M1 Ultra: Apple just unveiled its most powerful Mac chip yet

M1 Ultra: Apple just unveiled its most powerful Mac chip yet

Apple’s M1 Ultra processor

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

What is happening

Apple on Tuesday unveiled its most advanced M1 processor for Mac computers, the M1 Ultra, at its March product event.

why is it important

Marrying two previous generation M1 Max chips into a single M1 Ultra allows Apple to build its fastest Mac ever, even surpassing the Intel-based Mac Pro.

Apple on Tuesday announced its highest-end Mac M1 processor yet, a model that ties two M1 Max chips into a single package with 20 processing cores, 64 graphics cores and support for up to 128GB of memory. The chip, with a remarkable 114 billion transistor count, debuted at Apple’s product launch event in March and powers the new’s $3,999 high-end configuration. Mac Studio desktop computer.

The chip uses dedicated circuitry on last year’s M1 Max with a high-speed silicon bond called UltraFusion to marry the two processors together without a complicated design that would cause programmers problems, Apple said. It is emblematic of the growing push in the semiconductor industry to use packaging technology to link smaller chip elements into a larger processor.

UltraFusion uses a technique called a silicon interposer, essentially a layer in the chip package with 10,000 high-speed links between the two silicon wafers. “It’s a super smart approach to maximizing a mature design,” said Ben Bajarin, Creative Strategies Analyst. Compared to the first generation M1, the M1 Ultra has seven times more transistors, the basic electronic building block of a CPU.

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Apple said a Mac Studio powered by the M1 Ultra is 1.9 times faster than an Intel-powered Mac Pro with a 16-core Intel Xeon processor and 1.6 times faster than a Mac Pro with a 28-core Xeon, although it didn’t detail which speed tests it used. The high performance of the Mac Studio comes with a hefty price tag, but creative business customers who need to tackle huge video files or programmers creating new software may be willing to pay for maximum computing power. .

Although the M1 Ultra is a new highlight for Apple’s family of processors, it’s one step away from an expected M2 processor that will eventually revamp Apple’s core Mac chip engines. Even though Apple boasted that the new Mac Studio is faster than the existing Intel Mac Pro, it also said that a new Apple silicon-based Mac Pro was still in the works.

Apple’s Mac chips, which are more powerful variants of the A-series processors in its iPhones and iPads, have been “a huge hit for Apple,” said Kevin Krewell, analyst at Tirias Research. “Most people are happy with the performance, compatibility and battery life.”

Apple launched its M1 chip in November 2020. MacBook Air laptops and compact Mac Minis then expanded to a new 24-inch iMac in early 2021. Then in October came the more powerful MacBook Pro laptops with the chips M1 Pro and M1 Max, variants with more processing cores, more graphics power and support for 32 GB and 64 GB of memory instead of just 16 GB.

Intel didn’t comment on Apple’s loose performance claims, but said it’s focused on “world-class processors that will outperform everything else.” And he believes he has the advantage of having many PC manufacturers among his customers: “With a robust partner ecosystem that is unmatched in the PC industry, we are confident that we can deliver industry-leading hardware performance and superior software experience in the years to come.”

Apple’s M-series chips have also helped improve Mac profit margins, analysts said, with Apple ending purchases of Intel Core processors over a two-year transition period.

Intel is working as hard as it can to improve its chips – and the legions of Windows PCs that use them. Intel’s new Alder Lake processors, officially called 12th Gen Core and now available in desktops and laptops, are the first to adopt a hybrid performance and efficiency design used in smartphones and chips from the Apple M series. The designs combine high-performance processor cores for maximum speed with efficient cores for better battery life.

But Intel, still striving to upgrade its chipmaking technology after years of delays, still has a lot of work ahead of it. Under new chief executive Pat Gelsinger, it aims to make its own processor components competitive with those of rivals Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and Samsung by 2024 and higher by 2025. Meanwhile, Intel has started to source parts for its own processors from TSMC, which builds Apple’s A-series phone chips and M-series Mac chips.

For more, take a look at everything Apple announced on Tuesday, including the iPhone SE 3 (here’s how it compares to the 2020 model and why it’s aimed at people “who just want an iPhone”), the new colors of the iPhone 13 and the Updated iPad Air, as well as the Mac Studio and Mac Studio Display. The products arrived with iOS 15.4, the latest update to Apple’s iPhone operating system. You can explore all of these products and more with CNET event recap.