Inside M1, Apple’s most powerful silicon

It’s officially here. Apple’s little M1 chip is a big deal. First, signalling Apple’s baby steps in its two-year transition to ARM-based Apple Silicon. Second, bringing the biggest leap in performance and efficiency ever for the Mac, built on cutting-edge 5nm process technology and packing 16 billion transistors. And this… is just the beginning.

Apple isn’t new to this silicon game, having been designing blazing chips for the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. This SoC, however, is new to the Mac.

So, what’s inside this fascinating system on a chip?

The clear benefits of a SoC is a greater level of integration between different components—CPU, I/O, memory, security, and more. This translates to less latency and greater bandwidth, hence greater performance and power efficiency.

The 5nm processor packs an 8-core CPU that consists of four high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores. Apple says each of the high-performance cores provides industry-leading performance for single-threaded tasks, while running as efficiently as possible.

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The company, however, has not revealed core clock speeds of the M1 but I’m sure those will surface in benchmarks soon enough.

The high-efficiency cores can be used together for a boost in multithreaded performance.

These four cores deliver similar performance as the current generation, dual-core MacBook Air, at much lower power, in fact, a tenth of the power.

Meanwhile, all eight cores can work together to deliver the world’s best CPU performance per watt.

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Another thing the M1 is good at—graphics. The M1 integrates Apple’s most advanced GPU, an eight-core at that. It can run nearly 25,000 threads simultaneously, with 2.6 teraflops of throughput. This lets you handle complex GPU intensive tasks easily, from smooth playback of 4K video streams, rendering complex 3D scenes, or even playing games.

Apple claims the M1 has the world’s fastest integrated graphics in a personal computer.

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With continued focus in artificial intelligence and machine learning, the M1 brings the Apple Neural Engine to the Mac. The M1 features Apple’s most advanced 16-core architecture, capable of 11 trillion operations per second which enables up to 15x faster machine learning performance.

The entire M1 chip, in fact, is designed to excel at ML, with ML accelerators in the CPU and GPU powering tasks like video analysis, voice recognition, and image processing.  

That aside, the M1 features several other custom technologies including a new image signal processor (ISP); latest Secure Enclave; high-performance storage controller with AES encryption; low-power, high-efficiency media encode and decode engines. Also, an Apple-designed Thunderbolt controller with support for USB 4, with transfer speeds of up to 40Gbps.

The M1 begins its journey in the new MacBook Air, Mac mini, and 13-inch MacBook Pro.

MacOS Big Sur is engineered from the ground up to take advantage of the capabilities and power of the M1 chip. All of Apple’s Mac software is Universal and runs natively on M1 systems.

For existing Mac apps that are not native Universal apps, they will run seamlessly with Apple’ Rosetta 2 technology.

Since the new Macs are powered by the M1, they can also run iPhone and iPad apps directly on the Mac, opening a whole new world of possibilities.

It’s a fascinating time ahead for Mac. The journey has just begun.

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By Vernon

Vernon is the founder and chief editor of A graphic designer by profession, he has a deep love for technology, cars, gadgets, food, and travel. He tweets too much and is also known as a caffeine bacterium ("life's too short for bad coffee"). Bleeds Blue (go Chelsea FC!) and considers BMW, Porsche, Alfa Romeo cars to have in the garage--for true petrolheads, that is.

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