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Definition: Apple M1


Apple's latest ARM-based system-on-chip (SoC). In late 2020, Apple began switching its Mac line from Intel x86 CPUs to its ARM-based M1 CPUs. The first models were the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. In 2021, an M1-based iMac debuted.

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 contains at least eight CPU cores for primary program execution (four performance and four efficiency cores), multiple GPU cores for graphics rendering and a 16-core neural engine for AI processing (see table below). See SoC, performance core, x86, iPad Pro, RISC and Apple A series.
              CPU     GPU
   Chip      Cores   Cores

   M1          8       8
   M1 Pro     10      16
   M1 Max     10      32


   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