Apple dropped a new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro laptops at its “Unleashed” event last night. The new 14-inch and 16-inch models start at $1,999 and range up to $6,099 when fully specced up. As with every Apple event, there was tremendous hype around the expected features in the line-up – particularly the premise of new more powerful chips. Apple did not disappoint and announced new M1 Pro and M1 Max chips. These are more powerful versions of the M1 chip that Apple built in-house and introduced last year to its Mac line-up.
While last year’s M1 chip allowed Apple to move away from Intel manufactured chips in its base Mac offerings, the newly announced chips take Apple further into replacing Intel chips in its professional Mac products. These utilize industry leading five nanometre process technology and deliver 70% faster CPU performance compared to the M1. GPU in M1 Pro is twice as fast as M1 and up to four times faster than the M1 in the M1 Max.
These chips use an ARM-based architecture which is different from Intel’s x86-64 architecture. This ARM-based architecture is placed on an SoC (system on a chip) that takes several components which are usually separate and puts them all on a single chip. These components are the CPU, GPU, Secure Enclave, Neural Engine, USB and Thunderbolt controllers, image and audio processing hardware etc. This results in better performance and battery life. This makes the Apple’s in-house chips extremely fast while being power-efficient due to all components close to each other on the same silicon wafer ensuring much faster communication on higher bandwidth channels.
“M1 has transformed our most popular systems with incredible performance, custom technologies, and industry-leading power efficiency. No one has ever applied a system-on-a-chip design to a pro system until today with M1 Pro and M1 Max,” said Johny Srouji, Apple’s senior vice president of Hardware Technologies. “With massive gains in CPU and GPU performance, up to six times the memory bandwidth, a new media engine with ProRes accelerators, and other advanced technologies, M1 Pro and M1 Max take Apple silicon even further, and are unlike anything else in a pro notebook.”
Figure 1: M1 Pro is almost twice as large as M1, whereas M1 Max is almost four times larger. Credit: Apple
M1 Pro has 33.7 billion transistors, a 10-core CPU which includes eight high-performance cores and two high-efficiency cores. It can also be configured to have up to 16-core GPU and up to 32GB memory with 200GB/s of memory bandwidth. M1 Max features the same 10-core CPU as the M1 Pro but also adds a 32-core GPU and its 400GB/s of memory bandwidth allows up to 64GB memory. Apple claims that “M1 Max is the most powerful chip ever built for a pro notebook”. The most impressive claim is that the M1 Max will keep the same power consumption curve per watt as the M1 Pro which will ensure a long battery life for the laptops. Apple also compared the new chips “to the chip running in the fastest PC Laptop we could find”.
Figure 2: M1 Pro and M1 Max feature an up-to-10-core CPU that is up to 1.7x faster than the latest 8-core PC laptop chip at the same power level, and achieves the PC chip’s peak performance at up to 70 percent less power. Credit: Apple
Both M1 Pro and M1 Max are loaded with advanced custom technologies that help push pro workflows to the next level:
- A 16-core Neural Engine for on-device machine learning acceleration and improved camera performance.
- A new display engine drives multiple external displays with M1 Pro able to support up to two 6K external displays at 60Hz and the M1 Max capable of supporting three external 6K displays at 60Hz and one 4K external display at 60Hz.
- Additional integrated Thunderbolt 4 controllers for more I/O bandwidth.
- Apple’s custom image signal processor, along with the Neural Engine, uses computational video to enhance image quality for sharper video and more natural-looking skin tones on the built-in camera.
- Apple’s latest Secure Enclave, hardware-verified secure boot, and runtime anti-exploitation technologies.
The Mac is now one year into its two-year transition from using Intel chips to Apple’s in-house chips, and M1 Pro and M1 Max represent another huge step forward as these are the most powerful and capable chips Apple has ever created. Apple said the 14-inch model will start at $1,999 and the 16-inch model will start at $2,499 and will start shipping next week.
Apple ‘Unleashes’ New MacBook Pros with Two Powerful New Chips
Apple held its shortest event in recent history, with invites calling it ‘Unleashed’, likely a reference to MacBook Pros previously having been restrained by Intel’s continued delays. The event started with some Music related announcements, including New AirPods 3, additional colours for the HomePod Mini and a new £4.99 Apple Music tier. However, it wasn’t long before attention turned to the Mac.
Two New Chips: M1 Pro and M1 Max
The M1, released last November, is already a powerful CPU, with the individual cores out-performing all, but the best, and most expensive CPUs in the consumer market. The M1 Pro is more of everything and the M1 Max is even more. More CPU cores, with eight high efficiency and eight high performance, instead of four and four found in the M1, although the M1 Pro starts at eight cores in the base 14-inch model.
But the biggest reason the new Apple Silicon chips are essential for many Pro workflows like Video Production is the Graphics. With three options, 16, 24 or 32 cores, that’s two to four times the number the top M1 chip had. For those who like to compare specs to other graphics chips, 16 or 32 cores is a bit meaningless, as Nvidia’s SM Units and AMD’s Multi-stream Processors are not directly comparable. In terms of compute power, teraflops per second will be a much better measure of performance (the M1 Max packs 10.4), but for graphics performance, we may just have to wait for the inevitable avalanche of benchmarks once reviewers get their hands on them.
As if that wasn’t enough, the M1 Pro also boasts built-in Encoders and Decoders for ProRes, as seen in the latest iPhones, in addition to the H.264 and HEVC ones found in the M1, while the M1 Max has two of them. Previously, this kind of dedicated hardware was only available as expansion cards, such as Apple’s own £2,000 Afterburner card for the pricey Mac Pro. Both chips also feature
While these improvements won’t benefit everyone, the target market here is Media professionals such as photographers, video editors, those working with 3D graphics, etc., as well as App and Web Developers. Basically, people who either want or need high CPU and/or GPU performance and for many, this will be the first time they can jump onto an Apple Silicon Mac without the massive compromises in graphics and multi-core performance the M1 would have.
But like the M1, these specifications and claims are not earth-shattering on their own. Desktops PCs have much more powerful Graphics Cards for example and even the unnamed laptop GPUs Apple used for comparison can offer higher specs. However, Apple says their new chips deliver all this performance while sipping just 30 watts of power, showing Apple is making good on its promise when it first announced the transition to its own chips last year. M1 Max is the new Efficiency King.
Another limitation of the M1 was that it only offered up to 16GB of RAM. While this was much more efficient than most other Macs and PCs, being so closely linked to the CPU, it was still a bottleneck when dealing with more demanding tasks such as creating graphics in After Effects, working with large photographs in Photoshop or just running multiple pro apps. When it comes to RAM, you should get as much as you can within your budget and for most people this should be the priority over other upgrades like Graphics or Storage. While it is true that you cannot upgrade either of them later, it is worth noting that the RAM here is shared between both CPU and GPU, so there is little point in upgrading the Graphics while leaving the RAM at the base 16GB.
The M1 Pro can support up to 32GB of RAM, but the M1 Max can have up to 64GB. If you are intending to use the new Macs for Video Editing, Design Apps like Photoshop, Affinity Designer, etc. or have multiple apps open for long periods of time, you should definitely consider at least 32GB of RAM. For those working with After Effects, 3D Graphics or multiple productivity Apps like Premiere Pro, Audition and Design App at the same time, then 64GB is probably the way to go. It is worth mentioning that, as the memory is shared between the CPU and GPU, 64GB of RAM would give it more video memory than the top Nvidia Graphics Card available for professional workstations, which have 48GB.
While it’s true you cannot upgrade the internal storage after purchase, RAM and Graphics upgrades should be prioritised, as external SSDs are readily available at high speeds. Thunderbolt SSDs can be almost as fast as internal storage (~5GB/s vs 7.4GB/s), while USB-C drives get you 10Gb/s (~1250 MB/s), not exactly slow speeds, at a lower cost than Apple’s own upgrades.
There are however reasons not to dismiss upgrading the storage altogether. Firstly, applications, particularly Pro apps, continue to increase in size and SSDs in general start performing poorly if you fill them up too much (it is recommended to have at least 10% of the drive free to ensure it performs correctly). But there is a much bigger reason, particularly for Pros using Apple devices and services. If you use iCloud Drive and like to have everything synced locally for convenience, backup, etc. or you use Airdrop to transfer large files, such as ProRes video from the latest iPhones, the locations for both of these cannot be changed, so be sure you have enough internal storage to handle them.
New MacBook Pros
In terms of the products on show, the new MacBook Pros were undoubtedly the stars of the Event, delivering pretty much everything people have been asking for since Apple released the 2016 models with the TouchBar and no ports other than USB-C. Almost everything about them is new.
Let’s start with the new Mini-LED displays, which are similar to those used in the latest iPad Pros (12.9-inch) and like the iPads, they also feature 120Hz displays with variable refresh rate, meaning smoother motion where it counts and better efficiency (read better battery life) when there is less motion on the screen. It’s worth noting that this also improves the experience when watching many films and videos, previously, any video with a frame rate that is not 30, 60 or 120 would be slightly choppy or blurry, but with variable refresh rate, the screen can match the frame rate of the video.
However, Mini-LED is not the only change to the displays. The new resolutions might mean the MacBook Pros finally have 2x scaling, making things onscreen look sharper. Previous looked a little blurred to sharp-eyed users. The bezels have been slimmed down, not just at the sides, but at the top too, making it necessary to include a notch for the first time on a Mac. While it may indeed have been too difficult to fit the new 1080p webcam and ambient light sensor in a slimmer bezel, Apple may be thinking ahead for the potential inclusion of Face ID. This would be the first time the company has made a change that could be seen in a negative light early, as they did when they removed the headphone jack from the iPhone 7, a year before the iPhone X’s complete redesign.
The smaller of the two models now has a 14-inch display, up from 13-inch previously, but both new MacBook Pros have an all-new design to go with the new displays. The edges are softer, more rounded, giving them a look reminiscent of the first MacBook Pros in 2006 and the PowerBooks that came before them.
Ports are Back
It may seem strange, but one of the most exciting changes for many users will be the return of multiple ports. When Apple removed all the ports in the 2016 models, replacing them with 4 USB-C ports, few had an affinity with Apple’s ethos at the time, using the excuse of USB-C being the future to justify one of the most egregious examples of form over function from the company. As USB-C was barely in use for peripherals at the time, users had to purchase and carry around a multitude of dongles (adapters). But that dark chapter is over and as people return to offices and other activities, they can finally plug in to projectors with HDMI directly, photographers and video makers can plug in SD cards and yes, MagSafe is back! There are of course, still 3 USB-C ports, featuring USB4 and Thunderbolt 4 and they continue to support charging, so users now have a the best of both worlds.
The TouchBar, introduced in 2016, is gone, replaced with full-size function keys, which will please many pro users. Add to that a three-mic array with high signal-to-noise ratio and directional beamforming, High-fidelity six-speaker sound system with wide stereo sound and a 3.5mm headphone jack with advanced support for high-impedance headphones, these new MacBook Pros seem to check every box on people’s wish-lists.
The Price of Power
Prices start at £1,899 and £2,399 for the 14 and 16-inch models respectively. Upgrading to the M1 Max costs an additional £200, which also gives you 24 graphics cores and enables the RAM to be upgraded to 64GB if your budget will stretch to accommodate the £800 extra. A fully specced out 16-inch MacBook Pro will set you back £5,899, but that includes the £2,400 to upgrade to 8TB of storage, which most users won’t need. The same machine with 1TB of storage costs a mere £3,699.
Apple still has a year to complete its transition away from Intel, assuming their 2-year period started with the launch of the M1 Macs. While these new models do pack a punch, they are far from the best the company can do. The M1 Pro and M1 Max CPU cores consume around 30 watts of power according to Apple, desktop machines typically run at over 100 watts, so we can expect the replacements for the High-End iMac and Mac Pro to deliver another leap in performance next year. Constrained supply may have played a part, but demand is undoubtedly high for these MacBook Pros, with delivery dates slipping to November and even December for some models within the first 10 minutes of going on sale. So if you do want one soon, it’s probably best to keep an eye on stock at your local Apple Store.
Where do Apple rumours come from?
If Apple is so secretive and employees at the company are passionate about the products, how is it that almost all of the tech giant’s products and feature leak far in advance of their launch events or press releases?
Few consumer product companies are as secretive as Apple. Most tech companies for example, will at least show a preview of upcoming products as soon as they are finalised. Some even show tech previews and early concepts at events like CES (Consumer Electronics Show) to get people excited about upcoming technologies such as TV displays, sometimes even years in advance. But Apple has rarely unveiled products before they are ready to ship, with very few high profile exceptions such as the original iPhone in 2007.
The reason for this secrecy is two-fold. First, it prevents disappointment, such as that which was felt by many for the notorious AirPower. The wireless charger that promised to charge an iPhone, AirPods and an Apple Watch at the same time and placed anywhere on the pad, was announced in September 2017. However it was only to be unceremoniously cancelled without release 18 months later, after Apple failed to make good on the promised features.
The more important reason, however, is what Apple calls, “surprise and delight”. The thrill of new products is much greater if the first time people see and hear about it and its features is on stage at one of the Apple’s Keynotes, where the purpose and brilliance of each feature is shown in all its glory. When products and features are leaked slowly, sometimes over a year ahead of a product’s launch, it dilutes that thrill and excitement. Think of how much more exciting it is when you buy the latest gadget when everyone is talking about it, articles and videos are highlighting features, tips and drop tests, friends and colleagues are arguing about whether it’s better than competing products, as opposed to buying it a couple of months later. This buzz of activity around the product adds to the excitement of owning it. So, Apple is extremely strict when it comes to its employees talking about products ahead of a launch, a culture instilled in the company by Steve Jobs, a master of marketing.
If Apple is so secretive and employees at the company are passionate about the products, after all, it hurts the teams who work for years on products, only for them to be leaked before the big showcase, how is it that almost all of the tech giant’s products and feature leak far in advance of their launch events or press releases? The most prominent source of leaks is the global supply chain involving many companies around the world working to get each product to market.
Although each product is, as Apple’s packaging states, “Designed by Apple in California”, hundreds of companies across the globe are involved in the mass production, from individual components like chips, camera sensors and batteries to assembling the end product. Add in accessory makers, who need exact product specifications for things such as cases and the challenge of keeping any product under wraps simply becomes impossible.
So how do rumours and leaks reach the media we consume? The most common way is investor notes from industry analysts like Ming-Chi Kuo. They meet with many suppliers of components that Apple uses in its devices and then take the information from all of them and combine it to get a picture of the overall product. The accuracy of these analysts varies and there is even a tracker that ranks prominent leakers, giving each of them a percentage score. It’s worth noting that the further out from a product release, the more uncertain these rumours are, as of course, Apple themselves may not have made a final decision or could change their mind at the last minute. For most of their devices, decisions will have been finalised at least 3-4 months ahead of launch, as that is the time mass production typically begins in order to ensure enough stock is produced and shipped in time for release and this is where the fun really begins.
CAD designs (highly accurate 3D virtual models) and images of early samples of individual components can and have leaked well before mass production begins. However, once manufacturing begins in earnest, it’s just too difficult to keep components, including the chassis and screen, from leaking in photographs. Thousands of people will have physical access to various parts of the product at this stage, many of them on low pay and as the release date gets closer, the number of leaked images tend to increase.
Various websites have unnamed ‘industry sources’ who provide information and images, with Bloomberg, Mac Rumours and many others providing sourced leaks, but in recent years, a growing number of Twitter-based leakers have joined the ranks. L0vetodream is particularly interesting, providing very short, often cryptic insights like “tag TAG” to indicate two sizes of the rumoured Apple ‘Tag’ bluetooth tracking devices.
Two aspects of Apple devices tend not to leak, at least until the final few days before a launch event; the name and price. While the packaging does show the name, relatively few people will see it before the products are put into blank boxes for shipping and depending on the gap between the unveiling and actually being available to buy, the price is only known to people that need to know inside Apple itself.
The only products that aren’t often leaked far in advance are those that look the same or very similar on the outside to devices already available, but even those are now outed a week or so before they are released, often via press release.
But some leaks may not be leaks at all and may serve to let ‘bad news’ be boring by the time the product is released. Of course, there is no hard evidence that this is the case, but it does make sense in certain cases, such as the iPhone 7’s removal of the headphone jack. At the time the information ‘leaked’, which was fairly early in the rumour cycle, the internet was ablaze with ridicule, outrage and accusations of Apple doing so to make more money from accessories using their proprietary Lightning port, which commands a licence fee. However, by the time the iPhone 7 launched, it was old news to most and just as leaks dilute the excitement of new features, so too did this ‘leak’ serve to nullify the outrage that would have accompanied the new phone had the information come at the launch.
A company that operates at the scale that Apple does, cannot hope to contain rumours of its new products and their features. While it does dilute the launch events, it does help to build up hype around products. It enables an entire industry of news outlets that cover tech and Apple specifically and also provides a steady drip-feed of information for those eagerly awaiting the next Apple product.
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