Love or hate Apple silicon, this is just the beginning

Apple New Macbookpro Photographer Photo
Apple New Macbookpro Photographer Photo (Image credit: Apple)

Have you tried the first Assassin's Creed recently? I have, it was dreadful. A washed-out clunkfest of bad controls, repetitive gameplay, and a color palette that makes playing the game feel like staring into a plate of leftover gravy on Thanksgiving for several hours. With the dawn of Assassin's Creed: Valhalla, I've decided to play the entire AC franchise from start to finish. (I'm up to Unity if you're interested) At times, it has been torrid, and the very first game was the worst experience by far.

It seems clear to me (and I don't think I'm the only one who thinks this), that thirteen years (and one day) since the game's release, the only good thing you can say about the game now is that it was the first Assassin's Creed. The inaugural brick in Ubisoft's multi-billion dollar wall. It paved the way for the rest of the franchise, a swathe of follow-up games, a movie, and an upcoming Netflix series. None of the success of Assassin's Creed would have been possible without the dreamers and doers who made the first game, but rest assured that I never want to play it again.

Apple silicon came out this week, and I hope you can see where I'm going with all this. There's been quite a polarized reaction within the tech community to Apple's brand new M1 chip, the first-ever Apple-made SoC to feature inside a Mac. There's been a lot of love, and also a lot of skepticism.

Just four days into its life cycle, I think it's probably a bit early to start throwing out "verdicts" on whether Apple silicon is a success, a failure, beyond belief, or below expectations. Can't we all just sit back, watch the Apple machines go brrr, and enjoy the ride?

Apple M1 Chip Macbookpro Dj Pro Screen

Apple M1 Chip Macbookpro Dj Pro Screen (Image credit: Apple)

First impressions

Admittedly, Apple silicon and the M1 chip look very impressive on paper. Here's a reminder of the headlines:

  • The M1 is built on 5nm tech, packing 16 billion transistors into one chip
  • Apple says that the M1 features "the world's fastest CPU core in low-power silicon"
  • It also features "the world's best CPU performance per watt"
  • And "the world's fastest integrated graphics in a personal computer"

Compared to previous generation Macs, that makes for 3.5x faster CPU performance, 6x faster GPU performance, and 15x faster machine learning. Oh, and 2x longer battery life. No big deal.

Apple silicon on paper looks set to transform Apple's mobile and desktop computing as we know it, paving the way for all manner of new capabilities, multitasking, power, usage, and more.

Take the MacBook Air, for example. Apple says that, compared to the old model, it can export iMovie projects 3x faster, integrate 3D effects into video in FCP up to 5x faster, play back and edit multiple streams of 4K quality ProRes video, export Lightroom photos twice as fast, and more. All the more impressive when you remember the MacBook Air doesn't even have a fan...

There's a similar list of improvements for the MacBook Pro and Mac mini, and a host of benefits for all of the M1 devices, such as instant sleep-to-wake, 1.5x faster Safari browsing, and more. Make no mistake, Apple has changed the game when it comes to computing on the Mac with M1.

But it's not all sunshine and rainbows.

Limitations

There were certainly a few reasons why Apple's November 'One more thing' event could never have been all things to all people. The range of machines, one MacBook Air, one MacBook Pro, and one Mac mini, is obviously very limited, and there was no love for any of Apple's larger MacBooks or any of its other desktop computers.

A rather generous-looking graph about the M1's performance shown at the keynote has raised eyebrows, including those of our good friends at Windows Central. From Daniel Rubino earlier this week:

Apple is hilariously vague in its claims, showing charts comparing its CPU and GPU to the "latest PC laptop chip" (whatever that means). The charts have simple labels of "performance" and "power consumption" with no X or Y-axis values.Of course, the Apple chip is higher on the chart and has a more pleasing trajectory, but anyone who works with numbers knows that graph is entirely meaningless. The difference could be massive, or it could be tiny – we don't know because not only do we not see the comparison chip, but we don't know how they performed on the test (and which test) or what the actual figures are. That's not science, that's marketing.

'#16GBofRAM' also started trending on Twitter shortly after the keynote, thanks to the fact that Apple's first round of M1 chips is limited to 16GB of RAM in its most-powerful configuration. You might argue that the performance improvements of the M1 lessen the need for RAM, but plenty of onlookers seem skeptical about calling a MacBook 'Pro' if you can only put 16GB of RAM inside. Not to mention that the RAM is now buried deep within the M1, meaning user upgrades are out of the question. Only time and real-world testing will prove whether 16GB is enough for those who want to truly push the boundaries of their Mac.

Limitations also extend to storage, you can only add a maximum of 2TB to an Apple silicon MacBook Pro, compared to 4TB on Intel. Certainly, if Apple thought that it had done enough to supplant its Intel-based MacBook lineup, it would have stopped selling them with the release of the new M1-based computers, but it hasn't.

Apple M1 Chip Macbookpro User On Xcode App

Apple M1 Chip Macbookpro User On Xcode App (Image credit: Apple)

Just the beginning

Back to Assassin's Creed, the M1 chip is the very beginning of Apple silicon. Which is good news for literally everyone. If you're blown away by Apple's new chip and its performance, guess what? In a few years, they'll be even better. The same goes for the naysayers, or the vast majority of folk who probably fall somewhere in the middle. Like every first-generation product Apple has made, (Apple Watch, iPad, iPhone), this is the start of something very exciting. In the not-too-distant future, Apple will probably release a chip with your name on it, even if you don't think the M1 is powerful enough to knock the skin off a rice pudding. Like the first Assassin's Creed, you might not want to play the game in a decade, but for the patient watchers of Apple silicon, Valhalla awaits.

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.

Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9

7 Comments
  • Not sure where the hate could possibly come from. The chip slaughters Intel’s low end options with performance that rivals their high end. Apple showed off M1 in hardware that makes it a very apples to apples comparison. For people wanting more designs or integration of features from iPhones into Macs, give them time. But these machines are still some of the best computers on the planet.
  • For some it’s hate for hate’s sake. Some cannot, will not accept change and will fight to the bitter end for the status quo. All the proof you need is in the Intel/AMD fanboy wars. Now they have a common enemy, the M1, and they will mobilize to attempt to spread as much FUD as they can.
  • Yes, Apple fans continue telling themselves that the only reason why the whole world doesn't admit, accept and embrace the clear superiority of Apple products is hatred and fear. Here in the real world that actually exists, look: 1. What is this "change" that you speak of? Because ARM-based computers have been around for years. Please know that macOS is THE LAST major computing platform to adopt ARM. Linux, ChromeOS and Windows have been on ARM for years. 2. I hate to break it to you ... but Apple computers are niche. You won't find that admitted by the media because entertainment and news media is one of the niches where Apple dominates. But as for the rest of the world, Apple has a market share that has varied from 3% to 10%. The one time it reached 15% was not due to increased macOS sales, but because the entire PC market contracted because consumers and enterprises refused to buy Windows 8. As soon as Windows 10 came out, the macOS market share was back to well below 10%. An example: in this last quarter, Apple sold more computers than any other quarter in its history ... and it was still 2.5 million less than the number of Chromebooks sold! 3. Apple has tried various things to move the needle before. The original $399 Mac Mini - and to a degree the original Apple TV - were supposed to be cheap devices to get people introduced to the platform. Also the "halo effect" from iPod, iPhone and iPad buyers was supposed to lure switchers. (That is what Apple fans THOUGHT was happening during the Windows 8 era - people dumping Windows for Macs or at least iPads - but it was not the case.) 4. I will grant you: having significantly faster Macs will be more compelling. But the problem is that a significant percentage of the marketplace doesn't buy for raw power to begin with. (This has, er, been to the benefit of macOS, as at no point have macOS devices been the most powerful in their class, and indeed have been less powerful than machines that cost substantially less.) Second, the cohorts most likely to buy computers based on computing power include those that are the least likely to have the software they want/need available on macOS. One example: gamers. 5. Finally, Apple won't retain their performance advantage forever, or even for very long. AMD will have TSMC manufacture their 5nm Zen 4 CPUs in late 2021, before Apple will reach 3nm. Intel can have 7nm chips on the market by 2022 if they swallow their pride and allow either TSMC or Samsung to manufacture them while they skip from 10nm to 5nm in their own foundries. By 2023 - a bit after Apple's 2 year transition period is over - it is very likely that Apple, AMD and Intel are going to have similar performance. 6. Also ... Apple MAY be challenged on the ARM front by Qualcomm and Samsung. Apple's advantage has been due to having the fastest core in the industry. Qualcomm, Samsung, Intel and AMD fought back by scaling cores, but going past 8 cores with mobile chips that Qualcomm and Samsung design for heat and power reasons, plus Apple nullified it anyway by scaling from 2 to 8 cores themselves. So Samsung and ARM Holdings went back to the drawing board to come up with a significantly faster core and they claim to have achieved it. We will be getting official benchmarks from that core in a couple of months (perhaps less as the first phones using the core will be released in February). Right now they are only able to use 1 such core in an 8 core design, which means that next the focus will be to go from 1 core to 2 and then to 4. When that happens, will the performance advantage that Apple enjoys in smartphones and tablets also be narrowed? Again, we should know by 2022-2023. Those of us who don't buy Apple products - or who buy some Apple products but also buy products from other companies or plaforms - have legitimate reasons. It would behoove you to learn about what they are than say things like "For some it’s hate for hate’s sake. Some cannot, will not accept change and will fight to the bitter end for the status quo. All the proof you need is in the Intel/AMD fanboy wars. Now they have a common enemy, the M1, and they will mobilize to attempt to spread as much FUD as they can" because you only reveal your own lack of knowledge and diminish yourself in the process.
  • Really?
    1) Can't speak to Linux, but the Chrome and Windows devices with ARM are the most underpowered, underperforming devices around, suitable for only the most basic of tasks.
    2) Apple is niche and ChromeOS and WOA are not? Again can't speak to Linux, but haven't noted a big up swell in day to day Linux users.
    3) I don't think Apple is trying to 'move the needle'. They jocky for the most valuable company in the world already with their paltry market penetration.
    4) Where do you get Mac's are not powerful? If you tie that to gamers, and attribute it to software availability, maybe you should look at some different professionals. Maybe consider something productive, like video production. There isn't a personal computer on the planet that can beat out a decked out Mac Pro. Expensive, yes, but if it is what you make a living with, worth it. Not Apple Silicon, yes, but you didn't caveat your denigration of Mac capabilities. Macs have always been as powerful as Windows machines in the same class, and amortized over their respective lives, no more expensive. These new Macs have the potential to be better than their Intel Mac equivalents, which were already as good or better than their Windows equivalents.
    5) We can all crystal ball. Sure, AMD and Intel will improve, but Apple won't stand still.
    6) See 5)
    You are right. Rational people buy what they want or need for different reasons. Not sure why you needed to spend so much time dismissing Apple to further the 'different strokes for different folks' thesis. Fact is there are haters out there, of Apple, Google, MS, whatever. Some expose themselves by pointing out how misguided the lovers of Apple, Google, MS are.
  • Hate???
    Jeez, get over yourself.
  • "Certainly, if Apple thought that it had done enough to supplant its Intel-based MacBook lineup, it would have stopped selling them with the release of the new M1-based computers, but it hasn't." I really don't get this sentiment, which I've heard from several articles. Do people actually think Apple is going to ditch ALL those models and replace them with a single "low-end" configuration? They released a single SoC - an "entry level" SoC meant to replace the least performant configurations of each model. These new entry level systems now benchmark above or close to their highest performance (non Xeon) systems. In fact, there's only a few iMac models that benchmark higher. And again, let's not forget that these are ENTRY LEVEL systems that have always been offered with 8GB/16GB RAM, so that's not even an issue at this level - even for the 13" MacBook Pro.
  • I sort of said this to confirm what you're saying about this being the entry-level Apple silicon. No RE replacing with entry-level, but there had been reports that Apple working on more than one chip/varying levels of power, etc. But yes, hard agree that this is the entry-level chip, I've seen some folks use the remaining Intel computers as "proof" Apple silicon is somehow not very good. And yes, the benchmarks are pretty staggering at this stage.