Apple M1 Innovation

Apple M1 the chip that changed (laptop) world

17/03/21 5 min. read

Launched on November 2020 the new Apple M1 (previously known as Apple Silicon) was one true successor to the famous “One more thing” of Steve Jobs.

It is not only that Apple advanced from mobile (and tablet) processors to desktop and laptop line, something rumoured long time ago.

But the fact that they offered what nobody expected: instead of having only more battery live they were able to achieve more performance than stablished x86 CPU makers.

And way more performance for watt that them. Earlier to the event we though that AMD was a serious threat to Intel, now there’s three contenders in the CPU wars.

Fortunately for AMD and Intel the M1 does not run Windows or Linux without virtualization.

How did they made it?🤔

They did it the easy way by choosing the hardest path. They though out of the box. It was risky but worth it.

The base design

Apple M1 has been categorized as an ARM processor. The “R” in ARM means “Risc” or “Reduced Instruction Set Computer” but in my opinion that only applies to the CPU cores, not the processor that I would consider CISC made form RISC components.

What they essentially did was packing a lot of very efficient, very specialized components in a single chip package.

¿En que es diferente a una arquitectura x86 actual?

  1. They are using near to zero external bus communications. Everything runs in the same CPU die so paths are shorter, conversions are un-existent. A classic x86 machine will have the CPU in the motherboard, PCI busses to connect to GPU, SATA or M2 drives, communications, etc. Obviously there’s a lot of performance gains there.
  2. They eliminated the need for different types of memory, GPU is using the same RAM the CPU is using. Disk controller does the same, communications, and the rest of specialized components. That means no memory-bus-memory copies. Saving space, money and time. nVidia is trying to do the same, but still has not shown any results.
  3. They created a lot of specialized hardware components: where Intel Rocket Lake microarchitecture (11th generation) has CPU (with Deep Learning instructions, not specialized component) and relies on chipsets (on motherboard, not the same chip) like Z590 for memory management, graphics support, USB, SATA, Lan, etc. it happens that Apples M1 has, in the same die the following components:
  • Machine learning accelerators
  • High efficiency CPU cores
  • Advanced display engine
  • HDR video processor
  • Always-on processor
  • High quality image signal processor
  • High performance CPU cores
  • Low power design
  • Secure enclave
  • High performance NVMe storage
  • Low power video playback
  • High performance GPU
  • High performance video editing
  • Thunderbolt USB4 controller
  • High-efficiency audio processor
  • Neural engine
  • HDR imaging
  • Gen 4 PCI express
  • Performance controller

A lot of components that unload CPU work and makes things go faster. Did I say before that avoiding the motherboard bus improves speed?

I’m already impressed, anything else?🤩

Of course, not only the on-die-specializes components and the unified memory. It is also the speed of memory. Intel CPUs use DDR4-2933 at 45.8 GB/s bandwidth, not bad at all.

Apple M1

But Apple uses LPDDR4X-4266 at 68.25GB/s bandwith nearly 50% faster (and closer). Obviously that is good for Apple M1.

Regarding manufacturing Apple M1 manufacturing process is also better, at 5nm it dwarfs Intel’s 10nm or nVidia 14nm. In this case smaller manufacturing process means less heat and better overall efficiency.

Man that is so good, I’m going for an Apple M1! Wait…

Remember when I said that Apple M1 was a RISC processor? That has its own drawbacks. It basically means that Apple M1 does not understand anything (in terms of software) of what the previous generation Apple processors say.

That’s why Apple needed to compile the operating system to work with M1. And write new drivers for all those specialized components, the balance is shifting form driver world to silicon world.

Bugs are expected, but they will surely solve them. macOS Big Sur, the operating system, works flawlessly both on M1 and x86 processors.

What about other software? Office? Adobe? Games?

And here it comes. All software components MUST be re-compiled for Apple M1. So, won’t I be able to use Excel? Au contraire, mon ami.

This is not the first processor change for Apple, they are experts and they created “Rosseta 2” a tiny software that allows you to convert your x86 software to M1 while the new version comes. The first launch will be slow but after that it will work quite well. The best part is that developers are quickly updating their software to run natively in M1.

Es posible que la primera vez que lo ejecutas tarde un poco pero luego funcionará muy bien. Lo mejor es que los desarrolladores están actualizando sus programas para el M1 muy rápidamente.

Definitively Apple M1 is game changing processor. Albeit it won’t run Windows natively and probably will take a lot of time to run Linux natively (virtualization is on its way)

It changes the rules so much that Intel has re-hired a retired designer, because they need some punch soon to compete in this market.

Apple M1, will it change also the developer’s world? Just read our following article.

Juan Tavira

Juan Tavira

Santander Global Tech

Specialist, architect and interdisciplinary geek passionate about all kinds of innovations. This is easy to say for oneself, but when my computing colleagues, my geek friends and even my wife say so, then it must be true somehow ;-). I also like to build violins as a hobby. I see code

 

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