Apple said in the spring that M1 Ultra is the final chip in their lineup, and with just the Mac Pro to complete the transition to Apple Silicon. Rumour is that we could see M2, the next generation of Apple Silicon within a month at WWDC, so what is M2 and should you be excited for it? Let’s find out.
This video was suggested by Patreon Evan Rogers, who asked me to update the “Beyond M1” video that I made in November 2020, so here we are. If you want to join the patrons for early and ad free video access, the link is in the description, iCaveDave.com/Patreon.
Apple Silicon was announced at WWDC in 2020, with the first Macs powered by M1 arriving in November the same year, and the reaction was astonishing. Even very PC evangelist outlets like Linus Tech Tips had to admit (insert Linus Quote)
Since then we’ve had the MacBook Pro 14” and 16” with M1 Pro and M1 Max, giving even more performance cores, and massively more graphics cores and now the M1 Ultra equipped Mac Studio, with 2 M1 Max chips fused together with Apple Ultra Fusion. But all of this is based on the same cores found inside the iPhone 12 – Apple’s A14 Firestorm performance and Icestorm efficiency cores. So on Single core performance, the $4000 Mac Studio Ultra has the same tech behind it as the iPhone 12 mini.
So just as we asked in 2020, should you buy an Intel Mac, should you buy an M1 Mac today? Well the Intel question was a resounding no. In retrospect, I’m very comfortable with that answer from 2020, and I stand by it today.
M1 is a little different though and it very much depends on your use case. If you need something for everyday computing, the M1 MacBook Air and M1 Mac mini are both solid choices, and the fact you can now pick them up around 15% off at Apple’s refurbished store or on Amazon (and of course, affiliate links included to help support the channel) means they’re a good deal even now. They’re also on Apple’s current platform, and there are already macOS features that Intel Macs just don’t get – like running iPhone or iPad apps natively, Hey Voice Assistant support and more.
And while the M1 Ultra and the other high end chips may be based on the same architecture, the massively multi core setups means that performance is great, and their low power consumption vs the competition means quiet, cool computers that are just a much nicer experience.
But M2 is right around the corner, so what actually is M2, and should you care?
While Apple’s M1 used 4 efficiency and 4 performance cores, we expect a similar setup to M2, but with the newer A15 cores, named Avalanche and Blizzard for performance and efficiency respectively. Even though the A16 won’t be too far behind, recent rumours suggest that the smaller node is not yielding chips in the volumes expected, leading the base iPhone 14 to most likely still have A15 inside.
Other sources have also suggested that M2 could use ARM v9, but I’m not convinced, again partially due to A15 using ARM v8, but also that Apple’s version of ARM v8 is far more advanced than the rest of the industry, with ARM v9 being almost just a catch up version for everyone else for the features that Apple implemented themselves.
So expect general performance to be around 11% faster in single core, but up to 23% faster in multicore performance. However Graphics is expected to get a much larger bump, not just with faster graphics cores but also an increase from 8 to 10 cores.
This could give far improved performance for the base devices such as iMac, MacBook Air and Mac mini, as well as Apple’s iPad Pro which is likely to get M2 fairly early in the cycle as well, especially seeing as the iPad Air is now equipped with M1.
The M2 iMac would replace the M1 starting at $1299, and the M1 base configuration could stay around, maybe at $1099 with the binned M1 as standard and the non-ethernet power adapter, giving a lower cost entry point. M2 Mac mini would also replace the M1 at $699, with (I HOPE) the M1 mini dropping to $499, in line with the original Mac mini’s starting price. Don’t think that’s feasible? It’s the internals of an iPad Air which retails for $599, without the need for a high res retina touch screen, or a battery. It could probably even be powered by the 20w adapter and a usb-c cable in a smaller enclosure. It CAN be done.
The M1 MacBook Pro was a strange beast, being the last hold out of the divisive Touch Bar, the same performance as the $300 less expensive MacBook Air but with a slightly brighter display, larger battery and a fan for better sustained performance.
It’s not clear what the future holds for this design with M2 but my personal take would be to remove the Touch Bar, saving costs and offering this design at $999 as a base MacBook model. Not pro, not air, just MacBook. That would then allow for the MacBook Air to retake it’s place as a premium model with a redesign, improved MiniLED display, though without the Pro Motion of the MiniLED MacBook Pro, thin bezels which could be off white like the iMac and a notched camera module, along with bright coloured chassis options and for the first time, a non-wedge shaped design. Silent just like M1 as a premium feature. Probably starting around £1199, and with the rumoured 15” model joining the range in 2023 at $1399 or $1499 (assuming more storage in the larger model if it gets that $1499 price).
That MacBook Air then becomes the fashion model once again, in line with the iPad Air, above the MacBook Nothing just like the iPad Nothing. Makes sense, no?
Then in late 2022 or early 2023, we see the MacBook Pro in 14” and 16” updated to M2 Pro and M2 Max. If it’s physically possible to do so I’d guess Apple will want to do this in late 2022, but chip shortages are becoming a real thing now even for Apple. That would put Apple on an annual update trajectory which I predicted in 2020. They absolutely should do this.
Then we’d see the next Ultra chip arrive in 2023’s spring event, pairing the M2 Maxes once again. Very tidy, and bear in mind the Mac Studio is in essence our replacement to the iMac Pro. I’m not convinced we’ll get true iMac Pros again, there was only ever one generation and even at the time it was basically seen as a stop gap measure between the 2013 and 2019 Mac Pro that was proving more difficult to engineer than expected.
And speaking of Mac Pro, we’ve come circle to the last thing we expect at this year’s WWDC. This is the trickiest of all to predict. In my video in Nov 2020 I said that Apple would likely have slots that would allow multiple SOCs to be plugged into a logic board, and that potentially even there would be a way for the 2019 Mac Pro to be able to take MPX style cards with Apple Silicon processors on board and their own IO on the back. These could even hand off some processing tasks to the Intel chips where those would be more effective as secondary processors just like compressor was able to do with other systems on the network.
This would be amazing, if unlikely. More likely is a smaller Mac Pro which may also need a rename, but more on that later.
One other thing I’ve seen suggested is that the Mac Pro NEEDS faster single core performance than the rest of the M1 range. This puzzles me as the Xeon Chips were never world leading in single performance, every single Apple silicon Mac is around 50% faster than the Mac Pro on single core already. In fact in single core, the Mac Pro is about as fast as an iPhone XR’s A12’s single core.
So I think the most likely outcome for Mac Pro is a pair of M1 Ultra, maybe even more than 2. They could also allow storage expansion internally or, and hold on to your seats, RAM sticks.
Now, the M1 Max/ultra chips would still have their unified memory on board which is also used by the graphics cores, but they could utilise conventional ram sticks as another level above that, which would be useful for massive video files or music projects with many tens or hundreds of gigs of instruments and plug ins to access.
And I mentioned renaming this – and there’s a good reason. Pro is clearly no-longer the pinnacle for Apple. It’s the second of four levels of M1 chip right now, with Max and Ultra both above it.
We’ve also seen Apple bringing back older design language and naming for many systems. The Studio Display was this CRT beauty (and if you have one, I want to be your friend) and this Perspex clad thing that came alongside the G4 Cube. Which looks a bit like a Mac Studio. Should have just made that slightly taller and called it the cube, but now I’m splitting hairs.
So could this be… the return of the PowerMac? Please. Please let this be PowerMac. With M1 POWER, all the Ultras, all in a row. I just want this, and don’t you want me to be happy?
Let me know your thoughts on all of this, and which of the M2 Macs is on your shopping list. Thanks to Evan for the suggestion to update one of our more popular videos, and if you want to be as cool as Evan clearly is, you can join our Patrons for early and ad free versions of all our videos.
Thanks so much and see you in the next one