This Is Apple’s First ARM Processor for the Mac

Posted on November 10, 2020 by Mehedi Hassan in Apple, Mac and macOS, Mobile with 86 Comments

Apple detailed its plan to switch to ARM processors back in June. At the time, the company said it will be launching the first MacBooks powered by its new ARM processors by the end of the year. And today, it’s all official.

Apple’s first ARM processor for the Mac is called the M1. Apple’s new 5nm M1 SoC combines all its different chips together, featuring Apple’s unified memory architecture that offers high bandwidth and low-latency. Apple says the new unified memory architecture dramatically improves performance and power usage. The processor features 16 billion transistors.

Apple’s M1 boasts 4 high-performance cores, which Apple says are the world’s “fasted CPU cores”. There are also 4 high-efficiency cores, which uses limited power while still offering high performance. Altogether, the octa-core M1 processor offers the best performance per watt.

The 8-core GPU on the M1 is capable of executing nearly 25 thousand threads at once. Apple compared the performance of the M1 with the latest “PC laptop chip” throughout the launch, which is not a massive surprise.

Apart from the CPU and GPU cores, it also features a 16-core Neural Engine processor and a Secure Enclave.

Apple says the upcoming update to macOS, Big Sur, has been designed to work efficiently on Apple Silicon. “It’s absolutely incredible on M1,” said Apple’s SVP of Engineering, Craig Federighi. The new update to macOS makes use of M1’s unified memory architecture, which gives improved access to more graphics resources than ever before. Big Sur also features advanced power management for the M1, which automatically optimises tasks between using the high-performance and high-efficiency cores of the CPU on the fly.

Additionally, Apple is working with leading app developers such as Adobe to compile popular apps such as the Adobe Creative Cloud suite to work natively on the M1. Other apps that are not yet optimized for its M1 processor will use Rosetta 2, which will enable non-native apps to work on the new M1 processor. Oh, and, the new M1-powered Mac devices will be the first to run iOS apps (as long as developers opt-in to make their app available on the M1 Macs).

Disclosure: I worked as a software engineering intern with the Windows on Snapdragon (ARM) team at Qualcomm in Summer 2020. Any opinions or comments expressed in this article do not represent my past or future employer. 

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Comments (101)

101 responses to “This Is Apple’s First ARM Processor for the Mac”

  1. blue77star

    That's all nice but an it play Crysis with (Can it play Crysis settings) ?

  2. winner

    Are there any real numbers for anything, or is it all just qualitative statements?

  3. ponsaelius

    What struck me as they seem to have done several things simultaneously. Produced a powerful compelling SOC, long battery life, recognised the changes in personal computing, produced an architecture in which IOS apps can run on a desktop computer and produced a joined up environment of phone, tablet, and PC.


    For me that was the vision of Microsoft. PC, tablet and phone working together with a single OS and application compatibility. In 2020 Apple have done it.


    Microsoft have developed as a cloud services company where Windows is de-emphasised as client for cloud services.



    • peterc

      In reply to ponsaelius:

      Exactly Ponsaelius. My son will require a new laptop soon, it would have been a surface laptop or pro. He uses an iPhone and iPad and now it will be an M1 MacBook Air. Yes theres some software questions remaining so let’s see how those play out, but unless something radical appears from Microsoft he’s going to be entrenched in the Mac OS/iOS ecosystem as will many others.


      This is what the choice to walk away from mobile and consumers looks like in reality. Cloud services and enterprise focus will do great for MS, really great, but I look at all the pcs in my house and apart from the gaming desktop they’re all at high risk of being replaced by Mac OS devices over the next few years.


      Your forum question regarding the future of windows would appear to have the answer... “an ever decreasing market share going forward”.. in my opinion.

    • wright_is

      In reply to ponsaelius:

      There have been Intel based laptops that run for 24 hours or more for a couple of years now.

      I'll wait for the third party benchmarks and reviews, to see just how much more powerful they really are. It looks impressive in the infographics, but as we've repeatedly seen in recent years, the reality is often very different.

  4. clemens_naderer

    This is the end of the Mac. The diagrams are easily the most dumb I have ever seen. 16 GB ram on the SoC... rofl. This has no chance against a similar priced Ryzen Notebook. And there is no software for this crap, except some browsers and hipsterware.

    • Paul Thurrott

      lol The end of the Mac? :) Come on.
    • 2ilent8cho

      In reply to Clemens_Naderer:


      The M1 is the entry level, slowest chips Apple will sell, so it covers the Air plus base Pro 13" and Mac Mini. Apple will release a more powerful version for the higher end Pro 13" and 16" Macbooks, maybe called M1X these will have the larger RAM options. Remember 2 things, first of all this is a 2 year transition period so you are not seeing all their cards yet, but what they have shown off is faster than 98% of all laptops on the market in the last 12 months, and that is their worst performing option! Then you are going to start to see gains year over year as Apple run with M2, M3, M4 and they expect to be a 3nm in 4 years time. Just think about that and let it settle in......

    • charlesb88

      In reply to Clemens_Naderer:

      How many times have I heard this one before, “The Mac is DOOMED” or “Apple is DOOMED”. I don’t know if your being serious, just a delusional Mac/Apple hater who can’t imagined anything good coming from Apple, or just trolling us but let’s assume you really believe what your saying and address your points: First, What they are doing here with the RAM on an SOC is a breakthrough and assuming it all works as well as they claim once reviewers benchmark/review the machines, it could be a game changer and something say Qualcomm or AMD might want look into doing for WinPC. Second, we have no reviews yet of course of the MacBook Air and Pro against whatever might be considered a comparable AMD Ryazan notebook so this could indeed prove to be as significant in performance improvements as Apple claims. This is why Paul has said on Windows Weekly that Microsoft, Qualcomm, and PC manufacturers really out to take lesson here from Apple. I don’t see x86 as the future of desktop PC’s even if WinPC’s stick with them for at least a while longer. My advice to you is to wait till reviews come out and comparison are done by professional reviewers before crapping all over this. Finely, as for software, a number of major software developers have promised Apple M1 (Arm) compatible versions of the big current Mac software titles including Adobe and Microsoft (Photoshop. Lightroom, Office, Credge Browser, etc. none of which are hipster-ware). I expect Chrome and Firefox browsers will eventually be Native M1 compatible too but in the meantime they will still run at very acceptable speeds using Rosetta 2 to emulate x86 support according to Apple. No, it won’t run Crisis or other high-end PC games but then no one expected it would and if you need Bootcamp support, Intel Mac versions are still available for sale form Apple.

    • winner

      In reply to Clemens_Naderer:

      Ballmer said the iPhone cost too much and laughed at it, too.

    • the escalation

      In reply to Clemens_Naderer:

      You're right. 16 GB is nowhere near enough for the average consumer who these specific machines are primarily geared towards. If they have to run Microsoft Word and Candy Crush on anything less than 64 GB of RAM and a Core i9, it'll be a laggy, stuttery mess. I'm surprised macOS will even load. And who cares about 18 hour battery life anyway? Remind me to congratulate you in two years when Tim Cook runs Apple into the ground and is forced to sell to Amazon.

    • lvthunder

      In reply to Clemens_Naderer:

      Didn't know Photoshop and Lightroom are hipsterware.

      • james.h.robinson

        In reply to lvthunder:

        It kinda is for people who use apps like Solidworks, ChemCAD, etc.

        • sammyg

          In reply to james.h.robinson:

          Because they run that software today on Mac mini's? They don't, they probably use either a iMac Pro or a Mac Pro, which are still on Intel.


          I do not think people are really getting it. Round the M1 chip goes in the lower end Mac, that sell a lot to casual users of Mac's.


          Notice how the higher end Mac's are still on intel today, iMac, 16inch Macbook, Mac Pro.


          After selling a metric ton of these new M1 macs, because they are the segment of Mac's that sell the most today, they will then migrate the more powerful Mac's.


          Lets say this time next year, the M2 drops, which is even more powerful and a good chunk of the top 10 apps are migrated, MS Office, Adobe, Omni, etc. Then you will start to see the more powerful M2 Arm. It will probably be bigger and produce more heat and need more cooling but it will go in boxes that can handle that. (16inch Macbook, iMac's).


          I bet there will even be a 3rd round another year later giving us the M3 or whatever that is the Mac Pro Intel Xeon workstation killer.

        • lvthunder

          In reply to james.h.robinson:

          Are either of those even available on the Mac at all?

          • james.h.robinson

            In reply to lvthunder:

            Nope, but you used to be able to run Windows on Mac at native or near-native speeds. I guess that's gone with the new M1 Macs.

            • angusmatheson

              In reply to james.h.robinson:

              I’ve played with boot camp. If you want a windows PC, buy a windows PC. I cannot image there are many who care about that. And parallels can run virtually on a chrome book. I haven’t head much about how that experience is, but wouldn’t that same technology work here? Better than rebooting on boot camp. Even Parallels was a pain and not worth it. And that is brilliant software. There are now a ton a amazing Windows computers to but if you want one. If you want to eat an apple ear and apple. If you want to eat a grape eat a grape. Don’t make a Grapple and think it will be the best of eating a grape and an apple.

  5. Rycott

    Those are some fancy graphs that tell us pretty much nothing.

    • wright_is

      In reply to Rycott:

      Exactly. Show me it running head to head running Linpack against the new Ryzen 5000 series and I'll be impressed. Or just some real-world benchmarks on macOS, comparisons of Photoshop filters or 4K video editing etc.

      It looks impressive on paper, but it needs some real world comparisons, from independent third parties.

  6. truerock2

    Running notebook PC and desktop PC software on an ARM CPU (or any low-power RISC CPU) is not a big deal.

    In my opinion the really important thing taking place is heterogeneous CPU cores.

    No single core design is optimal for all tasks. Having different types of cores in a single CPU is huge,


    I will say the advantage Apple has over open-systems is having a single, highly controlled environment so that Apple Watch, iPhone, iPad and Macs, etc are all "rowing in the same direction". This makes life easier and more productive for developers and users.


    There are obviously disadvantages to a Apple's highly controlled and centralized system. There is plenty of room for both open-systems and Apple proprietary systems.


    Also, a centralized, single-focused approach is always susceptible to some disruptive occurrences that renders that single approach as non-optimal or even obsolete. But, things like CPUs with heterogeneous cores make that less likely.

    • wright_is

      In reply to truerock2:

      Apple's true advantage is its complete disregard for its users and developers. They make what they want and the users are told to like it and the developers have to jump on board, no options.

      Microsoft isn't in that position, it has too big a market and too many customers that will tell them where to go, if they tried to do that.

      If you have to replace a $1,500 laptop, because Apple has switched CPU architecture, it isn't that big a deal, annoying, but hey, it is Apple's new shiny and most software developers go with the move.

      On the Windows side, the customers aren't going to replace a 7-figure production facility, just because Microsoft has moved to a new processor and the software supplier only supports it with a complete refit of the complete production line...

      • shameer_mulji

        In reply to wright_is:

        "Microsoft isn't in that position, it has too big a market and too many customers that will tell them where to go, if they tried to do that."


        Apple's iPhone active user base is one billions strong, the same size as the Windows user base. The iPad user base is approximately 500 million users, and the Mac 100 million users. And yet, with that many users, Apple can still change and adapt relatively quickly. MS' problem isn't that it has too many customers, it's that the majority of its customers are enterprises, not consumers. And it's no secret that enterprises are slow-moving when it comes to adopting new technologies.

      • nbplopes

        In reply to wright_is:


        “Apple's true advantage is its complete disregard for its users and developers. “


        Nonsense. The true advantage is they are very very much product oriented. They are a product and services first company. This goes deep into their roots.


        Microsoft deviated from that when BG was replaced by Balmer. It became an Expansion first company. With Nadella it became a Vision first company ... “empowering users to do more” whatever that is.


        The Products themselves became secondary ... meaning ... going after whatever the market seams to be going after and is a threat to their business. Sometimes it works like Cloud and MS Teams ... sometimes it does not like the massive failure of Windows Mobile and UWP ... It’s a threat/opportunity based decision.


        Apple totally disregards potential market threats and focuses on their products. If not, probably the market would be flooded with HomePods and they would already have a search engine on their own. Yet, they very much focus on their product agenda ... going deeper rather than wider.


        All these companies have enough cache to persue whatever they want.


        Instead of going on and on about cross platform like MS did and would ... they go on and on about how each product is amazing individually. Cross platform and interop is just the ecosystem ... a bullet point. It was just 2 seconds on the Keynote yet the innovation to achieve that is very very deep.


        The unit MS that seams more similar to this is the XBOX division

        • RobertJasiek

          In reply to nbplopes:

          Apple is also a rip-off company for the shareholders' sake: excessive high end model prices, excessive upgrade prices, unnecessary / excessively priced repairs etc.

          • nbplopes

            In reply to RobertJasiek:


            It might be a rip off, but is less than any Surface offering.


            By the way, for $500 just two months ago you could get the fastest chip set on the planet in a smartphone (the iPhone SE). Smashing in that regard the competition offering $1000 phones. Meaning for half the price you could get a phone with for more years ahead in performance.


            Look. There are many many things I dislike about Apple, but their devices aren’t one of them ... well for the very most part.

  7. rosyna

    Oh, and, the new M1-powered Mac devices will be the first to run iOS apps (as long as developers opt-in to make their app available on the M1 Macs).


    It’s not an opt-in operation, it’s opt-out (iOS apps are available on Apple Silicon Macs by default, the developer has to explicitly choose to not permit it)

  8. tallguyse

    I’m impressed by what Apple presented today, even though I’m not in the market for a lower end machine. It will be interesting to see what they do next year with the high end machines and how they compare. I currently have a 16” MBP with an i9 and 5500M. If Apple can show the same % improvements over this machine, I will seriously be impressed.

    • wright_is

      In reply to TallGuySE:

      One problem at the moment, with the first M1 is that it supports a maximum of 16GB RAM (it is allegedly "unified" on the SoC).

      If you need more than 16GB, you will be stuck with an Intel Mac for at least the first generation. This has the horrible feel of the first generation of Intel Macs, which were a hybrid 32/64-bit nightmare and dumped fairly quickly, once the full 64-bit models came online.

      The initial marketing gabble looks impressive at first sight, but having been burnt last time around, I'll be waiting to see how this evolves...

      • tallguyse

        In reply to wright_is:

        Completely agree. I think the current M1 is a replacement for the Intel Chips with integrated graphics. Future versions will have to support external memory and GPUs. I can’t imagine an SoC that supports 1.5 TB of RAM and RDNA 2 levels of performance.

  9. peterc

    Well here we are, and love em or hate me, they’ve bridged the mobile to desktop offering in a very impressive way and it’s only just started. Unless google and Microsoft have got something proper awesome up their sleeves which can be delivered quite quickly, then this is what the future of personal computing will look like for a substantial amount of people, especially those with iPhones and iPads...



    • lvthunder

      In reply to peterc:

      I would wait until they ship first and see what happens before declaring this victorious. That said they have me interested and I need to replace my Mac that I only use for iOS development since I can't upgrade the OS anymore. But if everything works flawless like they claim Qualcomm, AMD, and Intel really need to step up or be left behind. Microsoft needs to make it easier to recompile an app to work on WOA.

    • wright_is

      In reply to peterc:

      They bridged mobile to portable. The Mac mini has traditionally also used Intel mobile (laptop) chips. They have yet to release something with a real desktop equivalent processor (iMac Pro or Mac Pro).

      • peterc

        In reply to wright_is:

        Agreed, but in the meanwhile while they do/don’t deliver on that more demanding product chip set, they can hoover up general user market share with the products released yesterday, which to be honest is a big chunk of users.... I only see marginalisation for windows.


        Yes MS have a lot of windows users out there and it will take time etc, but If MS want to stay in the game with windows, or any other windows variant OS, then they have to deliver, and quickly, and I don’t think they can, and I don’t think their long term windows user will let them either, as they appear to collectively lose their sh*t whenever MS release something with windows in the product name that cant run win32 apps...


        Either way, apple (and maybe google) will simply spend the next decade gaining more and more desktop market share from MS and deliver consumer subscription services spanning mobile/portable/desktop... regardless of the reasons, MS walking away from mobile, cost them dearly...

        • wright_is

          In reply to peterc:

          The problem is, there are too many developers and too many businesses for Microsoft to move away from Intel.

          If they move to ARM, those users will just keep buying Intel based devices, until they are no longer available.

          The problem isn't the private user, but the corporate user. If you have a production facility costing millions to fit out, you aren't going to re-fit it with millions of dollars of new equipment, just because the PC that controls it now runs ARM and the software no longer runs and you need a new production line for it to be "compatible" with ARM.

          And if the production is stuck on Intel, they'll stick with Intel for the rest as well, because it is easier to support, when you buy a few thousand of the same PCs.

          • peterc

            In reply to wright_is:

            exactly - the situation totally plays into apples hands, who can acquire desktop market share for those that can/will switch (consumer windows users) at a pace of their choosing as MS cant do diddly squat about it.... and leave the troublesome windows users to Microsoft... :-) its hilarious... the apple board must be pinching themselves at their luck, as Ms have been utterly chaotic and tied in "windows knots" for years. (they, apple, have designed, developed and manufactured a whole bespoke class of chipset in this same time frame). Talk about serving an almost uncontested market space (consumer windows) to your competition on a platter....

    • james.h.robinson

      In reply to peterc:

      "Substantial amount of people," most definitely! Majority, not so much.

  10. scovious

    The M1 is a platform, just like the Xbox Series X is a platform. I wonder which one will attract more high end performance focused developers? I wonder which one has a mountain to climb and no wind in their sails?

  11. djross95

    This is damned impressive.

  12. bkkcanuck

    I think all of the computers released today are on the lower end - including the "low end" "macbook 13" (two variations for intel - one with 2 ports, one with 4). All of the computers have 2 TB/USB4 ports at most as well as 16GB memory. I still think they have the 12" equivalent yet to release with a slightly lower price -- gut feeling. Anyways, as expected I will be waiting for next years releases. For the vast majority of people though the new lineup looks good.

  13. waethorn

    No mention of virtualization in this presentation. Eagerly awaiting Parallels to announce *something* about their software compatibility with this, and whether or not it will emulate x86 to support Windows.

  14. nbplopes

    This is an impressive new beginning. It’s true that others have aimed the same cross device / platform and succeeded at sorts point ... but this is that done at 100% plus ... much more.


    As others have said, this are all entry level products. If they deliver the same gains in the “Pro” machines ... man .... I think is is all people are expecting. They seam to be taking their time with solid profound step by step deliverables towards the end game. Like a chess master player.


    PS: And people understand what they are talking about, unlike Nadella and Co.


    ”We are well and truly into this era of the intelligent cloud in the intelligent Edge. “ - Nadella.

    “That next generation of multi sense Multi-Device experiences that are much more people Centric. That’s the richness. “ - Nadella.


    ”I’m Pumped, my father ....” - ...


    Countless of this stuff in MS Keynotes ... It just gives me headaches. This is more lecture stuff, sorry. A more product centric discourse ... and here it is ... is far more understandable and interesting in these cases.

  15. waethorn

    You have to wonder about this: is this really about elevating the Mac? Or is it about leveraging the iOS development model for higher-end apps to get developers on board so that they can deprecate conventional Mac app development?



  16. waethorn

    The 16GB memory cap seems to highlight the limitations of the integrated ARM platform. They're using system-in-a-package where DRAM chips are mounted into the M1. There's some power and performance benefits in doing that, but I have to think that there's some creative professionals out there that are scratching their head about Apple's marketing behind pro workloads for the Mac mini and MacBook Pro in regards to this.


    At least they were smart to lower the cost of entry on those units.

    • MikeCerm

      In reply to Waethorn:

      This is just a first step, it's not like they couldn't put more memory in there if they wanted to. In the next gen (or whatever eventually goes into a Mac Pro), they'll either put more DRAM chips on the die, or just wire it up to use "external" memory. Maybe they'll keep the built-in DRAM to like a cache. The sort of people who buy a Mac Mini or MacBook Air really don't need more than 16 GB. Sure, there are people who have 64 GB in their Intel Mac Minis, but the message to those people is pretty clear: you are going to need to buy a Mac Pro in the future.

      • bkkcanuck

        In reply to MikeCerm:

        What they likely will have to do to maintain the performance of the DRAM on the package... is maintain the DRAM on the package of 16GB but work on having the memory controller effectively act as a large cache that maps/higher latency memory onto the DRAM as needed. i.e. effectively merging the advantages of large memory and the on the package DRAM together... don't have a clue how they will do it though.

        • waethorn

          In reply to bkkcanuck:

          There's some new software tricks that are catching on now with regards to low-memory situations. Using compressed pages helps, and can completely eliminate the need for swap space on a fixed disk. I wonder if Big Sur is using that.

          • bkkcanuck

            In reply to Waethorn:

            There are many 'tricks' out there including creating well behaved apps. The same memory handling for the iPhone exists on mac apps I believe which means you are suppose to be coding on what to unload from memory if your app is told memory is running low etc. (don't know all the details). My problem with 16GB is not an issue normal usage, but often it is more to do with me running all sorts of things - like database servers in the background, Virtual Machines, etc. BTW, my friend just hit the limit on what he was doing with Photoshop on Windows and a particular image... he ran out of memory on a 64GB machine -- I had to laugh... a single image....

    • lvthunder

      In reply to Waethorn:

      The mac minis have always had that limitation. The pro workflows that they are talking about are specific tasks. Alex Lindsay used to talk about using them in this matter on MacBreak Weekly a lot. He would have a rack full of them and they would each be running one app.

      • waethorn

        In reply to lvthunder:

        What are you talking about?? The existing Mac mini available on their site supports up to 64GB.


        I wouldn't put much faith in shows on TWiT. Most of the shows are done and gone now and the previous people in charge of many of those shows are washed up and moved from network to network looking for work. You can't monetize a podcast network.

        • Paul Thurrott

          lol wow. Anyway. Apple still offers Intel-based Mac Minis for those that need more than 16 GB of RAM.
        • sammyg

          In reply to Waethorn:

          What percentage of Mac Mini's are sold with 64gig? Probably less than 1%. Mac mini's target a price point to get into Mac's, which is entry level Mac's. It always has been.


          Yes they have been used in some odd ways, like mini server farms for rendering or whatever, but for the most part is the lowest price to pay to "get into the Mac". You bring your own monitor and go.


          Understanding that helps you understand that 16gigs of RAM is more than enough for 99% of Mac Mini buyers. Heck I would wager that 8gig would be enough for more than half of Mac Mini buyers.

        • bkkcanuck

          In reply to Waethorn:

          I have a Mac Mini with 64GB and 10GB Ethernet in it - using all 4 USB-C ports (including thunderbolt: external GPU (Vega 64), external Samsung SSD X5 1TB high speed SSD) with the eGPU connecting 3 x 4K monitors.


          The M1 Mac Mini is not space grey (hints at not being considered pro but only low end)... so what we are yet to see is what replaces the real 'pro' Macs (the MacBook Pro is an entry level replacing the current entry-level MacBook 'Pro' (entry level MacBook pro has been misnamed for a while - it is not really a 'Pro' machine just a higher entry level machine than the Air).


          Good start, but we have yet to see what Apple is going to do with it's 'Pro' side.... for that we have to wait a bit longer (until sometime next year)... but this lineup on the entry level side... does not dampen my enthusiasm for the switchover.

  17. wright_is

    Aha, the RAM is integrated into the SoC, which is why it was only put in low end devices so far, 16GB is the maximum the chip/SoC currently supports.

    A lot of vocal Mac users asking why they have such measly RAM, if you currently have a 64GB MacBook Pro, you are highly unlikely to look at a 16GB as a replacement.

    It will be interesting to see how this pans out going forward.

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