Last October, Apple (AAPL) unveiled groundbreaking processors, the M1 Pro and M1 Max, which brought desktop-class performance to the new MacBook Pros. The PC world just yawned, pointing out that there are still CPUs and GPUs with more performance, even though they consume a lot more power than Apple Silicon. But Apple was not done. Apple’s new M1 Ultra shows how efficiency can translate into performance that even the latest Intel (INTC) desktop chips can’t match.
Apple’s processor guru introduces the M1 Ultra. Source: Apple.
Peek Performance Event Reveals Powerful M1 Ultra
Rumors had been circulating for some time that Apple had hidden a special chip interconnect on the edge of the M1 Max that allowed two or even four M1 Max chips to be combined into one chip architecture. These rumors turned out to be correct, at least for combining two chips. At Apple “Peek Performance” event on March 8, Apple unveiled the M1 Ultra. The M1 Ultra consists of two M1 Max chips connected via the special interface, called UltraFusion:
Everything simply doubles, including CPU and GPU cores, as well as memory capacity and bandwidth. The M1 Pro and Max had a relatively modest complement of 8 single-threaded CPU performance cores, which offered solid midrange desktop-level performance, but high-end desktops from Intel or ‘AMD (AMD) often feature 16 or more dual-threaded cores. With 16 performance cores, M1 Ultra beats the highest performing Intel Alder Lake desktop chip, the Core i9-12900K in multi-core benchmarks according to Apple:
This statement actually makes sense for multi-core Geekbench. The 12900K scores approximately 17,000pointswhile the M1 Max scores around 12,000. Doubling the M1 Max’s performance cores won’t double the multi-core score, but it will likely boost it by around 80% to 22,000, according to Apple’s chart.
Of course, real-world performance is another matter, but the M1 Ultra’s massive memory bandwidth should allow it to perform well in a wide variety of tasks. The one area where Alder Lake will outperform the Ultra is in single-core performance.
Apple chose to package the M1 Ultra in a Mac Mini-derived form factor called Mac Studio. It’s a very powerful system, but definitely not something that will appeal to PC enthusiasts. Instead, Apple is targeting its core “creative professionals”:
Apple wants to transform your studio. Source: Apple.
Apple Silicon’s Quiet Revolution
Last October, I wrote Apple is about to change the world againand I was not disappointed by Event “Freed” which unveiled the new MacBook Pros. I purchased a 16-inch MacBook Pro with the M1 Pro processor and used and tested it extensively. I was concerned that by increasing the performance of the humble M1, Apple would have to give up some of its incredible efficiency, but the M1 Pro turned out to be virtually identical in efficiency to the M1 while almost doubling its performance.
The MacBook Pro has become my primary home desktop computer, able to replace my Intel desktop computer with less than 1/4 the power consumption. The Mac tech review community was also similarly impressed, but that’s about it.
Consumer PC reviewers basically ignored Apple Silicon’s efficiency advantage, preferring to focus on absolute performance, where there were always Intel or AMD chips that could do better. And when it came to GPU performance, there was really no way for Apple Silicon to compete with Nvidia’s (NVDA) discrete notebook GPUs, let alone desktop versions.
Then Intel announced Alder Lake for laptops at CES. Intel has been very explicit in its targeting of Apple Silicon in its multimedia slideshow:
Just to make sure everyone understood this message, it was repeated in Three. Separate. Places. But efficiency was quietly forgotten, and early portable computers such as the MSI GE76 who use the laptop version of Alder Lake were obese monsters who were largely unusable when not plugged in.
Source: Tom’s MSI GE76 Hardware Review.
As I pointed out in my article on the Alder Lake laptop processor, Intel achieved its best single-core performance for Alder Lake by creating a package that would allow the chips to run at their rated turbo frequency indefinitely. In previous generations of Intel processors, Turbo mode could only be maintained for about a minute before the processors overheated.
The price of Unlimited Turbo Mode was that CPUs would now consume huge amounts of power. Maximum desktop turbo power i9-12900K is 241 W, and for the laptop 12900HK it’s 115W. But these chips will maintain Turbo mode indefinitely as long as the system can supply enough power and cooling.
Using Turbo mode is truly an act of desperation and in many ways a step backwards in the long progression of electronic computer systems. Since the era of vacuum tubes, computer architecture has always turned towards more energy-efficient devices and systems. It’s always been the way sustainable performance gains have been made.
Turbo mode reminds me a bit of what we see in the reaction to Tesla (TSLA) Model S Plaid. The Model S Plaid is by far the fastest production four-door sedan in the world, with a 0-60 mph time of 1.99 seconds.
It is possible, and some have, to create internal combustion engine cars capable of beating the Model S Plaid in a drag race. This requires extreme measures, such as supercharging, nitrous oxide injection and simply huge engines.
But that doesn’t make the internal combustion engine any less obsolete. On the contrary, the extremity of the measures necessary to make ICEs competitive only underlines their obsolescence.
Analysts completely missed Apple’s Mac stock gains in the December quarter
With much of the mainstream tech media unimpressed with the new MacBook Pros (and Apple Silicon in general), financial analysts began casting low Mac sales estimates and financial results for the quarter. of December. It started with IDC and by Gartner PC unit sales estimates.
Both companies estimated that Apple increased shipments of Mac units by 18% or more for the year as a whole. Yet, almost inexplicably, despite the introduction of the new MacBook Pros last October, Gartner estimated Mac unit shipment growth of just 6.2% in the fourth calendar quarter, while IDC estimated Mac unit growth at 8.6%.
Analysts’ financial expectations for the December quarter were also pessimistic. In my article on Apple’s first quarter fiscal 2022 results, I compared my estimates to those of a number of Apple analysts. interviewed by Apple Insider:
The Mac posted the fastest year-over-year revenue growth of any segment Apple reported and set an all-time quarterly revenue record:
Was the rise in Mac revenue due to the huge growth in ASP? I doubt. The new MacBook Pros were comparable in price to the Intel models they replaced. Most likely, the Mac unit shipment estimates for the December quarter were just plain wrong.
There’s a strong bias in the mainstream tech media that says Apple will never be able to make any difference in personal computing, that it will always be a niche player. To continue to believe this is to ignore the technological revolution that Apple is creating with Apple Silicon.
Beyond the M1 generation, I believe that the M2 generation will use TSMC’s (TSM) 3nm process in 2023. The M2 series will start, as M1 did, with a single M2 chip and grow from the.
While Apple Silicon’s performance will continue to win conversions, Apple’s PC market share gains will likely be held back somewhat by the cost of its systems. A fully-featured Mac Studio costs over $6,000. I haven’t seen Apple present a compelling use case for the Studio over, say, the new MacBook Pro, or even the Studio with M1 Max.
The sad reality for Apple is that the most demanding consumer activity for PCs is gaming. And as multiple tests have shown, Apple is more or less shut out of the PC gaming market. There just aren’t many PC games that have been ported to macOS. With Apple’s more powerful processors, that will change, but it will take time.
What Apple Silicon has to offer is that it is on the side of history. The historical trend is clearly in favor of ever more efficient computing platforms. Greater efficiency invariably translates into better performance. We’ve seen it with the M1 Pro and Max and now M1 Ultra.
The X86 has already lost the efficiency competition, and it will never recover. Soon he will also lose the absolute performance competition. After that, the only thing x86 will have going for it is legacy software compatibility, which isn’t a trivial advantage, but it will diminish over time.
Investors should seriously consider a future where Apple dominates both personal computing and smartphones. This does not mean that Apple will sell the most personal computers. Apple does not sell the most smartphones. But it takes the most profit in the smartphone industry. Apple could do the same for the personal computer industry. I’m staying Apple for a long time and rating it as a buy.