Apple’s strongest chip pigeon! It’s just a step away from the Mac completely abandoning Intel

If you want to draw up a time node for the Mac, then WWDC in 2020 can be described as a very important one.

At that WWDC, the finale Apple SIlicon project was no less than a one more thing.

In addition to introducing Apple Silicon and the developer-oriented DTK (Developer Transition Kit), Tim Cook (Tim Cook) also promised a "two-year" transition period.

Although Apple officially did not set conditions for this two-year plan, judging from third-party analysis agencies and the media, all Mac products at that time had built-in M chips, which almost represented a successful transition from Intel to Apple Silicon.

However, until today, the Mac Pro on sale still uses Intel chips, and the rumored M chip Mac Pro has not yet been seen.

This also means that Apple reneged on the chip transition that was originally planned to be completed in two years.

Macs change chips, over and over again

From the creation of Apple, and its fame, to the current technology giant, Macintosh (now Mac) has made great contributions.

In the long road of development, in order to let the Mac have the best experience, or not be constrained by the chip, Apple has switched the chip instruction set architecture of the Mac three times.

  • 1994 Migration from Motorola 68000 series to PowerPC
  • Started moving from PowerPC to Intel chips in 2005
  • Moving from Intel to M chips in 2020

During the first two switching processes, Apple has accumulated a lot of experience. After the launch of the M1 MacBook Pro at the end of 2020, the transfer of the instruction set is almost insensitive to ordinary users.

Although Mac is still a niche choice in the PC field today, with Apple's appeal, it has won the support of quite a few developers in the process of transferring from x86 to ARM.

From the release of M1 to the emergence of M1 Pro, M1 Max, and M1 Ultra, most of the Mac product lines have been updated, and even a new Mac series called Studio has appeared.

▲ Mac Studio and Studio Display

For these conventional Macs and MacBooks, the migration of the instruction set and architecture not only did not affect the user experience, but brought better energy efficiency ratios to Macs.

According to Apple's strategy of upgrading the M chip (doubling), it is rumored that a workstation-class Mac Pro may be prepared for a SoC with more cores and a larger area, and it may also be suffixed with Extreme.

▲ The imaginary picture of the M Extreme chip comes from: Max Tech

But until the appearance of M2, the rumored Extreme still remained in the rumors. And this is also an excuse for the so-called failure to complete the "transition".

Mac Pro: Don't be sloppy

After turning to the M chip, the MacBook Pro has turned to the "practical" design core.

You can say that this is a tripartite meeting between the software team, the core-making team, and the design team. It can also be said that in the face of the Pro series, Apple made a mess.

In the history of Mac Pro, there is also such a process to remove the so-called "design first".

The Mac Pro in 2013 used the "trash can" design style with mixed reviews, but due to heat dissipation problems and poor scalability, many industrial users were dissatisfied.

After the Mac Pro was released, perhaps because the internal space could not be adapted to the new hardware, or the product was strategically abandoned internally, Apple did not make any hardware upgrades to it for six years.

Even during this period, Apple executives found some senior technology media to hold a roundtable communication meeting, the purpose is to apologize for the low performance of Mac Pro, and said that Apple is working hard to reverse the decline of Mac Pro.

John Gruber, who personally witnessed the Mac Pro Lives conference, wrote a summary of "facts speak louder than words" in his blog, and hoped that Apple would quickly put it into action.

This result is the Mac Pro, which was dubbed the "grater" by netizens and released in 2019. The chip was replaced by Intel Xeon, and Apple's rare detachable and upgradeable design was adopted as a whole, which reversed the reputation of Mac Pro.

In the face of the node from Intel to Apple Silicon, the Mac Pro obviously needs to be redesigned to adapt to the unique architecture and working methods of the M chip.

As early as after the M1 Ultra was released, Apple chip architect and vice president Tim Millet (Tim Millet) affirmed that the M1 series of chips is over. From his words, it seems that he is also full of expectations for the new Mac Pro.

▲ Guessing the M2 Extreme architecture Picture from: wccftech

In the following six months, GeekBench also leaked information about the running score of the M2 Extreme. It still adopts the heap core strategy, and may come to luxurious configurations such as 48-core CPU, 152-core GPU, and 192GB unified memory.

According to the past rhythm, in fact, it will probably be released together with M2 Pro and M2 Max at the end of this year. However, there are some subjective and objective reasons that hinder Apple's update rhythm.

too expensive, sorry

Apple's objective reasons are nothing more than management changes and supply chain conditions. But these may affect the direction of subsequent products, rather than the Mac Pro (M chip), which has been tested for a long time.

In a podcast by foreign media, Mark Gurman said that Apple has repeatedly postponed the release of the M2 Extreme Mac Pro, and the root cause is cost and user demand considerations.

Even Apple is considering canceling the listing of the M2 Extreme and replacing it with the fully equipped M2 Ultra as the SoC for the Mac Pro.

In order to achieve peak performance close to x86, stacking cores is a current approach for Arm chips, as is the case for M chips.

Just blindly pursuing large-area stack cores, the yield and cost of the chip production stage remain high. And the heap-to-top performance may only meet the needs of a very small number of users.

▲ Picture from: Lunaranimation

It may not be worth the loss to spend a lot of effort on research and development, production, and design of a giant SoC.

If the M2 Ultra SoC is used on the Mac Pro, the positioning of the Mac Pro and Mac Studio is somewhat confusing, at least they can replace each other on the SoC.

In addition to the Xeon Intel chip, the Mac Pro 2019 also returns to the detachable design and upgrade hardware attributes. The M chip Mac Pro will also retain this extremely friendly upgradeable feature, and it does not rule out that it will cooperate with AMD to design several upgrades such as accelerator cards and GPUs for it.

With the excellent energy efficiency performance of the M chip, the new Mac Pro will also become smaller, and the air duct will be optimized. As for the appearance of the "grater", it may also be abandoned.

Ecology wins by quantity

The "quantity" here is not the number of chip cores, but the number of chips.

Apple's M chips, or Arm-based chips, improve peak performance, and stacking cores is a cost-effective method.

After the release of the entire M1 series, in addition to the different bandwidth and speed of the unified memory of different chips, it is almost the configuration of the number of cores that widens the gap between CPU and GPU.

Even under the same model, due to the different number of GPU cores, it is divided into different versions such as Beggar’s Edition and Full Blood Edition.

From the earlier exposure, the top M-series chip, which may be called Extreme, will actually take such an upgrade route. The core frequency and specifications will not change much, and the number of cores will simply increase.

However, after integrating various factors such as cost, demand, and mass production, Apple may finally abandon the core monster of Extreme.

The cancellation of the Extreme series of chips does not mean that Apple has compromised on the new Mac Pro. On the contrary, Apple may transfer the absolute advantage of one chip to the "ecological" advantage composed of multiple chips.

The Studio Display released with Mac Studio has a built-in A13 Bionic chip. It is generally believed that the A13 has played a certain role in some software collaboration functions, not in performance.

The Pro Display XDR, which may be updated along with the new Mac Pro, is also likely to be built with an Apple self-developed chip, and the built-in M chip is not even ruled out.

In addition to being better integrated into the Apple ecosystem as a whole, the built-in chip GPU is used to share some display pressure, so as to reduce the GPU resource utilization of Mac Pro or other Macs.

▲ Picture from: Appleinsider

And, not only the new Pro Display XDR, Apple is also developing more models of external displays to meet the needs of different users. Although there are no specific specifications or specific positioning of these displays for the time being, it is certain that they will all have built-in Apple self-developed chips.

The reason why Apple turned to the self-developed ARM architecture is that on the one hand, third-party chips began to limit the demand for Apple products. Form a complete ecological closed loop.

Apple has deployed self-developed chips for more than ten years. The original intention is not to replace other chip giants, but to create a better user experience.

The same is true for M-chip Macs. It is not intended to replace x86 PCs, but to take advantage of the ecological advantages of Apple products. The cancellation of the Extreme chip does not mean that the Mac Pro is no longer competitive. With the Pro Display XDR with a built-in self-developed chip, their main focus is still "fruit-style ecological barriers."

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