In a live stream event labeled “One More Thing” in November 2020, Apple announced new versions of the MacBook Air, the MacBook Pro, and the Mac mini using the in-house made M1 ARM-based processor. This announcement signaled Apple’s abandonment of the Intel processors they had been using since 2006. This is not the first time that Apple has switched processors on consumer products since they used PowerPC architecture between 1994 and 2005.
There are two main reasons behind this move. Firstly, ARM chips have proven that they can deliver outstanding performance while consuming much less power than their x86 counterparts. The processors that power the latest iPad Pros are ARM-based, made by Apple, and match the Intel processors that are used by premium laptops, while, at the same time consuming much less electricity and producing almost no heat, which makes them a preferred choice for portable devices.
Secondly, by producing its own processors, Apple can make better products with better performance and better integration between components.
Performance and Battery Life
The M1 chip outperforms most of the processors previously in laptops that it raises the question of whether Intel would keep any existence in the mobile world a few years from now. It offers 3.5x faster CPU performance at just 25% of the power drain. This means a laptop can last much longer on a single charge. It also offers impressive multi-threaded performance which caters to heavy demanding applications.
For lesser demanding applications such as web browsing, the CPU frequency scaling can make the processor consume just a tenth of the power to preserve battery life making it efficient in any type of workload.
The Apple Silicon chip has an 8-core GPU with a performance that exceeds the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti and Radeon RX 560, both of which are low wattage yet capable GPUs with a maximum power draw of 75Watts.
Initial Models of the Apple M1 SoC Details at a Glance
|Shipped Models||MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac Mini with other lineups to gradually switch over|
|Architecture:||In-House Arm-based design|
|CPU Cores:||8-core CPU with excellent frequency scaling and power efficiency|
|Nm Process:||5nm which is a smaller process than AMD (7nm) and Intel (10nm and 14nm) with 16 billion transistors.|
|Graphics:||Integrated 8-core GPU with 2.6 teraflops of throughput|
|Memory:||8GB or 16GB of LPDDR4X-4266 MHz SDRAM depending on the model.|
An obvious concern when switching architectures is software compatibility. In plain terms, an X86 copy of Google Chrome will not run without emulation on an ARM processor. This will cause an initial tricky transition phase with applications that are expected to run natively on M1 Apple PCs. Fortunately, Apple’s own software can already run natively on the new hardware line.
Microsoft also shipped a native M1 Mac copy of Microsoft Office. Popular software such as Adobe Photoshop will run well through an emulation layer albeit with a slight performance loss.
Porting software to run natively should simply be a matter of time since ARM architecture is already very widespread.
If you are curious how your favorite software runs natively and emulated, isapplesiliconready.com is a website that tracks popular software on Apple’s M1 chips.
What this Means for Users and Businesses
Using improved ARM chips in laptops means longer battery life, slimmer designs, and outstanding GPU performance without the need for a dedicated GPU. Laptops will soon have more than 20 hours of battery life and we will be able to play the latest games without any lags.
I am really looking forward to testing the next iteration of the M1 chip which will possibly feature more CPU cores. If progress is kept at the same pace, there is no doubt that laptops will witness a big revolution. This would usher in a new era where laptops are much faster and yet more mobile and portable.
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