Steve Jobs’ grand plan comes together in Apple’s M1 chip

Apple’s M1 chip is an essential piece of Steve Jobs’ grand plan which Apple is still executing nearly a decade after his passing. Until now, a Mac needed multiple chips to deliver all of its features — including the processor, I/O, security, and memory. With M1, these technologies are combined into a single system on a chip (SoC), delivering a new level of integration for more simplicity, more efficiency, and amazing performance. And with incredibly small transistors measured at an atomic scale, M1 is remarkably complex — packing the largest number of transistors we’ve ever put into a single chip. It’s also the first personal computer chip built using industry‑leading 5‑nanometer process technology.

The GPU in M1 is the most advanced Apple has ever created and the world’s fastest integrated graphics in a personal computer.
The GPU in M1 is the most advanced Apple has ever created and the world’s fastest integrated graphics in a personal computer.

M1 also features Apple’s unified memory architecture, or UMA. M1 unifies its high‑bandwidth, low‑latency memory into a single pool within a custom package. As a result, all of the technologies in the SoC can access the same data without copying it between multiple pools of memory. This dramatically improves performance and power efficiency.

Om Malik for Om:

Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs’s last gambit was challenging the classic notion of the computer, and the M1 is Apple’s latest maneuver. The new chip will first be available in the MacBook Air, the Mac mini, and a lower end version of 13-inch MacBook Pro (a loaner version of which I have been trying out over the last three days). To get a better sense of what the company is up to, I recently spoke with three of their leaders: Greg “Joz” Joswiak, senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing; Johny Srouji, senior vice president of Hardware Technologies; and Craig Federighi, senior vice president of Software Engineering…

“Steve used to say that we make the whole widget,” Joswiak told me. “We’ve been making the whole widget for all of our products, from the iPhone, to the iPads, to the watch. This was the final element to making the whole widget on the Mac.”

“It seems like some of these people were people who don’t buy that part of our product line right now are eager for us to develop silicon to address the part of the product line that they’re most passionate about,” Federighi told me. “You know that their day will come. But for now, the systems we’re building are, in every way I can consider, superior to the ones they’ve replaced.”

Instead of a chip that is one-size-fits-all, Srouji said that M1 is a chip “for the best use of our product, and tightly integrated with the software… I believe the Apple model is unique and the best model,” he said. “We’re developing a custom silicon that is perfectly fit for the product and how the software will use it. When we design our chips, which are like three or four years ahead of time, Craig and I are sitting in the same room defining what we want to deliver, and then we work hand in hand. You cannot do this as an Intel or AMD or anyone else.”

MacDailyNews Take: There’s much more in the – recommendedfull article.

I’ve always wanted to own and control the primary technology in everything we do. — Steve Jobs

22 Comments

  1. Surely future M1 Macs will not be limited to the 16 GB of onboard memory currently available. Right? They must be capable of using external RAM if they are to be useful for anything beyond basic stuff.

      1. And how many times have you bought a computer for a specific reason and then later said, “oh, wait, i need more RAM in this?” probably never. You are not being realistic. People aren’t buying these options with a M1 chip in them to be power users. They are buying them for exactly what they have to offer. And won’t even give a second of thought about the RAM in them.

    1. You have to remember that, because the RAM is now part of the SoC, it is much more efficient. Similarly, Apple’s iPhones have less RAM than their competitors but run as fast or faster. This is also due to Android phones running generic code (Java), which is not optimized for the Android hardware/software architecture—this requires more RAM. The same will be true for the Mac—as developers optimize their apps for Apple silicon, all the resources on the Mac, including RAM, will be used more efficiently. I have been amazed with how level these low-level Macs run professional software. The Macbook Air can handle much more than it could before, albeit with some CPU-throttling under heavy sustained loads (as compared to the M1 MacBook Pro)—needed because of the absence of a fan.

      Having said all that, these are the first Apple silicon Macs, addressing the entry level of the Mac lineup. As Apple addresses the other levels (including Pro), I am sure more RAM options will become available.

      1. Everything you say is true from a tech point of view. It’s also more monolithic and rigid as a result. Can the CPU be swapped for an upgraded SoC? Nope!

        Non upgradability leads to disposability and multiple unnecessary purchases of entire machines.

        1. Ummmm, except in the real world Macs stay in use two to three times longer than PCs. Theoretically it should be PCs staying in use longer due to easier upgradability but that isn’t what happens. It is PCs that are the culprits when it comes to “disposability and multiple unnecessary purchases of entire machines”.

          1. Yes! Point much more succinctly made than by me below (we must have been typing at the same time).

            Macs have also always had the lowest total cost of ownership. IBM, the largest corporate user, has proven this yet again.

            1. There is a select number of users for which this is a big deal. The vast majority never do this, any more than they swap out the condenser on their fridge with a more robust one. It’s an appliance with a specific design, not user-upgradeable.

              Especially, when you are talking about laptops, which 2 of the 3 M1 models are. I don’t know of many Windows laptops which allow you to switch out the CPU (if any). RAM and SSD on many, yes. There are always trade-offs. Each has to decide what is more important to them. For you, upgradeability is high on the list. Others may be willing to forgo upgradeability for greatly increased performance and battery life. We’ll see about Apple silicon pro desktops to come, but Apple’s efficient SoC design for these new laptops within the constraints of their thermal envelopes and power/wattage limitations does not seem to allow for future user-upgradeability. For a lot of people, it won’t matter.

            2. If if if. In the real world this just doesn’t happen. It is Macs that last for many years and PCs that are replaced frequently. Not sure what else to tell you if you’re not going to accept simple facts.

        2. While I would love to be able to swap RAM and SSDs, it should be said that Macs have a long life and high resale value. I generally have kept my Macs for 5 to 7 years and then sell them for around half of what I paid for them. I can see this timeline shortening a bit (would I want to buy an SSD that is 7 years old…?). I can see still being able to sell these machines in 3 to 4 years for half what I paid. I am working on a 7-year old Mac right now (an i7 quad-core) and it is lightning fast (I know someone with a lower spec Mac that is 11-years old that is not very zippy). This 7-year old Mac is faster than many new Windows machines (and it’s a Mac!!). The resale value of Windows computers is generally nowhere near Mac’s.

          The other factor in age, of course, is whether the software you use evolves to need more than the specs of your Mac provide. I suspect that this is mostly true for Pro users, who are more likely to upgrade at a faster pace (at least laptops). It will be interesting to see if any of the Apple silicon Pro desktop Macs that come out have more user-upgradeability (for RAM).

          Generally, the performance gains that Apple silicon will offer as they fill out their line (for me, at least) make the non-upgradeable nature of the RAM less of an issue. I’d rather move forward than stay mired in technologies with lower performance levels. We don’t know yet what the life-span of Apple’s SoC RAM will be. If it’s 10 years, this is a total non-issue. I do, however, hate paying Apple’s prices for RAM upgrades…

          So, we can have a Ferrari for the price of a high-end Volkswagen, but we can’t switch out chips to change the performance. Probably still a great deal for most people.

        3. Wow, you are cynical 😉

          I cannot see much, if any, difference between the upgradability of the previous MBA and the new M1 MBA. The memory in Mac laptops has been soldered-in for years. With the M1, the memory is even more integrated in the SoC. But it does not seem to me that there is a material difference in consumer upgradability between those two options. The same goes for the M1 graphics versus the built-in graphics or dedicated graphics on a 13” MBP – none of those are candidates for a hardware upgrade.

          In the end, every computer has a finite lifetime, even upgradable computers. Apple is focusing on reducing the impact of production (recycled materials, eliminate toxic materials, renewable energy), delivering a high-performance product with a long lifetime (fewer purchase/discard cycles), and increasing the amount of product recycling at EOL, thus feeding the production stream with recycled materials.

          This may be more of an issue with pro Mac desktop hardware. Perhaps Apple will place the M-series processors on a daughter card, like in the old days of the PowerMac, so that you can easily swap an M1 for an M2, or upgrade from two to eight M-series SoCs. In the pro Macs, I could also see Apple augmenting the built-in shared memory with a second level of memory, expandable to 128GB or more.

          But given the overall performance and performance per Watt, I have a very hard time finding fault with the initial implementation of the M1 on the mini, MBA, and 13” MBP.

  2. This is only the beginning. With these few M1 Macs,
    Apple will get a feel of everything as even they aren’t 100% sure how well M1 will be received.

    One thing however that I’m unsure of is how they market the M1 in Macs. We’re all accustomed to seeing & knowing the clock speeds of our desktops and notebooks. With any M1 Mac, it’s like Apple is telling consumers to take their word for it on it being fast. I feel like it shouldn’t be marketed like an iPhone.

    1. The times in which software made higher and higher demands on the hardware and you had to plan in advance or constantly upgrade your device are long gone. In the case of operating systems, this has been the case since Vista or Windows 7 at the latest, in the case of iPhones/iPads also for several years. Devices no longer slow down over time and software updates are no longer a horror. If you buy a device today that meets your own requirements, it will work smoothly and reliably for its entire lifetime. Newer devices may have better cameras or other sensors, but what your device was able to do in the beginning, it will still be able to do just as fast after 5 years. Now is the time to incorporate this into your world view, even for desktop computers, and finally overcome the old fear of being left behind. The times of upgrading are slowly coming to an end – at least for Apple – and that’s a good thing.

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