Apple has been building its own processors for smartphones, tablets, watches, and Apple TV devices for a decade. Now the company is making its own chips for Mac computers, starting with the Apple M1 chip.
The company’s first ARM-based processor for Macs is a system-on-a-chip that combines an 8-core CPU, up to 8-core graphics, a 16-core neural engine, a unified memory architecture, Thunderbolt 3/USB 4 controller, and Secure Enclave on a single 5nm processor.
Apple says the M1 processor offers better performance-per-watt than anything else on the market, and it will debut first in the new Apple MacBook Air.
The chip features 4 high-performance CPU cores and 4 high-efficiency cores that the company says can deliver twice the performance of an x86 processor when both are consuming 10 watts of power, or the same power as an x86 chip while consuming as little as 1/4th as much power.
GPU performance sees a similar boost.
Of course, having a speedy processor only works if you have the software to support it. Apple has updated its macOS operating system to take advantage of the new features and the company is encouraging developers to port their software to support the platform.
If you want to run older Mac apps that aren’t yet supported, they’ll still run… but they might not perform as well as native apps since the Rosetta translation tool requires a bit of overhead, which can lead to x86 apps loading or running more slowly on Macs with M1 chips.
One upshot of switching from Intel’s x86_x64 chips to the new Apple silicon chips based on ARM64 architecture? You’ll be able to run iPhone and iPad apps natively in macOS Big Sur and later as long as you’re using an Apple M1 or newer processor.
While the M1 processor is the first Apple Silicon chip for Mac computers, Apple eventually plans to transition the entire Mac line of computers to Apple Silicon. So we can expect additional chips to be announced in the coming years.
Update: As is often the case when a new chip is announced, the folks at Anandtech have an excellent deep dive into Apple’s announcement. Given that the company was light on details, AnandTech’s analysis involves some educated guesswork, but it’s very educated.