The M2 chip ushered in the Arm era of Apple’s “computer”

Last night, on the eve of the WWDC 2022 keynote, the Apple Store rarely entered a maintenance state, which generally implies that heavyweight consumer-grade new products will be released and listed.

The same situation has only occurred in 2017. At the WWDC that year, Apple launched eight new products in one go. Apart from the routine updates of the software system, it launched three hardware products: iPad Pro 10.5, iMac Pro, and HomePod. The product is unprecedented.

Sure enough, this year's WWDC was another developer conference that was stole the show by new hardware. The new generation of M chips, the redesigned MacBook Air is really a "surprise".

After a lapse of two years, according to Apple's rhythm, the emergence of the M2 chip means that the "transition period" has passed, and Macs have completely bid farewell to the x86 architecture and entered the Arm architecture era thoroughly.

▲ Apple's "computers".

Not only Macs, but also iPads equipped with M chips are gradually opening the gap with the iPads with A chips, moving a step closer to what Apple calls "next-generation computers."

M2 chip, an upgrade of precise card position

The M2 chip is not an innovation, but a normal iteration of a mature commercial company.

This also means that the M2 does not have the industry-changing energy efficiency ratio and new architecture like the M1. M2 is to M1, more like A15 is to A14, with minor upgrades and minor optimizations.

M2 uses TSMC's "second-generation" 5nm process, guessed to be N5P (5nm performance-enhanced version). Referring to TSMC's introduction to the N5P process, under the same power, N5P will have a 7% performance improvement and a 15% power consumption improvement.

However, compared with M1, M2 has an improvement of 18% CPU and 35% GPU, and the degree of energy efficiency optimization is not mentioned. It is guessed that Apple still adjusts the power released according to the performance of M1 (up to 15W).

▲ M2 has become larger and more complicated. Image from: Apple

Under the premise of fully understanding the process bonus, Apple's M2 chip has also been upgraded in structure. To sum up, it is to increase the core, increase the chip area, and integrate more transistors.

From the perspective view of the M2 and M1 chips released by Apple, it can be seen that the M2 chip has a larger area, and the number of transistors has exceeded 20 billion (M1 is 16 billion).

▲ Tim Millet, Apple chip architect and vice president. Image from: Apple

In a previous interview, Apple chip architect and vice president Tim Millet said that the success of the M chip depends on Apple's previous accumulation of A-series chip design.

The core of the CPU in the M1 chip also comes from the A14 chip, the performance core is Firestorm, and the energy efficiency core is Icestorm.

The CPU of the M2 chip is still 4+4, but its corresponding core may be based on the new Avalanche and Blizzard cores in the A15. The former is performance and the latter is energy efficiency.

At the same time, the L2 shared cache of the M2's performance core has also been increased to 16MB.

However, compared with the A15, the increase in M2 on the CPU is not high, and it is not ruled out that Apple has reserved a certain frequency increase space for release in the subsequent M2 Pro and M2 Max chips.

The GPU of the M2 has an increase of nearly 35%, and while the number of cores is increased (up to 10 cores), Apple also said that it has adopted a new generation of core structure.

Correspondingly, the M2's 10-core GPU performance came to 3.6TFLOPS, as compared to the M1's 8-core GPU performance of 2.6TFLOPS, slightly higher than the 3.49TFLOPS of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX970.

But it is worth noting that the M2's GPU has higher performance, which will also have higher power consumption, and in the passively cooled MacBook Air, it may not be able to maintain high performance for a long time.

The M2 has also been upgraded on the NPU, which is probably also taken from the A15. The number of cores is still 16, and it has a computing performance of 15.8TOPS. As a comparison, the M1 is 11TOPS, and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 is 15TOPS.

In addition, the M2 has also improved the unified memory, adding support for LPDDR5 6400, the unified memory also supports up to 24GB (the standard is still 8GB), and the bandwidth is also increased to 100GB/s, which is 50 GB/s compared to the M1. % improvement (68GB/s).

In addition to optimizing, upgrading, and adding cores to existing cores, M2 also introduced independent media engines in M1 Pro and M1 Max, adding support for 8K H.264 and other formats of video.

Sadly, the M2 still only supports two Thunderbolt 3 ports, as well as a 6K 60Hz external monitor.

M2 did not wait for TSMC's 3nm process, nor did it carry out drastic reforms, but made corresponding upgrades on the originally built M chip architecture.

It is quite consistent with the upgrade idea of ​​A-series chips, and the subsequent M2 Pro and M2 Max will undoubtedly be "spliced" and "expanded" based on M2.

In terms of the number of transistors and cores of the M2, it is still not as good as the M1 Pro and M1 Max of the previous generation. Apple is very accurate, there is no leapfrog, it is a just right upgrade.

▲ Left: New MacBook Air, Right: MacBook Pro (M2). Image credit: Apple

Just like the products equipped with M2, the new MacBook Air is aimed at people who pursue "light and thin" and mobile office, while the old MacBook Pro equipped with M2 is more like an entry-level Mac for the general public.

The positioning is precise and just right.

Apple's "personal computer" opens the era of M chips

With the release of the M2 chip, the MacBook Air has finally been remade, abandoning the "wedge" shape it has always had, and aligning with the new MacBook Pro.

▲ The new MacBook Air as light as a feather (although it is only 0.05kg lighter, but it is really thin). Image from: Apple

In this way, with the high energy efficiency of the M chip and the concept of complete passive heat dissipation, the overall thickness of the new MacBook Air is only 1.13cm, and the weight reaches 1.24kg, which is the thinnest Mac on Apple's official website.

It's thin enough to look like a MacBook 12 at some angles. Also focusing on the concept of thin and light and mobile office, MacBook is not born at the right time.

▲ MacBook 12.

Too radical design, but let it lose its audience. At that time, the MacBook Air series, which was reluctant to update its appearance, became the best choice for entry-level Macs by relying on a lower price.

The advent of the M1 chip last year, and the ample space inside the old MacBook Air, made the MacBook resurrection possible.

The MacBook 12 is positioned as a device between Air and Pro, focusing on thin, portable and mobile. The subsequent cuts are not actually a hardware configuration problem, but Apple's splitting of this thin and portable demand into the iPad and Mac product lines.

▲ The new MacBook Air. Image from: cnn

The newly designed MacBook Air and iPad Pro are arguably the successor to the MacBook line. The MacBook Air series, which remains unchanged, and the iPad, which continues to strengthen and refresh the iPadOS system, are also waiting for a node.

The M2 chip and iPadOS system released last night is this node.

The price of M2's new MacBook Air has increased, and the positioning is no longer "entry-level". The entry-level is shared by the M1 MacBook Air. The new MacBook Air is similar in positioning to the MacBook 12 of the year, and in the form of a traditional notebook, it provides the needs of light, thin and portable.

▲ iPad Air with M1 chip.

With the continuous optimization of iPadOS, the iPad is more like a "personal computer" with multiple changes.

There has always been a view that when M1 came to the iPad platform, or even devolved to the iPad Air, there was always some excess performance and overkill.

The targeted "upgrade" of iPadOS 16 clearly shows that Apple is actually playing a big game, using the M chip to break through the barriers between different systems and integrate them together.

macOS Ventura's front-of-stage scheduling is now available on iPad, and is individually optimized for external monitors. And some apps started to support dual-screen display of different content, and then extended to more "productivity" tools with the help of ecological control.

In fact, in iPadOS 16 and macOS Ventura, many interface styles are almost the same, and with the gradual convergence of functions, it is only a matter of time before the "window paper" between macOS and iPadOS is broken.

Just like the step-by-step update strategy of the M chip, the public has re-understood the Arm chip, and Apple is now reversing the traditional concept of "personal computer" step by step.

In fact, in Wikipedia, the concept of personal computer is quite broad, but in the traditional view, personal computer is almost equivalent to Windows or macOS.

▲ This is a personal computer.

Separated from iOS, iPadOS has not only changed its name, but has been innovating step by step towards being more suitable for horizontal screen creation and use. The introduction of the M chip seems to have paved the way for the release of the iPad's potential.

When the M2 was released and Macs completely switched to the Arm architecture, iPadOS and macOS also began to gradually get through. Apple's "personal computer" no longer only refers to Macs or iPads, but generally refers to devices equipped with M chips.

Apple's "personal computer" has also completely come to the era of Arm chips.

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