Sunday , February 28 2021

Apple leads the industry as personal computing moves to ARM.

Apple’s Macs glide into the fast line with M1 Apple Silicon

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Appleholic, (noun), æp·əl-hɑl·ɪk: An imaginative person who thinks about what Apple is doing, why and where it is going. Delivering popular Apple-related news, advice and entertainment since 1999.

Some of us have been waiting for years for the event Apple wrapped up in under 50 minutes and likely spent years preparing for: Macs are moving to ARM-based Apple Silicon and the way the company sees it the transition should be better for everyone.

Apple was pretty aggressive when it introduced us to its new Apple Silicon Macs, which (as expected) deliver screaming performance, thanks in part to the 5nm chips Apple has developed on ARM, and thanks also to the work of the company’s silicon design teams.

Some benchmarks:

That’s the Mac/PC discussion right there. Apple knows it. It ended the event with a short reprise of its famous ‘Get A Mac’ ads starring John Hodgman as PC. The point he made? Now Apple’s shifted to its own chips, those PCs can no longer keep up.

We’ve all expected Apple to deliver a new Mac chip based in some way on the A-series chips it uses in iPhones and iPads. Apple wasn’t too specific around the relationships between these Apple Silicon siblings, but it did tell us the following concerning the M1 chip it’s putting inside these new Macs:

Advanced power management, low-power video playback, HDR imaging and video processor, high-bandwidth caches, machine learning accelerators, a high-quality image signal processor (ISP), high-efficiency audio, 4th generation PCI express and NVMe storage.

Apple says: “M1 delivers up to 3.5x faster CPU performance, up to 6x faster GPU performance and up to 15x faster machine learning, all while enabling battery life up to 2x longer than previous generation Macs.”

The company worked quite hard to put a little context around these “speeds and feeds” claims, noting real life benefits, such as:

Perhaps the most impressive statistic in terms of sheer computational power (at least to me) was Apple’s claim that the first M1-powered MacBook Pro will play back full quality 8k ProRes video in DaVinci Resolve with zero dropped frames.

Now link your new pro laptop up to Apple’s Pro Display XDR and have a little giggle as you consider the performance you would expect from a notebook attempting high-end video graphics as long ago as early 2018.

The first Apple Silicon Macs include the $999 MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro (from $1,299) and Mac mini. An Intel version of the 13-inch MBP remains available.

Apple says it is engaged in a two-year (actually, “about two year”) transition and is expected to introduce an Apple Silicon iMac in 2021 and Mac Pro later down the line.

Pricing remains the same with the exception of the Mac mini, which is around $100 cheaper. There had been some expectation of a slight price reduction to represent speculated upon cash saved on using Apple rather than Intel chips.

Battery life is astonishing.

One developer noted that his Mac’s battery life now exceeds the amount of time he “customarily” spends in between sleeps. In more real terms, Apple claims the longest battery life ever on both its notebook – 20 hours of video playback on the MBP and 18 in the Air. The Pro also features studio quality microphones and has graphics 5x faster than before.

During its presentation, Apple also quietly pointed out that the M1’s storage controller means you’ll see SSD performance twice as fast as before – there’s lots more to say about these machines individually, but the fact that a Mac mini now runs an XDR display and can render a complex Final Cut Pro timeline up to 6x faster means I’ll be reading Geekbench performance data with a great deal of interest in the next few months. How high up the grid will these machines get? You can rest assured I’ll be taking a deeper look at them when or if I get the chance.

Want to see for yourself? All three new Macs are available to order today to ship next week.

Apple has gone through several transitions. It migrated from PowerPC to Intel, and from Mac OS 9 all the way to Big Sur. It even figured out how to deliver real computing experiences on iPhones.

No surprise the usual suspects found something to moan about just before the Apple Silicon Mac launch, but you should ignore them.

In the real world, those “major developers” who build the software we actually use to get things done and change the world seem to be having a relatively good time of this particular migration from Intel Macs to M1.

At least, that’s what the Apple marketing video told us:

That video saw developers from Panic, mmhmm, Adobe, OmniGraffle, Shapr3D, Affinity Publisher, GOAT all sharing comments such as: “Incredibly fast,” “Transition took a day,” “Almost limitless interactivity,” and boasting of seamless workflow across Apple devices.

The biggest claim in there of course is the speed and ease with which transition to Apple Silicon can take place – “transition took a day”. Apple knows it needs developers, is working to woo them, and told us Adobe Photoshop will become an Apple Silicon Native App as soon as early next year. I’m relatively convinced we can expect a few more announcements on key apps – though one thing we didn’t hear One Solitary Word About is the future of Windows on Mac.

That future could be a deal-breaker for some enterprise users, I expect – though perhaps there is a bigger plan

However, the feedback seems to be that for some of the world’s most important applications the process of migrating apps to Apple Silicon Native status isn’t too tough at all. Though we’ll have to wait on real world feedback to see if this is the case in the long term, and to what extent the transition-easing Rosetta 2 layer (which lets Intel Mac apps hopefully roam happy and free on AAplSilicon) delivers on its promise.

The one more thing in this story is that Apple is not entirely unique in its migration to ARM-based processors. Microsoft, Qualcomm and others are all heading in the same direction, coalesced around Snapdragon.

Apple is years ahead in terms of processor design, has made deep, deep investments in the attempt, and already sits in the cat bird seat when it comes to manufacturing 5nm (and, soon, 3nm) iterations of these processors.

CCS analyst, Wayne Lam, puts it thusly:

“Apple’s moves will help validate Arm-based chips for personal computing and even in the data centre, meaning the whole Arm ecosystem will benefit. This, rather than the loss of the Mac business, is the longer-term concern for Intel.”

Big Sur ships Thursday.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Jonny is a freelance writer who has been writing (mainly about Apple and technology) since 1999.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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