On the CPU side, doubling up on the performance cores is an evident way to increase performance – the competition also does so with some of their designs. How Apple does it differently, is that it not only scaled the CPU cores, but everything surrounding them. It’s not just 4 additional performance cores, it’s a whole new performance cluster with its own L2. On the memory side, Apple has scaled its memory subsystem to never before seen dimensions, and this allows the M1 Pro & Max to achieve performance figures that simply weren’t even considered possible in a laptop chip. The chips here aren’t only able to outclass any competitor laptop design, but also competes against the best desktop systems out there, you’d have to bring out server-class hardware to get ahead of the M1 Max – it’s just generally absurd.
On the GPU side of things, Apple’s gains are also straightforward. The M1 Pro is essentially 2x the M1, and the M1 Max is 4x the M1 in terms of performance. Games are still in a very weird place for macOS and the ecosystem, maybe it’s a chicken-and-egg situation, maybe gaming is still something of a niche that will take a long time to see make use of the performance the new chips are able to provide in terms of GPU. What’s clearer, is that the new GPU does allow immense leaps in performance for content creation and productivity workloads which rely on GPU acceleration.
These are excellent processors and GPUs, especially when taking their power consumption into account. Sure, a lot of it is optimised only for Apple’s approved frameworks and applications, but if you’re deep into the Apple ecosystem, these are simply no-brainer machines for any creator.
I’m a very niche segment here really aiming to get one of these processors. I do a ton of HPC and I have backends for our code using CUDA, OpenCL and Metal. Our GPU code is around at least 2 orders of magnitudes faster than a top-class Xeon processor. The investment in Metal came precisely when Apple started to announce plans to leave behind OpenCL. At the time, it wasn’t fully clear the transition to Apple Silicon, but as Mac systems are important in my work, we did the work to support Metal in AMD GPUs, and the results were quite good. An AMD Pro W6800 using accelerated computing with Metal is neck to neck in performance to an Nvidia RTX A6000 with CUDA. The RTX A6000 edges the W6800 in the sense it has 48 GB RAM vs 32 GB with the W6800. In my work, every GB on the GPU counts dramatically. When the M1 was announced, we were quite excited as plans started to appear those systems would be eventually moving to high-end versions, increasing the memory available to the GPU.
Early benchmarks place the M1 Max in the ballpark of the RTX 3070-3080, which I’d take any day as much I have more memory, and that is where the 64 GB version comes into play. I’d take a lower performance of the RTX 20XX family just to have more memory. So I already ordered one system last Mon seconds after the Apple store was taking orders. If the M1 Max is truly on the ballpark of RTX 3070-3080… that is a huge accomplishment for Apple. And I couldn’t wait for any second to get whatever processor may come in the pipeline for the Mac Pro. Beyond video specialists who will benefit out of the box, I can see the scientific community losing their minds with the possibilities that this new generation of CPU+GPU may bring. I’d be NVidia and I’d be quite nervous that Apple may get into their market of HPC with GPU , where NVidia has pretty much total dominance, but using insanely expensive and complex technology to interface their GPUs to provide more memory, while still depending on having a high-end CPU to sync all the GPU work and memory transfers. Exciting times.