Apple’s new ARM-based processor, which the company likes to call ‘M1’ has been a hot topic for now as Apple breaks the long time jinx with Intel for its Macbooks and Mac minis. The newer chipset is said to be the fastest processor you can get on a Notebook and offers performance at just a quarter of power consumption as compared to other laptop processors. It also offers 15x better performance in Machine Learning when put against the competition. So how exactly did Apple manage to pack in so much performance in a tiny space? Is there anything that the company is hiding from us? Let’s take a deep dive into Apple’s new M1 SoC and find out!
Apple M1 – The Ant-Man of Processors
First things first, the new Apple M1 is not be confused with Apple’s line of M-series motion co-processors, those are completely different. The M1 chipset present on the newer Macbooks is based on a set of eight ARM-based cores for the CPU along with additional eight cores integrated within the chip as the GPU. We are not sure which exact cores has Apple used here, and that’s a question which someone like Louis Rossmann will be able to answer in the near future. The entire chipset is fabricated on a 5nm process with over 16 billion transistors filled in.
The size of the actual chip is expected to be around 120mm² as stated by AnandTech from their calculations based on the number of transistors and the fabrication process of the Apple M1 chipset. It contains 12MB of L2 cache giving it a 3.5x times performance boost overall. Apple not just calls this an upgrade but says it’s a breakthrough instead in this industry. The eight cores of the CPU work in a 4+4 configuration. There are four performance-based cores along with 4 power-efficient cores, the latter is called e-cores by Apple. The performance cores can handle all heavy tasks like video rendering with hyperthreading technology while the e-cores handle less-demanding tasks at the same time. Apple claims an overall 2x faster performance for the CPU in contrast to a PC processor.
The M1 chipset has an overall power rating of just 10W, which is just 25% of power consumption when you compare it to other laptop processors in the market. The smaller 5nm architecture and Apple’s Engineering has let the company to opt for a fanless design in all of its newer devices, the Macbook Air, Macbook Pro, and the Mac mini. The M1 delivers 3x higher performance per watt which can match the peak performance of a PC chip at just a quarter of power consumption.
The GPU consists of eight cores and is embedded in the physical chip. The GPU unit is capable of handling 25,000 threads at the same time offering a 2x faster performance when assessed with its counterparts. It can match the peak performance of an equivalent PC while consuming just one-third of the power. Apple says that the M1 has the most powerful integrated graphics ever that was featured on any personal computer, now those are some really bold claims!
If you just thought that this was all that Apple’s new M1 chipset had to offer, then wait. It also promises improved performance in machine learning activities with its 16-core Neural Engine, which can handle 16 trillion operations per second. All applications and services that are capable of ML-powered features can utilize this Neural Engine to its core offering up to 15x better ML performance as compared to any laptop processor.
The M1 chipset also supports Thunderbolt and USB 4 with transfer speeds of up to 40Gbps. For security, it has the latest Secure Enclave and storage controller with AES encryption hardware. The M1 has another cool feature up its sleeve with its ‘instant wake up from sleep’ functionality. Macs already had a short wake-up time, but this new feature takes it a step ahead. The new chip can also drive iOS apps on your Macbook with the upcoming macOS Big Sur update.
With its 5nm fabrication process, the Apple M1 is said to be the most power-efficient processor that can offer a battery life of up to 20 hours of video playback and over 18 hours of web browsing. The macOS Big Sur will have a key role in battery life and other performance aspects and Apple has raised our expectations by a good margin with this move.
As being a first-gen product, or you can call this a ‘Typical Apple Move’, the new M1 chipset has its own set of drawbacks. The major one that we found was RAM. As the new M1 processor uses in-built DRAM (Dynamic RAM) it makes it practically impossible for a user to upgrade the RAM in the future. You could actually solder a new piece of RAM in your older Macbooks, but not anymore. The integrated RAM does offer faster performance, but the lack of upgrade functionality can be a bummer for some.
Another major flaw is the lack of support for external graphics. The new ARM-based Apple M1 chipset has an architecture that does NOT support external graphics. This means that even after the presence of Thunderbolt ports on all new Macbooks, you cannot attach an external GPU for added performance.
Apple M1 – Apple’s POV
The Apple M1 is surely a step towards the future, as we know how good Apple optimizes its Operating Systems with its in-house developed chipsets as we have seen on the A-series of processors used on iPhones and iPads. This does let Apple offer superior performance to end-users, but it also makes repairs and replacements much harder, and almost out of reach for the normal audience. Whether or not the Apple M1 chipset delivers on the claims made by Apple, it’s a move that we have anticipated from Apple for a while. This can be a big statement to Intel, AMD, and Nvidia as this move by Apple will surely have an impact on the three mentioned. The actual results are something that we will see only after practically using it, once the devices are shipped to users.