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Apple Ships Its First PC Processor

January 12, 2021

Author: Aakash Jani

Setting a new standard for PC performance, Apple began shipping its M1 silicon in the new Mac Minis and MacBooks. Its new Firestorm and Icestorm CPUs increase multicore performance by 11% over the previous generation. These Arm-compatible cores are much more efficient than x86 designs, doubling MacBook battery life relative to older Intel-based products. They also power the recent A14 processor, which appears in the iPhone 12. The M1 is the industry’s first 5nm PC chip—a full process node ahead of Intel’s best offerings. The A14 is the first 5nm processor of any type to reach volume production.

Traditional PC chips integrate only a CPU and GPU, but with the rise of smart assistants and AI-assisted gaming, the company wanted a more heterogeneous design sporting a deep-learning accelerator (DLA). Furthermore, as Arm-compatible RISC designs, Firestorm and Icestorm consume less power than their x86 counterparts. Apple used this capability to deliver PC-level performance at 15W TDP.  Relative to previous MacBooks based on Intel’s Ice Lake processor, the new systems deliver 40% better performance for native applications and 70% longer battery life.

The M1 comprises four “big” Firestorm CPUs, four “little” Icestorm CPUs, an 8-core GPU, a 16-core DLA, an ISP, and in-package DRAM. For some MacBook models, Apple disables one GPU core. The A14 is a similar design, except it has two fewer Firestorm cores and four fewer GPU cores to reduce cost and power. The new smartphone chip boosts performance relative to the A13, doubling AI throughput and raising big-CPU IPC by 5%.

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