Inside Apple’s latest M1 Mac Chip: What’s New?
Apple unveils new Mac chip M1, replacing its Intel-powered Mac systems
The M1 features 8 CPU cores — 4 high-performance cores and 4 low-power cores — and up to 8 GPU cores, along with a 16-core AI co-processor, an image processor, media encoding/decoding engines and memory, storage and USB controllers. Similar to Apple’s A14 Bionic SoC, the M1 is made using Taiwan Semiconductor’s (TSM) state-of-the-art 5-nanometer (5nm) manufacturing process node. M1 uses a unified memory architecture that combines high-bandwidth, low-latency memory into a single pool within a custom package. That means all the tech in the SoC may access the same data without copying it between multiple pools of memory, improving performance and efficiency. The GPU inside the M1 has its own eight cores and can run almost 25,000 simultaneous threads. That will enable smooth 4K video playback, complex 3D and more, at 2.6 teraflops of throughput. Plus, it boasts a 16-core Neural engine capable of handling 11 trillion operations per second.
Apple claims that its M1-powered MacBook Air delivers up to 3.5 times more CPU performance and up to 8 times more GPU performance than its Intel-powered predecessor, and with twice the battery life of previous systems. For the new MacBook Pro, the numbers are 2.8x and 5x, and for the new Mac Mini, 3x and 6x.
Apart from that, Apple mentions that M1 has Apple’s latest image signal processor (ISP) for higher quality video with better noise reduction, greater dynamic range, and improved auto white balance. It also has the latest Secure Enclave for best-in-class security and a high-performance storage controller with AES encryption hardware for faster and more secure SSD performance. Its low-power, highly efficient media encode and decode engines helps in delivering great performance with an extended battery life. Besides, M1 also has an Apple-designed Thunderbolt controller with support for USB 4, transfer speeds up to 40Gbps, and compatibility with more peripherals than ever. Though USB and Thunderbolt cannot be found directly in the M1, the inclusion of these technologies is a decisive step for Apple because both interfaces are based on the PCI Express bus, which was previously not found in the chips of the iPhone and iPad.
The graphics part of the M1 can power an external monitor at 60Hz and up to a 6K resolution, such as the Apple Pro Display XDR. According to Apple, this will mainly affect the frame rate of games, but professional applications such as Final Cut Pro X or Logic Pro X should also benefit from this and, for example, be able to calculate 3D effects in videos up to three times faster.
The main problem with M1 is that it has an in-built DRAM (Dynamic RAM), making it impossible for users to upgrade the RAM size. Moreover, it doesn’t support external graphics cards.
The M1 is for now being used to power three new Macs: 13-inch MacBook Air and Pro models, and a Mac Mini desktop. The new MacBook Air and Pro models feature the same starting prices — $999 and $1,299, respectively — as the Intel-powered (INTC) MacBooks that they replace in Apple’s lineup, while the Mac Mini now starts at $699 ($100 less than before). Thanks to M1, the 13-inch MacBook Pro will have wireless web browsing for 17 hours or video playback for 20 hours, that’s 10 hours longer than its predecessor. Although, switch to Apple silicon will take about two years to complete, these three systems prove to be an amazing first step. Meanwhile, Apple continues to offer the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Intel Core i5 or Core i7 CPUs as options.