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M2 Apple Silicon – a GREAT chip, or 1 to miss?

It was troubling me – what is the M2 Apple Silicon chip all about? I’ve spent some time researching this week, and will try my best to explain.

M2 Apple Silicon
image courtesy of Apple

Back to WWDC we go

This year, WWDC was one of the longest, and for good reason. There was a lot of new features & even products announced. Centre Stage, Continuity Camera, and improvements to both Messages & Mail.

The would ‘would we, wouldn’t we’ debate about Macs at the conference, was answered when an all-new MacBook Air and a re–vamped 13–inch MacBook Pro were paraded in front of us.

image courtesy of Apple

It was about an hour in, right after watchOS 9 was regaled, that good old John Ternus, SVP of Hardware Engineering came on set, and told us that the latest iteration of Apple Silicon was born – the M2.

The Apple Silicon dream

M2 Apple Silicon
image courtesy of Apple

The plans for Apple Silicon, stretch back around a decade. With the Mac brand, and line–up approaching being nearly 40 years old, it was felt something innovative, and fresh was required.

The brief from the ‘high–up’s’ at Apple, was to be free and look to break from the accepted norms. They questioned the ethos, that laptop computing, in particular, had to be energy inefficient, loud and hot. Why should you need to be tethered next to a power outlet for fear of battery anxiety? It is, after all, 2022 – there must a better solution!

The M1 chip, as we now know, achieved that brief perfectly. Eighteen months in, we are getting used to the fact that we can leave home without packing a charger. Fan noise is a thing of the past, and your MacBook no longer feels like a barbecue after only 30 minutes of moderate use.

With a focus on SoC technology, at the heart of Apple Silicon M2 was to further explore the boundaries of the performance & efficiency cores.

Whilst the M2 Apple Silicon chip may still be based on the 5 nanometer production method, it does offer some reasonable performance bumps. Yes, I am certain this M2 chip is somewhat of an interim development in the larger scheme of Apple Silicon, but it is no albatross.

M2 Apple Silicon – what do you get?

M2 Apple Silicon
image courtesy of Apple

Although incremental, if you are waiting on the new MacBook Air, the M2 chip, even in its base form, will offer even more efficiency, at lower power. This starts with the use of the newer LPDDR5 RAM, which is already evident on the M1 Pro, Max & Ultra chips.

I’ll try hard not to get too nerdy here – the efficiency cores are up in number from 8 to 10 cores, and have around a 20% – 25% performance boost. And with those extra cores on board, performance can be spread out more evenly, to achieve even more tasks, with less power use. And with this improved efficiency, comes power. If the M2 detects you’re needing more ‘juice’, then it can instantly offer you more GPU cores.

If AI and machine learning is your bag, then the M2 Neural engine power is also up about 40%. You’ll notice that, for instance, in Face ID detection etc. Performance cores have not been neglected either, with those now achieving around 18% – 20% more power.

The focus on M2 Apple Silicon, the more I researched, has obviously been on better graphics and the utilisation of the available bandwidth. Many of those 20 billion transistors we had heard about, you’ll find on the GPU cores. The bandwidth, I just mentioned, is up 50% to 100 Gbps.

It is this that unlocked the ability to spec these M2 Apple Silicon Macs with up to 24GB of unified memory, as it is now easier for the Mac to access the entire chip.

The benefit of being all in–house

M2 Apple Silicon
image courtesy of Apple

Whilst there may be some decent I3 or I5 chips out there, one problem that will forever have hindered Intel, is that they were making these chips with somewhat of a scatter–gun approach. By that, I mean, they had to be made generically, for all computers, both PC & Mac.

Apple has had the benefit of developing Apple Silicon M1 & M2 purely for their machines and end use. That advantage is huge.

Peeling back the curtains on M2, the advantages can be seen in action, system-wide. In having the chip at both ends, as it were, has made revolutionary features such as Continuity Camera possible. Although still currently only in beta, it is getting a great reaction. And again, it also means wireless security between your camera and Mac is even safer, as it is all Apple encrypted. No need for any third–party servers to get involved. This end–to–end ability, is what has also made adding stand–out features such as studio light and desk view possible with M2 and the latest macOS – Ventura.

Wrapping it all up

M2 Apple Silicon
image courtesy of Apple

The chip division at Cupertino, were in the luxurious position of developing a chip just for their hardware team. The synergy of the announcement of the newly designed MacBook Air and M2 was no mistake. They were clearly designed hand in glove. This chip was simply meant for the MacBook Air. The chip team were clearly led & guided by the product, not the other way around.

It is no surprise that the two best-selling laptops are from Apple. The MacBook Air and 13–inch MacBook Pro. And it is even less of a surprise that they are the first Macs to have M2 Apple Silicon inside.

M2 Apple Silicon has pushed the envelope of cool, performant, efficient, laptop computing still further. It is almost inevitable that we’ll see the M2 inside the 24–inch iMac and Mac mini within the next twelve months. What happens with Mac Pro, is still anyone’s guess.

You can already pre-order the 13–inch M2 MacBook Pro as of tomorrow (at the time of writing), with the first deliveries seven days after that. The more anticipated MacBook Air is still unavailable, but Apple did say it was going to be on pre-order in July. Watch this, or their, space I guess.

But, if you are waiting for an M2 Apple Silicon Mac, hopefully now, you’ll have a bit more of an idea what all the hoop–la is about.

Will you be there on pre-order day?

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