In November 2020, Apple released the first Macs with an in-house Arm-based chip called the M1 Chip. The M1 debuted in the new 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, and Mac mini models. The M1 is the first Apple-designed System on a Chip (SoC) that’s been developed for use in Macs. It marks Apple’s transition away from the Intel chips that have been used in Macs since 2006.
Unlike Intel chips built on the x86 architecture, M1 uses an Arm-based architecture much like the A-series chips that Apple has been designing for iPhones and iPads. The M1 has 8 cores with 4 high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores. It integrates the CPU, GPU, unified memory architecture (RAM), Neural Engine, Secure Enclave, SSD controller, image signal processor, encode/decode engines, Thunderbolt controller with USB 4 support, and more, all of which power the different features in the Mac. Before now, Macs have used multiple chips for CPU, I/O, and security, but Apple’s effort to integrate these chips is the reason why the M1 is so much faster and more efficient than prior Intel chips. By a custom design of their chips, Apple can build their software specifically to utilize efficiently the power of the M1, hence giving Intel a run for their money.
Intel is not backing down and is already taking steps to avoid falling behind. Its recent Tiger Lake processors offer big gains in performance relative to previous laptop designs, but not quite enough to catch up to the M1. Next year, Intel will address battery life by introducing Alder Lake, its first processor design that combines multiple big and small cores.
This competition is advantageous to the consumer like you and me because it drives innovation and generally improves the overall power of laptops.