When Apple released the M1 chip late last year, two things were clear: Macs were much faster, and the future was incredibly bright. Now, almost a year later, Apple is ready to unveil the next step at its “Unleashed” event on October 18th. Apple has already updated its entire range of consumer-level Macs with the M1 chip in the MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, Mac mini and 24-inch iMac, and there has been no shortage of rumors about the next round of Apple silicon-based Macs. Here’s what we expect to see.
M1: Input speed
Apple’s current M1 processor is based on the 5nm A14 chip, the first arrived on the iPad Air and later the iPhone 12. It has 4 high-performance cores with 192 KB L1 instruction cache and 128 KB L1 data cache and shared 12 MB L2 cache and 4 energy efficient cores with 128 KB instruction cache, 64 KB L1 data cache and shared 4 MB L2 cache. It gets a total of 8 cores evenly distributed between power and efficiency, leading to huge speed increases compared to the previous models. The system-on-a-chip also has an 8-core GPU in most models (entry-level MacBook Air and 24-inch iMac have a 7-core GPU) with 128 execution units and up to 24576 simultaneous threads.
The memory has also changed. With the M1, the LP-DDR4 memory is not just soldered to the motherboard, it is actually part of the chip itself. That means it’s faster and more efficient than before, but it’s also a bit more limited – you can only get 8 GB or 16 GB in an M1 Mac, and there’s no way to upgrade it after purchase. (This will not be a surprise for MacBook buyers, but unfortunately the same is true for desktop models as well.) And finally, the chip has a 16-core Neural Engine along with Secure Enclave and USB4 / Thunderbolt support.
M1X – October 2021
We started hearing about the development of an M1X chip earlier this year, and it looks like it’s popping up in the redesigned 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro, which is almost certainly coming to the “Unleashed” event. Much like the A12X in the 2018 iPad Pro, it will be built on the same architecture as the existing M1 processor, but provide faster all-round performance.
According to CPU Monkey, which claims to have received benchmarks for the upcoming chip, the M1X could have a 12-core CPU with 10 high-performance cores and two high-performance cores and a 16-core GPU with 256 execution units and a shared 32 GB L2 cache and up to 64 GB LPDDR4X. In a slightly different recording, Mark Gurman has reported slightly different M1X CPU specifications with eight high-performance cores and two high-efficiency cores.
Based on what we know of previous “X” releases, it makes sense. For example, in the iPhone Xs, the A12 was a six-core CPU with two high-performance cores and four high-performance cores, while the A12X was an eight-core chip with four high-performance cores and four high-performance cores.
These specifications would give Apple’s advanced M1X Macs a good performance boost over the current crop of M1 machines. There are also rumors that they will bring support for four Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports.
Apple’s M2 chip is likely to come in the next MacBook Air, which looks to get a complete redesign with new colors matching the 24-inch iMac. According to Bloomberg, Apple’s next-generation processor will “contain the same number of computer cores as the M1, but run faster.” This is similar to how Apple is approaching the A-Series upgrades, which have had six cores since the A11 processor despite much improved performance. As for the GPU, Bloomberg reports that the cores will increase from seven or eight to nine or 10.
We do not yet know how the speeds compare, but based on previous chips, we can expect the M2 processor to actually be a bit slower than the M1X chip. The same restrictions for USB4 / Thunderbolt and RAM are likely to remain as Apple establishes non-X chips as consumer products for users who are less demanding.
M2X – end of 2022
According to reports, Apple is planning an even higher end chip for the Mac Pro and possibly a larger iMac. The chip is likely to have multiple levels of performance that could “come in 20 or 40 computer core variations, consisting of 16 high-performance or 32 high-performance cores and four or eight high-performance cores,” according to a Bloomberg report. The workstation caliber chip is also rumored to have 64 core or 128 core graphics settings, which would replace the AMD GPUs in current models. These specs are comparable to what Intel and AMD offer in their top-of-the-line chips and would challenge the fastest PCs, at least on paper.
Apple could very well call this chip the M2X, but since the Mac Pro processor would represent such a big leap from even the rumored chips, it will likely be separated from the package by a brand new naming system. (Apple has previously used the “Z” identifier on chips to indicate improved graphics performance.) Mark Gurman reported that the next iMac is likely to use the M1X or M2X chip in the next iMac, but it is not clear if he is referring for this chip or a lower power M2 variant.
It’s also possible that Apple is pairing two M1X chips inside the Mac Pro to boost performance, a tactic it last used with the Power Mac G4 back in 2001. But no matter what Apple plans to do, the new Mac Pro expects to bring a tremendous speed that blows away today’s model and caters to ultra-high computing demands. This chip and machine is not just for mortals.
Michael Simon has been covering Apple since the iPod was iWalk. His obsession with technology goes back to his first PC IBM Thinkpad with the lift-up keyboard to replace the drive. He’s still waiting for it to come back in style tbh.