of 11 trillion operations per second, the Neural Engine in M1 enables up to 15x faster machine learning performance.
In fact, the entire M1 chip is designed to excel at machine learning, with ML accelerators in the CPU and a powerful GPU, so tasks like video analysis, voice recognition, and image processing will have a level of performance never seen before on the Mac. Making your creations beautiful.
The M1 chip is packed with a number of powerful custom technologies. It has the latest iteration of the T2 secure enclave, this used to be a co-processor found on MacBook Pro. However now its integrated into the M1. This latest T2's Secure Enclave will provide best-in-class security.
This will prevent the jailbreak hack that was discovered last month of the existing T2 chipset. Apple has not said how they are going to fix this T2 issue. But I'll certainly take a 16" Apple Silicon MacBook Pro swap out program. I'm not at high risk but swapping this hot piece of aluminum in my lap for a ultra quiet and cool laptop is of great interest to me.
Other innovations include Apple’s latest Image Signal Processor (ISP) for higher quality video with better noise reduction, greater dynamic range, and improved auto white balance. As well as, a high-performance storage controller with AES encryption hardware for faster and more secure SSD performance.The Apple-designed ISP in M1 makes video calls on the Mac sharper and more vivid.
The M1 also features Low-power, highly efficient media encode and decode engines for great performance and extended battery life. And last but certainly now least, an Apple-designed Thunderbolt controller with support for USB 4, transfer speeds up to 40Gbps, and compatibility with more peripherals than ever. This will help with moving these video, and image files around.
macOS Big Sur is optimized for the new M1 SoC. Apple reports with Big Sur and M1, Mac users can run a greater range of apps than ever before. All of Apple’s Mac software is now Universal and runs natively on M1 systems. Existing Mac apps that have not been updated to Universal will run seamlessly with Apple’s Rosetta 2 technology.iPhone and iPad apps can now run directly on the Mac.
I'll say it again, iPhone and iPad apps can now run directly on the Mac!
Big Sur has a number of new features that make it more iPhone like, but providing the power of a desktop. It seems like Apple is redrawing the boundary lines here, well - actually erasing them ...
Think about why you use MacBook or iMac rather than an iPad or iPhone to accomplish certain tasks. Are you restricted by the application, size of the interface, or method of entry? For me I pull out the laptop when it's time to get down to serious business. Sending business emails, writing, building presentations etc. I use the iPad for creation and consumption and use the iPhone for communication. But if you can do TikTok from your laptop, would you? Apple thinks differently.
While it's on my mind, no you can't run existing Mac Apps on your new iPhone. Unless it has followed the new universal coding for apps. So I think it's going to come down to what being able to do anything anywhere. This is going to greatly expand the Apple App Ecosystem, the osmosis of cross-platform alone is huge. The crowd that crowd draws will really turn up the heat on the industry. It almost eliminates the need to have a website, except for PC and other OS users ...
The easiest way to interpret this, in two years Apple will release a full sized Mac Pro powered by a M Series Processor. I'll speculate further and say that chipset will be an M2+ or something similar. Apple keeps a steady cadence and focused on delivering year over year growth. They also don't want users who bought a new Mac Pro early this year butt hurt over buying the Intel cheese grater.
This is all we will see from the M line of Macs for a while, but the transition will follow the standard release schedules through the next two years. Apple will support full backward compatibility for Intel based machines for many years to come. If you can still stand using them after seeing these.
Apple reassuring says that the M1 powers the new MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and Mac mini. They join the rest of the Mac product line to form the strongest Mac lineup ever. This is the beginning of a transition to a new family of chips designed specifically for the Mac. The transition to Apple silicon will take two years to complete. These three systems are an amazing first step.
New Guts, More Glory
Today Apple released three different machines, but all powered by the same M1 series chipset. They are a 13" MacBook Air, a 13" MacBook Pro and a powerful little Mac mini. Lets start with the little guy first. This 7.7" x 7.7" x 1.4" device is a dynamo that fits in the palm of your hand. Connect monitors, mics, keyboard, trackpad, mouse, game controller, headphones, and ethernet.
Want to go wireless? The M1 SoC supports 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 wireless networking, as well as being IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac compatible. There's also Bluetooth 5.0 support. Wired connections include gigabit ethernet, and HDMI output for monitors with integrated speakers.
Or you can really stretch out with two USB-C and two USB-A ports for peripherals and high resolution monitors. Thunderbolt 3 connections support up to 40Gb/s and are capable of simultaneously supporting up to two displays:
One display with up to 6K resolution at 60Hz connected via Thunderbolt, and one display with up to 4K resolution at 60Hz connected via HDMI 2.0. It comes with 8GB of Unified Memory - but can be upgraded to 16GB. The Mac mini can be configured starting at 256GB, scaling all the way up to 2TB of local storage. Use your iPad and Apple Pencil with Sidecar - magic is included.
All this together in one compact unit that weighs 2.6 pounds. Never trust a computer that you can't pick up, Steve Jobs used to say. I still hold this statement near and dear to my heart. But this is a desktop you can disconnect and pop in your backpack, thats running macOS Big Sur on an M1.
You can order Mac mini today, pricing starts at $699, and receive it next week. Apple's shipping!
Power. It's in the Air.
I'm not mad at this, my first MacBook was the 2008 Air, which I'm pleased to say is still working. I sold it to one of my neighbors a couple of months prior to the Covid lockdown, he's still using it ...
But this is a completely different animal than the Intel i5 model I had with 4GB of memory. I remember being on a full screen webcam session on mine and the fan spinning up so loud I had to stop video for a while. No this new Air is just as powerful as the Mac mini, if not more so ....
MacBook air is the thinnest, lightest notebook, completely transformed by the Apple M1 chip. CPU speeds up to 3.5x faster. GPU speeds up to 5x faster. It has Apple's most advanced Neural Engine for up to 9x faster machine learning. The longest battery life ever in a MacBook Air. And a silent, fanless design. This much power has never been this ready to go.
Supercharged by the M1, MacBook Air comes in three colors; Gold, Silver, and Space Gray. It doesn't look much different than the previous version of the Air, I could not see any perceptible differences.
But under the lid things are much different, the new M1 model touts a beautiful 13.3-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit display with IPS technology; 2560-by-1600 native resolution at 227 ppi with support for millions of colors. It displays 400 nits brightness, has a wide color (P3), and True Tone technology. It can be ordered with either a 7 or 8 core GPU - depending on your needs.
Air is perfect for on the go, it has a built-in 49.9‑watt‑hour lithium‑polymer battery. Apple reports up to 15 hours wireless web and up to 18 hours Apple TV app movie playback. It uses a 30W USB-C Power adapter to quickly charge up this all day, beautifully designed battery cover. 😜
Unlike Mac mini, the Air does not have a ton of ports - but it does have a headphone jack, and two Thunderbolt 3 ports that can be used for charging, displays, and other peripherals with the same 40Gb/s transfer speed. It can support one display with up to 6K resolution at 60Hz.
There is Touch ID, but no TouchBar - it does have Apple's latest backlit Magic Keyboard, which is a great improvement over the butterfly keyboard. You don't know how much you miss a backlit keyboard until you don't have one. It has the same wireless specs as the Mac mini above, and has great speakers. It has stereo speakers, with wide sound profile, support for Dolby Atmos, a 3-mic array with directional beamforming. Apple is producing some of the best audio in the industry now.
All in all it looks like just like the MacBook Air has always looked, not much has changed except for the M1 SoC and a big ass battery to power it all day long. And still only weighs 2.8 pounds. It can be configured with 8 or 16 GB of RAM, and from 256GB - 2TB of storage, starting at $999.
All Systems Pro
The M1 version of the MacBook Pro retains is basic outside design, with the internals being severely upgraded. I'm typing this blog on a 2019 16" MacBook Pro, with an Intel Core i9, and a 1TB SSD. I think this new 13" MacBook Pro could probably leave this powerhouse in the dust.
Although this laptop has the same M1 system processor, it comes standard with an 8 core GPU rather than the 7 core GPU found in the new MacBook Air. Otherwise it's pretty much has the same specs as the Air. However it does have a nicer display. The 13.3-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit display with IPS technology has a 2560-by-1600 native resolution at 227 pixels per inch with support for millions of colors. It has 500 nits of brightness as opposed to the 400 on the Air.
The built-in 58.2-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery is said to provide up to 20 hours Apple TV app movie playback, and Up to 17 hours wireless web. Like the Air the Pro sports the same backlit Magic Keyboard. but includes the Touch Bar, which I use a lot on my MacBook Pro. It also has a high dynamic range speaker system, as opposed to the wide stereo system found in the Air.
So you get the idea, the MacBook Pro has just a few subtle niceties that make it a better machine. It comes with all the same wireless components and uses all the same protocols. I would say the feeling of the machine is heightened over the Intel variant of 2019, which I had for a brief stint.
When I had the 2019 model I liked its compact design, but I wanted something with more power and last Christmas bought myself the 16". I don't think users will be disappointed with power found in the M1 MacBook Pro. Based on all the benchmark tests detailed in Apple's official press release it seems more than adequate for almost any job it needs to do.
MacBook Pro with the M1 is available in configurations of 8 - 16GB of the new Unified Memory, none of the M1 Macs exceed this spec. Pro can have from 256GB to 2TB of storage. Starting at $1299. All three new Macs are available to order today, with units being shipped next week.
I read an article today from Anand Tech saying the new M1 is the fastest laptop CPU, world over. While praising the M1 they also criticized Apple's seemingly random comparison points. However in the footnotes of Apple's official press release I found a number of tests and comparisons that indeed place this chip in the number one position, in its first outing - number one with a bullet. 👆🏻
Although they don't actually name the manufacturers they tested against Apple provides enough information to let you know these tests aren't rigged. The Apple M1 press release reads:
First let's dig into the “World’s fastest CPU core in low-power silicon” claim to fame.
Testing conducted by Apple in October 2020 using preproduction 13-inch MacBook Pro systems with Apple M1 chip and 16GB of RAM measuring peak single thread performance of workloads taken from select industry standard benchmarks, commercial applications, and open source applications. Comparison made against the highest-performing CPUs for notebooks, commercially available at the time of testing. Performance tests are conducted using specific computer systems and reflect the approximate performance of MacBook Pro. So they found the best and tested against them and won. They might have been testing it against their own Intel based MacBooks!
Now lets explore Apple's “World’s best CPU performance per watt” statement ...
Apple reports, testing conducted by Apple in October 2020 using preproduction 13-inch MacBook Pro systems with Apple M1 chip and 16GB of RAM. Performance per watt refers to the ratio of peak CPU performance to average power consumed using select industry standard benchmarks. Comparison made against high-performing CPUs for notebooks and desktops, commercially available at the time of testing. Performance tests are conducted using specific computer systems and reflect the approximate performance of MacBook Pro.
There is a difference in wording here. In this statement "high performing", versus "highest-performing" in the previous claim. Apple doesn't have typos in their press releases, it's worded that way for a reason. But it seems to me that they compared the pre-production MacBooks against competitive notebooks. There does not seem to be any statement about testing the Mac mini Vs competitors. I imagine thats due to the fact that other manufacturers don't really have something comparable to it.
Please note that these claims are all based on the 13" MacBook Pro with 16GB RAM, not the Air.
Here's the big one - “World’s fastest integrated graphics in a personal computer”:
Apple's press release again says that testing conducted by Apple in October 2020 using preproduction 13-inch MacBook Pro systems with Apple M1 chip and 16GB of RAM using select industry standard benchmarks. Comparison made against the highest-performing integrated GPUs for notebooks and desktops, commercially available at the time of testing. Integrated GPU is defined as a GPU located on a monolithic silicon die along with a CPU and memory controller, behind a unified memory subsystem. Performance tests are conducted using specific computer systems and reflect the approximate performance of MacBook Pro. Integrated, not discrete GPUs.
So yes it's all true - and to add insult to injury, Apple hilariously brought back the iconic PC guy in a video segment at the end of the event. Essentially Apple is running computers at the same wattage as a smartphone, and it's going to embarrass the hell out of all other PC makers. Intel has lost its crown, and the Intel Inside designation will no longer have the brand power it once did.
But the real outcome of all this is that Apple owns its Macs inside, and out - Software & Hardware. Intel stagnated only showing minor gains in speed, and efficiency. Apple was throttled by Intel's shortcomings. Armed with the knowledge and experience it gained in production of the A series of chips Apple set out on it's own trajectory with these new 5nm M1 chips that have taken the crown.