How Apple Changed the Chip Industry with Their M1 Lineup

How Apple Changed The Chip Industry (M1)

Whether you love them or hate them, the tech industry could not have come this far without the contribution of Apple. They have been the forerunners of technological innovation for more than a few decades. And they have pushed the industry forward in ways that could not have been made possible by any other company. 

From the launch of the Apple II in 1977 to the unveiling of the first iPhone in 2007, Apple has made significant strides to make our lives better. Since then, Apple has been hard at work in search of the next big thing. Whether it’s the iPad, Macbook, AirPods, Apple Watch, Apple Music, iCloud, or Apple TV, the company continued to diversify into different markets with new and exciting ideas. This hunger to create something new is the backbone of Apple and they continued to grow to become the first company in the U.S. to reach a market value of 2 trillion dollars! According to the World Bank, global GDP was $87.799 trillion in 2019, and Apple’s market valuation is 2.36 percent of that total. Apple’s market valuation is 9.7% more than that of the United States, which has the world’s largest economy with a GDP of $21.43 trillion in 2019. Even when compared against tech juggernauts like Amazon, Apple surpassed them in terms of net worth. 

However, Apple is not perfect as they have their fair share of criticisms as well. One of its biggest criticisms is that they are not as innovative as they once were. For example, the new iPhone 13 is practically identical to the iPhone 12. And the few extra features that it does offer can be found in other smartphones. A lot more can be said about the prospects of their future products but that is not the focus of this article. Another big criticism of Apple is its extremely high prices. Most Apple products are priced very unfairly. However, there can be an argument made that in recent years Apple has launched more competitively priced products like the iPhone 12 and 13 lineups of phones. But that still doesn’t excuse the fact that Apple still charges a very high premium. It’s ridiculous to think that they are selling a computer stand for $1000! Speaking of charging a premium, Apple products are almost impossible to repair unless you take them to an Apple shop. You can expect to pay anywhere from $200 to $300 just to repair your screen after it goes out of warranty. 

With so much press about Apple not being innovative anymore, the company decided to go back to what they used to do best – make home computers. And this is where Apple has truly started to shine once again. With the introduction of the ARM-based M1 chip debuting with the Macbook Pro, Macbook Air, and Mac Mini in November 2020, Apple has shaken up the CPU industry in a big way. So, let’s take a look at how Apple managed to change the landscape of modern tech with its M1 chip. 

Challenges with the Previous Chipset

Before we look into Apple M1 chips, let’s first take a look at what were the issues Apple faced with their previous generation of chipsets. Apple initially started making their home PCs using the PowerPC G5 processor. However, this was not a feasible option for their portable lineup of computers as it would be extremely difficult to integrate the G5 chipset into a small compact body. Instead, they decided to partner with Intel in 2005 to start production of the chipsets that would power Apple’s Macbooks and Mac Pros. 

Intel had the opportunity to make the processor for the iPhone but they turned it down thinking that it was very unlikely that Apple could sell enough iPhones to recover the cost of producing the chips. Instead, Apple turned towards using ARM-based processor chips in collaboration with companies like Samsung and Qualcomm. Now, Apple has partnered with TSMC as they have a less competitive culture when compared to Samsung. It was reported in December that Apple has taken up all of TSMC’s 3-nanometer production capacity. 

Around 2015, when Intel announced its new 6th gen Skylake processors, it met with a lot of criticism about its performance. This was the beginning of the end for Apple’s relationship with Intel as it was becoming increasingly evident that Intel CPUs weren’t cutting it. Intel processors were also lacking when it came to Apple’s frequent software updates. Macs would receive software updates much later than iPhones and iPads as Apple had to optimize the update to support macOS. 

There are two main reasons why Apple decided to ditch Intel: 

  • Intel fell behind in manufacturing: Without making it too complicated, a smaller chipset equates to higher efficiency. So, while most chip manufacturers are moving towards 5-nanometer and even 3-nanometer chipsets, Intel is still struggling with their 10-nanometer chipsets.
  • Apple wants to own its core technology: Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has gone on record to say that they want to own their core technologies so that they can integrate their products much more deeply. This was one of the primary reasons for splitting up with Intel as their Intel-based Macbooks could not run the apps and software from their iPhones and iPads.

Differences Between ARM and x86

These ARM chipsets are very different from Intel x86 chipsets. Without getting into the deep end, ARM is RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing) based, and Intel’s x86 is CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computing) based. Speaking of which, ARM was founded by a British tech company called Acorn Computers Ltd. And you may have probably figured it out that ARM stands for Advanced RISC Machines. 

RISC can run very simple instruction sets whereas CISC can run complex, multi-stage instruction sets. What it means is, CISC requires a lot more power to run these complex instructions. This may seem like a good idea on paper, but in practice, a lot of power and heat is wasted as most consumers don’t operate programs that would require such complex processing. In comparison, RISC-based processors are a lot more power-efficient and streamlined as they have to deal with simpler instructions. However, there are some false assumptions about ARM as many people think that they are not as powerful as x86 processors. This led many to believe that ARM processors could only be used in smartphones and tablets. But this could not be any further from the truth!

M1 vs The Rest

Remember how we mentioned that Apple collaborated with other companies to create their ARM processors? Well, they decided to use their ARM processor architecture to create the M1 chip. There was a stark difference between how Apple’s iPhone and iPad performed and behaved in comparison to their Macbooks and Mac Pros. In response, Apple wanted to create an ecosystem that would allow them to integrate their Macs and handheld devices together. To achieve that, the M1 was born.

As the M1 chip is made using the same ARM architecture of the iPhone and iPad, it is now able to run iOS apps directly. This allows developers to create and optimize their apps and software for only one platform which can run across all Apple devices. But now you might be thinking, what will happen to the software designed for x86 chips? Well, you don’t need to worry about that either as it is possible to run those programs using Apple’s Rosetta 2 software. 

So, you might be wondering, how are the M1 Macbooks different from other computers. Well, let’s start with how similar they have become to Apple’s other products. Just like iOS devices, the Macbooks are now able to launch an app almost instantly, the display turns on the moment you wake it up, the battery lasts a full day without having to be charged, and they are completely silent. These are all features that are commonly found in iPhones and iPads, which are Apple’s biggest cash cows. 

The M1 chip also offers a level of performance that has never been seen from any other notebook chipset. According to Geekbench, the M1 processor absolutely crushes the Intel-based Macbooks in both single-core and multi-core benchmarks. As for the GPU performance, the M1 is on par with Nvidia’s 1050 Ti and AMD’s RX 560. 

If you don’t understand why that is so impressive, then allow me to explain. Simply put, the Nvidia and AMD GPU are dedicated graphics cards. That means the CPU and GPU units are separate from each other. This lets the CPU and GPU operate at peak performance as both units are independent of each other. What makes the M1 so impressive is that the GPU is integrated into the CPU, which means that the CPU houses the GPU unit. Despite what many tech enthusiasts would call a limitation, not only does the CPU outperform most other processors in the market, but the GPU is also capable enough to compete with laptops using dedicated GPU units. And the cherry on the top is, the M1 does this without overheating while only using up very little battery. However, the most interesting aspect of the M1 chip is its built-in Neural Engine which is designed to accelerate machine learning. 

Future of Apple’s M1 Chip

By now it should be obvious how important the M1 chip is for the future of the tech industry. And Apple is making significant strides in integrating it into their new line of Macbooks, Macbook Airs, iMacs, and Mac Pros. 

Apple has already released their next generation of M1 chips, called the M1 Pro and M1 Max. The CPU performance of the M1 Pro and M1 Max is 70% faster than the base M1 according to Apple. Whereas the M1 Pro has a GPU that is twice as fast as the M1, and the GPU of the M1 Max is four times faster than the M1. The graphics performance benchmarks of these new chips are comparable to Nvidia’s latest RTX 3060 and 3070 GPUs. Another area where the new M1 chips outshine its predecessor is in the number of transistors. The M1 Pro has 33.7 billion transistors and the M1 Max has 57 billion transistors. Both of these chips are built on the industry-leading 5-nanometer proc

essor technology. And they both have a 10-core CPU. These new chips are exceptionally efficient and require a lot less battery power. 

All of these specs seem impressive on paper, but what does it actually mean for Apple in the future? Well, Apple Macbooks and Mac Pros always felt like they had been somewhat held back by Intel. The processors Intel made for Apple could not seamlessly integrate the home computer experience with Apple’s other devices. That is all about to change finally thanks to the M1. There is no doubt that the M1 was exactly the breakthrough Apple was looking for. And now that they have finally found it, the skies are the limit!

What sets the M1 apart from the rest of the offerings from Intel and AMD is that it is basically a mobile chip. Yet, it is not only on par with the best processors but is also ahead in many scenarios. Combine that with excellent battery life, impeccable efficiency, and state-of-the-art machine learning technology, and it’s easy to see why the M1 is considered such a game-changer. That’s like a lightweight boxer stepping into the ring with a heavyweight fighter and somehow winning the whole match. This entire concept of using a mobile chip to power home computers was completely unfathomable until Apple made it a reality. 

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