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Apple M1 Chip: Everything You Need to Know

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Apple in November released the first Macs with an Arm-based M1 chip, debuting new 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, and Mac mini models. The M1 chip has received rave reviews for its incredible performance and efficiency, and it is the culmination of more than a decade of Apple's work on chips created for the iPhone and the iPad.


This guide walks through everything that you need to know about the M1 chip and how it's different from the Intel chips that came before it.

Apple's M1 Chip Explained

The M1 is the first Apple-designed System on a Chip (SoC) that's been developed for use in Macs. It marks Apple's transition away from the Intel chips that the Cupertino company has been using in Macs since 2006.


As a "System on a Chip," the M1 integrates several different components, including the CPU, GPU, unified memory architecture (RAM), Neural Engine, Secure Enclave, SSD controller, image signal processor, encode/decode engines, Thunderbolt controller with USB 4 support, and more, all of which power the different features in the Mac.

Prior to now, Macs have used multiple chips for CPU, I/O, and security, but Apple's effort to integrate these chips is the reason why the M1 is so much faster and more efficient than prior Intel chips. The unified memory architecture that Apple has included is also a major factor because all of the technologies in the M1 are able to access the same data without having to swap between multiple pools of memory.


Built into the M1 chip, the unified memory architecture lets the CPU, GPU, and other processor components don't need to copy data between one another, and are able to access the same data pool. This brings notable speed and efficiency improvements to the M1. This memory architecture means that the RAM is not user upgradeable, which isn't too much of a surprise because few Macs have user accessible RAM. M1 Macs max out at 16GB RAM, but even the base 8GB is enough for everyday tasks.

There are 16 billion transistors on the M1, which is the most Apple has ever put into a chip for the fastest CPU core available in low-power silicon and unparalleled CPU performance per watt. Apple's chip design has allowed it to create Macs that are faster and more power-efficient than was possible with Intel-designed chips, and further enhancements are available through the new tighter integration of an Apple-designed chip paired with Apple-designed software.

What's Different About the M1

Unlike Intel chips built on the x86 architecture, the Apple Silicon M1 uses an Arm-based architecture much like the A-series chips that Apple has been designing for iPhones and iPads for years now.


The M1 chip is the most powerful chip that Apple has created to date, and it is similar to the A14 chip in the latest iPhone and iPad Air models, built on a 5-nanometer process by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC). TSMC builds all of Apple's chips and has done so for many years.

Macs With M1 Chip

Apple has released the 2020 MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and Mac mini with M1 chips, replacing the low-end machines in those lineups. The M1 MacBook Air is now the only MacBook Air that Apple sells, but there are still Intel Mac mini and MacBook Pro models available.


It is not worth purchasing an Intel Mac mini or 13-inch MacBook Air at this point because the M1 chip outperforms all of the chips used in Apple's portable devices and it is only outclassed by desktop processors.

CPU, GPU, and Neural Engine

CPU

The M1 chip includes an 8-core CPU with four high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores. The high-performance cores are designed to offer the best performance for power-intensive single-threaded tasks.

The four high-performance cores can work together to offer impressive multithreaded performance that has allowed the M1 Macs to outshine even the highest-end 16-inch MacBook Pro models.


For tasks that are less intensive and don't require the same power, such as web browsing, there are four high-efficiency cores that use a tenth of the power to preserve battery life.

Apple says these cores offer performance similar to the prior-generation dual-core MacBook Air, but at much lower power. These cores can work alone when significant power isn't needed, but for demanding tasks, all eight cores can be engaged at one time.

Benchmarks of the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac mini have confirmed the M1 chip's impressive performance. There are some thermal differences between the models, but all have the highest single-core performance out of any Mac and multi-core performance on par with Apple's desktops.


The highest-performing Mac of the bunch, the Mac mini, earned a single-core Geekbench 5 score of 1702 and a multi-core score of 7380, with the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro coming in just behind.

GPU

The Apple Silicon chip has an 8-core GPU, but there's also a version used in the entry-level MacBook Air models that has one of the cores disabled for a 7-core GPU.

GPUs in the Mac mini, MacBook Pro, and higher-end M1 MacBook Air models are all 8-core GPUs capable of running close to 25,000 threads simultaneously and with 2.6 teraflops of throughput. According to Apple, the M1 has the fastest integrated graphics in a personal computer.


Graphics performance tests have suggested the M1 chip offers performance that exceeds the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti and Radeon RX 560. It also earned an OpenCL score of 19305, similar to the Radeon RX 560X and Radeon Pro WX 4100.


Neural Engine

The M1 chip has a built-in Neural Engine, a component that Apple first started adding to its A-series chips a few years ago. The Neural Engine is designed to accelerate machine learning tasks across the Mac for things like video analysis, voice recognition, image processing, and more.

The 16-core Neural Engine is capable of 11 trillion operations per second for up to 15x faster machine learning performance compared to the previous generation of models that have moved to the M1.

Apple M1 Speed

The M1 chip brings up to 3.5x faster CPU performance, up to 6x faster GPU performance, and up to 15x faster machine learning capabilities compared to the Intel chips used in prior-generation machines.

Compared to the latest PC laptop chips, the M1 offers 2x faster CPU performance and does so using just 25 percent of the power.

Battery Life

Even with the incredible speed improvements that the M1 chip brings, it is also more battery-efficient than any other Mac chip Apple has released to date.

Battery life in an M1 Mac lasts up to 2x longer than in prior-generation Macs. The Mac with the longest battery life is the 13-inch MacBook Pro, which lasts for up to 20 hours. That's double the battery life of the prior-generation model.

Intel Comparisons

Apple used the M1 chip in lower-end Macs, and when it comes to CPU performance, the M1 beats out even the highest-end chips used in Intel Apple's notebook lineup. The M1 chip has the fastest single-core performance of any Mac, and the multi-core performance isn't too far off from many of Apple's desktop machines.

Apple is still selling Intel 13-inch MacBook Pro and Mac mini models, and performance-wise, the M1 versions of these Macs offer much faster CPU speeds. It's not a good idea to buy a non-M1 version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro or Mac mini at this time because of the inferior performance unless compatibility with x86 apps and the option to run Windows is a concern.

Other Macs in Apple's lineup will be transitioning to Apple Silicon chips in the future, which is something to keep in mind when considering a purchase. At this time, Apple's higher-end notebooks and desktops still offer superior GPU performance, but that could change in the future when new versions of Apple Silicon chips debut.

M1 Security Features

Intel Macs had a built-in T2 chip that handled security and other features on the Macs, but with the M1 chips, that functionality is built right in and a secondary chip isn't required.

The M1 has a built-in Secure Enclave that manages Touch ID and a storage controller with AES encryption hardware for SSD performance that's faster and more secure.

Running Apps on M1 Macs

Because the M1 chip is using different architecture, Apple has built tools to allow developers to create Universal app binaries that run flawlessly on both Apple Silicon and Intel chips, plus it has developed the Rosetta 2 translation layer that allows x86 apps to run on the M1 chip.


Rosetta 2 is a reimagining of Rosetta, the feature that allowed PowerPC apps to run on Intel-based Macs back in 2006 when Apple swapped to Intel from PowerPC.

With Rosetta 2, apps designed for Intel machines will continue to run on M1 Macs with some limited performance compromises. For the most part, apps will run similarly on both Intel and M1 Macs due to the performance improvements introduced in the M1.

Everything should function as normal when transitioning to M1 Macs, and over the course of a few years, most popular Mac apps will likely be built to run on the M1 Macs natively. Right now, there is one major compromise when choosing an M1 Mac, and that's Windows support.

There is no Boot Camp for M1 Macs and M1 Macs are not officially able to run Windows, although some users are figuring out ways to make it work. Official support could come in the future, but it largely depends on Microsoft licensing its Arm-based version of Windows to consumers, and so far, that hasn't happened.

M1 Macs can run iPhone and iPad apps as well as Mac apps, so long as app developers make them available on the Mac. There used to be a way to sideload any iOS app on an M1 Mac, but that functionality was removed in January 2021.

M1 Mac How Tos

Since the M1 Macs are using a new type of chip designed by Apple, there are some tips and tricks for doing things like transferring files, entering recovery mode, and finding apps optimized for the new machines. We have several M1-specific how tos that are worth checking out.

The Future of Apple Silicon

Apple is planning to transition the entire Mac lineup to Apple Silicon chips, doing away with Intel chips entirely. Apple expects the process of moving its entire product line to Apple Silicon to take right around two years.

The next Macs that could get Apple Silicon chips include the iMac, with a 24-inch version rumored to be in the works, and redesigned 16.1-inch and 14.1-inch MacBook Pro models.

Guide Feedback

Have questions about the M1 chip, know of a feature we left out, or want to offer feedback on this guide? Send us an email here.


Article Link: Apple M1 Chip: Everything You Need to Know
 
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Mr. Dee

macrumors 68030
Dec 4, 2003
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Jamaica
I have been back and forth regarding should I buy it or not. Finally had a reasonable shopping appointment setup to check it out and see if my decision will be confirmed. If I do buy this though, it likely pushes out my next Mac laptop upgrade out to about 2025. My next major purchases will be the second generation M series iMac in 2022 (I want the biggest screen), then iPhone and iPad upgrades in 2023.
 
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Populus

macrumors 68000
Aug 24, 2012
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Valencia, Spain.
I have been back and forth regarding should I buy it or not. Finally had a reasonable shopping appointment setup to check it out and see if my decision will be confirmed. If I do buy this though, it likely pushes out my next Mac laptop upgrade out to about 2025. My next major purchases will be the second generation M series iMac in 2022 (I want the biggest screen), then iPhone and iPad upgrades in 2023.
I’m also doubting what to do. Getting a MacBook Air now would mean this M1 mac will be my main computer for at least 3 or 4 years, before the reselling value drops too much. And the redesign of the Air could devaluate it even more.

On the other hand, this is a dream machine, all I ever wanted on a laptop: Very powerful, light, fresh and completely silent with no moving parts. Also a great batterylife. Heck, if this was 2015 or 2018 I would have bought without hesitation, because my main computer was a 2010 MacBook Pro. But right now I have a 2014 Mac Mini (with an SSD it flies, but still, it is a dual core from 5 years ago), and an 11” iPad Pro, which is super confortable to use as main device, but file management is cumbersome and sometimes I need a proper computer.

So right now I don’t know what to do, what to sell, and if I should get the MacBook Air I want (16GB of RAM and 512GB of SSD) or the base MacBook Air (8GB RAM and 256GB of SSD) to hold a good resell value and lose less money when I get the 2022 or 2023 MacBook Air (Not the first iteration of the redesign because you know what happens with the first models)...
 
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Populus

macrumors 68000
Aug 24, 2012
1,598
1,565
Valencia, Spain.
I am strongly considering getting a M1 early next year. I am holding off at the moment, to see what Apple does for all the people having Bluetooth problems with their M1.
Is this a widespread problem or just a few of them experience it? I’ve been reading of Bluetooth and WiFi issues with macs for many, many years... (And never experienced them, personally). Maybe this is a good time to get one and try it for a month before the trial period expires.
 
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Apple_Robert

Contributor
Sep 21, 2012
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In the middle of several books.
Is this a widespread problem or just a few of them experience it? I’ve been reading of Bluetooth and WiFi issues with macs for many, many years... (And never experienced them, personally). Maybe this is a good time to get one and try it for a month before the trial period expires.
There is at least one thread on the forums where a lot of people are experiencing problems.

 
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Treq

macrumors 6502a
Apr 23, 2009
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Santa Monica, CA
Is this a widespread problem or just a few of them experience it? I’ve been reading of Bluetooth and WiFi issues with macs for many, many years... (And never experienced them, personally). Maybe this is a good time to get one and try it for a month before the trial period expires.
This was a problem with the 2018 Mac mini as well. I can't even use bluetooth. I run everything wired.
 
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jayducharme

macrumors 68040
Jun 22, 2006
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The thick of it
The one Windows app I use a lot is supposedly supported with CrossOver. So I'm going to cross my fingers and hope that works out. Otherwise, I'm excited to test out the new machine (whenever it arrives).
 
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Mr. Dee

macrumors 68030
Dec 4, 2003
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Jamaica
I’m also doubting what to do. Getting a MacBook Air now would mean this M1 mac will be my main computer for at least 3 or 4 years, before the reselling value drops too much. And the redesign of the Air could devaluate it even more.

On the other hand, this is a dream machine, all I ever wanted on a laptop: Very powerful, light, fresh and completely silent with no moving parts. Also a great batterylife. Heck, if this was 2015 or 2018 I would have bought without hesitation, because my main computer was a 2010 MacBook Pro. But right now I have a 2014 Mac Mini (with an SSD it flies, but still, it is a dual core from 5 years ago), and an 11” iPad Pro, which is super confortable to use as main device, but file management is cumbersome and sometimes I need a proper computer.

So right now I don’t know what to do, what to sell, and if I should get the MacBook Air I want (16GB of RAM and 512GB of SSD) or the base MacBook Air (8GB RAM and 256GB of SSD) to hold a good resell value and lose less money when I get the 2022 or 2023 MacBook Air (Not the first iteration of the redesign because you know what happens with the first models)...
I have my eyes set on the MacBook Pro M1 with 512 GBs. Currently, I have a Early 2015, 13 in MacBook Pro. Honestly, I could keep it going for a few more years and save the money and get Mac laptop I truly wanted, which is the 16 inch. The waiting is what I can't deal with right now. LTT did a review of the Pro and to be honest, the lines have been blurred with the Air, but for me, it feels like the logical choice to upgrade to: brighter screen (not by much), better speakers (I heard the difference) and Touch bar (lol).
 
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Constable Odo

macrumors 6502
Mar 28, 2008
467
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The M1 seems great for laptops, in general, but not so great for any type of app that requires a dedicated GPU. The x86 groups are going to be comparing the integrated Apple Silicon GPU against Nvidia and Radeon dedicated GPUs, and then claiming how lame the M1 is. I'm sure the average, non-gaming user will be quite happy with the M1 processor thanks to the high single-core performance and good battery life. All Apple needs to do now is to design a powerful Apple Silicon dedicated GPU for the 16" MacBook Pro and the various desktop iMacs. Apple should build a Mac Pro with multiple M-series processors which would be totally bonkers. Apple Silicon appears to have a great future for most computer users, but will likely never compete with Nvidia and Radeon for gaming. Those RTX30xx cards are just too freaking huge and suck far too much power.
 
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citysnaps

macrumors 604
Oct 10, 2011
6,833
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San Francisco
The Air looks perfect for me but will probably wait as I want one more than I need one. Just hope they won't crippled the next one to differentiate it from the base 13 Pro.

I suspect the next 13" MBP will get the M1X. Differentiating the MBA with the current M1.
 
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Totally average bit of journalism by MacRumours. For example,

What's Different About the M1​

Unlike Intel chips built on the x86 architecture, the Apple Silicon M1 uses an Arm-based architecture

Is that it? Is that really the best you can do?

EDIT:
I see a couple of people have posted negative likes. I can only assume they either haven't read my post properly or work for MacRumours. I am not being critical of the M1 chip or Apple. I am being critical of the missed opportunity to explain how ARM's RISC design will always triumph over the complex instruction set used by Intel. As a (now retired) computer journalist I followed the development of RISC during the 1980s and 1990s when Joel Birnbaum worked at IBM's TJ Watson Research Centre and then joined Hewlett-Packard to create PA-RISC. Bio: https://ethw.org/Joel_S._Birnbaum
 
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bill44

macrumors member
Nov 2, 2016
33
29
Whan can we expect HDMI 2.1, DisplayPort 2.0 (or at least DP 1.4 that supports DSC) and TB 4.0 (no, it’s not just a name change, there are hardware differences even though it’s the same speed as TB3)? How about PCIe 4.0 SSD speeds? The M1 supports PCIe 4 according to the slides.
 
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