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Definition: Apple M1


A family of ARM-based systems-on-chip (SoC) from Apple. In late 2020, Apple began switching its Mac line from Intel x86 CPUs to the M1 CPUs. The first models were the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. In 2021, an M1-based iMac debuted, and a new top-end desktop computer was engineered around the M1 (see Mac Studio).

Because iPhones and iPads are ARM based, switching the Mac to ARM chips enables development on one platform across Apple's entire line. Since its inception, the Mac family has actually run on four hardware platforms (see table below).

CISC to RISC and RISC to RISC
The M1 is a RISC design rather than the Intel CISC architecture. RISC circuits use less complex instructions, run cooler and thus save battery, which is why some type of ARM chip is used in every smartphone and most tablets. iPhones and iPads have been ARM based since day one, and in 2021, starting with the iPad Pro, Apple began the migration from its ARM-based A series to its ARM-based M1 (RISC to RISC).

An Intel Emulation Layer
M1-based Macs contain an emulation layer that runs Intel-based Mac applications faster than Intel CPUs (see Rosetta). The New York Times opinion columnist Farhad Manjoo said "Apple's big innovation was to build the Tesla of computer chips." Like electric vehicles, the M1 is faster and uses less energy.

Lots of Cores
The M1 chips contain at least eight CPU cores for program execution, multiple GPU cores for graphics rendering and a 16-core neural engine for AI processing (see table below). The M1 Ultra is the top of the line.

Apple M2
The upcoming M2 chip is expected in 2022, the M2 is rumored to have more GPU cores than the M1. See SoC, performance core, x86, iPad Pro, RISC and Apple A series.

  P = performance core  E = efficiency core

            CPU Cores    GPU
   Chip     Total/P/E   Cores

   M1         8/4/4       8
   M1 Pro     8/6/2      14
   M1 Pro    10/8/2      16
   M1 Max    10/8/2      32
   M1 Ultra  20/16/4     48


   Year    Mac CPU Hardware

   2020    Apple M1  (see ARM)
   2006    Intel x86 (see Intel Mac)
   1994    PowerPC   (see PowerPC)
   1984    Motorola  (see 68000)


   Year    iPad Pro CPU Hardware

   2021    Apple M1
   2020    Apple A12Z