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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 hardware platform across Apple's entire line. Since its inception, the Mac family has actually embraced four hardware platforms (see table below).

RISC vs. CISC
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 ARM 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 the ARM-based M1 (RISC to RISC). See Apple A series, iPad Pro and RISC.

Lots of Cores and an Emulation Layer
The M1 contains an 8-core CPU for primary program execution (four performance and four efficiency cores), seven or eight GPU cores for graphics rendering and a 16-core neural engine for AI processing. ARM-based Macs contain an emulation layer that runs Intel-based Mac applications even faster than on Intel CPUs (see Rosetta). See SoC, performance core, x86 and Apple A series.

   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