What Apple isn’t saying about the Mac’s new chips

From Sean Hollister’s “How fast are Apple’s new ARM Mac chips? It’s hard to tell” posted Tuesday on The Verge:

The company’s press release says very specifically that Apple’s new chips will “give the Mac industry-leading performance per watt,” and that’s a very deliberate turn of phrase. Apple’s arguing that by building the most efficient kind of chips it can — “the highest performance with the lowest power consumption” — it can achieve more raw performance by tipping the scales of that performance-per-watt formula toward more watts.

In other words, if you build a MacBook Pro-sized chip with a MacBook Pro-sized heatsink and enclosure, plus a MacBook-sized battery, your iPhone-esque processor theoretically has room to do a heck of a lot more work. But it’s almost always been true that ARM-based processors are more efficient than the competition, and the scales don’t tip on their own. Speeding up a chip isn’t just a simple matter of giving it more juice — you’ve got to design a beefy enough processor (or, say, the world’s fastest supercomputer) around that efficient architecture, and Apple isn’t bragging that it’s actually done that yet.

My take: Smart. I never think about the heatsink until my laptop is too hot for my lap.

P.S. “… the scales don’t tip on their own.” Words to live by.

6 Comments

  1. David Emery said:
    This actually makes sense to me. Apple is a -systems- company, unlike Intel whose only significant product is hardware. So Intel has to compete on synthetic measures like benchmarks, rather than performance of the whole system.

    I’m sure there’s a lot of work going on inside Apple on tuning Mac OS X (11!), on looking at ways the hardware could change to provide better (and cooler) performance, etc.

    Of course, understanding the kinds of system optimizations between hardware and software (both system software/OS and applications) is difficult. Explaining those trade-offs won’t get bloggers many clicks.

    2
    June 24, 2020
  2. Aaron Belich said:
    The majority of the Apple buyers do not care about the stats. And the vocal minority that do are often dumbstruck when they can’t match the performance that Apple typically eeks out of their hardware.

    Sure you can get better elsewhere, but rarely at a cheaper price and likely with limited use cases.

    0
    June 24, 2020
  3. Fred Stein said:
    I got through half of Verge article, rubbish, innuendo, etc.

    Firstly, and obviously, the A12Z Mac mini, is part of the “Developer Transition Kit”, as specifically labeled by Apple. Apple and their developers have a lot of work to do before both release production A-Series Macs running production 3rd party software.

    Second: Just my guess, Apple targets the first production A??Macs at the lower end of the market who use the high volume applications. The high end applications and high end Macs, come later. At the high end performance matters. This takes more time for Apple and the developers. And it’s lower unit volumes at higher gross margins.

    2
    June 24, 2020
    • Jonny Tilney said:
      Congrats for even trying to read an article on The Verge, let alone finishing one. To me, it is all garbage, from beginning to end.

      0
      June 24, 2020
  4. Fred Stein said:
    I just read Apple’s press release. For $500 developers get a loaner A12Z Mac mini (that must be returned) plus sw, docs, and a special support forum.

    In classic Clayton “disruption from below”, Apple helps iOS developers become Mac developers. It helps legacy Mac developers too.

    2
    June 24, 2020
  5. Bart Yee said:
    IMO, scaling up A-series chip designs to work in a larger, more expansive, and more cooling system friendly environment like a desktop allows much more thermal leeway in CPU performance. Whereas in an iPhone and iPad, performance must be managed and throttled to address cooling and peak battery draw, a desktop with larger heatsinks, fans (if used), Peltier liquid transfer cooling, etc. would allow much more steady state high performance as demanded, unfettered by power supply draw issues.

    This particular type of Apple CPU chip would then be designed potentially with a larger die, heat spreader, more robust connections, and adjacent memory can be separately cooled and managed. Scaling up an A14 chip from a mobile device to a desktop device could allow heat dissipation in the 25-40 watt range. Considering Intel 10th Gen Core i9-10900K itself consumes up to 250-300 watts using the 14nm process using all 10 cores at maximum boost frequency of 4.9Ghz whereas it normally runs at 125 watts. AMD chips using 7nm process also pull 200-300 watts in bursts. So Apple’s work on producing very efficient low power processors that could eventually approach Intel and AMD chip processing levels at lower power could prove very beneficial, as will their lead in moving over to 5nm process via TSMC already.

    2
    June 24, 2020

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