Apple M1 Roadmap

M1 will be first of many, here is were we think where the yellow brick road leads to Posted by erwinkarim on 5:38 PM, December 8, 2020 Last updated on 2:48 PM, February 25, 2021 Filed in: m1, apple, roadmap,

Update

Cpu-monkey has reported the emergence of ‘M1X’ chip that featured 12-core CPU and 16-core GPU.

Original story:

In WWDC 2020, Apple announced that it is transitioning from Intel to their own Apple Silicon. On the November 2020 event that featured the new M1 chip, it had been said that M1 will be the first of many in a family of SOC that will powers the future Macs. Now, predicting the future is a tough business since predictions can easily go wrong, but you can guess what Apple is working on based on the current line up.

So eventually the M1-variants will replacing all of the Mac line including the Mac Pro. Some detective work on their current line-up can conclude if the rumors is plausible.

Current lineup

In the current line up, Macs can be divided into 4-categories: entry-level, mid-tier, high-end and ultra high-end. And each categories has two kinds: desktop or portable. So for the Intel based mac, this is their line up at base configuration without options:-

Key: (CPU / RAM / geekbench single thread / geekbench multi-thread )

  • Entry Level:
    • Mac Mini - silver (Intel Core i3 / 8 GB RAM / 869 / 3198 )
    • Macbook Air (Intel Core i3 / 8GB RAM / 995 / 1970 )
    • iMac 21.5″ ( Intel Core i3 / 8GB RAM / 895 / 3181 )
  • Mid-Tier Level:
    • Mac Mini - space grey (Intel Core i5 / 1100 / 5465 )
    • MacBook Pro 13″ (Intel Core i5 / 8GB RAM / 1145 / 4235)
    • iMac 21.5″ (Intel Core i5 / 8GB RAM / 992 / 4693 )
  • High-End Level:
    • MacBook Pro 13″ (Intel Core i7 / 8GB RAM / 1239 / 4512)
    • MacBook Pro 16″ (Intel Core i7 / 16GB RAM / 1094 / 6861)
    • iMac 27″ (Intel Core i7 / 8GB RAM / 1249 / 8052)
  • Ultra High-End Level:
    • iMac Pro 27″ (Intel Xeon / 32GB RAM / 1123 / 9424)
    • Mac Pro (Intel Xeon / 32GB RAM / 1024 / 8014)

So you can see from here, single threaded performance does not have big variations from one level to the next, but multi-threaded performance does. This points to Apple might not overclock the higher end processor, but instead optimizing the amount of cores for each variations.

Predicting the future


Mac line-up
All this will need to be replaced with M-series chips. There’s a rumor that the Mac Pro will be a half-height variation.

So looking at this line up, Apple future line up will be replacing all the Intel w/ the Apple silicon chips. The Expected future line up and their performance target will be:-

  • Entry Level:
    • Mac Mini - silver (M1 / 8 GB RAM / 1704 / 7382)
    • Macbook Air (M1 fanless / 8GB RAM / 1689 / 7300)
    • iMac 21.5″ ( M1? / 8GB RAM / ~1700 / ~7300)
  • Mid-Tier Level:
    • Mac Mini - space grey ( M1X / 8GB RAM / ~2000 / ~12,000)
    • MacBook Pro 13″ (M1 air-cooled / 8GB RAM / 1693 / 7306)
    • iMac 21.5″ (M1X / 8GB RAM / ~2000 / ~12,000)
  • High-End Level:
    • MacBook Pro 13″ (M1X? / 8GB RAM / ~2000 / ~12,000)
    • MacBook Pro 16″ (M1Z or M1X? / 16GB RAM / ~2000 / ~14,000)
    • iMac 27″ (M1Z? / 16GB RAM / ~2000 / ~16,000)
  • Ultra High-End Level:
    • iMac Pro 27″ (M1Z+? / 32GB RAM / ~2000 / ~20,000)
    • Mac Pro (M1Z+? / 32GB RAM / ~2,000 / ~20,000)

So judging from my observation of the current line up and how Apple package their M1-series chip, I think they would be at least 3-members for the M1-generation with 4 variations: M1-fanless, M1-fanned, M1X (mid-to-high) and M1Z (high-to-ultra high end) to borrow nomenclature from iPad line-up.

What we know now


Apple M1
M1 with 4 high-efficiency and 4- high performance. On the right is the 8-core GPU.

Currently the M1 has 4 high-efficiency cores, 4-high-performance cores, 7 or 8 graphic cores, neural engine w/ X cores, and unified memory with 8 or 16GB of RAM.

In current line up, the higher-end MacBook Pro 13″ can be configured to 32GB of RAM. The mid-tier Mac Mini and Macbook Pro 16″ can be configured to 64GB of RAM. the iMac 27″ can be configured to 128GB RAM. All these will be considered when they will be upgraded to M-series chip.

Now, the RAM in the M1 is the normal LPDDR4 chips but with custom controller and based on their supplier Hynix, there exists 32GB module so there could be a mid-tier M1-series chips w/ around 64GB RAM by using 2 modules, just like the current M1 setup. Historically, Apple has been putting laptop components all of it’s computers except for iMac Pro and Mac Pro. So I don’t expect Apple to deviate from this trend.

So taking from decisions that Apple made into designing and making their desktops and laptops, you can infer how things will happen.

What We think is going to happen.

So as said before, I think Apple is going to make 3-kind of M1-series chip for this generation. 1 for low-power mobile chips, 1 for high-power mobile chips and 1 for desktop chips.

Now most tricks that a lot of chip designers do to increase performance is to add cores. But there is so much cores you can add before the die size becomes too big to be cooled or to expensive to manufacture. The M1 die size is around 120mm^2 while a Intel Core i9 is around 200mm^2. So M1 actually has room for expansion (to add more graphic / performance cores)


Intel dies
The current M1 die (excluding RAM) is around 120mm^2, smaller than the Intel i7 pictured above. So M1 has space to grow upto 200mm^2 for the high-end.

So from here onward, I think Apple is going to put in more High-performance cores and graphic cores plus a bigger Apple fabric core to handle more I/O (like 4x USB ports). Since the power budget is higher, it will have a higher voltage so the high-performance cores can run faster than it’s baseline cousin. Giving an advantage over the single-threaded tasks like handling a webpage in chrome.

And the rumors that pointed out that the mid-tier M1 variation will have around 6–8 high performance cores (instead of 4). We haven’t heard rumors about the graphics cores yet.

Now for the high-end variation of the M1, this will get very interesting. The desktop version of the M1 will have a very different environment than their other siblings.

For one, it will be plugged in all the time unlike the MacBook Pro 16″. So most likely it ditch the efficiency cores and go all high-performance all the time. So instead of 8 high-performance and 4 high-efficiency, it’s at least 12 high-performance cores.


Mac Pro
The iMac Pro and Mac Pro is focused on I/O and processing them. Hence why I think M1 SOC for the Pro line will have the basic graphics and unified memory to keep the bases covered, but cores focused on I/O and processing them.

It needs graphic capabilities that most likely will be beyond what any SOC can deliver, hence a dedicated GPU. However, for some basic configuration, graphics is not important, like to be use in a music studio. So it will retain basic graphic and neural network cores to keep the basic covered.

For some configuration it will need a lot of RAM. for the iMac Pro you can configure upto 256GB of RAM. on the Mac Pro, you can configure upto a mind blowning 1.5TB of RAM. So most likely it will have dedicated RAM. But seeing how good the performance of unified memory, it is possible to have a 2-layer RAM, 1st layer is next to the CPU die, the 2nd is on dedicated memory banks so you have access to more RAM.


High End M1 that will replace the iMac Pro and Mac Pro will most likely be a multi-die in a package solution like AMD threadripper because of economics.

This question asked if Apple is working on a 32-core chip. I think it will be eventually 32, but only if it is a multi-die solution.

The reasoning why I think there will be maximum of 12–16 cores per die is because of economics. Apple is a niche player in the PC market. iMac Pro and Mac Pro is a niche product which probably makes up around 1–3% of all Mac sales. Making a 32-core die for a single product line like the Mac Pro is prohibitively expensive. Intel can afford to do a single 28/56-core single die because it has many customers that are doing servers and workstations. Apple chip divison is just doing Apple. So for 32-cores, I think most likely Apple will take the AMD threadripper route by putting two dies side-by-side in a single package. You will take a performance hit, but you can still make it profitable by improving the yield.

Conclusion

Ok, this post took me longer than I thought I would like to thank the guy who asked me this question.

From my analysis, we can look forward to at least 3-variations of the M1 chip

  • M1 - will be at the entry-level Mac Mini, iMac 21.5″, MacBoook Air, entry-level Macbook Pro 13″
    • 4 high-performance cores, 4 high-efficiency cores, 7–8 graphic cores, neural cores
  • ‘M1X’ - will be at the high-end Mac Mini, high-end iMac 21.5″, low-end iMac 27, high-end MacBook Pro 13″, MacBook Pro 16″
    • 8 high-performance cores, 4 high-efficiency cores, 8–12 graphic cores, neural cores, more lanes for external I/O like 4x USB 4
  • ‘M1Z’ - will be at the high-end iMac 27″, iMac Pro, Mac Pro. The Pro version will have extensions to ECC memory modules, PCI-express modules and possibily will have two dies in a single package.
    • 12 high-performance cores, 8-graphic cores, more lanes for external I/O like graphic cards, EEC RAM, etc. Possible to have 2 dies in a single package.

It will be exciting for the next two years to see Apple updating their line-up one by one and shaking up x86 world while at it.

Plug

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