Yesterday, Apple opened the doors. The great march of its Macs towards Apple Silicon chips has officially begun and three computer lines are already affected: the MacBook Air, and the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pros and Mac mini.
Still very mysterious – has anyone found a trace of an operating frequency? -, the first ARM chip for Mac now has a name: M1. Apple had a great time yesterday comparing its seemingly astronomical performance to different Intel chips, sometimes clearly identified, sometimes less.
Before reviewing some of the numbers that have made up an impressive avalanche of data, however, it seems important to stress one point. Not only is the M1 the first step, the first Apple SoC for Mac, but also and most importantly, it is an entry-level chip.
Indeed, Apple has only replaced some of the Core i3, i5 or possibly quad-core i7 (from 8e or 10e generation) by its own chip. Thus, the six-core Mac mini remains on display, as do the more powerful tenth generation chips in the 13-inch MacBook Pro.
In a way, and certain details prove it (the maximum amount of RAM supported, for example), this chip which seems so promising and so capable of sweeping away its competitors is only Apple’s smallest effort in the matter. . This will not encourage calm the most impatient …
Now let’s take a look at some of the numbers tossed around yesterday.
14, as in A14
If the M1 is the first SoC for Mac, it is not a UFO. It shares the same technical basis as the A14, the chip that powers the last four iPhones and the new iPad Air. This is one of the strengths of ARM architectures, is that they are “scalable”, they can adapt to different platforms. Apple seems to be a past master in this art, when it declines the basis of its architecture for the A14, the S6 (of the Watch Series 6) and the M1.
5, as in 5 nanometers
The M1 is the first chip for Mac to be engraved in 5 nanometers. Intel chips are in 14 nm, generally for those of the tenth generation. This allows it to benefit from the contribution of the reduction of components, and must certainly weigh in the gains in performance and power consumption announced.
16, like 16 billion transistors
If this is obviously not a record for a processor, it is for an Apple chip. The M1 incorporates 16 billion transistors, where the A14 (still him) embeds 11.8, up from the 8.5 of the A13.
Once again, 5nm etching greatly helps to slip so many elements into a single SoC.
8, like 8 hearts
On the principle of chips that we have seen animate over time the iPhone and iPad, the M1 has a good number of cores. It embeds eight for the CPU part. As with other Apple chip models, the M1 is a variation of ARM’s big.LITTLE. There are thus four high performance cores, which will intervene when power is required – they are the representatives of the big. While there are also four low-power cores – the “LITTLE”, for less resource-intensive tasks, such as surfing the web, for example, or basic office automation.
To take only the case of the MacBook Air, the M1 is given to be 3.5 times faster than the processor of the previous generation, while the graphics part, it is up to five times more powerful.
16, again, as in 16 hearts
In the M1, we find a Neural Engine with 16 cores, as on the A14. It is capable of performing 11 trillion operations per second. As a prospect, that of the A11 could achieve 600 billion.
Since 2017 and the A11, the “Bionic” chips have a Neural Engine, a hardware partition designed to perform and accelerate calculations related to machine learning. Over time, they have become more and more powerful, both to perform more difficult tasks and also to take the pressure off the GPU.
The emergence of such a chip in Macs could clearly be a game-changer in many areas. In photographic or video editing software, facial or scene recognition could make it easier for editors, calibrators, etc. In the area of machine learning, Apple already boasts a speed that is 15 times faster than what was possible on the replaced Intel Macs. This means that the software we know could very soon be enriched with functions related to Machine Learning. When we asked the Pixelmator developer team about the development of its ML Super Resolution feature for the iPad, we were told that this project was started because the A14 allowed it. It is therefore a safe bet that others will follow this path, now that the M1 and its Neural engine are installed in our Macs.
4, as in USB 4
Apple has worked with Intel from the start to push the Thunderbolt standard forward. With the M1, Thunderbolt outlets also support USB 4 standard, new interface for speeds of 40 Gbits / s.
2, like 2 times faster
Apple said the M1 chip comes with an armada of coprocessors with a variety of functions. Among them is a new storage controller that allows twice faster management of data on the SSD.
2, again, as in Apple T2
The chip developed by Apple found in Intel Macs and which is responsible for securing the boot, managing disk encryption or Touch ID suffers from a flaw that cannot be fixed.
The arrival of M1, which incorporates a Secure Enclave, solves the problem, the T2 chip becomes obsolete and the checkm8 flaw, a fear of the past.
15, like 15 hours of battery life
Apple wants to be cautious, as if for fear of disappointing. Nevertheless, the Cupertino giant has announced 15 hours of web surfing autonomy for its new MacBook Air and 17 hours for its MacBook Pro. This obviously remains to be verified, but the progress seems colossal.
Apple claims that its M1 is the processor with the best performance / Watt ratio, it seems that the battery life is there to prove it (and the lack of a fan in the MacBook Air as well).
6, as in Wi-Fi 6
While Intel processors have been able to embed and manage Wi-Fi modules for some time now (at least since the tenth generation Cores, to put it simply), we had to wait for Apple to switch to its own chips so that its Macs finally adopt the most modern wireless network … And, again, we will not bother to notice that Apple did not take advantage of having the upper hand over its SoCs to equip its MacBooks Air and Pro from 4G and 5G. No doubt we will have to wait for home modems or for all ranges to be converted to Apple Silicon.
But, be patient, the transition from Intel processors to ARM SoCs has only just begun, the future is certainly still full of new features, bluffing performances and also disappointments – let’s be honest. It will take time for Apple to get up to speed, refine its vision, possibly redefine its ranges, and not just the Macs, because the borders with the iPad seem doomed to blur even further now. So many questions, so many possibilities … And one certainty, this capital change for Apple is without a doubt one of the most exciting moments in tech for a long time!