HomeBusinessApple’s New MacBook Pro Chips Flex the Power of Custom Silicon

Apple’s New MacBook Pro Chips Flex the Power of Custom Silicon

The M1 Pro and M1 Max chips feature several upgrades and changes compared with Apple’s first custom laptop chip, the M1, announced in November 2020. The Pro has 33.7 billion transistors, more than twice as many as the M1, while the M1 Max has 57 billion transistors. Both new chips have 10 central processing units (CPUs), which Apple says results in a 70 percent performance boost compared with the M1.

Using shared memory, the new chips integrate the CPU cores, which perform general-purpose programming instructions, with graphics-processing cores that render imagery, thus removing a bottleneck that apps usually face when working between the two.

This kind of system-on-a-chip architecture is common in smartphones but is not common in laptops or desktops. Because Apple controls both the chip and the operating system, it can support more memory and faster transfers, says Dan Hutcheson, CEO of VLSI Research, who follows the chip industry.

“This is supercomputer-levels of bandwidth,” Hutcheon says. “It is a pretty revolutionary move from Apple.”

The 16-inch MacBook “is geared towards more creative productivity, video editing, sound mixing, animation graphics, and so forth,” says Wayne Lam, senior director for research at CCS Insights.

But not every feature Apple adds to its computers is a success. “Whatever happened to the Touchbar?” Lam asks, referring to a feature conspicuously absent from the new MacBook Pros . “It’s one of these evolutionary dead ends that Apple creates every now and then.”

​The M1 Pro and Max are, of course, more bad news for Intel, which is trying to stage a comeback after years of missteps. Speaking to Axios on HBO, Pat Gelsinger, Intel’s CEO, said he would aim to put the company’s chips back in Apple’s products. Intel’s forthcoming 12th-generation CPU, codenamed Alder Lake, will feature more integrated components following a similar design logic to the M1 Pro and Max.

“Apple decided they could do a better chip themselves than we could, and they did a pretty good job,” Gelsinger said. “What I have to do is make a better chip than they could do themselves. I would hope to win back this piece of their business.”

Other laptop makers may follow Apple’s lead in embracing custom chips based on ARM. In March, Qualcomm completed the acquisition of Nuvia, a startup specializing in ARM-based chips for laptops. It’s telling that the three founders of Nuvia all previously worked on silicon at Apple.

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