- Apr 12, 2001
Apple in 2020 introduced the first Apple silicon Macs, marking the start of its transition away from Intel's chips. Apple's custom chips are Arm-based and are similar to the A-series chips used in iPhones and iPads, making them markedly different from the Intel chips that were used in earlier Macs. Apple started its Apple silicon transition in 2020, and finished it in 2023 with the launch of an Apple silicon Mac Pro. At this point, none of Apple's Macs use Intel chips, and Intel chip technology has been phased out.
This guide covers everything you need to know about Apple silicon chips.
Apple Silicon Mac Lineup
All of Apple's Macs use Apple silicon, and Apple is on its second generation of M-series chips. The MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, Mac mini, Mac Studio, iMac, Mac Pro, and iPad Pro all use variants of the M2 chip.
M-series chips feature Apple's "System on a Chip" design for the Mac, and it 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.
Apple's current chip lineup includes the M2, M2 Pro, M2 Max, and M2 Ultra, all of which are built on a 5-nanometer process and are upgrades to the M1, M1 Pro, M1 Max, and M1 Ultra.
- M2 - 8-core CPU, 10-core GPU
- M2 Pro - 10-core or 12-core CPU, 16-core or 19-core GPU
- M2 Max - 12-core CPU, 30-core or 38-core GPU
- M2 Ultra - 24-core CPU, 60-core or 76-core GPU.
In the case of the M2 Ultra, it is basically two M2 Max chips that are linked together, which is why it has the specifications of a doubled M2 Max chip. Apple uses the M2 in its lower-priced Macs, including the MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and the Mac mini. The M2 Pro is for the 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro models and higher-end Mac mini models, while the M2 Max is designed for upgraded MacBook Pro models and the Mac Studio. The M2 Ultra is reserved for the Mac Pro and the Mac Studio, and it is Apple's most powerful and most expensive chip option.
All of the Apple silicon chips have unified memory that's shared between all chip components to eliminate swapping and improve performance, plus a 16-core Neural Engine and other add-ons like an image signal processor, Secure Enclave for secure booting and Touch ID, and more.
Why Apple Made the Switch
Apple adopted its own Apple silicon chips to make better Macs. Apple's chips bring a whole new level of performance with more powerful Macs that are also more energy-efficient. M-series Macs are much more powerful than Intel Macs ever were, and the battery life is much improved.
Apple Silicon Advantage
Apple has years of experience with power-efficient chip design thanks to its work on the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, all of which use custom-designed chips developed by Apple engineers. Apple has made huge gains in processor performance over the years, and its chips are now more than powerful enough to be used in Macs.
Apple aimed to deliver the highest possible performance with the lowest power consumption, a goal that its expertise made it well-suited to achieve. Better performance and efficiency were Apple's main goals, but there are other reasons that the company decided to transition away from Intel, and that includes all of the custom technologies that are built into Apple silicon to further boost the Mac's capabilities and make it stand out from the competition.
Deep integration between software and hardware has always made iPhones stand out from other smartphones, and the same is true for the Mac. Apple's custom chips provide best-in-class security with the Secure Enclave and high-performance graphics capabilities for pro apps and games, but the true performance gains remain to be seen.
Apple silicon chips are built with Neural Engines and Machine Learning Accelerators to make Macs ideal platforms for machine learning. Other technologies include a high-quality camera processor, performance controller, Secure Enclave and Touch ID, high-performance DRAM, unified memory, and cryptography acceleration.
Many of Apple's prior Macs used x86 chips from Intel, while its iPhones and some iPads used Arm-based chips. x86 chips and Arm chips like the M-series chips are built using different architectures, so the transition from x86 to Arm has took some effort.
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