What Makes Apple Silicon So Fast?
Real-world experience with the new Macs has sunk in. They are fast. Real fast. But why? What is the magic?
On YouTube, I watched a Mac user who had bought an iMac last year. It was maxed out with 40 GB of RAM costing him about $4,000. He watched in disbelief how his hyperexpensive iMac was being demolished by his new M1 Mac Mini, which he had paid a measly $700 for.
In real-world test after test, the M1 Macs are not merely inching past top-of-the-line Intel Macs, they are destroying them. In disbelief, people have started asking how on earth this is possible?
If you are one of those people, you have come to the right place. Here I plan to break it down into digestible pieces exactly what it is that Apple has done with the M1. Specifically the questions I think a lot of people have are:
- What are the technical reasons this M1 chip is so fast?
- Has Apple made some really exotic technical choices to make this possible?
- How easy will it be for the competition such as Intel and AMD to pull the same technical tricks?
Sure you could try to Google this, but if you try to learn what Apple has done beyond the superficial explanations, you will quickly get buried in highly technical jargon such as M1 using very wide instruction decoders, enormous reorder buffer (ROB), etc. Unless you are a CPU hardware geek, a lot of this will simply be gobbledygook. But if you are, I highly recommend Andrei Frumusanu’s article at AnandTech, which gets deep into the details. It is thanks to his hard work and research that we know a lot of the important technical details about the M1.
To get the most out of this story I advise reading my earlier piece: “What Does RISC and CISC mean in 2020?” There I explain what a microprocessor (CPU) is as well as various important concepts such as:
- Instruction set architecture (ISA)
- Load/store architecture
- Microcode vs. micro-operations
But if you are impatient, I will do a quick version of the material you need to understand to grasp my explanation of the M1 chip.