Apple’s new SoCs are so revolutionary and influential that, for the flagship ones, it is even difficult to imagine a workload capable of putting them in crisis. What to choose between M1, M1 Pro and M1 Max? November 10, 2020, Apple started the ” Silicon revolution “, giving way to its roadmap that will lead to altogether abandoning the CPU from Intel and replacing them with the new SoC developed in-house.
The first was the Apple M1, which equips the 13-inch MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, Mac mini, new iPad Pro, and unique 24-inch iMac.A little less than a year later, on October 18, 2021, Apple unveiled two new chips: M1 Pro and M1 Max, which now equip the new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro. At present, therefore, the range of System on Chip M1 consists of three chips: M1 “smooth”, M1 Pro and M1 Max.
These are three chips from the same family, but with different technical characteristics, performance and prices. Consequently, it is good to delve into their peculiarities because the new 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro are available with both the M1 Pro and the M1 Max. The latter’s power is so high that, for many, it could even be excessive.
Apple M1: How It’s Done
Let’s start with the progenitor of the new family, the Apple M1. This is the first processor designed entirely by Apple (but produced by TSMC, with a 5 nm process), with ARM architecture, i.e. RISC ( Reduced instruction set computer ). Apple M1 comprises 16 billion transistors and is equipped with an 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU and 16-core Neural Engine (the computing unit dedicated to artificial intelligence algorithms).
The CPU cores are four high performance and four high efficiencies. The memory is of the suitable type, 8GB or 16GB. In addition, the Apple M1 is equipped with a hardware encoding and decoding unit for videos and a thunderbolt / USB4 controller.
Apple M1 Pro: How It’s Done
The first evolution of the Apple M1 is the Apple M1 Pro, and, unlike what one might think, it is not just a question of scale: the M1 Pro is not simply an M1 with more cores because it also has processing units inside that the M1 doesn’t have. Apple M1 Pro is available in various configurations, with CPU up to 10 cores and GPU up to 16 seats, unified memory up to 32 GB, the same 16-core Neural Engine and the same 5nm production process but with an increasing number of transistors. Up to 33.7 billion.
Unlike that of the standard M1, the CPU of the M1 Pro consists of 6 or 8 high-performance cores and only two high-efficiency centres. Furthermore, inside the chip, a hardware unit is dedicated to the encoding and decoding files in ProRes format (the video equivalent of ProRaw for photos). Then, the doubling of the maximum memory also corresponds to its top data band (a value that measures the transmission capacity of information within the CPU): it goes from 100 GB / s of the standard Apple M1 to 200 GB / s of the M1 Pro.
Apple M1 Max: How It’s Done
Apple M1 Max is an M1 Pro on steroids: the architecture is the same, only the scale changes. With Apple’s most powerful SoC, the CPU remains at ten cores (8 + 2), but the GPU can reach up to 32 seats, the memory up to 64 GB (with a further doubling of the transmission speed to 400 GB / s ) and transistors go up to 57 billion. It is, therefore, the most complex consumer processor not only in Apple’s history but ever. However, the ProRes engine remains (but on the M1 Max, there are two), the Thunderbolt / USB4 controller and the 16-core Neural Engine.
Apple M1, M1 Pro Or M1 Max: Which One To Choose
If with the M1 SoC, Apple surprised everyone, with a shocking performance/power consumption ratio to say the least (the MacBook Air with M1 does not even have a cooling fan, testifying to the shallow joule effect to which it is subject), with M1 Pro and M1 Max is to be stunned. So much so that today it is tough even to imagine a workload that could undermine an M1 Max in maximum configuration, defined by the well-known Anandtech website “A 32-Core GPU Monstrosity at 57bn Transistors”.
To amaze, especially in this “monster”, is the low power consumption: thoroughly stressed, again by Anandtech, the MacBook Pro 16 with M1 Max consumed a maximum peak of 120W, against the 256W of the MSI GE76 Raider laptop with Intel i9 -11980HK (which goes slower in more than one scenario). But, then, which SoC to choose between M1, M1 Pro and M1 Max? Or, in other words, who needs the Apple M1 Max? A more than legitimate question because the new 16-inch MacBook Pro with M1 Max in a top-of-the-range configuration exceeds the price of 6,000 euros without any hesitation.>
These are ultra-high-powered portable workstations. Really “Pro” machines, but one would say, given Apple’s past, “Pro again”. In principle, for a creative who works daily with photo editing, it is right to advise not to go beyond the SoC M1: it is more than enough, better to spend the money on more extensive storage, in a good external monitor or an excellent tablet. Graphics. Both the average M1, with photos, will never go into crisis: many professional photographers, have been working for almost a year without problems with the Mac mini with M1 and, even, only 8 GB of RAM.
To need the power of the M1 Pro, however, you need to switch to 4K video editing. Even with multiple 4K streams simultaneously, don’t skimp on RAM—similar speech, but in scale, for Macs with M1 Max. However, one more address must be made regarding the GPU. The Apple M1 Max is the only one among the three SoCs that can reach 32 GPU cores, and this could make the difference in case of massive use and at a very high level of 3D modelling software.
According to the first tests, the Apple M1 Max GPU is close to a mobile Nvidia Geforce RTX 3080 but significantly lower power consumption in many three-dimensional video games such as Borderlands 3 and an RTX 3060 with Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Undoubtedly, video games are not the same as Maya, Rhino, Cinema 4D or Poser, but one thing must be considered. Those games are not optimized for the Apple Silicon architecture.