With its M2 Pro and M2 Max processors, Apple is repeating a strategy that worked well for its previous M1 designs. By grafting some extra circuitry onto an efficient chip base, Apple can offer a significant upgrade to its new M2-based MacBook Pro laptops without a complete chip overhaul.
Apple introduced its first in-house Mac processor, the M1, for MacBook Air laptops arriving in 2020. The M1 already took advantage of chip design work for the iPhone’s A-series chips, but Apple beefed up the M1 with more cores. of processing to manufacture the M1 Pro and M1 Max in late 2021 for high-end MacBook Pro laptops. Then, in 2022, it glued two M1 Max chips into the higher-end M1 Ultra.
Now Apple is going the same way with the M2, which debuted in 2022 and is now joined by the M2 Pro and M2 Max for new MacBook Pro models. If history continues to repeat itself, we could see a Mac Pro based on a huge M2 Ultra processor in the coming months.
The chip speed increase over the M1 equivalents that debuted 15 months ago is significant: at least 20% by Apple’s measurements. Owners of one-year M1 generation MacBook Pro laptops to upgrade. But for those using older Macs based on the older Intel chips that Apple ousted from its product lineup, the increased speed and better battery life could be much more appealing.
“These new Macs should help drive Intel’s transition to the M-series in 23,” Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin. he said in a tweet Tuesday. His firm estimates that 42% of Mac owners in the US still use Intel-based models, and the fraction is likely higher worldwide.
Apple did not respond to requests for comment. Intel declined to comment.
How did Apple speed up the M2 Pro and M2 Max chips?
The M2 Pro and Max chips are faster thanks to new designs of the chip’s central processing unit cores for general computing and graphics processing unit cores to handle graphics tasks and some other jobs that run on GPU. The new designs also have more CPUs, GPUs, and another type of core to speed up AI tasks, which Apple calls the Neural Engine.
The M1 Pro has either eight or 10 CPU cores, depending on configuration, and the M1 Max has 10. The M2 Pro has 10 or 12, and the M2 Max has 12. The M2 generation is 20% faster, Apple said, citing unspecified data but industry standard speed tests.
CPU performance is the foundation of everything a processor does, and all M-series Pro and Max models employ four energy-efficient CPU cores for better battery life. The remaining CPU cores offer higher performance cores for more important work. Intel has also taken this approach, pioneered for smartphones.
For the GPUs, which are used for tasks like gaming and photo and video editing, the M1 Pro came with 14 or 16 cores and the M1 Max with 16 to 32 cores. The M2 Pro bumps that up to 16 or 19 GPU cores, and the M2 Max to 30 or 38. The M2 GPU performance is 30% faster, though some of the speed boost comes from better on-chip cache. Apple said.
The neural engine has 16 cores in the M1 and M2 generations, but Apple boasts that its AI performance is 40% faster with the new chips. AI software is just getting started, but it’s used in important jobs like Adobe Photoshop image editing, and you can expect AI performance to become increasingly important as more developers discover it.
The speed gains compared to Intel-based Macs, which use years-old Intel chips, are more noticeable. The M2 Pro is 2.5 times faster at compiling software and 80% faster at editing Photoshop images compared to a previous 16-inch MacBook with an Intel i9 processor, Apple said. As for the M2 Max, it is two times faster in video color adjustments and six times faster in Da Vinci Resolve video editing.
Part of the speed boost in the M2 Max comes from faster memory transfer, which doubles to 400 megabytes per second, helping with data-intensive tasks like video editing and 3D modeling. The new M2 Max models also support up to 96 GB of memory, compared to 64 GB for the M1 Max.
We won’t see third-party speed tests until MacBook Pro reviews with the M2 Pro and Max processors arrive. CNET editor Dan Ackerman gave the M2-based MacBook Air, Editor’s Choice praise, citing its “excellent performance and battery life.”
However, that model came with a $200 price increase over its predecessor, and the M2-generation MacBook Pro laptops aren’t cheap either. The model with a 14-inch screen and the lower-end 10-core M2 Pro is $1,999; with a 12-core M2 Max and other improvements, the price increases to $3,099. 16-inch models start at $2,499 but go up to $3,499 with an M2 Max processor and more storage.
How are the M2 Pro and M2 Max chips built?
As with all processors designed by Apple in recent years, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) builds the chips.
As with the M2, the M2 Pro and Max are built using a second-generation 5-nanometer manufacturing process. (A nanometer is one billionth of a meter, and lower nanometer chip manufacturing processes refer to more advanced manufacturing processes. However, for years, the numbers have been mere labels of convenience, not actual measurements. that signify real miniaturization progress).
New manufacturing processes shrink the fundamental electronic elements of chips, called transistors, though that miniaturization is more difficult these days. That allows more circuitry on one chip. The transistor count increased from 33.7 billion in the M1 Pro to 40 billion in the M2 Pro; Max models increased from 57 billion to 67 billion.
TSMC has begun mass manufacturing products on a newer 3 nanometer (3nm) process. Expect it to be used for future iPhone, iPad, and Mac processors, a move that should allow for even more transistors.
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