Never one to rest on their laurels, Apple has unveiled a way to make their machines surpass the competition. Apple Silicon (specifically the M1 chip) promises to deliver unparalleled performance to all machines.
In this post, we give you the lowdown on Apple Silicon. By the end, you’ll know whether it’s right for you!
What Is Apple Silicon?
Apple Silicon is a term to describe all of the Central Processing Units (CPUs) made through Apple’s engineering team. In other words, Apple Silicon are in-house processors for Apple devices.
You’ll find in-house chips throughout the smaller form-factor product line, such as iPad and iPhone. These so-called “A chips” have plenty of processing power, with complex and intelligent architecture.
Desktop Macs are getting the opportunity to run on Apple Silicon. Before we can get into the processor, we need to talk about the differences in architecture on a broad level.
ARM vs. x86 Processors
The vast majority of computer processors for general-purpose computing use an “x86” architecture. While the details are beyond the scope of this article, Intel and AMD CPUs – i.e. those used in most Windows and Linux-based computers – sit inside many machines.
In contrast, ARM processors are more prominent in mobile devices and don’t feature in many desktop machines. This is because of the “instruction set” each processor type uses. ARM processors break processing instructions into basic, single-cycle tasks whereas x86 processors don’t.
This is something we talk about at length in our article about the differences between Intel and ARM chips. We recommend looking into this if you want to know more about what happens deep under the hood.
The Apple M1 Chip
The M1 chip is another ARM-based CPU in Apple’s product line, along with the A10–14 series used in the iPad and iPhone. The M1 (and other Silicon CPUs) are more like full systems on the chip. They contain the CPU, Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), Random Access Memory (RAM), the Thunderbolt controller, Solid State Drive (SSD) controller, and much more.
In other words, the M1 chip is a complete system, contained within a 5 nanometer process. It’s little but fierce. You’ll learn more about this later in this article.
Which Macs Use Apple’s M1 Chip?
The first Mac to include Apple Silicon is the MacBook Air, introduced in late 2020. The eight-core CPU is also found in a 13-inch MacBook Pro, a 24-inch iMac, and a Mac mini. It’s also now in the iPad Pro as well.
Why Apple Transitioned From Intel-Based Chips
With Intel producing some poor processors over the years, it could be one of the reasons behind Apple moving in-house. Apple wanted to make better computers that outperformed the competition. To do this, they needed to bring construction of the chips in-house – without the workmanship of Intel.
While Apple hasn’t produced its own CPUs since around 2005, the iPhone and iPad have used Apple-developed chips for a number of years. Fifteen years after the introduction of Intel CPUs, Apple applied this knowledge to desktop processors to move once again into producing its own chips.
The company states that there is better performance, power management, energy-efficiency, and battery life in the M1 than equivalent Intel chips.
The Advantages of Apple Silicon Over Other CPUs
We mentioned that Apple Silicon talks a good game with regard to performance and energy management, and in fact, there are a few practical reasons to choose Apple Silicon chips:
- Apple handles the entire development and management chain. If nothing else, Apple is a master at integration. As such, you’ll find that performance will be outstanding across all devices.
- With Apple now using its own chips across mobile and desktop, you’re able to use some apps for iOS on macOS. This helps third-party developers create apps for desktop machines too – a common sticking point for Mac desktop users.
- When it comes to benchmarks, M1 is very powerful. The chip is performing well so far, which bodes well for the future of Apple Silicon.
Because Apple has parlayed its expertise with the AX series of chips to the M1, users are going to get a great experience – already borne out from the reviews and testing.
Will We See Other OS and Apps on macOS Machines with Apple Silicon?
Developers didn’t get long to optimize code for Apple Silicon, which means that similar to the 64-bit debacle with macOS Catalina, many apps won’t work on devices using the M1 chip. Apple introduced Rosetta 2 to help with the transition. This is a translation service that acts as a wrapper for non-ARM apps, but that affects performance and won’t work for virtualized environments.
Speaking of which, Microsoft has stated that they will not release an ARM-based version of Windows for public consumption. Open-source virtualization software such as VirtualBox won’t work on Apple Silicon machines either. You’ll need to find other tools (such as the ARM-based version of Parallels Desktop) to run virtualized machines.
As an aside, we can run Windows Insider Preview through Parallels without complaint, although this is an ARM-based version of Windows.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can I use Boot Camp with Apple Silicon chips?
As you might expect after reading the last section, the answer is “No.” In fact, Boot Camp is now discontinued on all Macs, and Apple has gone on the record to state that it won’t support Boot Camp going forward.
Given the current landscape, it looks as though dual-booting will be a thing of the past, and that a Windows and macOS virtualization environment won’t be possible either.
2. Is there any benefit to using Intel-based Macs now or in the future?
As far as performance goes, Apple Silicon blows Intel out of the water. In terms of performance, energy efficiency, power management, battery life, and more, Apple is in the driving seat.
Because of this, we’d suggest the vast majority of users go for an Apple Silicon machine, unless there is some specific needs that the M1 doesn’t cater to. For example, web developers may want to stick with Intel.
But the M1 will offer you greater benefits at a lower price point, with better energy and battery consumption.
3. Will I need to buy a MacBook Pro for extra processing power?
As a long-term Apple user, specifically of maxed-out MacBook Pro machines, I can say the MacBook Air performs just as well, if not better in some areas than the 2020 Intel 16-inch MacBook Pro.
Unless you’re a video editor or a musician, we’d suggest sticking with a MacBook Air for now. Even then, you’ll want to head down to the Apple Store and at least test-drive the MacBook Pro 13-inch version with the M1 chip.
While Apple has had a patchy history when it comes to in-house processing units, they have knocked it out of the park with the M1 chip. This is a new ARM-based processor that’s slowly finding its way into desktop machines. Apple already has a pedigree with its mobile processors, and this knowledge is being used on desktop to the full.
Read on to learn the results of a Surface Pro X vs. Mac with Apple Silicon running Windows 10 and news that Linux is bringing support to the M1 Mac.