The Apple M1 is an ARM-based system on a chip (SoC) designed by Apple. The first to be designed specifically for the Mac line of computers, the M1 was introduced by Apple during a special event on November 10, 2020 for the MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and Mac mini. On April 20, 2021, Apple announced that the M1 would be incorporated into the redesigned 24-inch iMac and 5th-generation iPad Pros.
The M1 is manufactured by TSMC to Apple's design specifications. It contains 16 billion transistors that are fabricated through a 5 nm process. Dynamic RAM (DRAM) is built onto the package and is shared through Apple's unified memory architecture (UMA) to eliminate the need to copy data from the CPU to GPU, which are both part of the package.
The 8-core CPU contains four high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores, similiar to the ARM big.LITTLE architecture used by mobile devices for power efficiency. The GPU contains 8 cores for graphics, though only 7 are activated in the entry-level MacBook Air. The Neural Engine contains 16 cores for machine learning performance. A Thunderbolt 3 and USB4 controller is included on the chip. It also includes its own Secure Enclave, a security feature previously controlled in Macs by a separate Apple T1 or T2 chip.
Performance and compatibility
Apple advertises 3.5x faster performance running native software over previous models. Compatibility with Intel software is provided through Rosetta 2 emulation, with a reported performance hit of about 21-22%, still exceeding the speed of Apple's Intel-based models. The first operating system from Apple to natively support the M1 is macOS Big Sur, which can also natively run iPadOS applications on the M1.
Geekbench results indicate that the M1 processor in the latest MacBook Air is operating at a base clock rate of 3.2GHz, delivering performance comparable to that of an entry-level Intel Xeon-based 3rd generation Mac Pro, faster than an Intel Core i9-based 16-inch MacBook Pro, and nearly double the multicore performance of an Apple A14.
DRAM must be ordered in advance in 8 or 16GB configurations as they are part of the M1's SoC package. Larger memory configurations were not available at the time of its launch. The first M1-based Macs only support two USB4 ports and do not work with external GPUs.
- Apple Event — November 10 by Apple, YouTube. 2020-11-10.
- Apple Event — April 20 by Apple, YouTube. 2021-04-20.
- Apple blamed IBM and Intel for Mac chip delays, but TSMC won’t be next by Jeremy Horwitz, VentureBeat. 2020-11-13.
- Apple unleashes M1, Apple Inc. 2020-11-10.
- MacBook Air - Technical Specifications, Apple Inc. Archived 2020-11-10.
- Apple Platform Security: Secure Enclave overview, Apple Support. Accessed 2020-11-10.
- I love that Apple’s M1 can easily shrug off a 20% performance hit just to emulate x86_64 and still be faster than the Intel chips in the rest of Apple’s lineup by Steve Troughton-Smith, Twitter. 2020-11-15.
- Apple Silicon M1 Emulating x86 is Still Faster Than Every Other Mac in Single Core Benchmark by Frank McShan, MacRumors. 2020-11-15.
- MacBook Air with M1 chip beats 16-inch MacBook Pro performance in benchmark test by Filipe Espósito, 9to5Mac. 2020-11-11.
- MacBook Pro 16” with Intel i9 vs MacBook Air with Apple M1... 🤭🤭🤭, by Ben Geskin, Twitter. 2020-11-11.
- Apple's new M1 Macs won't work with external GPUs by Richard Lawler, Engadget. 2020-11-10.