Conclusion & First Impressions

The new M1 Pro and M1 Max chips are designs that we’ve been waiting for over a year now, ever since Apple had announced the M1 and M1-powered devices. The M1 was a very straightforward jump from a mobile platform to a laptop/desktop platform, but it was undeniably a chip that was oriented towards much lower power devices, with thermal limits. The M1 impressed in single-threaded performance, but still clearly lagged behind the competition in overall performance.

The M1 Pro and M1 Max change the narrative completely – these designs feel like truly SoCs that have been made with power users in mind, with Apple increasing the performance metrics in all vectors. We expected large performance jumps, but we didn’t expect the some of the monstrous increases that the new chips are able to achieve.

On the CPU side, doubling up on the performance cores is an evident way to increase performance – the competition also does so with some of their designs. How Apple does it differently, is that it not only scaled the CPU cores, but everything surrounding them. It’s not just 4 additional performance cores, it’s a whole new performance cluster with its own L2. On the memory side, Apple has scaled its memory subsystem to never before seen dimensions, and this allows the M1 Pro & Max to achieve performance figures that simply weren’t even considered possible in a laptop chip. The chips here aren’t only able to outclass any competitor laptop design, but also competes against the best desktop systems out there, you’d have to bring out server-class hardware to get ahead of the M1 Max – it’s just generally absurd.

On the GPU side of things, Apple’s gains are also straightforward. The M1 Pro is essentially 2x the M1, and the M1 Max is 4x the M1 in terms of performance. Games are still in a very weird place for macOS and the ecosystem, maybe it’s a chicken-and-egg situation, maybe gaming is still something of a niche that will take a long time to see make use of the performance the new chips are able to provide in terms of GPU. What’s clearer, is that the new GPU does allow immense leaps in performance for content creation and productivity workloads which rely on GPU acceleration.

To further improve content creation, the new media engine is a key feature of the chip. Particularly video editors working with ProRes or ProRes RAW, will see a many-fold improvement in their workflow as the new chips can handle the formats like a breeze – this along is likely going to have many users of that professional background quickly adopt the new MacBook Pro’s.

For others, it seems that Apple knows the typical MacBook Pro power users, and has designed the silicon around the use-cases in which Macs do shine. The combination of raw performance, unique acceleration, as well as sheer power efficiency, is something that you just cannot find in any other platform right now, likely making the new MacBook Pro’s not just the best laptops, but outright the very best devices for the task.

GPU Performance: 2-4x For Productivity, Mixed Gaming
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  • JfromImaginstuff - Monday, October 25, 2021 - link

    Huh, nice Reply
  • Kangal - Monday, October 25, 2021 - link

    What isn't nice is gaming on macOS.
    We all know how bad emulation is, and whilst Apple seems to have pulled "magic" with their implementation of Metal/Rosetta2's hybrid-translation strong performance.... at the end of the day it isn't enough.

    The M1X is slightly slower than the RTX-3080, at least on-paper and in synthetic benchmarks. This is the sort of hardware that we've been denied for the past 3 years. Should be great. It isn't. When it comes to the actual Gaming Performance, the M1X is slightly slower than the RTX-3060. A massive downgrade.

    The silver lining is that developers will get excited, and we might see some AAA-ports over to the macOS system. Even if it's the top-100 games (non-exclusives), and if they get ported over natively, it should create a shock. We might see designers then developing games for PS5, XSX, OSX and Windows. And maybe SteamOS too. And in such a scenario, we can see native-coded games tapping into the proper M1X hardware, and show impressive performance.

    The same applies for professional programs for content creators.
    Reply
  • at_clucks - Monday, October 25, 2021 - link

    "The silver lining is that developers will get excited, and we might see some AAA-ports over to the macOS"

    I think that's their whole point. Make developers optimize for Mac knowing that gamers would very likely choose to have their performant gaming machine in a Mac format (light, cool, low power) rather than in a hot and heavy DTR format if they had the choice of natively optimized games.
    Reply
  • bernstein - Monday, October 25, 2021 - link

    we now have 3 primary gpu api‘s:
    - directx (xbox, windows)
    - vulkan (ps5, switch, steamos, android)
    - metal (macos, ios & derivates)
    Because they’re all low level & similar, most bigger engines support them all.

    There used to be two for pc, one for mobile and three for consoles. And vastly different ones at that.

    So it will come down to the addressable market and how fast apple evolves the api‘s. Historically windows, with its build once run two decades later has made it much much easier on devs.
    Reply
  • yetanotherhuman - Tuesday, October 26, 2021 - link

    "how fast apple evolves the api‘s"

    That'll be a very slow, given their history. Why they invented another API, I have no idea. Vulkan could easily be universal. It runs on Windows, which you didn't note, with great results.
    Reply
  • Dribble - Tuesday, October 26, 2021 - link

    Vulkan is too low level, it assumes nothing which means you have to right a ton of code to get to the level of Metal which assumes you have an apple device. If metal/dx are like writing in assembly language, for vulkan you start of with just machine code and have to write your own assembler first. Hence it's not really a great language to work with, if you were working with apple then metal is so much nicer. Reply
  • Gracemont - Wednesday, October 27, 2021 - link

    Vulkan is too low level? It’s literally comparable to DX12. Like bruh, if anything the Metal API is even more low level for Apple devices cuz of it being built specifically for Apple devices. Just like how the NVAPI for the Switch is the lowest level API for that system cuz it was specifically tailored for that system, not Vulkan. Reply
  • Ppietra - Wednesday, October 27, 2021 - link

    Gracemont, the Metal API was already being used with Intel and AMD GPUs, so not exactly a measure of "low level" Reply
  • NPPraxis - Tuesday, October 26, 2021 - link

    "Why they invented another API, I have no idea. Vulkan could easily be universal."

    You're misremembering the history. Metal predates Vulkan.

    Apple was basically stuck with OpenGL for a long time, which fell further and further behind as DirectX got lower level and faster. That made all of Apple's devices at a huge gaming handicap.

    Then Apple invented Metal for iOS in 2014 which gave them a huge performance rendering lead on mobile devices.

    They led the Mac languish for a couple years, not even updating the OpenGL version. Macs got worse and worse for games. In 2016, Vulcan came out. People speculated that Apple could adopt it.

    In 2017, Apple released Metal 2 which was included in the new MacOS.

    Basically, Apple had to pick between unifying MacOS (Metal) with iOS or with Linux gaming (Vulkan). Apple has gotten screwed over before by being reliant on open source third parties that fell further and further behind (OpenGL, web browsers before they helped build WebKit, etc) so it's kind of understandable that they went the Metal-on-MacOS direction since they had already built it for iOS.

    I still wish Apple would add support for it (Mac: Metal and Vulkan, Windows: DirectX and Vulkan, Linux: Vulkan only), because it would really help destroy any reason for developers to target DirectX first, but I understand that they really want to push devs to Metal to make porting to iOS easier.
    Reply
  • Eric S - Friday, October 29, 2021 - link

    Everyone has their own graphics stack- Microsoft, Sony, Apple, and Nintendo all have proprietary stacks. Vulcan wants to change that, but that doesn’t solve everything. Developers still need to optimize for differences in GPUs. Apple is looking for full vertical integration which helps to have their own stack. Reply

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